[MUD-Dev] Art vs. Fun

Matt Mihaly the_logos at achaea.com
Wed Dec 12 23:39:18 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


I want to start out by saying that I am an unapologetic elitist when
it comes to art (and a lot of other things), and I'm going to
respond to Jessica's article from that position.

Jessica Mulligan wrote:

> No, your importance to the designers is not as a game player and
> paying customer; you have a far more important role. You are
> experimental performance art, my friend. The experiment may be in
> methods of delivering a particular story vision, the outcome of
> which is pre-determined in the mind of the designer, to see how
> you wiggle on the hook, or in how to force players into taking
> part in so-called "player-controlled justice systems" to see how
> you and other players form communities (the outcome of which is
> also predetermined in the mind of the designer). But guinea pig
> actors you are, and paying for the privilege, too.

I'd be more likely, as a player, to pay to participate in a social
experiment like that than to pay to go kill some goblins so I can
kill some orcs so I can kill some bugbears so I can kill some
vampires so I can kill some dragons. (I'm not claiming Achaea is
some artistic work of genius, incidentally, just in case there was
any question. It IS more interesting than loot-and-level, at least
to me.)
 
> Don't believe me? Hit any search engine and run a search on
> "player justice systems" or "player-driven justice systems."

I'll assume you mean that in a sort of tongue-and-cheek way, as when
I searched on Google. "player justice systems" revealed exactly 2
links, both to your article. "Player-driven justice systems"
revealed 6 links, two of which led to your article.

> You'll see some very familiar names from the persistent world game
> industry and read a lot about "using storyline to encode ethical
> systems" and "teaching moral lessons." If you follow enough of the
> subsidiary links and dig down deep enough (take a shovel, 'cause
> you'll need it), you'll read about such arcane matters as "the
> responsibility of the artist," "communicating an expression to the
> audience" and "artistic differences." When you're done reading,
> you'll realize that there is a disconnect between you and many of
> the designers. In your mind, you're a game player; in theirs,
> you're part of a participatory audience in creating Art.

God forbid we encourage you to think about anything arcane. Sorry,
I'll go back to giving you orcs to kill.
 
> And I've no objection to art, as long as that's what I wanted in
> the first place.

So then where is your objection, exactly? If you feel that these
games are trying to force-feed you art, and that's not what you
want, why do you log in?

> However, when I walk into a museum to see the works of the great
> masters, I don't expect to be handed a brush and canvas and told
> to get busy.

And yet you're complaining when this happens in MUDs, even though
you DO expect it, judging by this column generally. Perhaps the
problem is your expectations, which are a lot easier to change than
other people's behavior.

> Art is to be remembered and cherished, while Entertainment is a
> momentary thing done for money, best done in the dark and be sure
> to wash your hands afterwards. Artists are real big on government
> and private patronage, whereas Entertainers hope to strike it big
> by having lots of people pay for their work in some form or
> another.

As someone who is solidly on the elist Artist side of things, I can
tell you that not all of us are big on government. I'd shut down the
NEA tomorrow if I had the choice.

> One side seems to feel that making money off charging the mass is
> somehow less righteous than having some moneyed elite hand out
> honorariums to advance Art; it has something to do with "pandering
> to the lowest common denominator."

You and half the people on this list are probably going to find this
extremely offensive, but the fact is, by and large, the rich are
more educated than the masses. They have the time and the money to
acquire a level of discernment that is so sadly lacking from the
masses. Obviously this is a generalization, but it's an accurate one
in my experience. I believe it was GB Shaw who once said something
to the effect of, "It is more difficult for the soul to soar free
when the rent has to be paid." (My apologies if I'm mis-remembering
the quote, or mis-using his meaning at all.)

And indeed, this seems to be true. Most of the great Western artists
(I don't know enough about Eastern art aside from the biggest names
to comment) come from privileged backgrounds. That doesn't mean they
came from landed aristocracy, but most were educated
intellectuals. Even Shakespeare's stuff was either not written by
Shakespeare (a theory taken seriously in some serious literary
circles) or the common history of Shakespeare is wrong. His command
of language and, in fact, foreign language, as well as some of the
references he makes clearly indicates an educated and thus
privileged mind (wasn't much democratization of education in his
day).

Now, I'm going to make the assumption, based on an admittedly
unrepresentative sampling of the population (my friends), that
education increases one's ability to appreciate art. It doesn't have
to be necessary, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that it
opens one's mind to new ways of seeing the world, which allows you
to appreciate something from more and more angles. Assuming that's
true, then it seems to me that even if you abandon any sort of
objective criteria for art, you're still left with the fact that art
that is difficult due to its intricate crafting (though it may look,
sound, or read as if it's effortles= s) can, at its best, express
meaning more precisely, more elegantly, and more powerfully. It may
price itself, intellectually, out of the mass market. Look at Joyce,
for instance. His writing is amazing. It's has such depth to it in
every way, that it's almost mathematical in its precision. It also
requires something more than a passing effort to really appreciate,
but it has the same sort of beauty as a rose that is eternally
unfolding. Layer after beautiful layer of meaning.

