Awkward late night thoughts about why I'm not an artist
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/the-most-dangerous-gamer/8928/?single_page=true
Jon Blow makes me think about what I'm doing as a game designer. From what I can tell, he comes at games from a different set of values (For example, I preference systems of people over expressive puzzles). But I love that he is intentionally creating a game to be an intense point of distilled meaning. It is very different than how I approach things. I suspect his approach is inherently more friendly to history. He makes me think.

My games are not art
I make games. It is a sort of diarrhea. I wake up in the morning and the ideas flow. Blocking the act of creation induces pain. I strive for a certain excellence in the results that I may not always achieve, but at the end of the day satisfaction (but never satiety) occurs if I'm constantly making and releasing games.

Is there are larger burning signal? Not really. Instead the games I work on are a dartboard of studies. How do people cooperate? What are the richest dynamics can coax out of this old system? Or this new quirky system involving time, space, people and emotions? I find these questions deeply fascinating and games are my way exploring them. The game I create are perhaps best described as elegant, complete and hopefully intriguing petri-dishes. They are not a method of communicating or evoking a thing burning inside that needs to be shared.

Will any of my games be considered 'artistic'? Somehow I doubt that.

Action vs Reaction
I see most art as a reaction to the world. The artist sucking in the world and then expressing their reaction to it through art. Some yells 'This is me' or 'This is what I think" or "This is what you should think" or "I felt this and want to share." Art expresses a facet of the common human experience and in turn evokes a sense of connection and hopefully synthesis with the audience's existing experiences.

To be completely clear, this is my personal definition of the term "Art" and I have little interest in getting mired the infinite spirals of defining what "Art" means to everyone. I'm much more interested in the concept at the heart of this label. There are various intricately constructed theories that allow wiggle room for there to be more than this. Yet by and large, art that fails to evoke fails as art.

Can games be this evocative art? Sure. But on a personal level, I just not sure that is what I end up creating.

I make things that players do. This is different than art. A walk through the park is not art. A story or painting or documentary about that walk that packages up something magical and deeply human might be art. But the act of walking, the walk itself was just something that happened. Without reflection, it is just another walk. Just another human event in a world awash with human events.

You play Steambirds. Very rarely does that game confront the player and demand a reaction. Or for that matter, express a reaction beyond vague emotions that can be interpret in a thousand different ways. Some players feel bad about senseless war that pervades every moment of Steambirds: Survival. But most don't. It is as thought provoking as walking in the park. A thing you do. A moment in life.

To me there is nothing more beautiful than taking a walk through the local forest with the late sun streaming through whispering leaves. Throughout history, the natural reaction for observers of life is to take that moment and create art. When I paint, I so desperately want to capture that moment and share it. I wish my writing was better so I could describe the joy that comes from the simple act of smelling the dirt and loam and moss. I know the urges of the artist intimately.

Yet these are distinctly not the same urges I have as a game designer. With games, I seed new moments of life. I am motivated to empower someone to have a new experience as rich as walking in the park but unique and as special as the mathematical core mechanic that generates this delectable pocket universe.

Words fail me
I tend to think that neither art nor even language is built to talk about the nature of games. These are tools of description, not tools of being. They can document what has passed and they can fantasize about what could be. But they aren't really all that competent at discussing how to create a functional reality. That is the world of physics, mathematics, economics, social dynamics, psychology and portions of what we call game design.

I struggle with the language to even describe these thoughts. It is really such a simple idea. 'The being' vs the 'reaction to the being.' Yet the only way we can talk about the 'being' is to have a reaction and it is so easy to mistake that for the essence of the original moment.

An inedible finish
So the games I make are rarely evocative. They rarely share something personal about me. Or are universally meaningful. There is no authored transmission of the nuanced relationship between an elderly prisoner and the dreams of her younger self. Instead they are individual. Involving. Memorable. What is Triple Town really about? Playing Triple Town. For me, for now, that is enough.

Yet, such a contraption bores artists and lovers of art. Oh, an event. Dull. Stupid. Shallow. What is missing is the pre-chewing. And a little pre-digestion helps the organs of artistry do their job. Distilled packages of meaning are replicated, commented on, curated, displayed, distributed and transferred so easily. That's art.

A system that caused you (and only you) to die because you forgot to turn three degrees to the left and used a bomb instead of a shield is just a thing that seeds experiences. Perhaps it could be more in the hands of a talented artist whose turns the moment into a vivid story or image. In my world view, I consider that that the role of the player, not the designer.

All the best,
Danc.
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