Supercharging the Creative Process:
A Roadmap Toward Better Art
Part 5, Creativity and Games
Many people have woken up to the realization that life is a game.
I’m not sure who was first to advance the theory. But the concept certainly opens some very practical doors that might otherwise remain closed.
For example, the only time playing a game is fun is when you are actually playing. If someone won’t let you play, it’s not very fun. If you cheat, it’s not very fun. If you get injured and have to sit on the sidelines: not very fun. If you never actually start playing in the first place, it’s not very fun. Once you win and the game is over, it’s no longer fun.
I first experienced the latter when I was 8. I had broken my arm and my mother bought me a set of toy building blocks called Tog’ls similar to Legos. I set out to make a fortress and a car so I could then “play.” I spent several hours, building everything so I could play. Finally I finished my fortress and was ready to start playing. But the game of “build a fortress” was over.
While it was satisfying to accomplish my goal, it rapidly became apparent there was nothing to do and no more fun to be had since I’d used up all the blocks making the house. All the fun had been in the building. Many people make the same mistake in life. They plan to get a car, home, spouse, etc., so they can then “live.” But once they have everything, they find themselves intensely bored. The are just existing, not really living.
The game Monopoly serves as a fine example. The object is to buy up all the real estate and “win” the game. But the fun is all in the struggle to buy up the property. After you get it all, the game is over.
At that point there has to be a new game. How does that translate into real life? Well, maybe some wealthy people should figure out something constructive to do with all that money. I suggest something that would help others. Build a hospital. Start a TV station. Whatever. There always has to be a new game ready to go before the old one is over.
So let’s examine games, because if life is a game, this would serve as a very useful philosophic machine.
Games are made of three essential elements: freedoms, barriers and objectives. Remove any of those elements and you have no game.
Freedoms are things you can do. Draw a card, spin the wheel or roll the dice. Barriers are the rules by which you play. Got to stay on the path. Can’t steal other’s stuff. Objectives are what you want to accomplish, and often include the steps to get you there.
But a game also requires participation. If you cheat, you are actually no longer participating in the game. You are playing a different game. By your own actions you’ve now made it impossible to win the original game since you are no longer playing.
Or, if you are just sitting there observing, endlessly planning to participate but not actually doing it, that is also not so much fun.
Living can be defined as having and following one or more objectives. Simple but deep. Does it matter what your objective is? Yes, in that you have to select an objective that belongs to the game you want to win.
Let’s take a marriage. The only way to win at marriage is to be faithful to your partner, i.e. play by the rules. You can cheat on your partner, but then you are no longer playing the game of marriage.
You’re playing the game of cheating. You might get caught and lose that game. Or you might never get caught and actually win at the game of cheating. However, you can never win the game of marriage, because you took yourself out of that game and besides, you yourself will always know you cheated. You can pretend victory, but in your heart you will know you didn’t actually win. And so the victory will be hollow instead of fulfilling.
You rob yourself of the pleasure of winning as soon as you break the rules. The only way to fix this, if you realize you have shifted games, is to come clean. Explain what happened, weather the consequences and make up the damage.
In life, you can get rich by cheating other people out of their money. That could bring you a lot of wealth, but by cheating others you’d forfeit your chances of enjoying the game. To forfeit a game is to lose.
So you see how a philosophic machine can be used to explain things.
Now I mentioned the importance of not only having an objective but participating in the pursuit of it. If you aren’t doing anything to accomplish an objective it’s not enjoyable.
Your objective could be to be an artist. To have your own company. To be a dancer. To have a family. To get a new car. To renovate your house. To lose weight. To play in a band. To help animals. To help children. To make a difference in the lives of others. To collect stamps. To visit Italy. What do you want to do? Only when you are actively pursuing that goal—only then—are you “living.”
If you have objectives but are not actively pursuing them: that’s not living. That’s just existing. Huge difference.
Pursuing an objective is an activity. Living is an activity. The less active you are, the less alive you are. It’s not just enough to just have an objective, you have to follow it. Progress toward an objective produces pleasure.
Before you achieve an objective you must think up what the next objective will be. Lots of people make a mistake. They fail to dream up the next objective. How many wealthy people are unhappy? They don’t create a new game, so they become unhappy or even neurotic.
Living is having and pursuing an objective. You might even want to say, living is having and pursuing a series of objectives since most people have several going at the same time. And before you let one finish, you’ll need to have a new one in line ready to go. You probably right this moment have several objectives. When you achieve one, it’s time to start on a new one.
So that is where the act of creation begins, whether it's a book, a script, a painting or music. What is your objective in creating it? This is nothing esoteric. Your objective can be something lofty but it doesn’t have to be. It’s simply whatever you want to accomplish; whatever sounds like fun to you. Now that you have a goal in mind, you can start on the creative process.
If you omit the objective, then life has “no point.” It’s painfully simple really.
Next: Part 6, The Flow of Creativity