Healthy Creative Relationships Through Play

Creativity is a really serious thing. I mean proper serious. As I often say, it’s a survival skill. But evolution is a genius (if by genius we mean entirely lacking in any form of intelligence and working through random mutations within a weighted system that favours mutations which infer a survival and/or breeding advantage on the biological entity in question that is) which is why so many things that are vital for our survival are also fun!

Consider some of our favourite childhood games.

– Hide and Seek

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the capacity to hide would be a boon to survival. The ability to seek things, be those things our friends, food or potential threats, is similarly useful if passing on your genes is something you’re into.

– Tag

Hiding and seeking here too, with the added layer of acting either as lone hunter or prey within a flock. Why is there such a thrill in evading the one who is “it” in a game of tag? It’s essentially training for evading predators!

– Bulldog

Now, instead of being a lone hunter you get the chance to be part of a pack, hunting down your dwindling prey. What better game to practice collaborative hunting skills?

Fast forward to adulthood and we find creativity boosting habits all over the games we play. And, that is to be expected. We are hard wired to enjoy play that simulates survival skills. Creativity is a survival skill, ergo play that simulates it is fun! QED. Case closed. Hast al vista baby… Etc.

But in this way not all games are created equal, so I’ve compiled a quick list of some of the creativity boosting games I’ve come across to help you choose the best ones and pointed out, to a degree, where they relate to different elements of creativity.

– Taboo

Taboo is a game that calls on players to describe a thing without using the sorts of common words that one would normally use. The aim is to get your partner to say the thing on the card without using those band words.

This is a great way to practice oblique, lateral thinking. Anything that provides you with clear constraints and then requires you to find a different path to your conclusion is exercising your lateral thinking muscles. And since this game is fun and light hearted, it lets you do this without feeling under pressure.

Similar: charades, Pictionary.

– Linkee

This game works through both general knowledge and abstract thinking, neatly exercising both recall and creativity. You’re asked a four questions the answers to which all connect or “link” in some way. You can attempt to make the connection even if you only have two or three of the answers. Sometimes the connections are by type (all types of car, for example) but frequently there are more oblique connections based on homophones or synonyms.

We sometimes use a technique in creativity where we try to force connections between seemingly unrelated things. Linkee similarly works our connection finding muscles. The game also rewards both broad knowledge and deep thinking since you need to not only know an answer but have thought enough about the answer to find different ways to use it in combination with other answers.

– Scrabble

Yeah, this is something you probably didn’t expect to see on this list but let me tell you why Scrabble is a creativity boosting brain builder: functional fixedness.

I talk about this a lot. It’s the mental phenomenon whereby once you see something as one thing, it’s hard to see it as something else. If I hand you a glass with water in it your brain places the label “water holder” on it. This is what it is. If, from that moment, you can’t see it as a thing to shake dice in, a way to listen through walls, a trap for spiders or any of the other uses you could put it to, then you’re stuck in functional fixedness land. Learning to overcome this self imposed mental limitation allows you to see a tree as something both for growing apples on and for climbing, a stick as something for walking and for play acting a sword fight or a paper clip as both a convenient way to keep paperwork tidy and part of a home made jewellery kit.

What does this have to do with Scrabble? To be great at Scrabble you need to see every combination possible. You need to see all the letters in your hand as well as all the combinations on the board as parts in an ever changing and endlessly complex jigsaw. This requires you to hold lots of competing possibilities in your mind while remaining open to seeing new ones and not fixating, making some letters or some combinations stuck in their current configurations, unable to be used as new opportunities arise.

These are just a handful of examples where popular games hold specific value for the creative brain. Over time I’ll add to this list which will be compiled in the “Resources” section of my website.