Imagination: An Engine for World Change

Jul 06, 2017 | Posted by Nathan King


I am a game designer and a world builder, and so imagination is as much a part of my everyday existence as a scalpel is to a surgeon’s. I desire to infuse my games and fictional worlds with purpose that is greater than myself. However, for many years I inadvertently stifled my creativity, languishing in ideas and models that later turned out to be very similar to other games and worlds already popularized in our culture. My crime? Thinking that my own imagination would be stunted by other concepts, I intentionally chose to limit my exposure to other people’s work. Studying the great and classic works in my field could have given me a strong understanding of current ideas so that I could build upon what had already been done. My lack of humility resulted in a poor willingness to accept criticism of my work. It also doomed me to think that my unoriginal concepts were innovative, when instead they actually mirrored other published works that I was unaware of. I wanted to create worlds with a purpose, but it was not until much later that I learned what a truly purposeful imagination requires: excellent questions, an environment, and context.

Imagination requires the asking of excellent questions. Because imagination often comes during the process of problem solving, individuals are forced to ask themselves questions about how a specific challenge can be met. Answering these questions is the dust from which imaginative ideas are formed. Thus, it is important to understand that imagination is unearthed from a mind through questions. By learning to ask better questions, creativity and imagination are improvable, trainable skills.

In order to flourish, all imagination requires an environment that fosters excellent questions. Unfortunately, our fast-paced, media-laced culture gives little space for a mind to ask them. We are inundated by a constant digital barrage of images, stories, and messages in a culture that resists having time devoted to doing nothing. Imaginative opportunities are often disguised as boredom, but because placating a complaining child with media is easier than requiring him to create, the proliferation of screen access has worked to the detriment of our youth. Yet, how can a dreamer dream without setting aside moments for reflection? An environment that fosters imagination, then, is one that provides mental time and space without mind-numbing media distraction.

All imagination requires context. People cannot imagine something that is not based on something else they have already perceived. Any human concept has either been built upon or in opposition to some other idea. The concept for light sabers in Star Wars is not purely innovative; it is the creative combination of swords and ray guns. The Rabbit and the Caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass interacting with Alice in magical Wonderland are common images, but with a creative twist. We’ve all seen rabbits and caterpillars before, and it is not so difficult to imagine them speaking or being a different size. So, imagination is not usually stifled by more exposure to excellent examples of work in whatever creative field we find ourselves in. Rather, by seeing (and even imitating!) these excellent classical works, we can find out what makes them great and then use them as the foundation for our imaginations to reach even greater heights! This is where I erred in my past understanding of creative innovation. Imagination is not damaged by exposure to other great ideas, but rather is amplified by them.

Imagination is one of the greatest gifts that humanity has been given. It allows us to dream of a better situation and find new solutions to get there. Excellent questions in an environment that fosters imagination can build ideas into powerful realities. This, then, is the requirement for imagination to have a lasting impact: purpose. Imagination can exist without great purpose, certainly. But when properly aligned with a mission that is bigger than ourselves, imagination becomes an engine for people to change the world.


Nathan King, the customer marketing manager for IEW, grew up as the son of a pastor in Wichita, Kansas. Following his graduation from Manhattan Christian College and Kansas State University with a degree in secondary education in history, he worked for thirteen years as a youth pastor in his hometown. Since he began working for IEW, Nathan has enjoyed both the marketing and customer service sides of his position. Nathan and his wife of thirteen years, Melissa, homeschool their four children, but it is his amazing wife that does the lion’s share of this vital mission!

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