A rotating 3D sphere

Writing is scary. Everybody knows the feeling of staring at the blinking cursor or agonizing over your first sentence. We imagine creative writing to be something like this:

SpongeBob creates the perfect sculpture immediately

In reality, it's a bit more like this:

SpongeBob struggles to write an essay

But what if – and I promise this will be the last gif – it was like this?

SpongeBob and Patrick perform a strange ritual together

Okay sure... so what's this game you were talking about?

The idea behind this game is pretty simple. It's essentially an asynchronous version of Exquisite Corpse. Friends will take turns contributing a sentence or two to a larger story. Along the way, they'll be given small challenges that will help narrow the focus of their contribution while forcing them out of their comfort zone.

In the words of this thumbnail for an Adam Neely video on YouTube that I've never watched:

432 Hz sounds kinda... bad, tbh

Wait my bad, not that one! This one:

Limitations breed creativity

Arbitrary challenges can take the pressure off. It's human nature. When the possibilities are endless, we feel obligated to create something "perfect". When we are limited, we feel like we have an excuse to be ourselves, allow some "imperfections" to creep in, and create from a space of playfulness. Oftentimes what we would otherwise call imperfections become sources of novelty and joy.

Friedrich Schiller never lived to see the YouTube age, but if he had, maybe this quote of his would have made another good thumbnail for a video I wouldn't have watched:

Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.

So let's play! We can take our fists off our chins forget about the "classics", and just have fun.

Gameplay boils down to something like this:

  1. A user creates a story by giving it a title and writing the first sentence. They invite their friends and the game begins.
  2. One of the friends is chosen at random. This friend gets a notification to work on the story, alongside a challenge. This might be, for example, "change your setting to Detroit" or "add Sun Ra as a character". Sometimes, they'll be asked to illustrate the story instead. 🤫
  3. Once that person writes something and submits it, we pass the game to another person on the list. We do this until we've hit the final story length (which the creator set when making the game).
  4. That's it! Now all of the users get to view the game and see who wrote what as well as what challenge they were given.

So yeah, pretty simple! The fun of the game comes down to the challenges, which we'll get into later.

Potential applications

Well, obviously this sort of thing seems fun to me as somebody who has done creative writing in the past and enjoys chaotic, spontaneous comedy. I think it will be intrinsically enjoyable to people like me. And it will help students and writers get a little practice stepping out of their comfort zone. 😀

Novelty is not only a great way to encourage creativity – it helps us learn:

One of the most important brain regions involved in discovering, processing and storing new sensory impressions is the hippocampus, located in the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex. Novel stimuli tend to activate the hippocampus more than familiar stimuli do, which is why the hippocampus serves as the brain’s “novelty detector.”
The hippocampus compares incoming sensory information with stored knowledge. If these differ, the hippocampus sends a pulse of the messenger substance dopamine to the substantia nigra (SN) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the midbrain . . . this feedback loop is why we remember things better in the context of novelty.

The writing challenges that will be given to players will include new words, new settings, new characters, etc. I have actually started writing some of these challenge generators, and doing so has caused me to look into different historical figures, actors, and places that I would not have looked up otherwise. I was adding different lists of locations to be generated as prompts to change the story's setting, for example, and I found myself wondering... what is Burkina Faso actually like? What is it like to walk around Kingston, Jamaica?

My hope, then, is that these random challenges help to widen the players' perspectives, either on language, the world around them, or ideally both!

Learning other languages

To me, this presents some awesome opportunities for language learning. Growing up, I tried learning both Spanish and German (with, well, mixed results...). One thing that I noticed is that, when learning a new language, it's very easy to stick to your comfort zone. You find a couple phrases that you understand, and you rely on them to communicate.

The issue, of course, is that this limits you quite a bit. This is part of the reason it's such a great idea to watch Spanish TV or read Spanish books when you're learning the language – these forms of media expose you to new words and ideas that you might otherwise avoid since you don't yet understand them.

This creative writing game can have similar benefits since it introduces two forms of novelty:

  • You are writing stories with other creative individuals who will contribute their own novel ideas and phrases.
  • Randomized challenges will give you new words to work with, or ask you not to use the letter "a", or ask you to use sentences of only 3 words, etc. This will require you to stretch your knowledge of the language to complete the challenge without feeling like a test.

For this reason, users will be able to set the language of each game independently of the language that they speak. So you can find a few friends who want to learn Spanish and create a little game together. I think this will be a really fun way to learn! 😺

What's with the name? And that spinning 3D thing up there?!

I wanted to add a mystical quality to this game. Players should feel that there's just a little bit of magic connecting them to their friends. Instead of focusing on individual egos, we're tapping into a little bit of the collective unconscious and letting chaos and intuition run the show.

The spinning orange sphere is literally a "mystical object" to me... the burnt orange and slowly spinning polygons is sort of serene. I wish I had this thing spinning in my office!

And then there's the other meaning of "object" – a point of focus or "objective". Again, the game is just a little way we can shift our focus from egotistical creation to something a little more mystical.

Far out man.

What's next?

I have been working on this game for a little while now. The backend is about 75% complete, and the frontend is about 15% done. In coming dev logs, I'll go over the data design, architecture, some code snippets, design elements and more. Once it's in a working alpha state, I'll post a link so people can try it out.