I was having a conversation with an acquaintance of mine earlier this week. Now, this kid is smart and has a level of creativity, with stuff that interests him and is based off familiar topics. I said level of creativity, not -creative-. Let’s call him Willy for the sake of argument. Willy, is an above average artist in most regards, particularly in the areas of environments and props and I’ve seen him pull out some compelling and solid ideas. However, when it comes to characters, he frequently gets frustrated and stymied by what he calls ‘boring or half-cocked characters.’
I decided to contact Willy earlier in the week, just to see how his progress at his school was going and he expressed frustration about creating a character, especially since he needed like 3 solid ideas and 30 silhouettes for each solid idea by class time that afternoon. Most of us know that Willy is up a real creek, especially since he had not come up with one idea he considered interesting. He asked me for help, so I offered him my solution as a writer and artist, when I have difficulty thinking up a character — I whip out Ninjawords (App for iPhone) and use it to pick a random word. I generally throw away a lot of words because on their own, they don’t work for generating an idea. Common nouns and verbs don’t work. Ten dollar words, the kind of words you see on the SAT or any number of placement and achievement exams are great starts. After shuffling through some fairly mundane logisms, I came across conurbation.
This interesting word means: noun – an extended urban area, typically consisting of several towns merging with the suburbs of one or more cities.
Within seconds, I was dashing out an idea for him. From conurbation, I came up with this idea of a middle aged, unreconstructed hippie who had broken off the grid and was living off the land in the rural areas outside a major metroplex. Now, urban sprawl had taken over and plowed his little paradise under. Now, he has to use the skills and instincts he had tuned after years of living in the woods to adapt living in the urban jungle. From there, I, myself was thinking of a lanky, athletic man, medium height with a short beard and short dreadlocks (don’t get caught in mechanical doohickeys), wearing utilitarian leather and linen clothes, decorated with pigeon and hawk feathers, while retaining his old walking stick which he also uses as a defensive device and to let him vault over things.
Sadly, Willy rejected it as boring and gave me all the reasons why he hates hippies. Despite your political views, I think it pays to be open to varied ideas. I mean, I had come up with that entire idea in less than five minutes and had a rough backstory for a character who potentially could be very striking, both visually and from a design/story standpoint. Craven, the idea of a reasonable coward soldier comes to mind almost immediately, but why is he a coward? Has a wife at home who is pregnant with their first child. He already had a close call and would like to be off the front lines. As a result, his anxieties take a hold of him and he hesitates. You could build a game around a character like that if you stretch your imagination a bit.
The point here, is I could come up with 5 interesting ideas in thirty minutes using my method, on a given day, just by playing with my little dictionary app a bit. I recommend giving it a try to see what you come up with.
Now, getting back to Willy, he is also a fan of anime and usually prefers things epic (think Transformers, 2012, lots of big explosions, out there concepts, so on and so forth), so it doesn’t surprise me that something like an unreconstructed hippie maintaining his lifestyle in new urban sprawl might not be super appealing. But it left me thinking, has the glut of ‘epic’ imagery, huge, sprawling storylines, and other artforms and the continuing encroachment of interactive media actually hampered creativity? Another colleague of mine was literally incapable, or at least claimed he was, unable to do anything other than fan art as it what he was comfortable with. Another fixated on two very narrow subjects and had little other interest. All of these individuals had varied talent in artistic medium, but they had a certain level of creative rigidity.
Mind you, this is not a knock, but a personal observation. It also led me to wonder if people who were aspiring to enter the gaming and entertainment industries were actually getting less creative as they increasingly relied on entertainment to be spoon fed or focused on very narrow subjects. From an (quasi-?) outsiders perspective, there seems to be a good deal of annualization going on as well, something a mentor of mine told me to fear as it dilutes creative processes — though I don’t know if it is a good thing or bad, as long as quality keeps being produced. The thing I want to posit, is if anyone in the industry, indie or big-company, or into modding, or just shooting the breeze about ideas, concepts, and characters has noticed a decrease in creativity lately and whether this is an effect of forces within the industry itself or extrinsic forces of more and more people trying to break in for their myriad reasons. I would like to hear your thoughts.