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Stop Gaming and you will be a Better Designer

Giving your brain a short rest isn't always enough. Try shutting it out from all game-related tasks for a week and you'll supercharge it.

This post previously appeared on Wiltgren.com

Challenge: forbid yourself quoteThis is one of those insights where you’ve either figured it out and it’s perfectly logical or you haven’t thought about it before and it sounds absolutely preposterous.

Me, I force-figured it out by reading the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a guideline to getting your creative juices flowing and writing/painting/dancing/what-have-you-ing with joy and immediacy. In effect it’s a workbook where Cameron takes you through a week-by-week course in, well, finding the joy in creation. Yeah, I’ve used joy twice. That’s what it feels like after you’ve followed the guide for a while (and if you’ve followed this blog you’ll notice how I keep harping about it – it really did change my creative habit, my self-image and my willingness to show courage).

Now, most of the chapters deal with stuff like finding the strength to follow your dreams, or the persistence, or feeling safe with your creativity. But one deals with silence. Specifically the silence of not doing any creating. And it’s the most glorious feeling ever.

So here’s my challenge to you: for a week, forbid yourself to do anything with games. No playing, no designing, no reading about them, no computer gaming, no talking about games, no BGG, no Gamasutra, nothing relating to games at all.

Ok, you can do sports if you like. But only if you Moonwalk after you score (pics or it didn’t happen).

I’m predicting that the first day will feel liberating, and empty. If you’re anything like me you’ll find that you’ve got lots of spare time and no idea what to do with it.

If you want to do it hard core, don’t allow yourself to read or watch TV either. Just shut down.

What will happen is that your brain will go bonkers. It takes effort to stop doing something that you’re accustomed to and if you’re used to gaming, reading or watching TV your brain will attempt to continue the habit after a few hours/days. You’ll start to pick up a game or book, surf to BGG, do stuff that you usually do. And when you then stop, forbidding it to yourself, all that energy that would have gone down that path will try to escape.

But you won’t be able to vent it in your usual manner. Instead your brain will start making stuff up. Perhaps you’ll dream about gaming. Perhaps you’ll get vivid memories of games you’ve played. Perhaps you’ll feel a craving for games. If you don’t give in your brain will seek other outlets. Probably it will go down paths of secondary habits. But if you’ve blocked reading/TV/navel-gazing then it won’t be able to quench itself in your other mental comfort foods. And then something interesting will happen.

Start to create quoteWhen you can’t expend your energy on consuming your habit then your brain will start to create your habit itself. You will, effectively, be pushing all that energy into creativity relating to what you like. If you’re a chef you might get ideas for great dishes. If you’re a driver you might get ideas for how to do that perfect tailspin. And if you’re a game designer you will suddenly be popping up ideas for games, mechanics and solutions at a rate that you’ve never experienced before.

That’s your brain going insane. Denied input it will create its own input. And if you’re used to designing games, or thinking about designing games, then chances are it will take the path of least resistance and create input that relates to what it’s used to create.

And then you’ll be rocking.


From Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing and Productivity. New updates every Monday and Friday.

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