Next time you hit a creative block, the right choice might be to drop what you're working on and pick up a game controller instead.
Recent research finds that playing one specific game known for encouraging creation appears to actually give players a creative boost, even after they've put the controller back down.
In the Iowa State University (ISU) study, participants who were asked to play Minecraft scored higher in an exercise designed to measure creativity afterwards, compared to subjects that played a racing game or just watched television instead.
But what was perhaps most interesting was that those who were asked to play Minecraft with the least instruction and the most freedom were the most creative.
"It's not just that Minecraft can help induce creativity. There seems to be something about choosing to do it that also matters," said ISU psychology professor Douglas Gentile.
Minecraft is a bit like a virtual Lego game in which players build their own worlds.
Of the study participants who played the game, one group was only given basic instructions for operating the game and allowed to play freely. A second group was asked to be as creative as possible in their game play. Interestingly, the second group then scored lower on the creativity test that followed 40 minutes of playing time, which involved drawing an imagined creature from a planet much different than Earth.
"Being told to be creative may have actually limited their options while playing, resulting in a less creative experience," said Jorge Blanco-Herrera, lead author of a paper on the results published in Creativity Research Journal. "It's also possible they used all their 'creative juices' while playing and had nothing left when it came time to complete the test."
Gentile says follow-up research is needed to figure out what exactly is going on. But it's appearing more likely that games like Minecraft that encourage creation could be a useful tool for inspiration and improved thought processes.
"The research is starting to tell a more interesting, nuanced picture. Our results are similar to other gaming research in that you get better at what you practice, but how you practice might matter just as much."