Creative Screen Time: A World Of Warcraft Case Study

These days, our children are bombarded by bright colors, flashing images and the constant draw of the screen. It’s hard to get away from. It’s hard to avoid. Children are spending more and more time in front of a television, tablet or computer screen. It’s very easy to dismiss this screen time as a waste, as not adding anything of value to the people we are hoping to raise, the adults we’d like them to become. When my daughter asks me to play a video game, I often balk, thinking of gaming as the ultimate waste of time. This is coming from someone who used to spend hours playing World of Warcraft in my twenties. Bit hypocritical of me, no?

At least, that’s how I used to feel. Lately, I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot more going on in her mind while she’s gaming than I thought. I had completely underestimated the value of this kind of play.

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When she was a toddler, and I still played World of Warcraft from time to time, she would sit on my lap and hit the space bar to make the characters jump. As she got older, she liked to play around with the horses and dragons that you could ride around on, exploring the geography and giggling as she dropped a character from an insane height and watched them fall harmlessly into the water.

These days, my daughter is almost 10. She has started playing the game legitimately, making her own characters and taking them on quests. She likes creating new characters more than she enjoys the questing and leveling up and she’s got quite the collection. She enjoys the process of choosing their features, giving them a name, getting to know them.

I sat down with her one day when she was sick. She showed me her characters and proceeded to explain their family histories in great detail. Several of the characters were related. She took me on a tour of the town and showed me all the in-game characters that related to her own. One had left his son and wife in the big city because he needed a job. Another had learned a skill well enough to train others. She was a role model to the rest of her family, including M’s character. She spent ages telling me all about them, stories she had concocted out of her own imagination. How amazing, to see beyond the screen and realize that there’s real creation going on underneath.

Not long after that sick day, M pulled out her writing notebook and started working on a story. Her story, it turned out, was based on her World of Warcraft characters. She had come up with a fascinating cast, each with unique names and detailed backstories. There is a depth to the story that has me wanting to know more. She hasn’t finished writing it yet. Maybe she never will, but I’d love to see where she takes her story, what happens to her characters, and what her imagination can design after being inspired by a video game.

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Just the other day, M decided to throw an impromptu World of Warcraft party for the family on a Saturday night. I had no idea what to expect, what ideas she had swimming around in her head. I actually thought we might just spend the evening playing the game together, but she had other plans. She dragged Dad out to the store and created a menu based on food in the game (sticking well to the budget I had laid out, I might add). She designed games for us to play, based on the different races, cultures and quests in World of Warcraft. By the end of the evening, we were shooting toy arrows at a Dark Iron Dwarf, crawling around on the floor to see who could find the most ‘apples’ and searching for a lost Hippogriff to take to Exodar. I was so impressed with the ideas she came up with in a relatively short amount of time. We had a yummy array of food, creatively chosen, and a lineup of fun games, none of which actually involved a screen. She had taken her screen inspiration and turned it into something we could all do together in our living room.

World of Warcraft has given M so much more than a game to mindlessly play (although I also believe in the benefit of disconnecting for a bit and relaxing into a game world). It has given her inspirations, characters, stories and artwork. In an imaginary world like this one, with vibrant colors, defined cultures and lush landscapes, it’s easy to branch off and start creating ideas of your own. The next time your child is really into a video game or tv show, try to look a little beyond the screen. See if anything else is going on. Maybe you can even encourage them to create within the theme, within the thing they love.

Field Trip: Using Museums To Inspire Our Creative Brains

A few weeks ago, I profiled the creative confidence picture books of Peter H. Reynolds. Did you know that in addition to writing and illustrating his own books, Peter H. Reynolds also illustrates for other authors? He has done the illustrations for multiple picture books written by Susan Verde. One of those books is called The Museum. It’s a fantastic book that follows a young girl through her visit to an art museum. We see the way she feels as she moves from exhibit to exhibit, allowing the different art to change her moods, her thoughts, and even the way she moves her body.

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A visit to a museum can be a powerful lift for our creative confidence, providing ample inspiration and opportunities to exercise the creative centers of our brain. The obvious choice is an art museum, which allows us to study different forms of art, from ancient to modern, from two-dimensional to three-dimensional. An art museum surrounds us with color, emotion and scenes from the past. It’s bound to get your sketching fingers itching to grasp a pencil and work those muscles.

You may find the visuals enticing, but prefer to express the thoughts and feelings that are evoked through your words, rather than images. In that case, you can try jotting down words as you walk through the museum. This can be much like jabberwalking, which I discussed in my post on poetry. Writing down your observations and emotions while walking through an art museum can lead to fantastic poetry…or at the very least, some interesting introspection.

