Leaving Room To Imagine – A Ramble

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Although this is an article about creativity in general, I’m probably going to have to start by talking about computer games for a while. This is mainly because, as regular readers of this site know, I mostly play old games and/or low-budget indie games these days.

Anyway, one of the interesting things about old and low-budget games is the fact that they often don’t include “realistic” graphics. Likewise, really old-school/low-budget games sometimes don’t even include voice acting – choosing instead to use text for the dialogue. Here are some examples of the types of games I’m talking about:

This is a screenshot from "The Last Door: Season 2" (2016).

This is a screenshot from “The Last Door: Season 2” (2016). Note the use of text-based dialogue and the impressionistic graphics.

This is a screenshot from "Zombie Shooter" (2007)

This is a screenshot from “Zombie Shooter” (2007). Note the “unrealistic” graphics.

This is a screenshot from "Eradicator" (1996). Surprisingly, it is the only game of these three that actually includes voice-acting.

This is a screenshot from “Eradicator” (1996). Surprisingly, it is the only game of these three that actually includes voice-acting.

Yet, surprisingly, these games are often a lot more engrossing than more “realistic” games would be. For the most part, this is because these games don’t try to look ultra-realistic. In fact, they often leave a lot of visual details purposely or accidentally vague.

This, of course, means that not only does the player focus more on the events of the game than on the graphics, but it means that the player also has to actually use their imagination to work out what the locations are supposed to look like. These games give the player enough visual details to give them an idea of what the setting is meant to be, but it is left up to them to fill in the fine details with their own imaginations.

Likewise, the lack of voice-acting in some of these games means that it is left to the player to work out what the characters’ voices sound like. Like with reading a novel or a comic, the audience’s imaginations are probably going to come up with better voice acting than most voice-actors could probably do. After all, your own imagination is better at coming up with things that are well-suited to you than anyone else is.

In fact, comics are probably another good example of this sort of thing.

The artwork in many comics is deliberately unrealistic (for both time reasons and creative reasons). They don’t include voice-acting either. Likewise, they only show still “frames” from a movie-like series of events. And, yet, a good comic can often be more immersive and interesting than a film for the simple reason that the audience is left to imagine things like the fine details of the world, the sound of the characters’ voices etc… And, well, imagination is usually better than expensive special effects or A-list actors.

The best way to see how important leaving room for the audience to imagine things is to start by watching a film adaptation of a novel you haven’t read. Then read the original novel. I can almost guarantee that you’ll probably imagine the characters, voices, locations and events of the novel in a pretty similar way to how they looked in the film.

Now try the same thing in reverse. Read a popular novel that you enjoy, then watch the film adaptation of it (that you’ve never seen before). Chances are, the film will look at least slightly different to what you imagined when you were reading the novel. In fact, there are actually a few film adaptations that I absolutely refuse to watch, lest they ruin my imagined ideas about what the characters and/or settings of several novels look like.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the point is that – if you are creating something – then you need to leave room for your audience to use their imaginations. You need to give them the space to come up with their own custom interpretation of the story you are telling.

In other words, you don’t have to make the art in your comics hyper-detailed, you shouldn’t worry if your fiction never gets adapted into a film etc… The more room that your audience has to imagine things, the better.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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