Is Gaming A Waste Of Time (If You’re A Creative Person)?

Well, I still seem to be in a bit more of a computer/video games mood than usual at the moment, so I thought that I’d talk again about yet another way that this topic relates to things like making art, writing fiction, making comics etc..

This article was mostly inspired by this Youtube video which includes a quote from the author G.R.R Martin where he talks about how he lost a lot of writing time during the 1980s due to playing videogames. It was also vaguely inspired by hearing someone refer to games as “time bandits” a few days earlier.

On the surface, playing games may well appear to be “a waste of time”. After all, they usually involve sitting in front of a screen for a few minutes to a few hours, with no tangible real-life result from doing this. I mean, if you make some art, or build a model, or play a musical instrument etc.. then you’ll usually end up with something that other people can enjoy too. So, from this coldly utilitarian perspective, I can see why some might think that playing games is a “waste of time”.

But, by that logic, so is reading novels, watching movies, listening to music, going to the theatre, looking at other works of art, reading comics etc… too. And, yet, there probably isn’t a writer or artist out there who wasn’t inspired to start writing and/or making art because of something that they’ve seen or read. Likewise, there isn’t a single artist or writer out there whose creative works weren’t influenced or inspired by something else that they’ve seen or read.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a painting of mine that will be appearing here later this month:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 19th May.

This digitally-edited painting was initially inspired by listening to various songs by the heavy metal band Cradle Of Filth. The settings in this painting were inspired by various gothic horror settings in movies, TV shows and computer games. Likewise, the ominous red/blue colour scheme was also inspired by similar colour schemes that I’ve seen in movies, games, comics etc… before.

At the very least, games are just another source of inspiration for creative people. A type of source material that, if it’s good enough, can be broken down into it’s most basic elements, re-interpreted and mixed with many other things in order to create new and original things for other people to enjoy.

But, games are much more than this. Another great thing that games can do is to help you deal with artist’s block, writer’s block etc.. too. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the best ways to get into a more inspired frame of mind is to just play a challenging game that you’ve played a lot and/or are good at.

Since you’ll be playing this familiar game “on autopilot”, this gives you room to think and daydream. Your expertise at the game will also help to distract you from the feelings of frustration and/or inadequacy that can block your creativity too. Seriously, it’s a far more productive method for dealing with creative blocks than just staring at a blank page or screen and thinking something like “WHAT can I DO??!? WHY don’t I have any good ideas?!!?“.

This is a screenshot from “Reelism Gold” (2015), a thrillingly challenging, wonderfully nostalgic and hilariously eccentric fan-made modification for “Doom II” (1994). This is one of my go-to games when I’m feeling uninspired.

In addition to this, games aren’t a waste of time for creative people because playing even vaguely good games for a while will probably make you want to make games of your own. But, since making games is a complicated, expensive etc.. process, then you’ll probably end up channelling these new creative urges into things that you can make easily. In other words, art, fiction, comics etc.. So, playing games can (indirectly) make you feel more creative too.

Likewise, games can also be a good litmus test for how good your latest creative project is. If your project is something that you constantly find yourself procrastinating from making by playing games, then this is probably a sign that you need to change something about your project and/or start a new project (so that it is more compelling to make and, by extension, more compelling for your audience to read, look at etc..).

Conversely, if you feel more enthusiastic about making a painting, making a comic or writing a story than you do about playing games, then this is usually a good sign.

So, yes, if you’re a creative person, then playing games isn’t a waste of time. Games can inspire you, they can bypass creative blocks, they can make you feel more creative and they can also help you to see how well your current project is going.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Three Other Things That Heavy Metal Music Can Teach Creative People

Although I’ve written about this topic a couple of times before, I thought that I’d return to the subject of what heavy metal music can teach creative people. This is mostly since I seem to be going through another phase of listening to even more metal than usual (mostly songs by Cradle Of Filth this time round).

So, what else can heavy metal teach creative people?