We are lucky enough to have an outdoor sculpture garden and walking path as part of our local art museum. This means that we get the chance to interact with the art. This can make for a fun experience that brings art out of the stuffy museum and right into the playground.

Art museums are not the only museums that can lead to creative exercise. Pretty much any kind of museum, from history to science, can inspire and lead to creative expression. We took a trip to a local science museum to see what kind of creative mischief we could get into. While exploring rooms filled with science and nature, we found plenty of opportunities to practice drawing, write poetry, brainstorm story ideas and work on photography. All of this in one museum!

When we came home from our museum day, we had new sketches to admire, inspiration for future art, a great brainstorm for a story idea about a turtle, fun photos and the beginnings of a poem or two. Not bad for an afternoon on the town.

Below, you’ll find our video all about our museum visits and the creative fun we had:

Don’t have a museum near you? Don’t despair! You can create a museum-like atmosphere right in your home. Dig through your book collection for drawing or writing inspiration. Check out some books from the library on famous paintings, sculpture, dinosaurs…anything you want. Lay the books out like a museum display and have fun looking through the pictures.

The internet is also a fantastic resource. Many museums offer views of some or all of their collections online. My daughter really enjoyed this virtual tour of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. It makes you feel like you’re right there in the museum. You can take a look at some of the Louvre collection online, as well at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are just a few examples. The internet is full of resources to help provide that museum experience when a museum might be hard to come by.

Now what? Creating an inspiration journal

Several years ago, my husband gave my daughter and me each a binder filled with notebook paper, graphing paper, plastic dividers and no instructions. On the front of the binders, he had drawn a little figure and the words ‘Inspiration Keeper’. At the time, I had no inspiration to speak of and no idea what to do with this empty binder full of paper. To be honest, it was intimidating.

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I may have been lost among the blank pages, but my daughter wasn’t. She knew exactly what to do with her ‘Inspiration Keeper’. M loves bright colors, rainbows and cute things…so many cute things. These are the things that inspire her, the things that get her excited, bring her to her happy place and stir her creativity. For a while, she had been asking us to take pictures of random things she wanted to remember. A cute stuffed animal at the store. A cute mascot in an ad for frozen ice pops. An interesting pattern on a pair of pants or a design on a t-shirt. We had been collecting these pictures on our phones, not realizing that they were more than a waste of space. They were her inspiration. After my husband bought her the binder, she realized she now had a place to store all of these pictures. She had a place to hold her inspiration. We printed out a bunch of these pictures and she started carefully gluing them onto the blank pages.

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Unlike my daughter, I found a less visual approach for my inspiration keeper. I used the blank pages to write. I went further than inspiration, I started writing whole chapters of my novels, using the notebook as a place to store my most recent writing, before transferring it to the computer. Even though we went in different directions, the journals have still led to inspired creation and allowed us to store little gems for later.

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An inspiration journal is a great idea for both kids and adults. The best part is, there is no right way to keep one. A binder, like my daughter’s, with pictures pasted to the pages is one way. This allows my very visual child to keep all the images she can’t fit inside her head close at hand. If you’re more inclined to writing, keeping a lined journal, perhaps small enough to fit in your pocket, is great for jotting down words and ideas when they pop into your head. You could put up a bulletin board filled with inspiring pictures, shapes, textures or words. Perhaps you’d rather have a playlist of music that inspires you. A folder on your phone or computer can hold visual inspiration that doesn’t even require you to have a physical journal. These are all different ways of achieving the same thing, keeping inspiration at your fingertips and helping you remember the things that bring you joy or spark your creativity.

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Don’t just save inspiration that you think you can replicate. Save a picture that you know you’ll never be able to draw, but you think is gorgeous. Save those quotes you love from authors you know you’ll never be able to match. The idea is to gather together the things that move you.

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I think you can guess what the Gently Guided Activity will be for this one. Put together your own inspiration collection. It doesn’t matter where you keep it, what it looks like or what you put in it. Start collecting slowly. There’s no need to fill an entire inspiration journal, or fill your phone with inspiring pictures from Google, in one day. Just take some time to look around your environment. Notice the things that make you smile or capture your attention. Notice colors, patterns or particular words that you like. Take pictures of video game scenes or write quotes from the latest novel you’re devouring. Whatever inspires you, keep it, jot it down, hold it close. Don’t judge. From this inspiration, your creativity can flow. When you don’t know what to do, when you don’t have any ideas, look to your inspiration journal to give you a little push.