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.


  1. Interesting posts on creativity, Eric. I have always viewed our creativity as what distinguishes us, along with love, from species who only know survival. Which is predicated on fear. That doesn't mean it isn't an excellent survival trait, and it probably got us out of the trees. To me, creativity is that which has us be 'made in God's image', but that view would have issues, I am sure, for atheists! :) I see creativity also as going beyond the ability to make beautiful objects, words or experiences, it is also about creating our lives, about having choices. You've also got a handle on that aspect of creativity, and thank you for sharing your insights with me. :)

  2. Thanks, Mrs C, for your interesting thoughts.

    They raise a few ideas. Who's to say that animals don't experience love for each other? Any way we could describe it can be displayed in the 'pair bonding' of animals. The desire to be together, in-sync behaviours, defending one another, even altruism (pigeons step aside and let their mates have the best scraps).

    Is a bird building a nest creativity? Well, maybe not. But is building the BEST nest, say to attract a mate, is that? I'd argue it comes from the same innate impulses that ours do.

    Perhaps a better distinction would be self-awarness (or consciousness). Many people including Darwin have thought about that one. Dolphins certainly have self awareness - it's been well demonstrated. But do dogs? Ants? Dunno.

    So, my question then - did human creativity God in Man's own image? (sorry to all the faithful) That, of course, doesn't touch whether or not God exists (I'm so not going there). But the need to understand the universe, not only to put it into comprhensible terms but to create for ourselves a safe psychological environment, could well have been behind that process.

    And, yes, I agree with you - creativity is the process of making anything at all, whether tangible objects or intangible experiences. :)

  3. Ah, you answer your own question. The missing ingredient in my spiel is indeed self-awareness. Companionship and need for closeness are not what I would call love, but they are the foundation for it. As Maslow distinguished them in the hierarchy of needs, these things are at lower strata. What self-awareness brings to a foundation of creativity and affection based on survival, allows us to transcend these in a way that most creatures do not, indeed that many humans do not choose to either. Self-awareness is a choice, perhaps THE choice. It takes philos and eros and creates agape. It takes pity and makes it into compassion, sympathy into empathy, envy into aspiration. And because that is how I see the world, that is also how I see God at work within us, although in saying that I don't think that belief in God is either her or there, it's just words and semantics.(And I say that as I don't think this view of God is a common one and certainly not a dogmatically Christian one either)The useful word is really self-awareness. :)