1) Sophistication (appears in unlikely places): Believe it or not, modern heavy metal is one of the most complex and sophisticated genres of music out there. Since I’m going through a bit of a Cradle Of Filth phase at the moment, I’ll use this band as an example.

At first glance, they don’t really look like a “sophisticated” band – mostly due to the zombie make-up, the borderline-incomprehensible shouted vocals and the fact that some of their songs have “shock value” lyrics.

But, although I’ve already written about how their lyrics are basically old-school poetry in disguise, they are sophisticated in so many other ways too. At least a couple of their albums (eg: “Cruelty And The Beast”, “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” etc..) are concept albums based on various obscure parts of European history.

Not only that, if you listen to the instrumental parts of many of their songs (especially their stuff from the late 1990s/early-mid 2000s onwards), you’ll notice that it can almost sound like a heavier version of classical music of some kind sometimes. Their music videos usually tell a story of some kind or another, and frequently look like small self-contained gothic horror movies.

Especially in the present day, heavy metal is a very sophisticated genre (just listen to Nightwish or most songs by Iron Maiden if you don’t believe me). Yet, there’s surprisingly little pretentiousness surrounding it. Heavy metal bands do all of this amazingly complex and sophisticated stuff, yet metal is one of the most welcoming, generation-neutral (eg: some metal bands are in their 20s, some are in their 60s etc..) and unpretentious musical subcultures out there.

So, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it all has to do with letting your work speak for itself. It is about putting substance over style. It is about the importance of skills and practice, rather than trying to become popular for the sake of it. It’s about building up a fanbase because of the quality of your work rather than “being famous for being famous”.

2) Personality: One cool thing about metal bands is that they each have their own unique personalities and sensibilities. Even when they seem slightly similar, they are still unique in different ways. You can usually tell two metal bands apart from each other just by listening to the way that they play their instruments, write their own songs etc… (Seriously, I cannot overstate the “write their own songs” part enough!)

Even bands within the same sub-genre of metal who have had members in common with each other (such as Gamma Ray and Helloween) are very distinctive. For example, Gamma Ray’s music tends to be a lot louder, slightly slower and more intense, whereas Helloween’s music tends to be slightly lighter, faster and more horror/fantasy-themed. The two bands still sound like they are related to each other, but they also sound different to each other too.

So, again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it is all to do with the value of developing a unique and recognisable style. This is something which is typically developed by taking inspiration from a unique mixture of things that you consider to be “cool”. It also involves, amongst other things, looking for what these “cool” things have in common with each other.

For example, in my own art – many of my influences (be they heavy metal album covers, old horror novel covers, cyberpunk films, old computer games etc..) often make use of high-contrast lighting (or “Tenebrist” lighting, to use the fancy word for it). This is where the colours and/or light sources in a picture are made to look bolder by contrasting them with a darker background. So, naturally, this is a part of my art style. It looks a bit like this:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

3) Maturity: This might surprise you, but heavy metal is probably one of the most sensible and mature genres of music out there. And, I don’t mean “mature” in the sense of one of those silly 1980s “explicit lyrics” stickers that are still somehow a thing these days.

In short, the metal genre has got a lot of the more immature “rebellious shock value” stuff out of it’s system during the 1980s/90s. Since metal is a non-mainstream genre these days, metal bands are thankfully spared the endless controversies that seem to plague anything vaguely popular.

As such, metal bands don’t have to worry too much about either courting controversy or about inadvertently causing it. After all, the only people who listen to metal these days are fans of the genre, so they’re unlikely to be shocked by more traditional elements of the genre.

In other words, metal bands have more creative freedom and, after using it to rebel for a while, they’ve got most of this out of their system and instead usually focus more on making music that is meaningful (or just fun), that sounds good and impresses their fans.

This means that when long-running or modern metal bands use things like four-letter words, disturbing descriptions, risquΓ© descriptions etc… it is often done in a way that is either more moderate, meaningful, infrequent, creative, comedic and/or carefully-considered than you might think. And, surprisingly, the music still sounds just as good!

