Full disclosure: I’m editing this on weird sleep. The joy of force rebooting your sleep schedule by staying up all night! I’m usually at least coherent even sleep deprived; but if not you know why. I also swear I’m not trying to piggyback off Tyger on the topic of creativity! For those who don’t follow his show, he posted earlier in the week asking for gamer stories of creativity. It just so happens that I’ve stumbled into one of my heavy writing kicks at the same time. ^^
Anyway. Moving on.
As mentioned, I’ve been getting back into my fiction writing lately. This isn’t where I grandstand about writing the next Great American Novel since I find that pretty unlikely – but there is a blog-related side effect. I’ve always gamed less when I’m in the middle of writing fiction. Getting a blog going, reading, walking the dog, crazy weeks at work – none of those seem to have much effect on my game time, but my “real” writing always has. I don’t think it’s only due to a lack of time or because I have a habit of tunnel vision (though I’m sure both do have an effect). I suspect it’s because both writing AND gaming can be creative pursuits – that they both scratch a similar itch/use a similar type of energy.
It’s easy to see the creative opportunities in some games. Something like Minecraft, if you’re building anything at all you’re using creativity there. Mapping out base design, finding that perfect armor set or clothing combination, naming your characters; these are all things that are easy to point to as creative in other games. I just don’t think it’s restricted to that type of creative thinking.
When I’m playing something like The Secret World, I’m using the part of my brain that immerses me in a story. I’m plugged into the game in almost the same way I’m plugged in while reading a book, the difference being that ingame I need to make choices. Choices with clear consequences (Do I aggro that beastie, or do I sneak around it?) as well as choices that are less clear (How do I think this new plotpoint fits into the whole? What choices will I make based on that?). Immersion-with-choices is also where stories that I’m writing differ from a story I’m reading. In both writing and in gaming I’m no longer passive in the experience. (This is also why I’ll always consider story in games a different animal than story in a book.) I tend to enjoy story based games, so it’s not hard for me to see where and how I’m using my immersion brain in both cases.
But what about simpler games? Well, even games I don’t play for story tend to have puzzles. Puzzle solving (and/or troubleshooting) is another itch that games scratch for me. That can be as simple as, “Do I need to jump over the thing or do I need to kill the thing?” or something more complex like the puzzles in Myst. Compare that to writing, if I’ve gotten one of my characters in a bind and I’m deciding what they’re going to do about it. In both cases I need to take what I know about the rules of the world and try to make the best decision. When I’m reading a book I may actively wonder what the character will do – I’d say one mark of a good story is that it keeps you invested in the outcomes – but I’m not making choices FOR the character. I’m not actively problem solving there, I’m watching someone else figure things out.
The third similarity I see is the type of escapism. I can lose myself in a book, but not in the same way as something I’m writing or a game I’m playing. I’d compare it to dreaming vs lucid dreaming. In a dream (or in a book) I’m fully immersed but I can’t make decisions. In a game or while writing I need to be immersed enough to “be” there, but conscious enough to make choices. And anyone who lucid dreams can tell you, it’s sometimes a fine line to balance on. After enough hours keeping that balanced immersion in my own little world of writing, I’m often more interested in plugging back into real life than jumping over to a gaming world.
Reading, writing, and gaming have always been some of my favorite hobbies. It’s easy to see a connection between reading and writing, but I’m not sure everyone sees gaming as being related to both. And hey, for some folks maybe it’s not. I suppose one could argue that I see a connection because I happen to enjoy similar things present in all – puzzle solving, story, immersion/escapism.
I should note there is a difference between “gaming makes me a better writer” and “I find things in gaming that relate to or possibly help my writing.” Folks get so wound up about what gaming does and doesn’t do sometimes; I think they miss all this lovely gray area. Gaming, like anything else, can have effects that are worth looking at without pulling out the “it doesn’t MAKE me do anything” card. I’m pretty sure that if I play 8 hours of a game every day I won’t magically become a better writer. But being aware of what I’m doing and its effects on me? That’s something I can use, to game smarter and write smarter.
Addendum: I wrote most of the above last week; I still haven’t decided what I’m want to do about Fridays here so I didn’t post it. Over the weekend I spent a good chunk of hours scanning various writing blogs and I saw more than one writer either blogging about games in general or about games-as-related-to-writing. I’m thinking it’s not just me seeing the connection – and I’m super pleased to see that common thread. I’d like to think that also says something good about the growth of games (and the stories in games) over the years.