Video Games and the Power of a Daydream

In the past, many considered mind-wandering a tool used to procrastinate; however, psychologists and neuroscientists today agree it is a vital cognitive tool. Psychologist Jonathan Schooler explained that allowing the mind to wander provides opportunities to explore additional possibilities and often leads to “bursts of creative insight.” This caused me to think about how daydreaming impacts both the process of creating video games and the way individuals experience game play.

Many video games provide windows into other people’s imaginations. Concept artists visualize and create entire worlds. “The beginning is mostly me going into a stream of consciousness and coming up with whatever comes to mind,” concept artist Adam Adamowicz explained in an interview with G4. Adamowicz passed away this year and his memory is preserved in the fantasy world he envisioned for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the post-apocalyptic Washington he created for Fallout 3, among others. Game director Todd Howard credited Adamowicz with hand-drawing nearly every concept presented in Fallout 3 from the coin-operated personal bomb shelters to the monsters and the mutated naked mole rats. Adamowicz attributed some of his ability to share the inner workings of his imagination to a notion expressed by Syd Mead, “It’s a given fact that no one sees the world through your eyes. Stick to that and you’ll carve a niche for yourself in the art world.” My former roommate played Fallout 3 incessantly and I quickly became captivated by the dark and dismal aesthetics infused with the wholesomeness of the 1950s. Adamowicz’s depiction of the era caused me to dream of a world much different from the one I watched on I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver.

Game designers often create occasions for a player to use the power of her imagination, too. Eddy Lèja-Six examined the nature of creativity in How Can Gameplay Allow Players to Get Creative? He suggested and reviewed eight forms of creative game play including strategies or tactics, elaborating personal objectives, and finding new solutions to a given problem. I related the most to Lèja-Six discussion of in-game editors. He noted that some games provide customizable tools such as Will Wright’s Spore Creature Creator that allow a player to alter game play. With Creature Creator, a player might design a character with wings that allow him to fly or one with razor teeth that intimidate enemies. Sometimes a player that follows his initial, creative outburst falls short, but Lèja-Six points out that the more a player understands the game play the more likely he is to “come up with creative and efficient design.” Psychologists report similar findings. Schooler, for example, put subjects through a series of creative tests and concluded that if a participant permitted the mind to wander, she uncovered 41 percent more possibilities. For a more immersive game experience, take a few minutes to daydream.

Psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth reported that a person spends 47 percent of his wakeful hours daydreaming. Musicians like Lupe Fiasco, writers like Lewis Carroll, and video game artists like Adamowicz and Wright demonstrate that these hours are not wasted. Imagine the infinite possibilities created when you let your mind wander.