Creativity + Convergence = Innovation / Contagion or NIA ?

Henry Ford famously said if he had first consulted his customers, they would only have wanted a faster horse. Without any customer consultation whatsoever I imagine what today’s game industry might want tomorrow ?

I spent the first few years in the games industry trying to comprehend the breadth of distinction made in valuing creativity across various disciplines. Every other discipline readily acknowledged creativity as essential for any artist, designer or writer. Marketers and PR types were supposed to have a little at least but accountants and other suits much less so. For a programmer or computer scientist there initially appeared fewer acceptances, yet those within the discipline acknowledge that programming involves more than just maths, memory and problem solving – thus a mix of analytical efficiency and stubborn creativity became essential combinations to code well.

Technicians or engineers sometimes view creativity as something blurry, stylized, even a soft skill. Perhaps for that reason the importation of the word ‘innovation’ from business disciplines somehow rendered adjacent concepts more palatable or solid to left brainers. The word ‘Innovation’ at it’s simplest means a change or improvement – something new. So no surprise then that a search of the database of the professional networking site LinkedIn found that more than 700 people listed their current job title as “chief innovation officer” and that nearly 25,000 had the word “innovation” in their job title. We are undoubtedly in an era, if not an emerging global culture, of ‘innovation’.

Historically in academia it has taken up to thirty years for a discipline to mature. In our modern educational system a head of department could possibly get 'something new' off the ground within 4-5 years after first impacting. Until I became involved in the early games industry my own educational background appeared like a ramshackle set of interdisciplinary buckshot career drifts, the unifying factor if any at all, was a yearning to learn while searching for creative and experimental space, trying new stuff, have abit fun, fail, try again, somehow feed my family along the way.

Improving technologies provided a unique conduit of combined opportunities. In the mid nineties we did get a solid chance to do ‘something new’ and we called it Interactive Entertainment Software. Fifteen years ago in Ireland the term ‘games’ evoked only skipping ropes, chess and other types of boards with top hats, dogs or dice on them.

A reply in yesteryear’s pub of “I’m working on my apps” might have conjured images of sweaty gym exertions while receiving only sympathetic if perplexed smirks. The difficulty with such ‘novel’ creativity was that there was no domain in which to find acceptance, (see Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for fuller explanation) quite the opposite of today’s rapidly evolving creative development scene with multiple ‘clued in’ public agency staff and a raft of cutting edge FDI and MNC present. Adding another front layer letter to the TLAs (three Letter Acronyms) than you could SATA (Shake A Stick At - nothing to do with hard drives or WUA? (Where U @?) just IAAE (Irritating Attempts At Esoterica)

Reductions in cost, overheads coupled with technological advances, widespread availability of hardware, APIs, SDKs and open source tools have rendered that playful, experimental creative path more attractive but maybe still less traveled today – 'Risk' is the great repellent.

Almost every discipline now needs to be creative in some respect, or wants to be ‘innovative’ at least. As we’ve said to be innovative means to add value, or create new forms of value. Yet something genuinely irritates, discovering that unlike Milton, we simply cannot possess the known knowledge of our expanding field of creativity and innovation. Yet Seagull ‘experts & consultants’ persist in corrupting every disciplinary term as it tentatively emerges. Without ever experiencing that genuine Risk or having to get to grips with foundational issues of the field in the first instance, they collapse their own limited intellectual silos into these emerging fields, in the medium to long term their potential contribution only slows or stunts growth. Sticking tags on things is NIA (NOT INNOVATIVE ASSHOLE).

There exists computer games courses taught by people who have zero computer games industry experience – how is it possible ? How is that in any way conducive to developing valid cycles of creativity and innovation, if the first layer already possesses such deficiencies and errors, more importantly how can such a flawed static and myopic approach be stopped from spreading ? A few years ago in an article over on Gamedevelopers.ie, I likened game prototype activity to developing a recipe –again employing that analogy I need to ask the question: Should someone who’s never touched an oven be allowed to train future cooks ?

Daft as that may seem, post our initial ‘serious games’ wave we are about to be engulfed by the latest swell of ‘gamification’ piggy backing, a tremendous irony in that those terms that were once so studiously avoided for their (negatively perceived) playful and fun connotations are now being employed to suggest creativity and innovation and fun – in dull commercial and academic areas where otherwise wise men (& women) would fear to thread. The games industry has spread wide and far and deep as previous ideas about its boundaries and capacities have grown exponentially in a very short time. Coupled with transmedia, the emerging phenomenon of ‘gamification’ is by any other name, a specific subset of creative applications of game-like innovation focused on fixed parameters.

I discovered what separated designers and coders - for the most part designers are aware of more than one solution to any given problem, they may find a solution early but continue to search for other alternatives. Standard coders tend to run with the first thing that works, really sharp cookies develop more than that single solution. It’s a recurring theme in creativity & innovation, multiple solutions offer wider choice and greater opportunities or possibilities – an acknowledged fast track to multiple solutions is the multidisciplinary team. (Infinite articles & books written about just this issue)

The bottom line is the future of gaming lies not within gaming itself but beyond or below what we conceive as current, maybe even hardcore, parameters. We have seen mobile, serious and social gaming expand just some elements of gamification across various hardwares, disciplines and networks. For me goals, rules, engagement, interaction, immersion, community, gameplay and gameplay mechanics are all underpinned by knowledge, invention and imagination. In Ireland we currently facilitate and encourage the first two, starting tomorrow we should encourage the third.

Imagine that…