Game Development Reference
Humans think by analogy, so our thoughts are enriched when we have
more knowledge from which to analogize.
The second ingredient of rumination is relaxation. This is why new
ideas tend to come to people in showers, apple orchards, and buses.
Emotions like anger, fear, and focus inhibit creativity at a neurological
level. MRI imaging has shown that just before a flash of insight strikes,
blood rushes to a portion of the brain's right hemisphere called the ante-
rior Superior Temporal Gyrus, or aSTG. Fear, anger, and intense focus
on a problem actually inhibit blood flow to the aSTG, which in turn sup-
presses free association and creativity. This makes perfect sense if you're
a caveman trying to escape from a lion. You wouldn't want to waste time
having ideas about lion paintings just as one leaps for your throat. But it
also means that focus is a creativity killer. So, if you want to ruminate, you
must first chill out.
Sometimes we do research to answer specific questions. A level designer
might research medieval architecture for a game set during the Crusades.
A systems designer working on a strategy game might play other strategy
games to find out which mechanics worked, and how. This is the kind of
research we were all taught to do in school.
The second kind of research is much less targeted. This is semi-
random research where we learn without necessarily knowing how our
learning will be applied to the project. The goal here isn't to answer ques-
tions. It's to expand our store of knowledge to feed rumination.
We all do semirandom research every day from television, film,
games, the Internet, and our daily lives. We gather ideas, memes, and
cultural touchstones from everywhere. But without any direction, we tend
to gain the same knowledge as other game designers. Everybody on every
game team I've worked on knew Star Wars and Terminator 2 . This cultural
homogeneity is part of the reason so many games tend to resemble one
another so much. We're locked in a world of dragon-bashing heroes and
gruff space marines because we only consume one another's ideas.
To escape the cultural echo chamber, a designer must cultivate un-
usual interests. A strategy game designer might play The Sims and get a
new idea for an economic system. He might read a microbiology topic and
think of a new biological unit production system. This kind of semiran-
dom research is a long-term investment. It's not even project-specific—it
really just means living a rich intellectual life involving many unique
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