Since there’s no point in shocking people just for the sake of it any more, these elements either have to be used in a way that actually has artistic merit or not used at all. And, despite heavy metal’s historical reputation as an “edgy” or “controversial” genre, you’d be surprised at how many modern metal songs could probably be played on the radio without censorship if DJs were willing.

So, yet again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…?

Well, simply put, it’s a good example of how creative people mature over time, if given the creative freedom to do so (eg: without having to worry about and/or court controversy all the time). It’s an example of how immature “shock value” will often give way to maturity and artistic merit if creative people aren’t held back by constant controversies etc..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

You Only Get To See Part Of Everything… And That’s Ok

Although this is an article about culture and creative inspiration (and a little bit of philosophy), I’m going to have to start by talking about looking at random photos of a town on the internet. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will be relevant to the main subject of this article.

A while before I wrote this article, I was in something of a nostalgic mood. In particular, I was nostalgic about Aberystwyth during the mid-late 2000s. But instead of looking at the few photos I’d taken back then, I decided to do a few online image searches for other pictures of the town from back then. One thing soon surprised me – for every few locations I recognised, there was one that I didn’t.

Yes, with some of the “mysterious” pictures I saw, I could extrapolate where they were supposed to be from nearby landmarks. But it still made me realise that despite having lived there for several years, there were loads of parts of this wonderful town that I’d never actually seen first-hand.

So, what does any of this have to do with creativity, culture and inspiration? Well, the same thing is true for culture and for the things (eg: genres, periods of history etc..) that inspire us. We never see absolutely everything. And this is a good thing, it is what gives our creative works their originality, humanity and uniqueness.

First of all, not being able to take inspiration from literally everything in a given genre means that we remain curious about the genre in question. Curiosity is one of the most important parts of creative inspiration. It is the thing that makes us want to explore something by creating art, stories etc… about it.

However, there is something of a happy medium here. You need to understand enough about something to feel confident creating stuff in it, but not know enough to still feel curious.

For example, even though the cyberpunk genre has been one of my favourite genres for over a decade, I only really started making cyberpunk art even vaguely regularly after I’d done a lot more research into the genre during 2015/16. Yet, I still certainly haven’t seen everything in the genre.

“Coast Road” By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

“Storage” By C. A. Brown

Secondly, not seeing everything means that you will probably have at least slightly different inspirations from everyone else. For example, when searching for photos of Aberysywth online, I also found a few paintings of the town by another artist.

The interesting thing was that many of them seemed to be based around the castle near the old college (somewhere I saw from a distance, but never visited). Yet, whenever I take inspiration from Aberystwyth, most of my paintings tend to be of the coast and/or town centre (mostly since this is where most of my own photos of the town were taken), the rooms I lived in or my memories of my two favourite nightclubs in the town (eg: The Angel and the sadly defunct “The Bay”).

“Days Of The Angel” By C. A. Brown

“And I Fell Into Yesterday” By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Misty Morning” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, only seeing part of something means that the things you create will be different to what other people who are fans of the thing in question will make.

Thirdly, on a more philosophical level, not seeing everything is also something that lends art a certain level of humanity.

After all, we don’t get to see everything. We all experience life from a single first-person perspective. We rarely get to see even a fraction of the Earth’s entire surface first-hand. We only get to directly experience less than a century of the Earth’s long history. We only get to read/watch/play a miniscule fraction of all the creative works ever made. We only actually get to meet a tiny proportion of the Earth’s entire population. I could go on for a while.

Not seeing everything (and, by extension, not knowing everything) is a very important, but often forgotten, part of the human condition. So, embrace it!

It isn’t all bad – it is what lends our lives, personalities and creative works their uniqueness. It is what gives us the curiosity we need in order to be creative ( I mean, just think of how cynical and jaded you would be if you’d read every novel ever written, watched every film ever made etc..). It is what makes other people’s creative works so fascinating. Again, I could go on for a while.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Creativity And Originality Are Different Things – A Ramble

Well, since I’m still going through more of a retro gaming phase than usual at the moment, I thought that I’d look at another thing that computer and video games from the 1990s can teach us about making art, writing fiction, making webcomics etc… I am, of course, talking about the difference between creativity and originality.

