Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
The things which I am unabashedly certain of grow fewer with every passing year.
As it turns out, I will not be a millionaire. My old comics will not suffer an astronomic increase in value. The golden heights of my youth will not live on, hermetically sealed from the ravages of time and memory, to comfort me in my old age. The songs I cherished growing up will most definitely be considered “lame” by today’s youth. I will never have enough time to play all the games I want to play.
But, I can certainly say that if one were to walk into any elementary school, in any part of the world, at any given recess on any given day, they would be treated to a spectacle of imagination that can only be the domain of inestimable, irresponsible youth.
The situation should be familiar to everyone. Sometime after cartilaginous bodies are filled to the brim with juice, cookies and Lunchables, a game is hatched. There are no physical boundaries, save for those that are hard-wired into the school’s topography. Equipment is at a bare minimum: an errant branch or eccentric stone taking the place of $3,000 entertainment centers or sports gear. Roles, objectives and laws can be bent, broken reshaped and recast at a whim.
This is a game in constant flux, with a multitude of players strutting across a tar-darkened blacktop stage.
“I have a rocket ship,” cries a child, setting the tone for the afternoon’s performance. “I’m a space-pirate, and I have you in my net,” says another. Soon, the respective crews are waging a war of survival centered around a delicate game of one-upmanship.
“I shot you!”
“No! I had a forcefield! Your beam bounced off me and hit you in the face.”
“That’s okay, because I have a clone that takes my place, and he has freeze-powers. POW, you're an ice-cube”
By the time the bell chimes its disheartening cry across the courtyard, a panoply of worlds, weapons and warriors have clashed and faded away. But the game continues, day after day, past the academic careers of the children in question, through their own brothers and cousins and sons and daughters. This is Calvinball on a Jungian scale.
It is not a game they play to gain fame or praise. They do not become stronger, lose weight, run faster as a result. The game is an exercise in creation and invention.
It’s a faculty of mine that has quietly evanesced.
When Scribblenauts presents me with an obstacle, my mind thinks only of the most straightforward solution. A cat stuck in a tree? Naturally, a superhero would rescue the poor kitty. Lever on a tall ledge? Rocketpack saves the day. Large gap to cross? Magic wings do the trick just fine, thank you.
Armed with an encyclopedia full of possibilities, I limit myself to the most successful of strategies.
The difficulty with a game this open lies in the very concept that makes it exciting to begin with, because the solutions are only as creative as the player. Once I discovered the infinite practicalities of rope, wings and glue, most of the puzzles became an affair of repetition. Sure, I could spawn a philosoraptor or a tractor beam but neither could really offer any help or work towards an answer. My instinct is to plow through the game’s rich content like a linebacker at a Sizzler – there can only be a straight, progressive line drawn directly to the endgame.
That opinion is as much a failure of mindset as my gameplay is a failure of inventiveness.
Scribblenauts is not a game that can be burned through in one sitting. It is not a fruit plucked from the hardcore player’s garden. It is a fine brew that must be quaffed in restless fits of hedonistic abandon – jabbed at between classes, while stalled on a runway, or while attempting to flee from the in-laws. Too much at any one given time and I gravitate towards the old familiar standbys. There is simply not enough imagination left in me to sustain an acceptable level of invention. Why bother outfitting my character with a leather jacket, gloves, and a pompadour if all I need to do is chop down a tree?
But approached at the end of the day, with downtime measurable by entire global revolutions, and the charm of the game’s design shines clear as day. It’s not about reaching an end, not about collecting X number of Starites. It’s about creation.
The fact that one can conjure a medusa to fight with a Hercules is reason enough to do exactly that. Despite the fact that the game keeps tabs on certain statistics, there is little need to fuss over completion time, points or trophies. What is fuss-worthy is the amount of things that can be brought into the world and the sometimes glorious, sometimes obvious ways that these things interact.
An atheist will run from a summoned God. Dogs will chase cats. Birds will devour worms. Somehow, this all seems natural. It colors your actions with a feeling of consequence in a way that childlike games of imagination-jitsu always gloss over.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Deep in thought, I wonder how I can save an ice-encapsulated Starite from a pool of magma. After a moment, I begin typing. “M-E-R-K-I-N.” A fancy wig drops from the sky and adorns my character.
Does this bring me closer to my goal? No, but it is fun. For Scribblenauts, that's reason enough.