Shit Crayons

I know I have been talking about Ian Bogost recently. But this article caught my eye the other day. It’s an article by Ian Bogost based on a rant from this year’s GDC. It’s about the creativity on Social Games and it’s titled Shit Crayons.


“I’m worried about Timmy. All his drawings look like shit.”

If you know the Bogostian stance on Social Games, you might get where this is going. It’s an explanation of the kind of creativity that is often brought forward by proponents of Social games as examples of positive effects they have. Some people create pixel art using crops in Famville. Or they write poetry in Bogost’s very own Cow Clicker click notifications.

Ian compares this kind of creativity to the kind of creativity the Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka exhibited while being in prison. Being under surveillance, he came up and remembered his poems during day only too write them down in the night with the use of improvised tools. The text suggest he might have used excrements, but none of the other sourced I had on Soyinka seems to confirm this. On the other hand, I haven’t dig into it too deeply and I wasn’t familiar with Soyinka before I read the text.

It doesn’t change the point anyway. The point Bogost makes is that all those Social Games don’t really enable the creativity found in their communities. People just found ways to be creative IN SPITE of them. The pixel artists of Farmville aren’t particularly great pixel artists. The only reason they are noteworthy is that they are using something that actually wasn’t made for pixel art at all. They rise above the dullness of the game and manage to re-purpose them into something more meaningful.

Personally, I enjoy this analogy a great deal. Perhaps because the idea of Shit Crayons is so vivid and quite hilarious. But it left me thinking.

Back during my studies I remembered a particular conversation with one of my fellow students. She complained about the poor equipment the university we were studying at had. She compared it to the equipment of another university. She was not satisfied with the quality of works we have created on our school and he was convinced the equipment was to blame. I found it quite ironic that the she was being among those delivering the most disappointing results. Compared to others, it was clearly not the fault of the equipment. It was the lack of skills on her side. Personally I found the availible possibilities were already overwhelming.

As much as I enjoy the idea of Shit Crayons, there is no denial that creativity is fostered by constraint. Ian Bogost himself acknowledged that in his book on the Atari 800. In this article, he seems to make a distinction between constraint and incarceration. I’m struggling with how to determine the difference.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

3 responses to “Shit Crayons”

  1. Alexandre

    The protagonist in TRAUMA is incarcerated in her dreams. Players have constraints.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      I don’t quite understand what you mean.

      1. Alexandre

        Players are constrained in the set of actions they can take, but they’re still free to act. Or to leave.
        Incarceration is a way to describe the state in which the game’s protagonist is. Not that she’s a victim of “locked-in syndrome”, but her dreams are more than a mere constraint, they’re strict limits to her experience.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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