It is often theorized that a game player must be creative in order to be successful. Another aspect of that theory is that games can be used to teach or promote creativity.

I. Games can be promoted as playful activities that encourage creative thought.

Books on creativity acquisition often recommend game playing as an effective method for teaching creativity to children. These books promote mental exercises like brainstorming as ways to train children to enjoy the process of fluency, which is important in creativity. However, recent attention has been given to the link between video games, which were previously associated with addictive behaviors and an affinity for excessive violence, and creativity.

As early as 1999, scholarly inquiries attempted to isolate specific factors that made video games such popular recreational activities for children. When asked to rank games based on characteristics that made them most fun, kids ranked game components such as logic, memory, and problem solving as the most important game elements.

A recent study conducted at the University of Michigan found that students who played video games scored higher on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (figural) than students who did not play video games. Moreover, the study found that boys tended to prefer games involving sports and violence while girls preferred games that emphasized interaction, but there were no significant differences in scores between gender groups.

II. Games can be developed to enable a creative, dynamic workplace environment.

Games have been visualized as a way to bring structure to the creative chaos of the workplace. Games are a way to connect people working in isolation (cubicles or home) and allow them to share their ideas and enthusiasm. Companies exist to develop training activities for business seminars and workshops specifically designed to promote creativity.

III. Artificial Intelligence: research into game playing and programming.

The field of computer science made great strides at the end of the twentieth century in programming machines to play complex games. In particular, the end of the last decade saw computers surpass humans in playing strength. In fact, a cell phone running chess software dominated a Category VI (international master level) tournament.

In this instance, however, it is not the game playing of a computer that is sparking creativity. The computer is a reflection of the creativity of the programmers. Of course a computer can store and retrieve data but the IBM Watson computer programmers were able to create a program that could interpret the clues and somewhat nonsense statements of a game show such as Jeopardy and handily defeated its human champions.

Jeopardy News Video

Creativity in Artificial Intelligence: How Computers 'Think'
As mentioned, computer chess programs made extraordinary gains in playing strength in the 1990's. Top computers were unable to even marginally compete with the world's elite chess grandmasters even as recently as the early 1990's, but a truly remarkable change occurred - a change that was misconstrued and warped by poor, yet extensive, media coverage.


Arguably the most widely publicized human -vs- computer matches occurred between World Champion Garry Kasparov and IBM's Deep Blue. Kasparov won the first match in 1996, and lost (though not without controversy) the rematch. This event was heralded by many media sites as the triumph of 'machine over man' and led to hyperbole indicating that computers had forever surpassed machines. This ignorant, unscientific opinion portrayed by the media is insulting to a number of leading scientists, and, perhaps equally importantly, the human race as a whole.

(As an aside, there appears to be a wonderful overview of chess software programming at the Chess Programming Wikispace.)

In fact, Deep Blue was unable to 'think' at all. To articulate this point, I must describe the nature of thought in games. Human chess players think in plans of varying length. A plan is a set of goals and objective move sequences that enable or prohibit an intended plan. This type of thinking occurs in several stages as shown by Adriaan de Groot. It is precisely this type of CREATIVE thinking that is inaccessible to modern computers. Computers are only able to construct 'trees' of possible outcomes.
These trees are constructed according to the processing power of the computer. While it is true that the processing power of Deep Blue was far superior to any prior chess playing machine, this factor was not the most important one for its success. A computer of Deep Blue's processing power would have taken several million (by the most conservative estimate) lifespans of the UNIVERSE to calculate all possible chess positions. (For more ideas, see this link.) The computer itself is only able to 'construct' these trees, and moreover must do so according to the software author's instructions. There were great strides made to improve a computer's ability to find more useful lines of play due to a technique called 'pruning' in which the computer attempts to heuristically ignore 'bad' lines of play.

Even more important than a computer's search programming is its evaluation function. This aspect of computer chess (and literally EVERY game) programs is the one that is the true triumph of HUMAN creativity. The evaluation function tells the computer how to determine whether a position is advantageous for one player over the other. For humans, the evaluation function is rooted in long-term factors, which are incomprehensible to a computer's concrete operations. Thus, programmers in the field of Artificial Intelligence were able to create evaluation functions that coincided very well with top players' opinions. This evaluation function coupled with a computer's superior 'processing' over humans eventually enabled computers to defeat humans with consistency. Now, the competition isn't even close. A final, technical source that describes how programming techniques have allowed computers to be 'creative' in chess, can be found here.

A recount of a personal journey of my thinking on this topic:
I initially began exploring creativity in games and quickly found numerous books written on games for children and work environments. When directing my search away from these particular populations, I stumbled upon some well-hidden (from the perspective of a person who grew up obsessed with all games) research that described the wonderful creative and intellectual benefits of video games. I wanted to dig deeply into creativity in video games, but the results of their effects on children are relatively easy to interpret: video games can be a strong catalyst for creativity in students of both genders. Of course, video game addiction has received media attention, but I will counter with the same question that I gave some friends/teachers when I was younger: Do you think I am 'addicted' to math or chess? Most would have answered no, but to the latter question, any answer other than yes was delusional. The problem as I saw it was that addiction was the word used when the behavior was less socially acceptable. Children who loved video games were addicts, but children who loved music were musicians. This discrepancy was infuriating to me when I was younger, and provided some of the motivation for finding research on video games and creativity. Finally, when I began to really try to outline the creative aspects of video games, I noticed two main creative aspects: 1) a creative world or space where children could exercise their imaginations and reasoning skills, and 2) the absolute brilliance of the video game programmers and engineers to design spaces that enable these types of activities. I decided to investigate more into these practices and stumbled back upon literature describing how computers can 'think'. Seeing the natural segue back to one of the only topics that I have any knowledge about, I pounced at the opportunity. I hope the articles and ideas that I linked together give an overall positive impression of this field, though I am certain that my poor writing cannot come close to conveying the wonder, beauty, and creative power and potential that is inherent in artificial intelligence and game programming.