Sunday, 17 June 2012

Comics, Creativity, and Game Design

One of my many sins as a philosophy graduate student was having the bad taste to enjoy things like wargames, comic books, and other deviant pursuits. Expressing appreciation for the fact that a house's previous owner had rebuilt their basement to house a beautiful model train set was beyond the pale, for example. Bringing up Scott McCloud's Triangle of Representation to make a point about the current state of the argument in the philosophy of mind was likewise ill-received (p.51, Understanding Comics). In their defense, it was probably because my job had been to talk about what philosophers had said to obfuscate matters, rather than to show what artists had accomplished to solve the "hard problems" arising from that obfuscation. Of course, I had also done that, to the tune of over one hundred cited works, but apparently the work that makes a decent Ph.D dissertation is un-acceptable for a Master's thesis.

Why bring this up? Mainly because I like to bring inspiration from disparate media together to solve problems, and frequently the reaction to these attempts is pretty negative. In part I believe it's because cross-disciplinary work requires that one either adopt the communication mores of either medium, or to further ghetto-ize one's work by building a new set of protocols. Attempting to alter the way people talk about a problem within a discipline requires the kind of social capital I've never had, and probably never will. The rest, I believe, is that despite making my living by attempting to 'write-down' to the end-users of technical writing, I cling to the notion that Marshal McLuhan was not completely wrong about how the media influences the message, and to the notion that certain ideas are media-specific because they are inexpressible (or simply obfuscated) in certain media.

Incidentally, that is why the film-version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen failed so spectacularly as the Watchmen while still being a decent enough movie, and a better story than the one presented in the comic book. However, the story was better because the film's director shed all the elements of the comic book that strained the story. The problem being was that the story was less of a story than a thinly-conceived vehicle for a piece of conceptual art about time, space, and perception in comic books. The Watchmen is a monumental piece of art in part because it is self-referential, a piece of art talking about the concepts and magic of its own construction. As a series of comic books, not even as a 'graphic novel', it was about comic books, and specific to comic-books. Carrying the concept over to film would have required a different piece of art, involving different actors, narratives, and subjects.

Nonetheless, certain things, especially the philosophical turn, lend themselves to most subjects, and particularly to the creative subjects of art, and design. Returning to Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud parses six steps in the approach to art, using a story about how various artists develop from the sixth step, understanding the surface of comic art, to the first step, which is posits to be that of the idea or purpose. The question being: Why am I doing this?

On one hand I like the intellectual challenge of analyzing and designing games. Which is to say my hobby of doing so is kind of like a complicated version of the newspaper crossword. The problem is that my hobby is more like making the crossword, and specifically a crossword that no-one will ever actually solve, let alone enjoy solving. Up until recently I didn't really care that no-one would ever actually play any of the games I've designed. But recently, having spent some time expanding my horizons playing games that other people have designed, and reading about them, I've come to a state of ambivalence about my hobby.

A lousy writer, and fairly decent logician, once advised me to write for myself, and to find my own 'voice'. Which is great advice if you're writing to entertain people, but awful advice if you're writing to communicate ideas, processes, and procedures. Hence my current ambivalence, in that I have some idea of the kind of people that might actually play the games I cast into the aether, and frankly I don't really like them. Well, perhaps more truthfully I don't seem to want to play the same kind of games as the kind of people that are out there blogging and foruming about the games I most like to play. And given that they are unlikely to ever play any games I might get to release, then I face a dilemma of writing the games for myself and ensuring that no-one else will ever be motivated to play them, or writing them for other people and ensuring I'll never want to play them.

Now, one way of diagonalizing out of such a dilemma might be to focus on the fact that I haven't previously had an issue writing games that no-one plays. Some of them even hit that sweet spot of games nobody wants to play, and for pretty good reasons. But I'm no longer entirely content just writing games for myself and playing other people's games with other people. Another way of diagonalizing out of such a dilemma is creating a game that I can enjoy playing, and that other people can enjoy playing. Which is one idea, but the problem is that there is no Allgame, and the world is populated by a surprising variety of preferences and interests. If I'm going to produce a game, or even just write one, then I need to choose which group is going to be my audience.

In the absence of being my own audience, and being generally adverse to what I can see of my potential audiences, I'm finding my motivation to work on my game projects is expiring quickly. It used to be that I'd go back and say something about one of my philosophical bugbears, but having been un-involved in any kind of serious philosophical discourse for more years than I ever spent on philosophy in school, and I've found no further ground to cover in such considerations.

I suppose that I should let go, die the little death, and go quietly into the silence, but somehow I still have some need to rage, rage against the dying of my write.

With apologies to Robert Frost.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Looking forward to hearing from you!