Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Time and being Memorable

Posted by pcollier under Creativity


Time is a funny old thing, often our experience of it can vary a great deal. We’ve all experienced that sensation of time flying when we’ve having fun and dragging when we’re bored. I’ve touched on this before with my article on flow. When we’re really engrossed in our current activity we’re not paying attention to the passage of time and, by not observing it, never really experiencing it. In contrast to when we are bored where we’ll painfully watch the clock tick seemingly backwards.

However in the medium term our experience of time can tell a very different story. Christmas holiday 2007 was the end of a very hard year of ball busting work to get a game out the door so I had a lot of annual leave stored up. I was off work from Nov 16th – Jan 4th, brilliant. What did I do with the time? For the most part I played the Xbox 360 game Mass Effect. Before I knew it, it was Jan 4th and I was back at work. I didn’t feel refreshed and certainly didn’t feel like I’d had a month and a half away. Even though I’d had fun playing the game it was one chunk of very similar day-day activity. Suffice to say, to my brain, Christmas 2007 was quite easy to compress to memory. My fiancé told me about a book she had read by Steve Taylor called ‘Making Time’. In the book he talks about the way our brain allocates our life to memory. Unique experiences earn a rightful individual place in our synapses. However, similar experiences that re-stamp old ground don’t require new space. Our brains don’t see much use in storing them separately so just re-write over the same slot as before.  People say ‘travel broadens the mind’ because it literally does, everything is new. In the medium term our experience of time is very much dictated by the allocation of our experiences to memory. Memory and time are very much interlinked.

How we spend our time is also critical when it comes to creativity. Christmas 2010 I was in the same position as in 2007, I was off work from Nov 18th – Jan 4th. But this time I spent it very differently including a vacation to the Caribbean. It’s a part of the world I’ve never visited so everything was exhilarating and new. We snorkelled with turtles, kayaked through tropical mangroves, hiked through beautiful rainforests and bathed in hot sulphur springs to name a few highlights. This is not to mention being semi-mugged on the beach in St. Lucia and getting sun stroke in Barbados, but I digress, my notepad was on fire. I’ve never been more productive in writing, generating new game ideas and mechanics. All these brand spanking new experiences were like an electric shock to my brain. New data fired up synapses from new angles rather than familiar data over well trodden neural pathways. It was a party in my brain with only new ideas welcome. As a bonus, when I returned on Jan 4th I also felt incredibly refreshed and like I’d been away from work for an eternity.

Creativity is a demanding beast. Feed him the same old junk and don’t exercise him and he’ll become fat, lethargic and immobile. But keep his diet fresh and varied then you’ll have him lean, mean and barking for more, excitably taking you in new directions every time ‘walkies’ is called. Yes I have turned creativity into a dog, but you know, a lovely cute one!

So when it comes to game design what does this all mean? Well I’ve been on projects where the game design seems to have been defined as “Game X + Game Y = Our Game”. This is not healthy, nor is it a good sign. The point is, you’ve got to be giving the player new experiences.  You can’t play it safe and plump for more of the same, because if you do (and this goes for any design or product) it won’t be memorable. You’ll be consigned to ‘same old’ in people’s brains instead of earning yourself fruitful new territory in bouncy brain real estate where insight, value and enlightenment reign as King. The time spent with your game or product will easily be forgotten. In other words be memorable or don’t both bother coming to the party.

Ray Davies

I got back from a 2 week vacation on Tuesday. I should have been jetlagged I’d been up for more than 24 hours, I’d arrived home, I should have felt like napping. But I happened to flick on the TV and was transfixed by a documentary that I think was on BBC 3. It was following Ray Davies the legendary singer songwriter of ‘The Kinks’. Go and watch it now whilst you can on BBC iplayer. I felt so completely energised watching it. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever considered myself a diehard fan of the Kinks but as the program went on going through his songs I realised how much they resonated with me and how much I loved them. But what really got me were his words toward the end in regards to being an artist:

“My songs will be here when I’m gone, in a sense they were here before I came. I just picked up the ideas and saw what thousands, millions of other people saw and it came out the way I interpreted it. I could be sitting here one hundred years ago or I could be sitting here in the future, but I don’t ever feel I existed. There’s a lot of me invested in it, but I absorbed everything from everywhere else.

As original as you try to be the ideas have always been there, the same as the city has always been there [in reference to London]. Songs can absorb into the folk culture but whether we know it or not we’re passing on music, we’re passing onto a common collective consciousness.”

What I feel is so poignant about his words are that of being a genuine artist. To truly recognise that you must take ego out the equation, it is not about you, it is about your ability to open yourself up. To channel that which is already around you and focus or interpret it in such a way that it reveals a new angle on the beauty of the world around us. This resonates with people.

In Garr Reynold’s fantastic book ‘The Naked Presenter’ he quotes Bruce Lee:

“My friend, drop all your preconceived and fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is useful? Because it is empty”

Garr further on in the book writes:

“Indeed, if we approach life with a full cup, we cannot learn anything new. New skills, new approaches and different ways of thinking will be blocked. Wild ideas, crazy notions, and remarkable insights will have no space to enter a world of certainty, pride, over confidence, and commitment to the past and the known. Part of emptying our cup is a willingness to unlearn what we think we know to be the best or only way.”

All great artists seem to acknowledge that all they are is a conduit. Ideas and insights into our existence are already there in our collective consciousness and life around us, the artist just becomes the right person to find it. The artist recognises their peripheral part of the equation. He/she is transient and will turn to dust only their trail and imprint remain, they feel life make their impression, then leave. An artist is not a dream maker but an open vessel ready to receive and for others to drink from.

Of course the other side of it is immense hard work and focus. The most inspiring thing I’ve recently read regarding facing the resistance in your head and getting to work is in Steven Pressfield’s brilliant book ‘The War of Art’:

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favour in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete”

So here I was watching this great documentary on Ray Davies with more and more respect and admiration growing for him. Everything that I had just read on holiday was being validated by what this well loved, respected and true artist was saying. And funnily enough what did his good friend Mick Avory the drummer in The Kinks have to say about him?

“I can’t see Ray ever giving up writing songs because it’s too much a part of him. I’d say Ray is the William Shakespeare of song writing, that’s the best way I can describe him. We might even have a Ray Davies Day but it won’t be a holiday it’ll be a day where you work harder [laughs]”.

Your ability to see beauty in the world seems directly proportional to your ability to strip away parts of yourself; Van Gogh maybe took it too far. Ray Davies talks a lot in the program about ‘absorbing’. He is right and in order to do this you need to empty your cup, talent then comes in your interpretation of what you receive and how hard you work in finding it.