The 1990s has something of a reputation for being one of the most creative decades in the history of computer and video games. Yet, it was probably also one of the least original decades in gaming history.

Because gaming was still something of a “new” medium during the 1990s, the people who made games often had to take heavy influence from other artforms (eg: cinema, television, music etc..) – and this actually resulted in better and more creative games, even if they were less “original” than they might initially seem to be. Likewise, games often took inspiration from other games too – and still managed to be extremely creative.

Why? Because there’s no such thing as a truly “original” creative work. Everything is inspired by something. What really matters is both how many inspirations you have and what you do with them.

Before I go any further, I should probably talk about copyright law and how it relates to creative people. Although I’m not a copyright lawyer (and this shouldn’t be considered legal advice), even some basic research will show you that most copyright laws around the world are explicitly designed to encourage creative people to take inspiration from other stuff. The only thing that they prohibit is lazy and uncreative plagiarism.

In other words, copyright law does not cover concepts or ideas, it only covers the highly-specific way that these things are expressed.

To use a retro gaming-related example, both 1992’s “Alone In The Dark” and 1996’s “Resident Evil” are horror games about people stranded in old, monster-filled mansions. They both include fixed camera angles, deliberately awkward controls, lots of in-game documents, item-based puzzles, a choice of either a male or female protagonist, a third-person perspective etc… In terms of ideas and concepts, both games are very similar…..

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992), a game set within a monster-filled mansion.

This is a screenshot from the 1997 Director’s Cut version of “Resident Evil” (1996), a game set within a monster-filled mansion.

Yet, these games express these similar ideas and concepts in very different ways.

“Alone In The Dark” is a more ‘traditional’ horror game that is set in the early 20th century and is inspired by old horror literature (H.P.Lovecraft in particular). There is less of an emphasis on weapons/combat and more on puzzle-solving and exploration. The game’s horror relies on slowly creating an ominous atmosphere of dread, with barely any blood or gory detail being shown.

“Resident Evil”, on the other hand, takes influence from more modern horror and thriller movies. It focuses on a highly-trained elite police unit that is stranded near a decrepit old mansion during the summer of 1998. The game’s array of realistic modern weapons have well-researched descriptions in the game’s item menu. There’s slightly more of an emphasis on combat, resource management and grisly blood-spattered horror. Later on, the game even begins to introduce elements from the science fiction genre too.

Because both games can draw on a common set of ideas and concepts, this frees the creators up to focus on expressing these ideas in unique and creative ways. Because the developers can’t make exactly the same game, it means that they have to look for ideas and concepts from other things (that aren’t games). This sort of thing results in a much greater level of creativity, even if the things created aren’t entirely “original”.

So, yes, creativity and originality are two different things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Let Enjoyment Be Your Guide – A Ramble

Well, although today’s article won’t directly be about creating things, it will be about all of the culture and/or entertainment that inspire us and drive us to create things of our own. So, yes, this is another article that is mostly about being a member of the audience.

A while ago, I started to think (yet again) about how I’m completely and utterly “out of date” with modern computer and video gaming- or, rather, more out of date than I used to be when I was younger.

I started to think about how I prefer single-player gaming to modern online multiplayer, how all of my knowledge of gamer culture is either first-hand knowledge from the early-mid ’00s or second-hand knowledge from modern Youtube videos etc…. How virtually all of the computer games I play these days are older games or more low-budget modern games. How the “newest” game consoles I own come from the early 2000s. And… I love it!

Although this used to make me feel like I was losing touch with a key part of who I am and made me worry that I wasn’t “cool” any more, it doesn’t really do this any more. Because, I realised that the whole point of gaming is to have fun. It isn’t to show off or to be part of a “culture” or whatever. It’s just sitting in front of a computer (or a console) and relaxing for a few minutes to a few hours.

