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"Do games make you more creative than books" Discussion and Analysis
by Benjamin Hill on 02/19/12 01:22:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Acceptance is a peculiar thing. We all want it; we all need it to feel like we are worth something. Even if we know we are worth something it is still important for us to be accepted by others that are already accepted, especially if we respect them. In the academic world we strive for acceptance of our intelligence, or the acceptance of a great study that we have undertaken. In media we strive for our work and arts to be accepted by critics and consumers and loved and cherished. We strive for acceptance from friends for our self-esteem, to know that we are a good person that people do actually like. Acceptance is a powerful desire that we all feel at one time or another.

Why you may ask have I opened a blog post on a game design blog with a paragraph about acceptance? The answer is quite simple really, we as a medium, as an industry and as individuals are striving for acceptance in all the areas I have just discussed, and often, but not always, seem to fall short of being accepted from other mediums, industries, academics, professionals and consumers.

This strain of thought started the other day when I was watching the popular UK morning panel show The Wright Stuff on channel 5 where Matthew Wright and a panel discuss and debate news stories and current affairs among themselves and with callers. I usually really enjoy the show and often find the opinions of the panellists to be quite open minded and educated making some very interesting points on the subjects that are raised. That was before the discussion turned to the subject of videogames.

Now before I continue it is important to state that no one in the panel openly discarded games or devalued them, but what they did do was not accept them as a medium that can inspire creativity. In order to elaborate upon my point let me explain what the question was that was being discussed, where it came from originally and the reactions, from what I can remember, of the panellists. I am then going to argue the case for games by looking at creativity in the broadest term then by looking at why games can make us creative.

 Do books make you more creative than Minecraft?

The question that was posed to the panellists and public was “Is gaming more creative than reading?” a tricky one if you are unsure of the subject material on both sides of the fence. The question had arisen from a point that one of the UK’s leading playwrights had made on the subject. Lucy Prebble had stated in an article she wrote for The Observer that “(Gaming) is creative, in comparison to the passivity of watching a film or reading a book. You are making choices and, often, are even designing the world yourself”. An interesting and debatable point to be made, it is a shame it was about to be dismissed quite heavily. High lights included “Reading is as creative as writing” something I wholly agree upon and “It is impossible to get emotionally invested in a videogame”. The argument started off relatively balanced although never in favour of games and then took a downward spiral towards the end when a caller rang in defending games against the last quote I mentioned, trying to describe, albeit not very well, his emotional and engaging experience with Mass Effect. He was trying to explain his emotional involvement over choosing which character to keep alive and how it was thoroughly emotionally engaging when the panel laughed at him, and almost made a mockery of the ‘primeval’ decision that he had to make in a ‘simple’ videogame. Now if I was to call in, and part of me wishes I had, I probably would have tried to steer away from more violent games and discussed something along the lines of Ico or Dear Esther, games and interactive experiences that go beyond that horrible stereotype that we have seemed to gather over the years. Unfortunately I did not hence why I am here discussing the matter.

Now the main problem I have with this as a starting point for a debate is that it is almost asking you to choose one or another right off the bat. Which means that of course people are going to lean too far to either side when making points, secondly the point looks into creativity which is an extremely tricky subject to discuss that is firmly embedded in psychology. For example we are trying to make an A or B decision here over whether Games make everyone in the world more creative or whether Books make everyone in the world more creative; it simply doesn’t work like that. Creativity is subjective, some people will find books help them be more creative whilst other will prefer games and films, but most open minded people will say that they all have positive effects on creativity in different ways, but more about that in a second. Creativity as a word in itself is difficult to determine, “The use of the imagination or original ideas” is the most straightforward definition I could find but it still can tell us a lot. First of imagination doesn’t just come out of thin air, although we are led to believe it does. It is brought on by inspiration whether that is known or unknown, for example a child may create an “imaginary friend” for whom to play with. This did not just materialise in their brains, they filtered and took in a whole host of different information and inspiration around them in order to conjure up this image of a friend. When someone is writing a book, they will be filtering through all the books they have ever read, all the films they have ever seen, all the stories they have ever told in their subconscious in order to create links between information to create new ideas, they have been inspired by all of this over the years and the ones that they have the strongest ties too will come out in their work. Therefore there is no real reason to say that games make us any less creative than books or any more creative than books, it is simply subjective. For example I read tons and tons of books, and the games that I develop reflect this, I also watch a lot of films and there are definitely elements of my favourites lurking deep within my ideas. I also play a lot of games in my spare time which have inspired me to create new and interesting content through great game mechanics and interesting game play. I use as many pieces of media as possible to gain as much inspiration so I can be creative. I simply could not do that by just reading.

