Three Geeky Ways To Get Artistic Inspiration (From Playing Computer Games)

2016 Artwork Computer games and artistic inspiration sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve been in slightly more of a gaming mood than usual over the past few days.

So, continuing with this theme, I thought that I’d take a look at the various ways that computer games (and videogames too, I guess) can be powerful inspirational tools for artists. I’m sure that I’ve probably written about this before, but I felt like revisiting the topic again.

Gaming can be a useful source of inspirational, regardless of which types of computer games that you play but, in my experience, some types of games tend to be more inspirational than others (eg: “point and click” adventure games, old first-person shooter [FPS] games with sprite-based graphics, old-school survival horror games etc..). Then again, these are just some of my favourite types of games – so your experience may vary.

Before I begin, I should probably give the obvious disclaimer that – unless you’re making non-commercial fan art and/or legally-protected parodies – then you shouldn’t directly copy anything that you see in a game or in a mod. There’s a huge difference between plagiarism and inspiration.

Anyway, let’s get started:

1) Mods: Although I don’t want to get into PCMR-style snobbery here, one of the advantages of computer games over console games is the fact that many computer games can be modified (modded) by their fans and these mods are often shared non-commercially on the internet. Not only can this extend the life of a game very significantly, but a good mod can take a familiar game in a direction that the game’s creators could never have thought of.

Yes, some genres tend to have a lot more mods than others (eg: classic 1990s FPS games often have more mods than anyone can ever hope to play, whereas “point and click” games have virtually no mods) but if a game’s popular enough and it’s been around long enough, then there’s a good chance that you can find mods for it on the internet.

Although I’m not really very good at making mods, I’ve certainly played more than my fair share of mods (mostly for “Doom II”, but occasionally for games like “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Left4Dead2” etc… too) over the years and they can be a surprisingly powerful way to get inspired.

Not only do mods remind you that “ordinary” people can do astonishingly creative things, but they also make you think “if I could mod a game, what would it look like?“. In other words, they get you to think about “ordinary” things in new and imaginative ways. They get you to think about how you can add your own creative ideas to well-established ideas and themes.

Again, you shouldn’t directly copy anything that you see in a game. But, once you’ve thought of a great idea for a mod, then make a piece of art that gets this idea across without actually including any copyrighted content from the game that inspired you. For example, here’s a digitally-edited painting of mine, based on an idea for a “Doom II” mod that I had:

"FPS 1994 - Pyro War" By C. A. Brown

“FPS 1994 – Pyro War” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, here’s a drawing that I made when I wondered what a “Resident Evil”-style zombie survival horror game would look like if it had a 1980s cyberpunk setting:

"Dead Sector" By C. A. Brown

“Dead Sector” By C. A. Brown

2) Thinking three-dimensionally: Last autumn, I read a really fascinating BBC article which talked about all of the benefits of playing computer and video games. Anyway, one of the things that the article mentioned was that games can help you to think three-dimensionally.

Although I already knew about this from experience, knowing how to think in three-dimensions is an essential technical skill for any artist.

But, more than that, it also helps you to think of ideas for drawings and paintings too. Because you think of the settings and characters in your artwork in a holistic three-dimensional way, it’s easier to come up with dramatic settings, intriguing compositions and interesting backstories for your artwork than it is if you just think about making two-dimensional images.

If you think three-dimensionally, then you’re more likely to see your drawings and paintings as snapshots of a three-dimensional scene or part of a larger story. This can help you to create some absolutely amazing artwork.

As well as being exposed to a lot of three-dimensional objects (that are presented on a two-dimensional screen), playing computer games can also be a potent source of creative inspiration because they immerse you in an interactive three-dimensional world. This tends to work best in “point and click” adventure games (even ones with 2D graphics), but it can also work well with FPS games too.

When the almost-omniscient experience of being immersed in interactive fictional worlds becomes familar to you, it’s a lot easier to think about your paintings and drawings in this way.

"Stratopolis" By C. A. Brown

“Stratopolis” By C. A. Brown

For example, when I was making this painting, I tried (and failed) to include realistic reflections in the rain-soaked courtyard in the distance. Because I thought about the setting of the painting as a whole (as if it was part of a computer game), I was able to remember to include details like this fairly quickly.

3) Mindlessness: I’ve probably mentioned this before, but playing a familiar (but unpredictable and challenging) computer game can be an almost meditative experience. You can just kind of zone out slightly and focus on playing the game for the sake of playing the game.

This works best with incredibly challenging old-style FPS games played on the higher difficulty settings (eg: since you have no hope of winning, you can just focus on playing), but it can also work very well with modern “casual” games too (such as hidden object games or fast-paced puzzle games like “Peggle” or “Luxor”).

One of the main sources of artist’s block can be trying too hard. If you just sit around frantically racking your brains for a good idea for your next painting or drawing, then there’s a good chance that you won’t come up with one. You’ll probably just feel frustrated and miserable.

So, zoning out and playing computer games for a while can be both a great way to distract yourself from this frustrated mood (giving your mind room to work on creative ideas in the background) and a good way to get into a “productively bored” state of mind which is very conducive to daydreaming. And, when it comes to getting inspired, it’s always a good idea to start daydreaming.

Anyway, I hope that this was useful šŸ™‚

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