The same is true for so many other things too. For example, I’ve always just listened to the music that I enjoy, regardless of whether it is considered “cool” or not. Whether it’s various old and new heavy metal bands, various 1990s punk bands, various gothic rock songs, a few pieces of rap music, various acoustic musicians, various pieces of old 1980s/90s pop music, a few classical pieces etc.. I listen to music because I enjoy it rather than because it happens to be trendy at the moment.

So, why am I rambling about all of this stuff? Well, it’s because the best approach to modern culture is simply to let enjoyment be your guide. If you worry too much about being “up to date” or being what other people consider to be “cool”, then you’re missing the point. The whole point of entertainment and culture in general is fun and relaxation. It’s meant to make us feel positive emotions, to expand our imaginations and to make us relax.

If you’re a creative person, then this also has another cool side-effect too – originality. If you focus on the things that you enjoy, then you are probably going to end up with a more distinctive and unique mixture of creative inspirations. This will make your creative works look a bit different to those produced by people who are eager to be “up to date” with current trends.

But, most of all, you’ll have fun. And this sense of fun will remind you why culture and entertainment matter so much. There’s a famous quote from Alan Moore, where he talks about how “art is magic”, because of the way that it can affect how people think and feel. So, if you focus on the parts of culture that you enjoy, then you will get to experience this a lot more often. And, if you’re a creative person, then this can also be a great source of motivation too.

So, yes, let enjoyment be your guide.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

How Limitations Made Older Creative Works So Different To Modern Ones

Although I’ve briefly mentioned this subject at least once or twice before, I thought that I’d take a deeper look at how limitations made “older” creative works so distinctive, in case it’s useful for anyone wanting to re-create things that look like they were made in the past. This isn’t to say that older creative works are inherently better than all modern ones (a lot of them are, but a few aren’t) but they are certainly different.

In short, older creative works often have a lot more “individuality” due to the limitations that the people making them had. The most notable of these is that research was a lot more complicated, limited and time-consuming in the era before the internet really became mainstream. Yes, this limitation was almost certainly a bad thing in many ways – but it also had some very positive effects too.

Because of this limitation, creative people either had to rely on things like narrowly-focused research, their existing knowledge/experience, extrapolating from what information they could find, their own imaginations and/or things that were already widely-known.

Not having instant access to vast swathes of humanity’s knowledge had a huge effect on the tone, style, individuality and atmosphere of many older creative works. In some cases, this led to works having a slightly more “local” setting, attitude and tone to them. In other cases, this led to creative works almost seeming like a non-fiction book or documentary about some obscure subject or another. In other situations, this led to creative works having more of a “timeless” quality since people were forced to take inspiration from things like their own imaginations, widely-known classics etc…

In addition to this, there were also many more practical and financial limitations on how much creative people could learn about the field that they were working in. These limitations actually had a surprisingly positive impact on a lot of creative works, and helped to promote a certain level of creative diversity too.

A good example of this can be seen in the horror genre. These days, a lot of things in the horror genre (including many of my own works in this genre) are knowingly “ironic” and will often contain all sorts of references to other things in the genre. In a lot of ways, this is a very good thing – the irony helps to prevent the horror from being depressing and the references help audience members to feel more like part of a community. But, at the same time, it makes things in the horror genre a little bit less… distinctive.

To give you an example, two famous splatterpunk authors in 1980s Britain were Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker. Although they had obviously read and watched other works in the horror genre before they decided to add to it themselves, they didn’t have instant access to information about a lot of works in the genre, the international fan culture surrounding the genre, critical commentary/analysis surrounding the genre etc…

And, as such, these two authors have radically different approaches to the same genre – because they had to work it out for themselves. Clive Barker’s approach to splatterpunk fiction is more character-based, more fantastical and more “intellectual”. When something grisly happens in one of his stories, it not only has a noticeable effect on the characters, but it is often described in an almost poetic way – almost as if it had beauty of some kind.

