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Creativity and the Interpretation of Dreams

This blog post diverts from a direct discussion of the industry to instead discuss an observation concerning creativity. It's easy to see that being receptive to dreams can spur creativity, but it seems as though the reverse may be true, as well.

Douglas Lynn, Blogger

May 4, 2011

5 Min Read

A few minutes ago, I was placing an entry into my Dream Log.  This is the journal where, for almost the last five years, I’ve documented all of my dreams.  At least, I’ve documented the ones I’ve managed to remember.  As a result of this one caveat, the log is considerably shorter than it should be.  Sometimes, I go for a stretch as long as one or two months before coming up with any sort of memorable dream.  Other times, I wake up three mornings in a row acutely aware of what was in my head the previous night.  This past month has been pretty dry.

While entering in my latest dream (which had something to do with Frank Sinatra deliberately ignoring me in my grandmother’s living room), I realized that my last dense cluster of logged dreams occurred when I was in the middle of writing my newest design document.  In a desperate effort to add one more piece to my portfolio before GDC, I had been completing my first game design in two years.  It felt great to have the creative juices flowing again.  I was brainstorming (by myself, somehow), testing game systems in my head, and constantly jumping around the problem of how to create a game that should, by conventional means, be impossible to create with modern technology.  It was a sea of creative energy I hadn’t been immersed in since my sophomore year of college, and frankly, it felt great.

At the same time, I started waking up with new dreams in my head.  It probably wasn’t the most productive dream cycle I’ve ever had, but the best one in a long time.  Since completing the main design and returning from GDC, the development process has come to a screeching halt.  Aside from the growing concerns of everyday life, I’ve been wrapped up in the frustration of not knowing where to go for information and not wanting to perform the research I’ll need to actually complete my game.  The creative energy has tapered off into a sea of internal mental debate and complaining.  In that same time, the dreams have come to a screeching halt.

This is what brings me to today’s thoughts.  I know that dreams can be useful in aiding creativity, but does this relationship work in reverse, as well?  Does a creative mindset actually aid in the retention of dreams?  I would say it does, and while I’m not in a position to truly test this hypothesis, I feel that it makes some logical sense.  Dreams have so much to do with imagination, and the imagination is incredibly active during a creative process.

When working on a design, there are so many factors to consider.  How does the game look and feel?  How does this system or that system work?  What kind of style fits with the mechanics?  Never mind these questions, but also all of the intricacies of each of these questions and the miniscule details that make up their answers.  Your brain is always searching for a new way around each problem.  Thoughts come and go in your head, and as you enter into the right frame of mind, thoughts that would normally flash by without notice stand out.  You start to take note of the little things that pop up in your mind, no matter how basic.  As you do, new ideas begin to occur to you; ideas that suddenly make perfect sense (or, at least, make more sense than they would in everyday life).

When I think about creativity this way, it’s easy to see how it might impact the way I interpret my dreams.  Dreams themselves often seem to work in much the same way as those random thoughts that suddenly fit together and make perfect sense.  Dreams combine elements hiding away somewhere in your brain and somehow blend them into a situation you believe and accept.  That is, of course, until you wake up.  When I wake up from a dream, my first thought is generally, “Wait…no…that doesn’t actually make sense at all.  There was a car driving on the same surface as a jet-ski.  Why did I think that was normal?”  Like the random idea that comes and goes unnoticed, the dream suddenly doesn’t work.  My brain discounts it as nonsense and throws it away, whether I want it to or not.  However, under the creative mindset, my mind seems more receptive to the idea of that dream.  When I’m being creative, everything seems more useful.  I tend to hold onto that dream as though it’s somehow going to prove beneficial to me later.  It may be apropos of nothing in my current life situation, but my brain is trained to pay attention to it.

I find it to be a fascinating cycle.  Ideas presented in dreams can help to jump-start creativity through their randomness and vague sense of believability.  At the same time, creativity can help put me in a mindset to be more aware of those dreams and consider their potential.  With the way these two concepts seem to feed off of each other, it’s amazing how easy it is to drop out of a creative mindset.  All it takes is a few days of neglecting to apply those creative thoughts to solving problems.  A single distraction can break the cycle and ruin a thrilling streak of creativity.

I think the main idea to take away from this line of thinking is that it pays to pay attention to your dreams.  The way you see your dreams reflects on the way you see the rest of the world.  As with most things, it’s easier said than done. 

Then again, this was a pretty complicated topic to discuss, so I could be wrong on that last fact. 

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