Tag Archives: imagination

Imagination by Design

Are video games killing our imagination?

Imagination by Design

Berin Kinsman of Asparagus Jumpsuit, when talking about creativity in our play experiences, wrote on his blog, that
“The thing I like most about tabletop roleplaying games, and the reason I’m not overly fond of video games, is that aspect of creativity and imagination…”. In other words, the great thing about roleplaying is that we can freely create and imagine, creating our own play experience. On the other hand, we can’t get this same creative freedom in video games.

Video games have to deal with a number of limitations. To work, they are designed and created to be a complete whole that fits within those limitations. The story, characters, setting, graphics, available actions and even the possible endings are all set. There isn’t room for more, and the players’ imagination is usually bound up within that whole. Play Batman: Arkham Origins and you’ll spend your time imagining that you’re Batman. Play any First Person Shooter and your imagination will be bound to the paradigm of the FPS.

Is this something we can solve with clever design? Can we design for the imagination?

Berin mentioned LEGO in his post, and the comparison with Markus Persson’s Minecraft is an obvious one to make. Minecraft is fun because the player creates, and when we create our imaginations go into overdrive.

That’s the key, create gaps for the player to fill.

Create + Activity = Creativity

But we don’t need to build games about building. We just need to make those fill-able spaces. The character in silhouette, who we never learn much about. The evil tower on a faraway hill that we never get to visit. The coin in our pocket that we started the game with. The things we hear moving around under the floor boards. These all help to engage our imaginations on some level.

What do you think? This topic certainly has a lot of depth. Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

Imagination Gaming

I love PC games, they are easy to get into and the level of immersion is huge. But, like TV we are fed so much visual and audio stimulus that little is left to the imagination. That is the sad thing to me, and why I love role-playing games and boardgames so much. Yes, I know, I’m an idealist, but bare with me. “Analogue games” let us exercise that important skill that is so often neglected by adults: the imagination.


A little experiment

Let’s try a little experiment. I’ll describe someone to you, and you try and imagine him in your mind:

A sullen looking dwarf stands before you, his long dust coloured beard hanging to the knees of his short, stumpy legs. His dark eyes seem to stare out into space, chasing some distant thought. The helm on his head is painted blue and gold, with a horn attached to either side. Over a blue tunic he wears a coat of scale mail, well polished but battered by many battles. He leans on a large axe with his right hand, and the thumb of his left hand is slung through his belt.

Now, once you have that image in your mind, skip to the end of this post and see the image I’m describing. Which image was better, the one in your mind or the one below?

With the imagination, anything is possible and anything can be experienced. This is an important tool for the GM as well as the player. When you build your world, your NPC, even your magical items, take a moment to imagine your creation. Not only does it help you describe what you see more vividly, but it helps you spot obvious flaws in your creation and gives you more ideas to work with. Let’s go ahead and try it (yeah, we’re getting really practical in this post).

Take a moment to imagine one of your major NPC’s, or a character you’re playing if you’re not a GM. Imagine what he or she is wearing, what they are doing and how they feel. Also think about where they are and the things that are influencing them. In my mind, my character is taking a moment to watch the birds (there are birds outside my window now) and he’s feeling the weariness of the day, and the weight of his armour. It’s an unusual moment of peace for this battle weary veteran, and he’s even put his prized maul aside, he’s not thinking of war and monsters right now.



Visualising something with your imagination lets you practice or rehears something in your mind. Visualisation helps you achieve your goals by letting you see the steps you need to complete to get there. It’s not only useful for role-playing, athletes use it too, like the race car driver memorising the track before he sets out. When I do martial arts, I sometime just stand still and imagine what  I’ll be doing next. It lets me practice quickly. I think this is a vital skill for any GM.

When we were children, how much easier was it for us to use our imagination. Sometimes a box was the best toy, or a stick. I think we are slowly losing our imagination, outside of role-playing and fiction writing, it’s practically unfashionable to use your imagine. I’d like to get your feedback, what do you think?

Getting the most out of any game, for me, is all about imagination. From PC games to boardgames and role-playing games, I’m the commander, or the spy, or the assassin, and I’m living the game. All games are essentially about escapism, and your imagination is the key to breaking the bonds of earth.

A dwarf warrior, not quite as you imagined him.


I’d love to hear from you, so tell us what you think and share some of your experiences.