Creativity and Games

In order to navigate the challenges and complexities of today’s organizations, organizational members must come up with creative solutions that come from joint thinking which harness the combined knowledge and abilities of people with diverse perspectives. While traditional views of creativity have mostly focused on the individual as the source of creativity, recent findings have concluded that most scientific and artistic innovations emphasize the social dimension of creativity through interactions with others, joint problem solving, and shared struggles (Fischer et al., 2005; John-Steiner, 2000).

Strongly tied to the creativity process is the act of play. Play has long been recognized as a powerful mechanism to promote creativity, encourage exploration, foster critical thinking and support collaboration. Creativity is also the cornerstone of entrepreneurship: without a steady flow of innovative new ideas, businesses cannot stay ahead of its competitors nor flourish in today’s economic world characterized by high volatility and increasingly complex, fast-paced change (Playfoot, 2011).

In education, where learner engagement is critical, games are now increasingly being explored as a complimentary method of teaching. Games invoke the act of play in order to immerse the player/learner in an immersive experiential experience, oftentimes to struggle through exploration, trial and error and even failure in order to progress to the promise of a win. The competitive or collaborative aspect of many modern games  also add to the level of immersion, engagement, and opportunities for creative sparks.

Craft and her colleagues (2006) cite the growth of gaming and social networking as having a profound effect on the creative possibilities of young learners. She connects the use of these technologies to what she calls ‟possibility thinking” as the heart of much digital experience is a playful exploration of what might be.  Whereas the traditional learner’s question of what is this?, the learner in a creative space expands this question to include what might I do with this? This extension of thought is then linked to the the development of imagination and the nurturing of creativity.  Craft asserts that ‟a culture of play” goes hand in hand with ubiquitous technology and has significant potential as a force for creative learning (Playfoot, 2011).

In his TED Talk of 2010, ‟How Schools Kill Creativity”, creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson stated: ‟if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original,” suggesting that inherent in any exploration of what it is to be creative, or what is it to have great ideas that have meaning and value, is a notion that you need to be able to fail or that if you don’t know the answer, you should try something without fear of failure (Playfoot, 2011). Gaming is inherently about failure and offers a risk-free environment within which the player can imagine and ‟problem find”. Failure is part of the process of exploration, and indeed is also a way that the game becomes challenging and compelling.  However, the spirit of exploration so evident within game worlds does not, in itself, foster creativity. But, by providing players a safe space to enter into avenues without knowing where they lead, we are beginning to move closer to an environment more conducive to creative thinking. Furthermore, any creative process must, on some level, be active rather than passive. Games and game worlds offer players the ability to experience something first hand, to take control, to make decisions, to do rather than to observe (Playfoot, 2011).

There is another aspect to gaming that suggests it might provide a compelling solution to the challenge of fostering creativity. In recent years, there has been a shift in the dynamics of gaming from a situation of seeking a solo win to one of collaborative victory. The social aspects of gaming, as manifested by the popularity of games like World of Warcraft have revolutionised the way games are being developed and played. Such games foster skills of communication, leadership and teamwork, all of which are vital within the creative process. There are gamers playing right now who are collaborating, trying out new ideas, exploring new pathways, all with the aim of reaching that epic win. That spirit of collaboration offers further inspiration of how video games could be designed towards creativity education (Playfoot, 2011).

World Without Oil (http://worldwithoutoil.org/) is an alternative reality collaborative problem solving game that presents a particular scenario and then invite the players, either individually or collaboratively, to solve the challenges set. The goal of the project is to harness the collective intelligence of bloggers and gamers to create a bottom-up map of what it would mean to live through a massive oil shortage in the U.S. The project’s mantra: Play it, before you live it. Through game play, participants learn both factual information about the challenge itself and skills around creative thinking, collaboration and leadership. WWO is described as a “what if?” game. The game asked what would happen in the event of an oil crisis. How would the lives of ordinary people change? First players were required to read official news about the oil crisis and consider what other players were saying. Then they fed in their own stories of how a shortfall of oil was affecting their own lives, and what they were doing to cope. As the crisis continued, they continued to feed in thoughts, reactions and solutions. The game encouraged submissions via blogs, videos, images, emails and voicemails. Over 1900 people signed up as players of World Without Oil, generating over 1500 stories from inside the “global oil crisis of 2007.” These stories and the reactions to them created a rich, complex, and plausible collective imagining of an oil crisis and stimulated a range of creative responses in terms of how such a crisis could both be managed and avoided. For players and observers, the experience created a compelling narrative around oil dependency and energy policy. The game made the issues real, and this in turn led to real engagement and real change in people’s lives.

Another example of harnessing creative problem solving is Foldit, an education game developed in 2008 by researchers at the University of Washington(Cooper et al, 2010). Foldit allows the public to play games in which they model the genetic makeup of proteins. At the end of a three-week competition in 2010, top-scoring players had generated phase estimates that allowed researchers to identify a rapid solution of the crystal structure for a monkey virus related to AIDS. The structure had eluded researchers for over 10 years; however, the nonlinear, cooperative, and creative problem-solving techniques used by these gamers seemed to be precisely the skills needed to finally solve this elusive problem.

Games thus represent a powerful medium to immerse learners in an exploratory, hands-on experiential, collaborative environment, where they can tackle problems collectively in a safe environment which supports trail and error and failure, which provide feedback cues and motivation to persist despite setbacks. Such environments are also conducive to a creative process and can lead to creative outputs. Commercial games with no expressed educational benefits such as World of Warcraft provide many rich guidelines to the design on self-organizing and rich collaborative and creative spaces. Scenario-based problem solving games such as World Without Oil and online collaborative educational games such as Foldit represent a step bridging the commercial and education world, by integrating many of the key features of the games (convincing and meaningful context, feedback, goal-driven, conflict and challenge, autonomy and collaboration).

(in collaboration with Alicia Cheak, INSEAD)

References:

Craft, A. (2006). Creativity in schools, in N.J. Jackson et. al. (eds.) Developing Creativity in Higher Education: an Imaginative Curriculum, London: Routledge-Falmer.

Fischer, G., Giaccardi, E., Eden, H., Sugimoto, M., & Ye, Y. (2005). Beyond binary choices: Integrating individual and social creativity. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 63(4-5), 482-512.

Foldit http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/foldit/

John-Steiner, V. (2000). Creative collaboration. New York: Oxford University Press.

Playfoot, J. (2011). The Serious Business of Play: How Gaming can Unlock Creativity and Foster Entrepreneurship.  Presentation at 15th UNESCO-APEID International Conference,1.D.2 net Generation : Technology for Games and Businesses.

World Without Oil http://worldwithoutoil.org/

World of Warcraft http://us.battle.net/wow/en/

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