Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Last note before a vacation

This is mostly in response to Ben's post, "linguistic drift," and also about Vincent's initial response to my prior post, here.

When I read this phrase in Ben's post -- "seen as some sort of symbol of oppression" -- I'm worried because I am afraid that I haven't communicated very clearly. Oppression? What the hell?

I got the same impression of miscommunication when I first read Vincent's line "I bolstered my courage at the expense of others'!" Huh? I thought. Who brought the "others" into it? Expense of others?

Both of those suggest to me that I have given the impression that I see people like Ben and Vincent as setting up a heirarchy of game designers, and setting themselves above others, such as my poor little oppressed self.

There are a couple of reasons I didn't expect to come across like that and am sorry I did (but I can understand how I did) --

First off, I personally don't identify as a game designer any more than I identify as a musician. I have designed games, and I've recorded music, but those are things I've done for pure recreation -- I don't necessarily consider myself "good" at them any more than I consider myself "good" at eating cheesecake or watching movies or writing blog posts. They're things I do for fun, not to pursue a craft or build a skill. I may incidentally build skill in them because that's what happens when you do something you enjoy, but it's icing on the cake. I'm sorry I even used myself as an example in the previous post, but at that moment I wanted to use an example of someone cluelessly unskilled and I didn't want to tag anyone else besides myself with that label for fear of giving offense, so I used myself.

So if there is a heirarchy of game designers, my own place in it doesn't concern me one way or another, anymore than I am worried about whether my writing skill measures up when I make a random blog post. But I can sure see how my post could have given the impression that I was concerned about it and felt quite stepped on. So I hope if I did give that impression I have expunged it. When it comes to indie RPGs I'm primarily a consumer, not a producer, a fan, not a creator. I am interested in this discussion in terms of what it implies about games I will buy, not games I might write.

And that takes me to the second point -- it's not that I'm worried that I'm gonna be oppressed, I'm worried that y'all are oppressing yourselves! I'm not worried about Forge designers elevating themselves onto a pedestal; both Vincent and Ben have been more than humble about their own place in the big scheme of things. It's just that creation tends to happen when you forget all that shit and work from where you are, whether that place where you are is zero skill or immense skill.

Jay Loomis wrote this awesome bit:

I've been privileged to meet or talk to one or two masters of their trade in my life. People whose work makes your eyes bug out. The thing that strikes me about true masters is that they don't think much about their work.

The true master is so confident in her work that she doesn't have all the hang-ups that would make her insecure, hesitant, or even boastful. She does what she does and is peaceful in that state of being.
That's totally true. And you know what, you don't have to be a master to work that way. That's the way anybody works who is mindfully engaged with their craft and not engaged in self-judgment. That's the way that everyone works at their best. That's the way a four year old draws! Maybe you have to have certain kinds of skills to work that way and make people's eyes bug out. But if you work that way at whatever level of skill you have, your work is going to be better (if you'll excuse me using a word I may seem to have disavowed) than if you don't. And if you are all worried about whether you've produced your "journeyman game" or not, and how many thousand hours you're going to have to put in before you do, then it seems to me you're not likely to enter that state.

That "masterful" state may be the state of someone whom we judge to be at the top of a hierarchy of skill levels, but no matter what your skill you can't be in that state until you stop caring about the hierarchy of skill levels. And you can cease to care like that whatever level you're at. So that master is not thinking of herself as a master when she's acting that way, except inasmuch as "thinking of herself as a master" means not concerning herself with her skill level.

That's mindful creativity.

As a potential buyer of the games that people like Ben and Vincent and others might produce, I worry when I see them engaging in styles of thought which I believe hinder both creativity and development of craftsmanship. I want them to make awesome games so I can buy and play them. So I'm doing my part to sow some possible seeds of doubt as to the whole value of this "put in your time, learn the basics, humbly accept the wisdom of the masters, or maybe you would if there were any masters yet which there aren't" kind of thinking.

Now, Ben and Vincent and everyone else are grownups like myself and get to accept or reject my thoughts on this issue and do what they want to do. That's all good. But I'd like to be understood for what I mean to say, and I fear I have not made myself understood.

Ben, ya ain't oppressin' me. With all due respect, you couldn't, cause at least to my conscious knowledge, I have nothing invested in anybody's assessment of my game design ability, cause I don't consider myself to have any more game design ability than the average Joe gamer off the street who's played a few Forge games and liked them. And Vincent, you are most definitely not bolstering your courage at the expense of me! Seriously, man, not at all. I am not "expensed" at all here. That was never my point, and when you said that it confused the hell out of me.

If this "journeyman" stuff helps you do what you want to do, if this style of thinking helps you, go for it, think that way, do things that way. I just want to buy your games. In my own experience, and in the estimation of some people I respect, it's the opposite of helpful for advancing one's craft or engaging in creative exploration. Hence my wish to give you an reason to reconsider it.

But I'm not you, I don't know how you tick or what works for you, so I don't expect you to listen to this stuff if it's not helpful to you, and I definitely do not want you to heed me out of fear of "oppressing" me. I just hear what sounds like people in danger stifling their own creativity, and I do not want that.

And now I'm gonna be gone for like a week so I won't have a chance to reply to anyone or listen to any further conversation, dammit.

So, like, Ben, before you correct me as you've promised to do, do you think you could repeat back to me in comments, maybe in summary form, what you hear me saying, and see if I recognize it this time? And I'd be happy to do the same for you if you'd like. Cause I really don't want to spend a ton of time clarifying again because I've failed to communicate what I wanted to.

I have a hard time expressing myself clearly on these topics. That's just something I know about myself, so I'm not too surprised at all this.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ed, nothing to worry about. The "others" at whose courage's expense I bolstered my own - they know who they are. Like, Adam Dray said in response, "Vincent, when you call Dogs your journeyman game, it does give me chills. I hope my 'master' game is as good as that." I realized that some people would probably have reacted that way, but I didn't know who. Those are the people I acknowledge and want to do better by.

You're not in that group - cool. I never assumed you were, never assumed you weren't. Nothing to it.

Anonymous said...

Of course, I followed up with, "But if that bolsters your courage, go for it. My insecurities are not your problem, and you're not doing anything at my expense."

My insecurities. Not your problem.

Stop worrying about me and get back to designing cool games. ;)