Monday, November 30, 2015

Principles Underlying the Relevance in Comments

"This is the part that I think people underestimate.  If you're in the arena and you email me and say something to me, 'Look, I'm really questioning your research because you forgot the entire academic literature on intimacy and you should be thinking about that,' that's feedback.  If you say that, then I'm going to say, 'Wow, I should look into that.'
"If you're in the cheap seats, not contributing, not putting yourself out there, not risking anything, and just criticizing, I can't be open to your feedback, for this reason - and this is something creatives I don't think fully get: it hurts and it changes who we are.  When I hear people say, and its often creatives and leaders and organizations, 'Look, I don't give a shit what anyone thinks,' that is its own kind of hustle."

By 'hustle,' Ms. Brown doesn't mean getting going and getting it done.  She means lying to yourself and to others.  See the video.

I do care what people think.  That's why I'm writing this down.  And it does hurt - though admitting that is hard, because it often gets brutal on this blog - and I know I hurt other people as much or more than they hurt me, since I'm better at cutting with the knife and I'm in control of this space.  Yet it's true.  I get hurt here also.

I do know when I present anything odd or off the wall, when I rant, when I fly smack into the face of preconception, I am going to flush out the critics.  It isn't as bad as it used to be, as most of the hard core critics and trolls have given up on me - in part because I'm more than willing to delete their words, taking away their power, but also because, as JB said most approvingly, "The Work continues."

Hey, JB, sorry we've been butting heads lately.

JB is a good example of someone with his head in the game - but I wouldn't say he's getting his ass kicked.  He is getting the sort of meaningless criticism I discussed in the last post, however; I hunted around for an example and found this on JB's recent assassin post:

While this is overall a good effort, the death attack is extremely overpowered - there needs to be a save or something, because as - is the class is 'I win' after name level.  Also, I don't know how it works in B/X, but you'd never be able to use this kind of assassin against the PCs, particularly at high level - the rate that they'd get their death attack in means the PCs would be cut to ribbons.  
- Jack Phoenix 

I don't know if that hurts JB or if it changes him.  I'm more sensitive about these things and I want some sort of evidence that anything actually being said in the comment is true.  Apart from Phoenix's assertion - based on the DM willy nilly doing thing like throwing high level NPCs against players, apparently randomly - I can't make heads or tails of it.

Jack Phoenix is not in the game.  He has a google+ page.  He's human.  For most people, that's enough of a reason to respect his opinion.  But let's be clear.  Mr. Phoenix is in the cheap seats.

Why?  Well, not to cast aspersions on the man, but because there's very little evidence that I have of his contributing his time to the issue.  Time is the fundamental measure.  The above comment would have taken 60, perhaps 70 seconds to punch out, assuming hunting and pecking, whereas the post it is written on runs about six times longer, has a table and is part of a series that JB has been writing all month.  Contribution-wise, measuring only in time spent, JB has my attention.  Mr. Phoenix does not.

Moreover, JB's written over 1800 posts.  Where it comes to questioning the 'extreme overpowered' aspects of the assassin, I'm more inclined to believe that JB has throught this one through . . . whereas Mr. Phoenix has no posts whatsoever that I can access or use to consider his relevance to the discussion.

This would incline me to delete Mr. Phoenix's comment.  JB, I know, doesn't believe in such practices - and neither do 99.9% of those right now reading this post.

There is a good reason for that.  Most of you aren't getting your asses kicked, either.

Going on the point of the previous post, if you're putting out opinions that aren't being vetted by authorities who spend all their time considering opinions, then you're not really contributing to the conversation.  To date, neither am I.  Many readers have stepped forward and said that I've changed their games, that I've helped them DM better and that they're seeing the game in a new light and I really enjoy that - but I'm just a silly voice in the cheap seats where it comes to any force daily influencing role-playing.  I'm trying to shout as loud as I can.  I'm asking for some vetting and I want it to hurt . . . I want someone to tell me that I'm forgetting the entire academic literature on dungeons, characters and DMing.  Unfortunately for me, I don't think there is any such literature.  I think, rather, that there's a vacuum created by endless modules and splat books that consumes and renders meaningless anything written about role-playing.

A vacuum that encourages every rat bastard DM who imagines that a high level NPC shouldn't cut the PCs to ribbons.  After all, isn't that what a bunch of 13th level PCs are going to do to 5th level NPCs?

Truth be told, I can't even turn Mr. Phoenix's argument against him like that - because he doesn't say what level the PCs being cut to ribbons would be or what 'high level' means.  The comment is so vague that even in its own context it has no relevance.

Let me just add at this point that JB wrote a very long answer to Mr. Phoenix.  If I had written a long answer, I know it would have evolved from feelings of having my carefully designed post used by a commentor as a platform for an irrelevant, obviously prejudiced opinion.  That evolution would have involved me getting angry, since anger is my default, mostly because I'm easily hurt by prejudicial thinking about what I write - a part of me that I'm still working to change.

It really isn't that Mr. Phoenix is wrong to write what he did.  It is just one of millions of similar comments on role-playing that amount to the same sort of measurable contribution.  It isn't wrong that any of those comments were written either (though I don't want them on my blog).  What's wrong is that anyone should think any such comments are worth reading.

Yesterday, someone sent me an entire book to read.  A book that isn't published yet, soliciting my opinion because he values my opinion.  I haven't answered the email yet; I've been considering my answer.  The fellow is a reader of the blog so as he reads this right now his eyebrows are rising.

I value his contribution because, hey, this is an entire book.  I am always impressed and astounded when someone puts more than 5,000 words together on the same subject (because less than 5,000 is just another university paper), even when the writing is bad.  I don't know if that's the case here, as I haven't opened the book yet.  But I will.

