Newsweek has an article on the fact that “CQ” is falling for American students. CQ is a measure developed by E. P. Torrance that seems to be a pretty good predictor for creative success in basically any field. In other words, since around 1990, American kids have been getting measurably less creative.
Alas, early in the article, we see games getting blamed:
It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children. [emphasis mine]
Is this in fact the case? After all, the rest of the article (and the rest of the research in the field) seems to suggest that handing students problems and obliging them to think about possible solutions, is a much better way to go than rote memorization. And that is what the best games do.
But it is also definitely true that many games these days “come with the answers” — there’s only one way to solve the puzzles they present — a “through line” that was created by the designers. Could games like this, as opposed to ones that provide truly emergent answers, be an issue in terms of creative development?
One interesting point that is mentioned in the article is that the creation of paracosms during childhood; apparently the creation of detailed imaginary worlds when you’re 10 has a high correlation with eventually winning a MacArthur “Genius” grant! This of course is a common activity for anyone who got into roleplaying at that age. But does immersing yourself in someone else’s paracosm provide the same, or lesser, or no benefits in terms of developing your own creative juices? Should I be less concerned with my daughter’s seemingly endless sessions of what she terms “LARPing” with her friends (not really formal LARPing as such, more like collaborative unstructured roleplay sessions), and more concerned with my son’s total immersion in the Pokemon universe?
Personally, I have always found creativity to be all about juxtaposing concepts and ideas from different fields and places, making unexpected connections. But many of the markers that are described in the article certainly fit my childhood. I also played a lot of games — and I used them as an outlet for creativity. Games have changed a lot since then, though.
It does seem like it behooves us as game developers to at least attempt to make games that encourage creative thinking, if not out of some sense of civic or moral obligation, then as a way of “paying it forward” — something made us creative enough to make the games in the first place, so we shouldn’t hog all the fun.