Transformative games: engines of creativity


I recently stumbled upon an excellent episode of “Small Empires,” a show about small companies doing big things, that highlighted many of the reasons why we need transformative games. I’ve only embedded relevant clips below, but this episode is worth watching in its entirety, especially if you are interested in startups and the creative process. 

Everyone can be creative, but…

FiftyThree was founded by a group of tech veterans who passionately believe that everyone can be creative but many of us are out of practice and therefore lack confidence in our abilities.

We need the right tools

There are excellent drawing tools out there. Unfortunately, many of them have steep learning curves that discourage people from using them. But what if there was something powerful but easy to use? Beautiful and joyful? That is why FiftyThree created their iPad app, Paper.

Designed the right way

FiftyThree created Paper with design in mind. They tossed out everything that did not serve to make the creative experience beautiful, easy, and enjoyable. For them, the question wasn’t “How do we create a drawing program?” but “How do we create a transformative experience?” For them, technology was a tool, a means to a greater end. As the host noted, it’s a bit ironic that a bunch of ex-Microsofters would win an Apple design award, but hopefully this trend will continue. We are awash in a sea of data, and its sheer size and complexity threatens to overwhelm us. It’s not enough to create tools that collect and manage data anymore. We need good design. The people that can help us make sense of everything in an elegant and intuitive way are the ones who will rise to the top.

This is where the future of games is headed as well. Already, the question is no longer “How do we make a game fun?” but “How do we make it stand out?” We have many fun games now, but people only have so much time to play them. To stand out, a game must be more than “fun for fun’s sake.” With their interactivity, games can go where film and books cannot. They can be engines of creativity. Fun is a tool that designers can use to achieve greater ends. Be bold with it. Challenge us to learn new skills. Open our minds to new perspectives. Connect us with others who we otherwise would not meet. Fun is a shot of dopamine that quickly fades. To be remembered, you must leave a mark.

The need has never been greater

The most poignant part of this episode comes when the host asks a high school teacher how his students are taking advantage of tools like Paper. They aren’t–they can’t–at least not initially. This is because creativity–even the ability to think for themselves–has been trained out of them by an education system fixated on quantifiable measures and college prep. For this to change, we need to create the right tools and get them into the hands of students as early as possible. Then we need to give them a reason and the opportunity to use them; otherwise, we are just churning out zombies–well educated zombies–but zombies nonetheless.

We don’t need zombies. Zombies will be the first victims of rapidly advancing robots and artificial intelligence. We need creative thinkers and doers. This is not a superhero movie where only a select few have mutant powers. We all have the creative spark within us. Let’s fan the flames, not let it flicker out.


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