Monday, November 12, 2007


I was thinking the other day about the question that is the tagline of this blog: can you teach creativity?

I'm afraid to say that the question may itself be flawed. There's a deeper question here: do we even need to teach creativity?

Everyone in Hollywood, even the janitors, has their own idea for a movie script. Everyone in the game industry, down to the lowliest of the QA staff, has a game idea. Yes, most of these ideas aren't worth the paper that they'd be printed on, but that's not the point. The point is that each idea is creative. Maybe not particularly innovative, maybe not fun... but creativity, it would seem, is an ability that all humans are born with.

I have precious few traditional art skills. I can't draw, sketch or paint to save my life. But I still can form images in my head that I think would make great pictures -- I just lack the technical skills to express them. Technical skills can be learned. They can also be taught.

I think that game design is the same. Maybe you have a great idea for a game, or a lousy idea... but it's an idea. All you need are the tools to express it. In my case, the tools are not paints or pencils or canvas; they are Word and Excel. My technical skills do not require an understanding of perspective or vanishing points or character rigging; rather, I need to understand the fundamentals of pacing, flow and game balance. All of these are skills that can be taught, and then it is up to the designer with those skills to go forth and design a game worth playing.

Of course, this all leads to the question: how does one know if a game is worth playing while they're designing it? The same question could be asked of the painter: how do you know this painting will be any good once you've finished it? That is much harder to teach (although it does come with experience)... but that's not creativity, that's craftsmanship.

So, perhaps I should rename the tagline of the blog. Is it possible to teach craftsmanship (without a ten-year one-on-one master/apprentice relationship)?


David McGraw said...

I think people are definitely able to be taught creativity. Just take this for an example. Why do designers need to play a lot of games? Well, Imagine a person who never played a video game, never crawled in a dungeon in a DOD setting, or never played any table top board games. Versus somebody who has played countless amount of games.

That person who played an array of game will start building their own mental blocks of creative juices. Even if they are a pure technology geek that is 99.99% left brained, they will still have a breadth of design ideas that they played with during their life.

From there, it is just a matter of taking what you've "experienced", adding a twist to it, or trying to enhance it in such a way that it is really fun to you and your friends. That, alone, is sometimes enough to churn out a really fun game play idea.

I think you can teach people to be creative. But more importantly, they need to have a drive to be creative. That goes with practically anything.

Lewis said...

I'm still working on the "teaching creativity" part, but we can certainly teach students to elicit creativity. Most think they just wait for ideas to float by; they need to learn habits that generate many ideas, so that they might have a few good ones in the end. One of my assignments is for every student to maintain a notebook or electronic data store of ideas. They need to have it with them so that they can record something whenever it arrives in their gray matter. I don't care what the ideas are (and there's always the dork who worries I'm going to "steal their idea"), I care that they're establishing a habit of recording ideas.

However, game design is not primarily inspiration, it's perspiration. Students must learn this, and that's what takes a long time to drive home. They think that they have a game once they have an idea--they have Nothing. Then they'll think they have a game when they have a prototype. No, we still have to iteratively and incrementally improve that prototype, and in the end we may have something good, but we sure won't with the first prototype.

They have to learn that there's a long and sometimes painful process, and if they don't go all the way, they've failed. That's not teaching creativity, that's teaching activity. (Hmmm, that sounded good, not sure it's the best choice of words.)

I'm not going to go into it here, but we really need to teach critical thinking more than creativity.

Adrian Lopez said...

First I think you need to define what you mean by "creativity". If you mean only the ability to come up with ideas for "creative works", then of course there is no need to teach that. If, on the other hand, you mean the ability to actually create such "creative works", then it seems to me teaching craftsmanship is also teaching creativity.

There is, besides, lots of other stuff you can teach your students to enhance their ability to create. You can help your students become familiar with existing creative works, so they can learn about the structures, values and conventions typically involved in the creation of particular kinds of works. More generally, you can teach them different ways to think about the works they will someday create, and help them develop productive attitudes and practices.

Yes. I have no doubt about it: creativity can be taught.