I’m an Artist, so F**K you!

In other art forms, such as music and painting, there are many examples of artists who eschew fans and public acclaim, and say they want to make their art for themselves. At the very least, they reject criticism of their work, saying that they don’t need outside help, influences, acclaim, or support. They are painters, so they paint. They are musicians, so they play.

We don’t have many such people in the game development community. ALL commercial games are like commercial art; paid for by companies that expect return on investment. MOST truly indie games are self-funded, but the developers still crave feedback (positive feedback is sought, but any feedback is good) and players. After all, the ultimate judge of your indie game seems to be total downloads or conversions (sales).

Which leads to…one of the most basic lessons about game design I’ve carried with me for a long time.

The player is always right.

If you make the most compelling game you can, but the users don’t understand what the red units are for, or never found the sub-menu that lets the bases repair themselves, it’s YOUR fault. You can change the sub-menu and try again, and through a process of accepting and applying repeated criticisms of your product (beta-tests, focus groups, etc), it becomes a better product.

Often nothing (apparently) important is lost in this process. We can change the menu system so the base-repair functionality is more apparent, or we can make the bases repair themselves automatically, so the player doesn’t have to fool with it. Either way the original vision of the designer is still intact, right?

But again, this system is borrowed from commercial art. Indie and avant-garde musicians and painters don’t use focus groups or demo beta products. They create what their muses tell them to, display them in galleries, and curse the fools who don’t "get it".

One of the most "arty" indie game developers I know is http://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/ . They have a TERRIBLE UI, and not only have they failed to fix this to get more customers, but they’ve succeeded in building a community of players who 1) accept the terrible UI as the price of admission, and 2) wear their mastery of said UI as a point of pride. Bay 12 is a couple of brothers seriously chasing their muse. They are amateurs, but they’re working hard to execute their vision as they see fit, and they don’t have time or interest in going back and making the game easier to use or more accessible to the masses.

There are many other kids out there that have a drive to make games, but hear only one message about how to make games; the message from the commercial side of the business.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is this. Games = art, just as painting = art and music = art. But painting and music still struggle with basic questions of what-is-art and who-is-a-real-artist, and games are a VERY young medium, comparatively. And a game is not the same as a movie, or a song, or a painting; it’s a unique medium.

So game developers have a long path to walk, to find out how to be artists, and how to create art. And it’s a path we must walk in a different direction from the other mediums. But we can and should learn a lot from the paths those other mediums have already traveled.

Devo and commercialism today

Nice long article in LA Weekly about Mark Mothersbaugh (of DEVO) and his production studio.


Mothersbaugh has long been understood to be a cutting-edge artist, and Devo was always subversive and avant-garde, so every time I learned that he was doing music for another commercial or scoring another children’s TV show, My first thought was "Sell out!"

But this article and…

discussions with knowledgeable friends have shown me that there’s something deeper here, and I’m trying to come to terms with it.

Mothersbaugh and his group are embracing Pop Art, the artistic idea that commerce and art are fuse-able. Andy Warhol famously said, "Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art."


My visceral reaction to this is profoundly negative, but no one can dismiss Mothersbaugh as a hack, so I’m coming to the tentative conclusion that 1) I’m a big prude (not sexually, but in terms of art and experience generally), and 2) I don’t know enough about Art with a capitol A.

Williams syndrome

This is a New York Times article about people with a rare genetic disorder called Williams syndrome.

The article is fascinating; it goes into great detail, with lots of deep discussion of cognitive psychology, genetics, evolution, and social dynamics. For people in the MMO field, the part about the social groups of great apes and the evolution of language is particularly thought provoking.

Check it out!a New York Times article

Dear Father

I write you from the mess of the FSS Marchant, where I’m still Chief Petty Officer and still four months away from getting a post closer to you and Mom. Space is vast, and boring, but lately it’s been exciting and scary around here.

Our new captain…is young, handsome, and a true Space Hero. Since he took command, we’ve been criss-crossing all of known space, saving people, discovering alien relics, and blunting the invasion of the Siarac Hordes. It’s been really dangerous, but our captain always seems to come out okay, and never seems to make a single mistake.

But we’re starting to think he’s crazy.

He keeps muttering to himself about dogs and cats. Well, one dog and two cats, specifically. He’ll be going along fine one minute, and the next he’s shouting, "No, Jimbo! Bad dog! Don’t eat that!" or something similar. He’ll pause in the middle of a firefight and mutter, "Dang cats are clawing up the couch again! Go on, Kitty, go away!" And his away team tells us that, right in the middle of a mission, the Captain will freeze up for a few minutes. When he again becomes responsive, his excuse is about "walking the dog" or "getting the mail", whatever THAT is.

Navigator Jones has a theory that the Captain thinks he’s living two lives. One life is this one, and in the other life our Captain is a regular shlub sitting on his living room couch, perhaps listening to music or reading a book or something. But Ensign Smith (whom you met nine months ago, remember?) downplays the whole thing. She feels that the Captain is speaking in code, talking to a high-ranking Council member over his earpiece.

Whatever the matter is, it’s not hurting the mission. I’m convinced that, if we follow the Captain, he’ll save the day and we’ll all be heroes. I don’t know why I know it, I just do.

Your loving son,