Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Hunt for Creativity, Pt. 2

Virtual me, writing a virutal novel: art recreates nature recreating art...

In 2008 EA Games announced that it had sold 100 million copies of the Sims, making it the most popular computer game ever created. For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomoenon, The Sims (and its predacessors Sims 2 and Sims 3) is a game in which you create virtual people and their dwelllings in neighbourhoods and then guide them in interacting throughout their long lives. They can do everything that real people can do, even procreate (within the bounds of a PG 13 environment).

It has well and truly surpassed the second most popular game ever, Myst. In this game you find yourself on a beautiful but deserted island, (produced with heart arresting beauty reminiscent of Avatar) filled with puzzles and clues. Solving them is the only way to get away. There are very few instructions - you start the game knowing virtually nothing, and progress through logic and guesswork.

Why did the Sims so spectacularly beat Myst?

Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong was asked what makes a good computer game. Part of his response was "...the game allows the player to experience something they’ve never felt before, whether it’s some kind of new experience in the game or new emotion."

I disagree. If that were the case, Myst would have been a sure winner for first place. To me, the answer lies in the Sims' ability to allow the player complete creativity to control the environment, the protagonists and their relationships. There is almost no circumscription, no end and no winning. It can be as true to life as you like (as an exercise, I've recreated our real house - it actually looks scarily real), or as fantastical.

The game is also successful (to my mind) because it allows for great emotional identification with the subject of the game. There's enough flexibility in the avatar creator that you can make yourself - in that case the emotional identification is complete. Interstingly, Maxis attributes one of the game's great strengths to capturing the female audience, typically not devotees of the genre.

Borrowing from Wikipedia, "creativity is a mental and social process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts." The key is that it's new. We love to do that, to build something new, and we reward opportunities for doing that with our loyalty. Those who can tap into that, and better still create an emotional connection, have had enormous success in their endeavours.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Hunt for Creativity, Pt. 1

 The Nine Muses do a Jazz Improvisation for Apollo

They say when you write once a day everything's important, but when you write once a year, nothing's important. When I started this blog, I was sure that I'd be attacking it at least weekly, but that has so far not turned out to be the case. There's the temptation to want to be witty erudite, creative and/or inspirational in one of these blogs. I often wonder where people derive their inspiration. The author Neil Gaiman, one of my heroes, did a tongue-in-cheek interview at the back of the DVD "Coraline", where it's mentioned that he gets his inspiration from the black leather jacket he always wears. Well, why not? It has to come from somewhere.

However, I'm not talking about the inspiration to do a particular piece of work. That could come from anywhere. A bit of flotsam on the beach, the causual remark from a stranger, some boiling oatmeal. I'm more talking about the general creativity that cant' stop turning these events into something amazing. I've got no idea where my creativity comes from.

In Greek mythology it was the Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who inspired the creation of literature and the arts. They were considered the source of knowledge, as well as the inspiration for turning into an artistic output.

For a more scientific approach Peter Carruthers (2002) wrote a paper "Human creativity: its evolution, its cognitive basis, and its connection with childhood pretense." where he argued that the same cognitive resources are shared by adult creatve thinking and probelm-solving as children when they pretend play. He suggests that it's what got our species over the gap from our first appearance 100,000 years ago in Southern Africa to the "creative explosion" that endabled cultures to form about 60,000 years ago. So if that's the case, we're creative as a survival strategy.

Sounds plausible. Ironically, it's obliquely similar to the Muse story. An external force comes - devine or evolutionary - down and makes us creative. (I could acually use Callipoe now to help out with some writing...) When we are creating, say improvising jazz (this has been the subject of study), we use the same brain circuitry as when we dream, switching off inhibitions. After that, self-expression kicks in(the same place in the brain we make autobiographical stories) and our senses are heightened.

But all of this doesn't actually explain the impetus to create. We're down out of the trees, in comfortable lives, yet broadly speaking, we're still fixated on making things. From my own experience, I can't not create. It's something that bubbles out of me (artesian spring or overflowing beer - take your pick) I don't think I've cracked it yet, but I'll keep working on it. Meanwhile, maybe Calliope will buy me a leather jacket - I've got work to do!

Monday, January 4, 2010

First Posting

Hello and welcome to my blog.

I've set this up principally for the entertainment of my friends, with musings, thoughts, descriptions of things that seem important (at least at the time).

Of course, anybody is welcome to read it, contribute to it, comment, express ideas.

I could have titled this first post "How I spent my summer holiday", which though short, was productive. I spent it writing, mostly. A couple of months ago, my base for this activity became Plimmerton, which (for those of you unfamiliar with New Zealand's lower North Island) is about 20 minutes north of Wellington (the nation's caplital).

It's a cottage (for the romantic) or a shack (for the rest of you), with one of the most spectacular views imaginable. Looking out from the window (on a straight line trajectory South-West) you can see 1. Foliage of native plants 2. The Pacific Ocean (today dead flat and very blue) 3. A bit of a peninsua of the North Island (I think it's a golf course) 4. Queen Charlotte Sound, the NE tip of the South Island. Did I mention it's spectacular?

I think it's important to have an inspiring setting in which to think and write. Maybe the passion to do it can turn any setting into an inspiring one. (Look at Oscare Wilde, after all.)

This is the spot from which I'll be blogging and from which my next book (Intangible Natural Heritage will be edited, assembled, and otherwise beaten into submission.

Look forward to communicating with you...