 Little Big Planet

Let’s look at this a little bit deeper, I have often discussed about how I feel games and books are actually far more closely related than they think they are and a lot more so than games and films. This is based upon the idea that you invest a part of your personality into games and books through control and projection whereas when you are watching a film you are witnessing events happen to someone else. With creativity I feel that the relationship again is close although different.

In order to understand this let’s look at what games offer us creatively as a complete medium regardless of aesthetics, theme or narrative. First and foremost games are about problem solving within an experience, and problem solving is about learning. In order for us to be creative when tackling a problem in the real world we need to reflect on problems that we have solved before. Games are great at this! We tackle problems and come up with new and interesting ways to solve them in virtual worlds; we have choice and consequence even at its simplest level. “I push a block to point A and nothing happens, the consequence is I now have to move it to point B and figure out why that works to solve the puzzle”, I am always learning and through learning I can be inspired. No one at all would doubt that learning and being taught would not breed creativity, but that is exactly what games do, they teach us how to problem solve in a fun way.

Books on the other hand teach us how to express ourselves, how to read, how to write how to picture new worlds. The problem is we don’t really create those worlds as we are led by descriptions and by the author; we are just given the tools to create those worlds, a halfway bridge to creativity. Then again if I remember rightly Adventure Game pretty much did the same thing it was just interactive. So surely that is the bridge to creativity and a little bit more and we have choice and consequence in there as well, so we are picturing new worlds and problem-solving together. Double the inspiration to be creative!

Enough petty slaps and digs and back to the point at hand, creativity is subjective and to be creative we need to have inspiration. Inspiration is gathered from all around us but some inspiration gives is tools that we can use to be productive. These tools such as expression, visualising and problem solving can then either be used in real-life to better ourselves or be used to make us creative. The truth is neither is more creative than another, but to be truly creative you should divulge in both of them, books and games.

For us to be accepted we just need keep moving forward making sure that we are being more open minded about where we gain our creativity from, for if we use all the tools available to us we truly could be the most inspirational medium that gives people the tools to better themselves in the world. 


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Comments


Jason Carter
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Well, I read a LOT and I also play quite a fair bit of video games as well. I think both aspects are very important. You CAN play video games without ever being invested in the character or story line of a game. For instance, I used to play world of warcraft. I was never invested in the story line, it wasn't interesting to me, I played for the game play and competitive value to it. However I played SW:ToR for a while and I found the story line immensely engaging. But the game play didn't really draw me in as much.



As far as creative influence, I think games like SW:ToR are very similar to reading books: if they can engage you in the story and make you think about the choices of your actions, then it makes you think and that is good. This past year I've read the entire Wheel of Time Series, the Mistborn Series, half of the Sword of Truth series (Currently on) and I can say that all that reading definitely influences my creative ability in game design. Just as much as playing a wide varied assortment of games does (but for different creative results)



I completely agree with your statement at the end there: " to be truly creative you should divulge in both of them, books and games " I have found that many gamers are avid fans of some pretty serious series like the ones I noted. I think the more you can do to give your self both fantasy "experience" and real world experience is very important.



But certainly if all you do is read and play video games you won't have a very good scope on life and what those books mean within the aspect of life. Everything in life is experience we can draw from for inspiration in game design. But books and playing games is certainly a good start.


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