Unexpected Creativity

In gaming circles a ‘shit crayon’ is a term used when a user creates something amazing despite the barriers that have been put in front of them. The term was coined by popular game developer and writer Ian Bogost and draws from the concept of the magic crayon by Chaim Gingold in his thesis. You may have heard of the idea that a magic crayon, a tool that boosts creativity in such a way that the produced artifact would not be possible without the tool. But Bogost suggests that sometimes people create barriers that also boost creativity but are not magic crayons.

‘..like the despots who confined Soyinka until he shit poetry onto toilet paper, because he had to do or else go mad in isolation.’

I’m not sure that the story about Wole Soyinka is entirely true, but you get the gist. In gaming circles a discussion about magic vs shit crayons is a discussion around the barriers that a user has found themselves up against. A Magic Crayon is a game that creates barriers or has a ruleset that boosts creativity in some way, a shit crayon is a game that creates barriers or rules that makes life hell for the player, but sometimes they create anyway because it is a game to them.

No developer wants to be accused of handing out the shit crayons. In gaming circles it is somewhat of a joke to do something creative in an awful environment, to draw something brilliant out of the shit crayons. The gamers are not a daft bunch, they know when they have been handed a magic crayon and when they have been handed a shit one, while the art of being creative with a shit crayon may be praised the tool itself is not. The creativity of anything made with a shit crayon is seen as something of a joke, ‘they did it because they could do it, despite the tool. The message to the developer is then mixed, ‘are people using my games to be creative because I am enabling them or because they are mocking me?’.

I think education often hands out the shit crayons. There has been a lot of discussions in the department about learning outcomes this week. I’m not sure where I stand on learning outcomes at the moment, and I am saving it for another post after I have had a chance to think things through. They do sound a lot like the shit crayons to me. When I was teaching at my institution I felt like the confused games developer, the feedback that I was getting back from the students was hard to decipher, are they being creative with shit crayons to spite me or because of the incentive of the piece of paper they need at the end. It would be nice to think they were being creative because of magic. Just how can we tell which crayons we are handing out?

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