Want to be more creative? Playing Minecraft can help, new study finds

Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile's latest study suggests that playing some video games, like Minecraft, can have a positive impact on creativity.

Minecraft is one of the most popular computer games, having sold more than 100 million copies since its release in 2011. Claims that it boosts creativity have been circulating for several years, and now there's a bit of scientific evidence to back up that claim, according to the results of a new study published in Creativity Research Journal.

Co-author Douglas Gentile is a psychologist at Iowa State University. His speciality is studying media influence on children, including video games, television, film, music, even advertising. That includes both positive and negative effects, from video game addiction and a possible link between media violence and aggression, to how playing certain games can improve surgeons' skills.

"The literature looks like it's conflicted when it truly isn't," said Gentile. "There's studies showing games increase aggression, and others showing it can increase prosocial behavior. From the outside it looks like they must be good or bad, but that's not the way the world really works. This dichotomous thinking doesn't allow us to actually see what's going on, because we pick one idea and then we apply it to everything."

Gentile's co-author and grad student, Jorge Blanco-Herrera, is a former pro gamer who wanted to explore the purported link between playing Minecraft and creativity for his master's thesis. Minecraft is technically a sandbox video game, meaning that players aren't provided with a specific back story, prepared quest, or much direction at all. They are free to use the game space however they like, using the tools and blocks of the game to build pretty much anything, from a simple shack to a high-rise hotel, a basic truck, or a working TV. Someone just recreated a Bob Ross painting in Minecraft. Gentile compares it to a virtual Legoworld.

"Given what we know about how games can have powerful effects on other dimensions, it's not an unreasonable claim; it's just untested," said Gentile, although there could be internal Microsoft research on the subject. Yet that claim is often cited as an argument in favor of bringing computer games into schools. "That seems reckless to me, that we're making policy decisions in schools based on a claim that has no real scientific evidence," he said.

Enlarge / Study participants were split into groups, with some playing Minecraft and others playing a race car video game or watching TV.Iowa State University News Service

For their study, Gentile et al. recruited 352 volunteers and had them spend 40 minutes either playing Minecraft, playing a NASCAR race car video game, or watching a TV show (Crocodile Hunter). Some of the subjects playing Minecraft were "primed," meaning they were instructed to play as creatively as possible. Then the subjects were asked to complete specific tasks designed to measure their creativity.

It was a challenge finding just the right metric to measure something as nebulous as "creativity." They chose two tasks often used in such experiments. In one, participants were asked to come up with as many uses as possible for a paper clip and a knife, respectively. The second task required subjects to draw an alien creature from another world; the more said creature resembled a human, the fewer points the subject received for creativity.

The results were clearest with the alien drawing task: subjects who had played Minecraft without any priming performed the best. "So the basic idea that Minecraft can enhance creativity does seem to be right, at lease in some circumRead More – Source