Why Difficult Computer Games Are Good For Your Creativity

Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this before, I thought that I’d look at why difficult computer games are good for your creativity – since, although I’m not sure when or if I’ll review either of these games, I’ve occasionally been playing two games that – whilst very different from each other – have one important thing in common.

I am, of course, talking about “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure” (1992) and “Devil Daggers” (2016). And, yes, these two games have more in common than you might think – even if it might not seem like it at first glance:

Two images beside each other. One is from a bright, cartoonish 2D platform game showing an adorable alien creature in a forest. The other is from a first person shooter game, showing a hand pointing towards darkness, skulls and blood. The text below them reads "And, yes, these games have more in common than you might think. Let's talk about difficulty, practice and failure"

Screenshots from “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure” (1992) and “Devil Daggers” (2016), two surprisingly similar games.

Even though both game look very different from each other and are in different genres, they handle difficulty in the same way 🙂 In both games, there is no “easy” mode and you can expect to fail very very often. But, far from being a flaw, this is actually part of the fun.

In order to make any progress, you have to practice playing them. You have to persevere. When you start a new game or a new level, there is an extremely high chance that you won’t make it to the other end. But, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting a little bit further than you did last time and then doing this enough times that it becomes second-nature to you, allowing you to gradually make more and more progress. These games are hard. And this is really good for your creativity.

But, why?

Well, you’ve probably guessed already, but it is because they not only teach the importance of practice (which is essential for making art, writing fiction etc…) but – even more importantly – they make you more comfortable with failure. Although failure might sound like the last thing that you should be comfortable with if you want to be an artist, a writer etc… It is an essential part of being these things.

Take a look at your favourite novels, comics, albums, movies etc.. They all exist because of failure. They all exist because, at some point in the past, someone with very little experience or practice wanted to be an artist, writer, musician, film-maker, actor etc… And, the very first time they tried this, they failed. They probably failed the second, third, fourth etc.. I’m sure you get the idea. The important thing was that, after every failure, they picked themselves up and gave it another try. They knew that it might take a lot of failures but, eventually, they would get it right.

All creativity requires determination. It requires failing and then trying again. Not only that, it requires being ok with failing and being willing to experiment. And this is another thing that difficult computer games can teach us. After all, if you fail several times in a row at a computer game, then you’ll usually want to try a slightly different strategy. Even in a game like “Devil Daggers” – where there is no way to “win” – you’ll still want to try different tactics in order to survive for a few seconds longer or get a few more points.

Needless to say, this attitude is also one that you’ll want to take when you’re creating stuff. For example, if your novel seems to have stalled or is going nowhere, then you need to take action and do something different. Whether this involves changing your plans for the story, rewriting part of it or even starting a different novel project, the important thing is to think about what to improve, to do it and – above all- to keep writing.

But, more than all of this, difficult computer games are good for your creativity because they teach you the importance of the process, rather than the goal. Although “winning” is a side-effect of lots of practice, the real fun of a difficult computer game is getting there. It is those many nights where, knowing that you probably won’t win, you play anyway because you want to see how far you will get and because you enjoy the experience of the game itself. And if you take this attitude towards your writing practice, art practice etc… then it’ll be a lot less of a chore.

Of course, the massive irony of all of this is that time spent getting better at playing challenging computer games is probably time you could be spending practicing your writing, art etc… Still, if you want to develop a better attitude towards learning a creative skill, then try playing some fiendishly difficult computer games. Just not for too long though.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

2 comments on “Why Difficult Computer Games Are Good For Your Creativity

  1. Marushka says:

    Haha my favorite game is Stardew Valley -not exactly the level of your games, but it does teach patience! I really liked the connection you draw between games and failure and creation. The first 12 years of education try to teach success. Most creators, I believe, spend quite a lot of time learning the opposite – how to fail well, early, often, and build on the remains.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Thanks 🙂 I haven’t played Stardew Valley, but from reviews of it, I can see what you mean about it teaching patience. But, yeah, learning how to handle (and learn from) failure is a surprisingly important skill.

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