Creativity problem-solving can be a way to spur creativity. We have to create new knowledge - even if it's only new to us - to overcome an obstacle using our brains only. It is important that creativity-driven challenges involve a specific set of constraints. An open canvas is not always conducive to creativity – a blank space can be intimidating, as storytellers with writer's block can attest. So the designer has to set a clear goal and make the constraints very clear to the player.
The player may only need to find one solution, but the ways to get to it may be many—some may be obvious, some may not have been anticipated by the game designers themselves.
This type of challenge can train us for abilities beyond games. Mathematical geniuses resolve the most difficult problems because they can think of original ways of finding a solution, while artists find new points of view to show us the world and make us understand it in a novel manner. The key to creating games that encourage creativity is therefore to give room to the player to come up with different solutions, but always within the established constraints.
An example of games that encourage creativity in problem-solving is the genre of physics puzzles. The game series The Incredible Machine required players to create Rube Goldberg contraptions in order to achieve outlandish goals. The game also included a “free mode” where players could come up with their own machines and save them. You can play it online right now.
Contraption Maker, its current spiritual successor, includes the possibility of share the machines created by players, and there are online videos of people showing off their contraptions. In the same, players post videos of their adventures in Minecraft, another game that spurs creativity by inviting players to build whatever they fancy, such as the Hogwarths School of Wizardry.
What makes a successful mind game that encourages creativity is both a set of interesting constraints, as well as the possibility to generate objects that can be shared and displayed to other people.
About the Author
Clara Fernández-Vara is the co-founder of Fiction Control, a narrative design company, and Associate Arts Professor at the NYU Game Center. She's a game designer and writer as well as an academic, so her work combines scholarship with the creation of narrative games both for research and in the commercial sphere.