Monday, January 18, 2010
The Continuing Battle Between Creativity and Conformity in Our Society: Observations and Links
(This is in part an answer to Endymion's post in Up on a Tree Stump #4™ (below) and my continued commentary upon the matter.)
RPG Examples abound--and I limited the contrasting part of my essay to 3E+. It is also true that a new consumer market was created with the advent of computerized gaming; just as a new consumer market was created with the advent of RPG; and with the spread of Sc-Fi/Fantasy, with a big boost from JRR Tolkien's trilogy to help with the latter.
The coincidence is that all three of these markets just about occurred at once or very close in time to each other. Fantasy-Fiction>RPG>Computerized versioning of both. This has lead to different understandings of "what" out of these three are cross-adaptable markets and how to wean these "whats" into existing or merging ones. But that is matter for another essay I am currently outlining.
What Endymion said... >...wonder if the reason players today are perhaps reluctant to indulge in free play of the sort you recall is because the presence of technology itself has contributed to a regimented life that discourages initiative< ... is true. Of course we have the challenge of built in competition at one of its highest levels in the history of American education and business, and so technology is being manipulated to cut avenues for it, time is being squashed due to societal demands, and children are being routed towards goal-driven futures at an extremely fast pace as everyone seems to a lesser of greater extent to be keeping up with the JONES. Starting with the introductory link in the Boyd/Spolin post I am further summarizing the already known antithesis of play and creativity. Also note that this embodies in part an over emphasis on competition (now, IMO, a cultural syndrome) as was negatively commented upon by Neva Boyd almost a century ago:
'At the time, public recreation programs in the main stressed formal sports, calisthenics, and competitive activity, which Neva Boyd found to be constricting and sterile. She believed that the essence of such activity should be social development rather than mere physical exercise. Consequently in her play programs she stressed the use of games and activities in which the leader and participants engaged both psychologically and physically, which resulted in improved social relationships. She believed such activities should be valued for their intrinsic good, not for external rewards. Applying this to her teaching, she noted:
"The greed for power, the hatred and dishonesty which have become associated with competitive games are not an inherent part of them but have found their why in them through a false sense of values [emphasis mine]. Prizes separate people, pit them against each other, discourage the less able and set the more able apart."
Miss Boyd believed in goodness and that the love of goodness must be cultivated. “Social living,” she said, “cannot be maintained on the basis of destructive ideologies – domination, hate, prejudice, greed and dishonesty. A society cannot hold together without a good way of life for all….Virtues are dynamic products and cannot be taken over fully developed without being continuously developed.'”
The aforementioned, when coupled with many other salient facts as I've previously noted, notes challenges within our society to the very notion that play is important to begin with. That is why I posted Boyd's theory, then, in posting order, that codified theory in practice as contrasted between two historical versions of D&D, and then Brown's applications which incorporate free-form play in practice in the realm of design. Within the comparisons derived from OD&D and Brown's POV, we see both stressing open exchange models as paramount and as the very route to abstract expansion, and all of this taking place within a constantly readapting and self-regenerative system. What we as RP(game) designers are in essence creating are combinations of rules which when transferred from the imaginative play ground of thought to a pencil and paper game, or to other real-time environments, that must be codified to a certain extant to be understood in a base form. This is what Brown asserts as the "Serious Side." Beyond that designers run the risk of over-structuring and thus turning the sword back upon the original intent of keeping exploratory paths open in their RPGs. OD&D/AD&D also asserts this in keeping the rulings open to DMs, in encouraging player/DM inputs and in open and free-form play and creation.
Non-abstract thinking players often see this free form style as hocus pocus. "I cannot see where the result is derived from." Thus a DM is sometimes viewed as fallible or even unreliable in such games where the reliance is upon absolute rules structure. Contrast this give-and-take to a playground game where a group of children are playing and adapting as they in turn input to the ongoing real-time design and you may find that there is what I call a missing link somewhere in the transiting stages of growth from child>young-adult>adult. Also note these links, 1, 2, 3. We see a growing reliance on the rational mind as compared to the abstract and a diametric shift away from what is wrongly considered "chaotic play" as we grow older and adapt to the rigidity of societal forms; and this leads us back as to why, and which in part we have already noted and answered. Tim Brown asserts that finite and free-form wholes are not mutually exclusive parts. He correctly notes them as interdependent due to their use when needed. Thus when we strip all structure from an RPG we are back to parlor games or the playground. If we add too much structure we are at the finite board/miniatures game. OD&D/AD&D creatively bridge finite and free-form concepts, and actually on many levels given the medium, merges them, which is quite a creative achievement if one thinks about it.
A computer game (and thus the contrasting perspective of DM<>Computer as DM, or even by extenuation, RULES as DM) is not often if ever seen as fallible in that regard (even though these are programmed by humans, and thus the overall view is false to assume so, as such fallibility when it exists will not come in the output stage (results from pressing a button or keys, etc) but is still present in the initial data and programming stages, all of which I touch upon in another upcoming essay, "Illusory Ground."). These are accepted for what they are as they can be no more than what their data allows for. Thus games which emulate them are what they are and provide a comfortable feeling of sameness and security of understanding. Computer gaming is in fact similar to shopping methodology: you can take time, you can PAUSE, you can retrace your steps (SAVE GAME) and you can start over in case of disaster (I LEFT MY WALLET AT HOME), not to mention the inevitable LIST of goodies sought. During breaks from the computer game, players can plan to overcome its more often static environment which has not changed during that interval (or very little depending on what has been programmed into it, or what has been reduced in the meantime as in online games). Players can numerically figure it all out while retracing their steps many times before then to derive what is for the most part the one correct answer, or even a series of one correct answers. This in turn corresponds to what is prevalent in our educational systems today (and which is noted in the above links, 1,2,3) and which is stifling creative thinking at that level. Finding correspondences to the above example in OD&D's design and play is difficult, as a DM has the ability to recreate situations on the fly and at a pace far out distancing and out creating what is possible for data dependent computers. All that must prevail is the willingness on the DM's part to do so and a perceived need to continue working on their creative ranges.
This may have also contributed to an interesting cultural/psychological nuance: that when consumers of these many computer games find ones that are distasteful they express their distaste more often in terms relating to the named game itself and not often to the company, or to the person(s) who programmed these. "Ork3 sucks." But when we have a pencil and paper game, or even a board game to a lesser or greater degree, the finger is inevitably pointed at the designer, especially in our niche industry. What should be important to track at all levels--quality of design and who(m) is manipulating it for consumption--at some point becomes obscured as its dissemination reaches mass market proportions. I have not found this so in fiction, illustration/art nor with movies, and in these cases there are readily apparent reasons as to why this is not so. The relevancy of such may lie in the fact that people disposed to mass intake have less demand for satisfactory return on all levels and this too may be a contributory reason for lack of creative need as many people are used to accepting the good alongside the bad and mediocre. In retrospect, I have always found the American expression, "It wasn't that bad," to be a result of this thinking process; and of course in return to those saying such I always respond: "I'm sorry..."