If you pander to the lowest common denominator, you can kiss any
hope of that goodbye unless you have an extremely rare talent, like
Dickens or Shakespeare did. And even they failed in the end. They're
both solidly in the realm of the Artist and the Intellectual now.

> This is an argument that will never be "won," of course. Both
> sides have valid issues to express and axes to grind, so we'll be
> hearing about it until the heat death of the Universe.

Yes, I agree with this at least. I'm willing to recognize the
arguments of both sides rest essentially on arbitrary assumptions
about the value of things like money, fame, art itself, etc.

> And having been a designer, I can tell you there is a subtle
> thrill in the thought that you are creating something that people
> might remember for a long time. However, the most salient feature
> of the Art vs. Entertainment argument that I've been able to
> discern seems to be that those who actively set out to Create Art
> As Art are often less well-remembered than those who set out to
> Create Art To Make A Buck.

I don't think being well-remembered is the end-all be-all goal of
Art.
 
> What I hope you take away from this example (aside from the weird
> and slightly disturbing thought that Melrose Place may be
> considered the pinnacle of 20th Century Art 400 years from now) is
> that Shakespeare's first consideration wasn't Art; he was trying
> to make sure he and his buddies in the theater troupe called The
> Lord Chamberlain's Men had food on the table and a roof over their
> heads. His first consideration was entertainment; if he didn't
> entertain the audience, he was going to starve, pure and simple.
> It was later generations that branded his work
> Art-with-a-capital-A; the mass consumers of his own time just
> considered it a ripping good time for a penny.

He's one example, and I'd say he and others like him are somewhat
significantly outnumbered in the arena of great art by the
self-aware Artists.

> Have some people set out to create Art, made money and remain
> known today?

Are making money and remaining known the only reasons you can
conceive of to make Art? I don't have any problem with them as
reasons I suppose, but on the spectrum between what I'd call pure
Art and pure dreck, money is a weight dragging you (the impersonal
you) into the sewer.

> player-versus-player environment are a perfect example. There is
> no doubt a place for niche games that feature non-consensual PvP
> and this isn't the place to get into the arguments for and against
> in detail. The fact is, the market has shown clearly that even
> most hard core gamers don't want non-consensual PvP in a
> commercial environment.

Well, the current market has shown that at least. It's probably fair
to speculate the mass market would prefer that too, but I think it's
too soon to say.

> That hasn't stopped designers' arguments for and attempts to
> implement such systems. My favorite rationale for it has to be
> "Non-consensual PvP promotes community." I'm sure that it does,
> occasionally and among a small and highly motivated sector of the
> community. As Ultima Online clearly showed, however,
> non-consensual PvP far more often promotes "I'm tired of being
> constantly ganked by a gang of social misfits" and "I'm taking
> this piece of crap back to the store."

You're willing to draw conclusions about what is possible in an
entire industry, based on the first major product in that industry? 
That's bold. You may or may not be right, but you've certainly not
got the evidence to take that assertation as anything other than a
nebulously-founded opinion.
 
> These attempts to create Art also ignore one other important facet
> of for-pay persistent worlds, maybe the most important facet; the
> need of the player to create his/her own art. Unlike television,
> movies or museums, gaming is a participatory medium; any story
> arc, photo-realistic graphic or game system is just a backdrop and
> tool for the player to create his own story and legend. That's why
> we're there. When those get in the way, we're gone, simple as
> that.

Exactly, it's there for the players to create their stories. The
systems we create, and the -process- by which the players create the
stories is the art right now, I think. It's appropriately
post-modern for our medium, don't you think? What I find funny about
that is that I really have never felt comfortable with
process-as-art until MUDs.
 
> No doubt some quarters will roundly castigate me for suggesting
> that the primary purpose of an online game should be
> entertainment; the prevailing bent is far more academic than
> entertainment-oriented.

Well, I would castigate anyone for suggesting that the primary
purpose of an online worlds generally should be anything in
particular other than what the owners decide it should be. It's
theirs, after all. I know you're mainly speaking about very large
graphical MUDs, but if I could afford it, I think I might like
creating a large graphical MUD to do what I wanted, and not worry
too much about it making money. Granted, it's unlikely I'll ever be
able to afford to throw away that much money, but I wouldn't see
anything wrong with doing it for the sake of my own vision. I'm sure
others would end up enjoying my vision anyway, even if it wasn't a
financial success.

> While there are elements of that attitude that are good =97 and
> maybe, arguably, necessary for the advancement of online gaming
> =97 I'm rather tired of it being the end-all and be-all. Given
> that, is it any wonder that today's persistent world role-playing
> games at launch are unmitigated design disasters, which are then
> 'fine-tuned' to more accurately suit the desires of the designers
> and then, finally and generally after the original designers have
> moved on to the next project, are fine-tuned to more accurately
> suit reality and the desires of the paying customers?

Well, indeed. I will agree that I wonder about anyone attempting Art
in the standard loot-and-level game that needs the lowest common
denominator to accomplish the goal of the game (making money).

--matt

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