For as long as I can remember, the type of projects that I always used to dread in school were the ones where we could “do whatever we wanted”. My reasons:
- I ultimately couldn’t do anything; I can think of at least a couple of ways to kill my grades in whichever classes had these
- By letting us do whatever we wanted, it makes it hard to settle on anything to actually do
In the end, I would look at the rubric, see how I was actually going to be evaluated, and create a project based on what I thought the teacher would like the most. While the strategy worked well for me, I wanted to take a look into what exactly made me dislike these types of projects so much.
I have a theory that I’m in the midst of developing which relates to these choose-your-own-adventure projects, and that every creative endeavor stems from constraints. Testing the limits of these constraints are what ultimately create something novel. As humans, it is very possible (and almost always a given) to create systems that are too complicated to mentally map. Consider, for instance, video game developers who are unsure about how the game’s meta will evolve, or authors who are horrified to discover how fan fictions writers exploit the worlds that they’ve created using the very same rules used to build new worlds. When many people are invested into a single concept, the boundaries of that can be tested and revealed in extraordinary ways.
Have you ever seen a very good Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) player play? If you’ve only somewhat played the game, you’ll probably know how exhausting it is to jump from note to note in quick succession.
Expert DDR players are on another level. The amount of movement ends up being very minimal, with each beat being the result of a light hop. Nevertheless, it’s impressive to see and will make anyone feel like they’re the clumsiest person on the planet in comparison when playing. Even if we’re playing the same game, the sheer gap in experience and understanding puts us in whole different ballparks. The difference between stomping wildly versus tapping gracefully can be applied (kinda) to more than just DDR.
Outside of just games, there are constraints, limitations, and systems with untested boundaries in almost every facet of our lives. Writing can be a means of testing the boundaries of language. Comedy can explore the limits of what the mind tolerates. Sports show us the physical limits of the human body when applied within a set of rules. All activities surrounding us lie between the spectrum of absolute freedom and strict regulation. I’m sure every person has a comfort zone somewhere in between these poles, and the activities that they enjoy will reflect that position.
I’m someone who prefers having more structure in their lives – hence why I’m not a fan of these open-ended projects. Having some type of obstacle gives my imagination a foothold to balance my creativity off of and makes the task at hand more enjoyable. It’s fun working around what already exists, versus creating something from scratch. Using what we already have can make what we create ultimately more relatable.