Some would say that video games are a waste of time, others might say they are only for fun. In my mind, there are many benefits to playing video games. Do they actually help become more creative though?
Yes, video games do make you more creative. Problem solving and critical thinking are key components to developing creativity.
Creativity is something I strongly value in people. Unfortunately, in traditional education we do a poor job of valuing it. Our assignments are cookie-cutter, they punish students who think outside the box, all assignments must fit a mold. When they don’t, you give the student a poor grade. As one transitions from a classroom to the workplace, creativity becomes even more valuable. It’s hard to develop creativity when in the classroom it simply doesn’t fit the mold.
What is Creativity?
Creativity is the process of coming up with unique solutions to solve problems.
In other words, traditional subjects such as history or math have very limited creativity until you get to the very high levels. When we evaluate whether a person is creative or not, we begin to monitor what unique solutions this person often offers.
To define creativity, it may be easiest to look at a person who lacks creativity. Have you ever been around someone that comes up with the same idea repeatedly? Or, if you ask them, how would you fix this? They often will say something like, “I heard once…” or “Let’s look how others have done it…”. It doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t research, because you absolutely should. However, if you are regurgitating what others have done then you are missing the point.
I appreciate the book, “Steal Like An Artist“. The point of the book is that if you are an artist (or creative), you should look at other creatives work. It gives inspiration for your own creative ideas and thoughts. However, the idea here is not plagiarism. Plagiarizing another creatives work isn’t creativity. It’s merely using them as inspiration, appreciating other creatives work, and hopefully it spurs you to develop your own thoughts or ideas that may be similar, but still unique.
How To Improve Creativity
If you are anything like me, you may have a really good idea one evening. You come back to it just a week or two later, you remember having an awesome idea, but can’t remember exactly what it was. Regular practice of writing ideas down is important.
I typically use the notes feature in my phone. These ideas may be for class, a new project that sounds like it would be fun and a unique way to learn a concept for students. I do this a whole lot during the summer, as I know it won’t be for a few weeks typically before I get the opportunity to put the idea into practice.
Remember, creativity is about solving a problem, so your writing should be able to answer the question of “why”. Why is easy in the classroom. I want the students to learn “x”, therefore, let’s do “y”. The same concept is applied in other forms of creativity, including game development. I want the player to feel “x”, therefore, let’s do “y” to envoke that emotion. Or, I want the player to do “x”, therefore, I will encourage him to do it by doing “y”.
Great game designers think of different or unique ways to get the player to look, feel, or act a certain way. Great game designers just do it in a more creative way than average game designers.
Look at others work often. Become involved in what others are doing. In my mind, this is how you improve immensely. In my earliest stages of web design, I would spend hours replicating others work. This wasn’t in an effort to steal their work. Rather, I wanted to understand how or why they did specific things. My designs frequently were mediocre prior to that. I feel now I have a pretty good eye for design.
This ability was only improved when I began to practice those details. My skills improved with the software, but the design principles is probably where I grew most significantly by doing this.
In game design, try not be such a “purist” in your creative work. Appreciate others work. If you like something, don’t be afraid to replicate it in your own way. Do you see a game concept that does something better than you? Study the work, try to figure out why it’s better. It will make you improve your own work, and your creativity in solving those problems.
Anyone who is in any creative work will tell you that they often create terrible work before they do anything good. A good logo designer will do roughly 100 thumbnail sketches before they ever choose one they like.
Of all the other disciplines mentioned above, this seems to be the one that is hardest for people to develop. Game design, specifically, is quite time consuming. Logos are easy to create, but not often do people enjoy the prototype process. In many’s mind, it’s the details the define the quality of a game. However, the prototyping phase is extremely important!
I am a firm believer that someone who prototypes often will be far more successful in a creative industry than someone who doesn’t. If you are unsure how to do this, really, game jamming is pretty well a prototyping process. Take a very limited amount of time, and try to build something. It doesn’t have to be ugly, but I would focus on the functionality more than I would the details. You will be surprised what you can learn from a good game jamming session.
How Games Help Your Creativity
From a player standpoint, most games have multiple mechanics built into them and at times, you may be surprised to find that these mechanics stack in ways that the game developer never imagined. In the video below, you can see Pontypants came across a really interesting approach to his mechanic in a game jam. It’s often times a combination of game mechanics that can make for interesting puzzle solving in video games.
If you consider that studying and practice often help your creativity, this is generally the process within games as you learn the mechanics. You may first learn about the mechanics using simple tutorials levels, but by the end you make be parkouring through levels, climbing huge buildings, or defeating bosses. The idea here is that you learned something, studied it, practiced it, and then probably became creative in your approach to solving problems.
This practice, and enjoying it, is what helps creativity. If you develop these practices and find enjoyment in them through games, you can take these areas to other parts in life.
In addition, I believe that video games help you accept trying, and if you fail, try again. This is an additional discipline that helps you be more creative. That is a part of practicing. If you aren’t scared to fail, you are more likely to try something a bit different. When it works, others will definitely think you are creative!
Critical thinking is another key component to being creative. Have you been in a game and you pause for a moment looking at the problem at hand? It could be something as simple as getting on a rooftop. How do we do it? Do we need to move a barrel so we can stand on top? Perhaps it’s a double jump mechanic the game requires us to use. Or, maybe we have to find an object that helps us scale the wall. It’s at these moments we are analyzing and applying knowledge we have learned. This is critical thinking, and games have a lot of it.
The process of analyzing and applying knowledge in any situation is what can take a person from providing rather unoriginal ideas to coming up with creative solutions. Games certainly foster this, and I credit my own creativity and critical thinking to my experience of playing video games growing up.
Do You Have to Be Creative to Create a Video Game?
I do believe there is a required element of being a bit creative in developing a video game. Sure, you could totally steal someone else’s game and rebuild it for practice, but this doesn’t necessarily make you creative, it just helps you study to be more creative.
Students often come into my class wondering if they can be successful. One thing I am always surprised by is just how much they are able to accomplish. Early on, they seem a bit timid. Again, traditional education probably makes them this way. They are scared to disappoint me as their teacher. However, over time, I hope to establish rapport with them. I want them to know that I appreciate their willingness to step out there and add creativity to their projects.
When students start thinking about their projects outside of class time I know that this is a great beginning to their creativity.
When they begin to study other games, telling me what they like, maybe even comparing their own game to others they see out there. Students begin to tell me why they like very specific things about a game, I know they have studied it well. This builds their understanding, and they can take this understanding and build unique and creative mechanics on their own with their areas of expertise.
As students start building things in their own time, I know they are on the cusp of greatness. It’s at this moment I know they will build something special. It is exciting as a teacher, but I know more than anything that this is an opportunity to foster their creativity and it’s a base to grow from. It will help them be successful in game design, but more maybe equally as important, it encourages them to be creative in other areas too.
I love to see others work! I definitely value creativity in others. If you have work you would love to show off, I would love to check it out. It makes me better! Please get in contact with me if you would love some feedback.