I’m an artist by trade, and I love creating things. I grew up wanting to be a Disney animator, and my BFA degree is in computer animation. I also happen to love math, and have spent a fair bit of time as a math tutor. I grew up loving math and the intersection that it has with art in things like Origami, the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci numbers (there is a TON of math in art). I love being able to take “right brain” and “left brain” notions and use them to reinforce each other. It saddens me to see students that I tutor fear negative numbers or fractions. Math and art are both deeply inquisitive ways to look at the world around us, and both have a great deal to offer to those trying to understand life and make their cognitive functions more effective, and to each other as disciplines.
Raph Koster brought “Lockhart’s Lament” to my attention, and it resonates with my experience. I managed to find a deep fascination with math early on, and I persisted with it despite my deep disgust with memorization and busywork. Of course, so-called “Investigations Math” is worse, as it doesn’t bother actually teaching anything, leaving students to figure things out on their own. The truth is somewhere in between; students need to learn how math works, but more important, they need to learn why, and how to extrapolate the critical thinking required for mathematical analysis into other aspects of life. Students need to learn how to think, not how to regurgitate.
Of course this has game design applications, since that’s what I talk about around here. Game designers need to give players tools and show them how they work, then stand back and let players play. Good math is playful, good art is playful. It’s the experimentation and discovery that makes them both fun. Games are very similar; the exploration of the game functions and artistic content is a significant part of the fun that can be derived.
To be fair, that’s not the only way to play (or design) games, or the only reason to do so, but it always bothers me when games quickly devolve into reflex checks or memorization hurdles. Likewise, tightly straightjacketed games with little room to explore and experiment don’t hold my interest for long. This is why level-gated games like WoW bother me; I’ve got to jump through the highly repetitive hurdles of leveling (with very repetitive combat) to see more content and get on with exploring and experimenting.
I think it’s no mystery why The Incredible Machine is one of my all time favorite games, and more recently, why Boom Blox and Crayon Physics are high on my list.
I wish people wouldn’t be afraid of math, or dismiss art as frivolous luxury.
I suppose there’s a tangent to be run exploring linguistics and how writing and wordsmithing is similarly creative and playful while being fascinatingly structured. I do lean on alliteration and creative use of words around here, after all. Perhaps that’s best saved for another article, though.