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Creative genius vs. competent craftsman?
by Thomas Grove on 09/20/12 07:07:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Stop trying to invent yourself as a creative genius and start thinking of yourself as a competent craftsman!

In my own journey as a game designer I frequently find myself not exploring an idea because it isn't cleaver enough or original enough or mind blowing enough. I'm guilty of spending far too much time in an "arm chair" philosophically waxing and not enough time getting my hands dirty.

As people working in a creative field it is easy to fall into this trap. It is easy to forget that the greatest works aren't great because they crawled out of a genius's mind but rather because they are refined products crafted with attention to detail by hands well practiced in their art.

So this post is a call to arms to myself, and to anyone else likewise afflicted by this delusion: Stop trying to invent yourself as a genius and start thinking of yourself as a competent craftsman!

Further Reading:

I'm reminded of this rant from Chris Hecker where he tells indies to fully explore their ideas.

Or Neil Geiman's commencement speach advising students to "make good art" no matter what's happening in their life.

Chris Hecker specifically calls out Jonathan Blow's Braid as an example of an indie game that fully explores the depths of a game mechanic. It is incidentally a very polished product all around, it isn't just the game mechanic.

Braid, while seemingly a work of genius, is actually a refined products crafted with attention to detail by hands well practiced in their art. Like the Sistine Chapel it was a feat accomplished after many years of labor. Or to put it another way, genius is hard work.

And you know what, if you just want to release a bunch of not fully explored ideas, a bunch of experiments, that's fine! In fact, if you're just starting out, that's what you should do. But please do something. Do something, and refine your craft!  

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Will Buck
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Definitely agree that 'doing' things, while difficult to do (especially for those who strive to conserve effort only for truly great ventures), pays off a lot more than waiting for greatness to strike you. Doing gets you practice, which makes you better no matter what, and gives you something deliverable to iterate on and make more great.

Good advice indeed :)

Curtiss Murphy
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For me, originality came 2nd. First, I honed my skills by building products, based on existing ideas. Once I figured out the basics, I set a goal - push until I become 'so good they can't ignore' me (quoting Steve Martin). I'm not there yet, but the closer I get, the more original my work becomes.

When I started, I wasn't skilled enough to distinguish between 'original' and 'bad'. Now... I am.

Matthew Downey
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"Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration"--Thomas Edison.

However, I don't know if getting your hands dirty with prototyping and production is always the best idea. Choose the path through which you learn the most and feel least rushed, because that will produce the most polished product. Don't expect anyone to make your games for you, and if you still think the games you want completed in your lifetime will be completed despite no one helping you with the programming, then you might produce a third or more of them.

A designer has to be a both an idealist and a realist in one body. You have to know everything is possible, but not everything is easy.

Don't limit yourself to one thing obsessively unless you are accomplishing it quickly, diversifying keeps you interested in your own work and helps you learn through association.

Work under limitations and set amounts of a resource (like time or money) and spend it wisely. Know that creative people tend not to keep structured schedules but--instead--are willing to try new things to find inspiration.

Lastly, if you think creativity cannot be learned, then you need to look introspectively into whether or not you are really creative, because creativity is all about freedom of expression, and any individual who feels nailed into his current level of creativity because of genetics has been mislead. You can always become better, and the best designers are not afraid to try new things, whether that means new jobs (like art, programming, or sound design) or new programs or engines(Gamemaker to Unity, or Blender to Maya).

My greatest shortcoming is my fear of the intangible (especially failure). If you fear something that does not exist or cannot be understood that fear is irrational, assert this and you may overcome your fear.