Catharsis – The purification or purgation of negative emotions through art, resulting in renewal and restoration.

I’ve spent the last few weeks playing Pokemon Art Academy, a 3DS game marketed at teaching children art skills through lessons centered around their favourite Pokemon. It’s a game I would never have gone out and purchased for myself but I ended up with a code for a free 3DS game and it was the only game on offer I did not already own. Knowing I had a copy anyway I decided to give it a look and while playing it’s opening levels I experienced some weird and and interesting observations.

The early levels of Pokemon Art Academy are all incredibly simple, and not really lessons in becoming an artist as much as they are lessons in mimicry and detail oriented repetition. Mechanically, they’re all about various degrees of tracing, colouring within the lines, following detailed instructions and working within pre defined boundaries.

The problem is, I stopped enjoying Pokemon Art Academy the second it started requiring me to actually step outside of those closed off boundaries and do some actual art unaided.

Here’s the problem, Pokemon Art Academy for me was a game of catharsis. I’m not an artist by any means, I have enough co-ordination effecting conditions that even my handwriting is fairly illegible. I cannot translate a mental image of a shape from my mind to my hands and replicate what I see in my head. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t like to pretend temporarily. Pokemon Art Academy allowed me to do that.

I was able to lose hours of my time slowly and carefully tracing lines, colouring in painstakingly, focusing on nothing but attaining perfection at my own pace. The world slipped away and I found myself incredibly refreshed. It was the cathartic experience I had been looking for. Something about emulating a skill slowly enough and with enough hand holding to achieve good results allowed me to achieve an important emotional state.

However, once it started giving me only simple geometric shapes to flesh out by myself, my lacking art skills quickly came creeping into visibility. Without a solid set of rules to work using, there was a noticeable drop in the quality of my end results and the satisfaction I got from the experience. To put it simply, I enjoyed spending endless hours carefully tracing and colouring my way to a state of catharsis more than I enjoyed having the game remind me that I suck at art.

I think this is why I love playing Guitar Hero for endless hours, but repeatedly gave up trying to learn to play an actual guitar. There’s a certain wonderful emotional state I enter when emulating perfection at a skill that helps me emotional purge, clear myself out and end up feeling refreshed creatively. I don’t get that emotional state from failure.

I want the escapist fantasy of pretending I can produce things of value, the mental distraction of focusing intently on creation and seeing nothing but good results. As counter Intuitive as it is, I enjoyed the hand holding tutorial in Pokemon Art Academy immensely but cannot stand the actual “game”.

Is that weird?

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