Will Burns

Unleash Creativity Blog

Scientific studies that help us unleash our most human attribute: creativity.

The Video Game 'The Sims' May Just Increase Your Creativity

I was reading a report from Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown via UNILAD that the video game "The Sims" provides significant health benefits to players. Turns out players tend to be happier, healthier and, to the point of this blog, more creative after playing this game. I believe this has to do with a creativity-building concept called "psychological distance."

But first...

Steve McKeown's Own Words.

"The Sims can allow a person to escape social normality, its pressures and chronic stresses that are so prevalent in the real world, it allows the gamer to create a perfect reality in which they play the main character and have full control over the outcome."

Yep, all makes sense. But here's where it gets more interesting as it relates to creativity.

"It is important to remember that immersing yourself in your imagination periodically is actually a very positive form of escapism and is considered important for our brain functions as it can expands our creativity. It allows the gamer to express a part of their personality that may not have known if they hadn't played.

Our consciousness is very adaptable and allows us to create an opening to different paradigms of reality every time we focus on alternate versions of life through our thoughts. With the assistance of life simulation games such as Sims we can enhance our inner experience."

Now we're getting somewhere.

Psychological Distance And The Sims

While escaping real life via The Sims may have other health benefits, I wonder if the feelings of increased creativity may have more to do with the "psychological distance" that The Sims offers every player.

Psychological distance is a term used to describe a manufactured state of mind that reframes, even slightly, a person's perspective of space and/or time. This Scientific American article, "An Easy Way to Increase Creativity," explains the concept and includes several studies. But as a quick example, researchers found that  simply telling someone to imagine themselves thousands of miles away while thinking about a creative problem increased the quality and quantity of creative ideas around that problem. 

I know it sounds crazy, but it also works with time - imagining yourself in a future time thinking about the problem increases creativity.

Now, back to The Sims. What this game does is provide you with a nearly-real escape from life that is literally creating psychological distance from everything. As a player plays the game one has to believe that the day's real problems, its unresolved opportunities and other issues requiring creative thinking, are still percolating. But now, playing the game, those issues are benefiting from the player's psychological distance from reality.

I don't have proof for this theory, but would love to know if any of you are creative people and play The Sims. You could have been doing so to increase your creativity unconsciously. 

And if I were EA Games, the maker of The Sims, I'd consider conducting a formal study and then perhaps a marketing campaign to the advertising community touting the game's creative powers.


Will Burns is a Forbes Contributor, a marketing consultant, and CEO of Ideasicle, a virtual idea generation company. Follow him on Twitter @WillOBurns.