Jump-Starting Imagination with Video Games and Books

Imagination is one of those skills that we really take for granted when we are children and then spend our entire lives as actors trying to retain it when we are adults.  The reason for this stems from many reasons: personally, I remember being made fun of for having an active imagination after a certain age, with people finding me odd; it’s nice to say that self-consciousness diminishes through training, and being surrounded by other like-minded creative types who value their made-up worlds over sometimes their real worlds.

For Christmas this year my wife gave me a Nintendo Switch.  Hell yes!  I’ve already encountered people who roll their eyes at the thought of a 32-year-old man getting a video game system for the holidays, but I don’t care.  When I play, I set my mind on an adventure.  One that leaves an impression on my own mind, and makes me think of myself living in a completely imaginary world.  And this got me thinking about how perhaps some of the best acting exercises for imagination are already in our hands and living rooms.  And perhaps we should appreciate them a little more than we do.

In this study conducted by Michigan State University researchers discovered that individuals who participate in video gaming tend to be more “creative.”  Creative in this context relates to the activities of “drawing pictures” and “writing stories.”  This is perfect for the actor’s imagination, as it is their duty to draw the picture or write the story of the character’s life, and then live it.  This practice of living is particularly applicable to RPG (roll-playing-games), where the player needs to embody the character to pursue a goal (or objective) and fight against obstacles.

Video games also provide another outlet for actors in the fact that when they are made they are created by written script (just as any piece of theater, film, or television show) which is then transferred into code.  We as players, are actually actors, because we in turn fill in the script with our own personalizations (discovery, emotions, and thought).  The media anchors us to the story-telling plot-points, feeding us through the system (just like acting!).

Books, like video games are also terrific tools for imagination. One of my favorite monologues I have ever done comes from Donna Tart’s THE GOLDFINCH.  What is amazing about books is that when we read, we draft the visualization of the characters in our mind.  Enough so, that often when we see the film version we respond with “that was nothing like the book!” When we read, we connect with the characters as if they are real.  We develop empathy purely from our own imagination, connected to their behavior.  We see ourselves walking in the character’s shoes, experiencing their situations and life.   We sometimes act better with this than we do when we are told to act.

The biggest challenge comes in recognizing when our imaginations are alive, and then learning to let scripts give us the same release. I think perhaps creativity is so alive in video game play and recreational reading because we often aren’t afraid of being judged or failure.  We commit to a “sense of play” that should exist within any performance. The minute we get a script in our hands however, oftentimes that idea of “getting the part” takes over, and we find ourselves plummeting because instead of enjoying the creative process (or creative playfulness), we think about pleasing other people.  And this consciousness shuts of the entire imaginative muscle.  And shuts us down in the process.

So, my advice is if you are struggling with imagination (against your parents’ wishes): play more video games.  Probably for your parents’ wishes, read more books.  Put yourself into other creators’ situations and stories.  They will show you the way.  All you need to do is imagine.