Monday, November 30, 2015


"If you're going to go in the arena and spend any time in there, especially if you've committed to creating in your life, you will get your ass kicked.  So you have to decide, at that moment, I think for all of us, if courage is a value that we hold, this is a consequence.  You can't avoid it.

"The third thing, which really set me free - and I think Steve my husband would say has really made me somewhat dangerous - is kind of a new philosophy about criticism, which is this:  if you're not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback."

See.  I'm not alone.

This isn't going to be a rant.  I'm not going to go after my critics.  I am going to try to explain what criticism is and what defines "getting your ass kicked."  Criticism first.  

At some point soon, don't know if I'm up to it today or not, I'll be tackling the tech 14 post.  That post has four 'technologies' or developments that I mean to add to those developments that have gone before:  Nationalism, Divine Right, Paper and the Printing Press.

As I have said before, the introduction of these is not to suggest that peoples living in tech levels 5-13 don't know what a printing press is or wouldn't recognize one if they see it.  It does mean, however, that printing presses aren't available on a daily, regular basis in any region that is tech 13 or less.  To understand this, the reader should consider that in the 1930s many parts of the United States didn't have electrical power.  It isn't that electricity didn't exist in the world - it did, and had for more than 50 years.  It's only that to have electricity requires infrastructure, that parts of America like Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma didn't have.  

It is somewhat like the way we still see theater today.  Virtually every small town has some kind of theater - but when we think of plays being launched for the very first time, we recognize that a new play being put up in Bloomington, Illinois, isn't anything like the sort of standard achieved in New York.  They make films in Macon, Georgia, but they're not the kind of films that get widespread distribution like those made in Hollywood.  The fact that I have to mention the state in regards to Bloomington and Macon, and not in New York and Hollywood, is a clue.

So let me be clear.  I'm saying, yes, some sizeable town in a tech 13 state will have a printing press in a back room somewhere, purchased and set up so that it can be made to reproduce work.  I'm also saying, however, that the content and amount of reproduction going on with that press has as much importance and social effect as an action flick made in Moscow, Idaho, with money raised by Moscow Idaho artists.  In terms of the world of film, none.  Not worth addressing.

Where social relevance is concerned, we are speaking about more than the presence of a given technology - we are speaking about its influence.  When critics bark that presence is enough, it's a clear sign that only half the thinking has been done.

The error is in supposing that any criticism that originates with the critic has merit.  We have a tendency to think that 'opinion' is all that's needed.  "In my opinion, based entirely on my feeling about the principles of technology, this doesn't make sense."  That's because the critic hasn't taken the time to consider examples from the real world where it does make sense and the critic hasn't approached the matter with a concrete, well-referenced example.

Examples are information.  They are matters that have been studied, examined, researched and vetted by other people, beyond those in the room.  Here's a qualifier: if the reader has just come up with an argument that the reader can't remember having read written somewhere by someone else, then that argument is shit.  Note I don't say probably shit.  I mean it is exactly shit.

Yes, I am saying that my entire tech system concept is shit - but don't get bogged down in that just now.  Put it on a shelf.  We'll get to that in a minute.

In a world where hundreds of thousands of people are paid to do nothing but think stuff up and teach it to others, we must accept a few things about ideas.  If we've had that idea, someone else has had it.  More than that, they've told others.  Others who are experts in the field.  Who were smart enough, long before you or I had the idea, to already define it as shit.  We are way, way, way behind the curve here.  It only sounds like a good idea to us because a) we've never heard it before and b) there's no one around to tell us it is shit.

But it is shit, believe it.  Because we haven't heard of it before.  And because we're not an expert in the field.  How much do I really know about printing presses and their distribution in Europe or the rest of the world?  Not that much.  Therefore, how accurate is my depiction of the presence of printing presses in given regions of my world - or the influence and effect of those presses?  Not at all.

Here is the thing, however.  Unless the critic here quotes an expert, or speaks directly about a source I haven't read - and can direct me to that source so that I can read it and form my own opinions - then the critic's opinion is exactly the same level of shit as my own.  Basically, then, I'm being asked to exchange my shit with the critics shit entirely on the argument that the critic thinks his or her shit is better.  Just because.

I'm never going to do that.  Why would I?  The critic isn't going to be building this system, isn't going to be running this system and won't be at the table with the players encounter this system.  The critic's only value to the framework is in pointing out something someone who's not talking shit has said about some particular aspect of the system.

Which, as is usual on the internet, isn't happening.

Here's a very important point about things we think up on our own, when we do that.  Assume it's shit.  Because it is.  This tech idea, for all the wonderful praise it is getting - and thank you - has absolutely no merit whatsoever until it proves itself in a game.  Which it hasn't had a chance to do.  In a few months it may be nothing but shit on the blog, ditched, ignored and not part of my world.  I am very self-aware regarding that likelihood.  I have tried things before that got loads of praise and went nowhere.

I'm not nearly as impressed with the system as others seem to be.

I'll tackle getting your ass kicked on another post.


Zrog (ESR) said...

I felt that your two posts on this topic were a request to your commenters to somehow answer the question of how they were valuable (as a whole), and to evaluate their own comments and not just hammer something out and post. I thought that maybe you wanted to open a dialogue on the blog-vs-comment-vs-criticism dynamic. Or maybe it's a rant in disguise - I'm not really sure.

I just thought that, if you bothered to write all those words on this topic, that you might want SOME kind of reader response. So here it is:

While I understand that anyone's first drafts are shit, and that systems can only be evaluated by running them, and that you're committed to doing the work regardless of the blog criticism, perhaps you could consider that the purpose of the blog and its comments isn't to give you encouragement, but to explain your burgeoning ideas to the masses? And perhaps, though you'll have to slog through a ton of crappy, useless comments, maybe once in awhile, someone will say something that will be helpful? And that we're all TRYING to be helpful, even if it doesn't always come out that way.

I think being "in the arena" requires some context. For example, I regularly publish magazine articles, I'm writing a novel, and I DM. There's plenty of self-criticism opportunities in both of those, as well as sources of outside criticism. Now, I'll admit that I'm not running a D&D blog where people can tell me my ideas are shit. So... perhaps I'm not "in the arena" in a completely equal sense.

However, I'm also not in YOUR arena. I haven't read all your posts until I've understood their nuances. I haven't poured over the wiki to be able to say that yes, or no, that idea is coherent with your established whole. So... am I 'qualified' to give meaningful feedback?

Ah, now - there's the question. Have I endured feedback, so I know that any criticisms or ideas can only be accepted by the recipient if they are free of harshness? Yes, I have. Do I understand how much work you're doing? Well, probably not - but I've seen enough to respect it. Can I provide a unique perspective that might further your thinking occasionally?

I can only hope so.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I am asking people to do more than hammer out something and post.

I'm truly not looking for encouragement. I'm hoping for error-finding - but not the sort that comes from within the reader but from something the reader can point me towards. I can't read everything on the internet; I trust readers to help winnow down the total content there.

Hmpf . . . the idea of there being a thing like 'my' arena. Nonsense. I'm a dunce in many ways, about many things, particularly many of the things I've been discussing lately. If I'm wrong, I want to hear it. But I want to see proof that I'm wrong, not just opinion. Opinion doesn't cut it.

Personally, I'm not that disturbed by a harsh review. I am disturbed by a prejudiced one or one that plainly self-promotional: the "i do it this way" comment. Wow, I really hate those.

I don't believe everyone can provide a unique perspective. I do believe everyone can fact-check.