On the other hand, Shaun Hutson’s approach to splatterpunk fiction is more “realistic”, “local” and “gritty”. His stories are often set in bleak rural or urban parts of Britain, his characters are a little bit more minimalist, his narrative style is a bit more “down to earth” and, whenever something grisly happens, it is often described in a much more “practical” or “scientific” way (for example, a notable trope in his stories is characters suffering injuries to their scapula bone).

Yet, if both authors had instant access to comprehensive information what their contemporaries around the world were doing (as opposed to whatever the local bookshop or video shop happened to stock) and to horror fan culture in general, then this would not only have affected the stories that they told, but also the way in which they told those stories. But, because they didn’t have any of this, they pretty much had to come up with their own distinctive “versions” of the splatterpunk genre.

So, yes, even something as simple as a limitation on the research that creative people can do can have a huge effect on what is produced. And, yes, most of what makes older creative works different from newer ones comes from the fact that people had more limitations in the past (eg: censorship, research, tools, technology, communications etc..).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

What To Do If You Feel Creatively Inspired By Something You Don’t Like

As usual, although this is an article about taking inspiration before making things like art, prose fiction, comics etc.. I’m going to have to start by talking about something a bit different (eg: one type of horror movie and how my view of it has changed over time) for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later in the article.

The day before I prepared the first draft of this article, I briefly found myself absolutely fascinated with a type of horror film that I usually roll my eyes at. After seeing a review on Youtube of a modern computer game that was based on the “Friday 13th” films, I temporarily became absolutely fascinated by classic 1980s/90s American slasher films. It was the kind of fascinated mood that is perfect for creative inspiration.

For about half an hour, I really wanted to see one of these films. However, when looking online for second-hand DVDs and reviews of them, I suddenly remembered why they were my least-favourite genre of horror film. They’re a bit predictable, they’re uncreative, they’re ludicrously contrived, my tastes in horror have changed etc..

To my late twentysomething self, the descriptions of the gory horrors in the DVD reviews just seemed a bit… gross. For half a second, I even caught myself thinking “Why the hell would anyone want to watch this? It’s just melodramatic death for the sake of melodramatic death?“.

Then I remembered how my immature teenage self thought that such vintage horror movies were really cool for the simple reason that I wasn’t officially “old enough” to watch them. It was a time when watching any gory horror movies that I could get hold of and reading lots of second-hand splatterpunk horror novels seemed to be a really cool act of rebellion.

Of course, now that I’m more than old enough to buy whatever ultra-gruesome horror movies I want, I find that I don’t watch them that often. If anything, most of my favourite things in the horror genre these days often tend to be in less “serious” versions of the genre (eg: comedy horror movies, knowingly silly zombie/monster movies, sci-fi horror, stylised gothic horror, the TV show “Supernatural”, classic horror-themed computer games etc..). My teenage self would probably be ashamed of me.

Yet, none of this changes the fact that I briefly felt fascinated by a type of horror movie I don’t like, of all things! But, why did this happen and what should you do if you find yourself feeling inspired by something that you normally don’t like?

I felt fascinated by a genre of horror that I don’t like for the simple reason that there was a lot of other inspirational stuff surrounding that genre….

There was nostalgia for when watching these movies seemed “rebellious”, there was the idea of horror movies being important enough to have their own “mythology” (eg: all of the various incarnations of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers etc..), there were the wonderfully relaxing secluded locations these films are set in, there’s the fact that the horror genre used to be more popular in the past, there’s the fact that these films used to be associated with the heavy metal genre, there’s the fact that they’re something from the 1980s and 1990s etc…

All of these things made me feel inspired, but none of them were the actual films themselves.

So, if you suddenly find yourself feeling fascinated and/or creatively inspired by something that you ordinarily don’t like, then take a deeper look at why you feel this way. There’s a very good chance that you aren’t actually being inspired by the thing in question, but by either what it represents and/or the things associated with it.

Once you realise this, you’ll probably feel a bit less freaked out. Not only that, you can also take inspiration from these surrounding elements in a more focused way too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