First, I want to make a point on anyone's opinion - and a novel is an opinion, whatever people may imagine.  It doesn't count until it demonstrates a level of commitment and time.  It doesn't count until we've demonstrated ourselves to be persons of worth, through the steady, public contributions we choose to make.  And it doesn't count unless it disagrees vigorously with something that someone else is saying.  If it doesn't manage to do that last, whatever we've chosen to say is equivalent to handing in work copied out of someone else's book.

So if you're not getting your ass kicked . . . if you're not visible enough to be found by someone who knows enough to kick your ass and will DO so . . . and if you can't point to consequential evidence of your value as a contributor to the overall discussion, through published work I can go to and read right now . . . then your total achievement is humanity.  Congratulations.  You've joined the ranks of all the rest.

If, however, you ARE ready to get your ass kicked (as the novelist who bravely handed his unpublished book over to me) and you ARE willing to create the sort of consequential work that will prove your right to kick ass . . . then you should know that someone, somewhere, will like what you're doing and approve.  It doesn't matter if I like the man's novel.  Someone will.  Because the novel's existence shows the man cared enough to be vulnerable.  We humans, we like that.  We embrace people who strive and take risks.

There are five billion people on the internet.  There are more than enough out there that any written novel will appeal to enough people to validate that novel.  My validation is meaningless where the book's potential success is concerned.

People in the cheap seats rarely understand that.  Criticism really only matters before the work is done.  After the work is done - when this blog is finished, for example - it's too late.

The 'changing us' that Ms. Brown speaks of is the way that critics - particularly the cheap seat critics - undermine our confidence in getting the work done.  Creatives stop listening from self-defense.  Get the work done first, then face those bastards.  We can't, however, create in a vacuum, as Brown goes on to say:

"When you don't care at all what anyone thinks, you lose your capacity for connection.  When you're defined by what people think, you lose the courage to be vulnerable."


JB said...

I would infer from these quotes that Ms. Brown finds the creative/artistic process to be somewhat masochistic. I don't really consider myself a masochist.

The thing is ridiculous criticism (as I'd call shit critique from "the cheap seats") isn't really so much more than a momentary speed bump in the creative process. I mean, depending on your tolerance/patience level. The change it effects doesn't have to be derailing, nor is it necessarily going to undermine your confidence to the point of hesitation or work stoppage. When I get comments like the one from Mr. Phoenix, it can simply clue me in that I haven't taken enough time to explain something, or have failed to express my idea correctly or adequately or succinctly or whatever...the internet (blog) medium is such a poor method of INTERACTIVE COMMUNICATION. It invites interaction by its nature (unlike a published work of writing, which allows none), but strips out all the nuance, body language, facial expression, tone, etc. that goes along with normal interactive communication. So these "gnat stings" can be a help (in my opinion), DESPITE their lack of academic authority, if we A) allow them to help us (in a reasonable fashion) while B) being committed to our own work.

Sure, sometimes they ARE irritating (Mr. Phoenix's casual dismissal is a good example, and I think my reply to him was a fairly irritable one on my part). And it CAN be wearing. And there are plenty of days my patience runs thin. But, well, I've CHOSEN to operate in this particular medium, and I think it's something that comes with the package. Most of my blog IS opinion and IS shit, but it's shit with at least a modicum of purpose (encouraging others with their gaming, giving others ideas for their gaming, analyzing the good and bad of gaming for the purpose of encouraging and seeding ideas). Allowing comments (and responding...with patience, if possible!) is necessary to stick to that small amount of value I (hopefully) have to offer with the blog. If it was ONLY written for the sake of entertainment (my own or others), I might feel differently.

That being said, I don't disagree with your methods of policing your own blog. You've staked out territory that is considerably more intellectual than my own, and a higher level of discourse (interaction) is only going to help sustain the "advanced" quality of the content. Plus it's entirely your prerogative to determine what is appropriate and to prune (or pummel) the shit that shows up from time to own included (no head-butting apologies needed!).

I suppose I just want to say that I'm one of those folks that say "I don't give a shit what anyone thinks," but for me, that's a shorthand colloquialism that does NOT mean I don't CARE, or that criticism doesn't STING (I won't say "hurt" because you're right: I'm not getting my ass kicked). It just means that I don't allow it to stop me from what I'm doing. It might give me pause, it might transform me (reworking my method or adjusting my paradigm), but the only thinking about which I truly "give a shit" is my own, and it is myself that ultimately determines whether or not my work progresses. That's not a hustle, it's just me be stupidly obstinate-stubborn and full of my own ego. The trick is making (constructive) use of even the shittiest feedback. Because we are doing this for others.

Matt said...

Maybe your current audience really isn't capable of giving you the feedback that you need to actually refine your systems. I mean, when it comes to tabletop games I feel there are very few people interested in working on the world-running systems that you are. I think there are fewer still that bother to put that work or information out onto the internet for others to nitpick.

I mean, after all, so many of us table top players are so impressed by another never-gonna-be-finished mega-dungeon, another new class for an out-of-print game, or random tables of grim-grotesque things that happen to you. That stuff is work, and I don't want to dismiss it, but it's pretty small in scope compared to something like your Sage system, which attempts to completely overhaul non-combat skills in a fair, coherent, and player driven way without the use of pass-fail dice mechanics nor GM fiat. I would venture to say that none of your readership is independently working on systems like yours, and anyone trying to implement or work on anything similar is taking so much inspiration from you as to be a relatively poor critic.

However, you could probably learn a lot by talking to people who work on video games. When you look at computer RPGs, and Strategy and Simulation games, you see a lot more systems designed to model specific real-world things in ways that enhance a game structure. In short, Sid Meier would probably be better to fact-check your systems than any of us. Hell, people who play Civilization extensively are probably going to be more informative when commenting on your trade tables and tech levels than a dedicated D&D player.