Brick Smashing: Take a cue from Mario to Smash Right Through Creative Blocks

Brick Smashing: Take a cue from Mario to Smash Right Through Creative Blocks

Transform your time-sink into creative fuel

Not everyone labels themselves a gamer. But whether you’re crushin’ candies on your phone, blasting aliens on your Xbox One, or turning your run into a run for your life through Alternate Reality Games one thing is certain… Whether we like the label of “gamer” or not, it actually applies to most of us. So how do we turn something traditionally seen as a time sink, into an engine for productivity?

One of the great things about videogames is how they force the player to think outside the box. It could be figuring out how to streamline communication with your team in Overwatch. Or how to read the facial cues on a rigid character model that looks like it crawled straight out of the uncanny valley in Deus Ex.  Even dropping the controller to connect dots on scraps of notebook paper to solve that really difficult puzzle in The Witness. (Bonus perk on that one: your roommate will look at your insane chicken scratches, mumble something about not signing up to live with Russel Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” and just go ahead and do the dishes for you. Trust me. It works.)

The Witness is loaded with hundreds of brain-bending logic puzzles to help clear your head.
The Witness is loaded with hundreds of brain-bending logic puzzles to help clear your head.

Whatever your style of play there will always be a challenge for you to overcome. Here are some tips and tricks that have worked for me in the past to turn your gaming habit into an engine for productivity. On a personal note, I don’t believe in creative blocks, it’s just me making excuses not to get to work. Even a failed idea is one you can cross off the list of possibilities by narrowing your focus.

The first and most important element of creativity is dopamine. Running, showering, and driving are all giving you little blasts of the stuff. And that dopamine state is your prime ticket to Creative-city but it’s not your only route.

The second crucial factor is distraction. Ever notice how your best ideas come in the shower? Keeping soap out of your eyes and trying not to slip on the floor are two survival instincts that free up your conscious mind so you can process ideas unencumbered.

An addendum to this is ensuring you’re in a relaxed state. If you’re running through your to-do list for the day, that’s going to take precedence over the creative task at hand. Your third key to the kingdom is getting your mind in a relaxed state.


It’s well documented by now what dopamine generators videogames are. The rise of trophies and achievements, developer-generated milestones structured to acknowledge progress and award skill, is a prime example of this. Every time you finish a level and that pop up dings that you’ve passed another checkpoint – DOPAMINE! It’s even worse with Freemium games. They’ve turned this into an insidious science designed to keep you hooked on a dopamine high, pulling the rug out from under you at the optimal time in order to convince you to pay real money to aid in progress. So you keep going, chasing that dragon, and it’s easy to get lost in that sweet, sweet dopamine haze. And while distraction and relaxation is the goal here, it’s imperative to set hard limits for yourself.

Personally? If I find myself spinning plates in my head staring at that blinking cursor, I take a step back… and for me it’s most helpful to take a break without finishing the last thought I was…

That way my distraction becomes that dangling sentence. If I’m stuck, I’ll start a game, but I’m always sure to set limits. A 45 minute timer usually does the trick. As soon as that alarm goes off, I drop the controller and go right back to work. I almost always return with the problem solved, and even if I haven’t, the break has given my mind time to realign. Oftentimes, the thing I was dwelling on wasn’t really the problem. By giving myself a break, I allow myself permission to approach the issue from a new angle. When I return, new possibilities for what I was stuck on flood in and they’re usually better than what I had planned to write.

Here’s a quick list of some of the games that work for me: 

I avoid sprawling open-world games because they tend to tickle the human desire to explore and play. In my free time, that’s escapism at its finest, but in terms of aiding productivity I find that puzzle games are the perfect mix. They’re purer from a gameplay standpoint, and demand less from the player upon start up.  It’s just you against the game mechanics. There are a lot of great, affordable indie games that fill this niche.  If you’re not a console gamer, a crossword puzzle or Sudoku are lo-fi versions of this genre and work great.  My main go-tos are The Witness, Guacamelee, Overcooked, Rayman, Braid and Hearthstone.

But everyone’s sweet spot is going to be a little different. You could love sports games, or find the ratta-tat of a First Person Shooter relaxing.

No matter which method you choose you’d do well to remember, that at the end of the day, this is about turning your time sink into a dopamine fueled productivity engine. It may take some creative experimentation to land on exactly what works for you. But if you’re having a problem figuring it out, might I suggest you set a timer and play some video games?  Who knows… You may dislodge something inspiring.

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