Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Alternative to Play

Something that must be understood about artistic creation is that it is fundamentally a low-budget activity.  Oh, yes, you may spend millions accomplishing ridiculous gargantuan projects; and true, full-on movie-making is unpleasantly expensive ... but where it comes to writing, music, painting, dance and most traditional crafts,  the cost is minimal.  This is especially true of the artistic creation managed early in one's career - even with regards to movie-making.

There is something else about art that's rarely considered, but which applies to the above:  it is time-consuming and it has the magnificent virtue of holding the attention.  If one happens to have a lot of time; and one wants to be truly engaged ... art is a marvelous pursuit.

Still, IF you have an unfortunate nature that relates your personal worth to the quality of what you're able to create, art can be very hard on a person.  It can lead to episodes of fury and self-hatred, depression and even suicide.  On the other hand, that can be the spur that encourages your better effort.

Obviously, it's also a reason to quit.

Now, marrying these two thoughts together - art is a form of cheap, self-created entertainment.  It is the combination of these two conditions that makes so many people think they'd like to be an artist.  The cheapness, in particular, is easy on the budget ... which is why young people in particular thrive upon the artistic diet.

They have the time.  They are very bored.  They haven't very much money.  And they lack that really destructive quality that destroys most would-be artists:  they don't have an experienced perception of good vs. bad.  They haven't heard a lifetime of music, or watched a lifetime of movies or plays; they have not seen even a decade's worth of fine art, or read more than a bookshelf or two of literature.  In short, they are stupidly naive about the totality of the works that are out there ... and thus quickly and easily delude themselves that they have produced thoughts no one has ever produced before.  This encourages them to keep going and going as poets and musicians and novelists, when any rational - and jaded - person would know enough to stop.

Two things come to a head in an artist's life just past the age of 20 ... typically, somewhere during the first or second year of university, or the clarity of what it will be like to live a hard knocks existence.  This first is that they begin to comprehend that what they've thought of as "good" since the age of 13 was really just abundant ignorance.

But the gentle reader knows all about this, and the gentle reader is wondering why I've taken this time to point out the very obvious.

The second thing, the thing that is rarely related to artistic work, is that with the twenties a person begins to earn their first real money.  Suddenly, it becomes evident that there's a considerable number of interesting things to do if you have money.  We stop assigning "cheapness" as an important reason to do something.  Why sit struggling with an oboe when there's easily accessible, equally fascinating things to do and places to go for just a few dollars more?

May I say - this is certainly the reason why there are so many twenty-something and thirty-something losers in the artistic community.  If you've been to a open-mic poetry night, you know precisely what I mean.  These are people in their forties who STILL haven't cottoned onto the reality that their artistic efforts are shit ... but then, they've never been able to make any real money in their lives, either.  They weren't competant enough to earn even $30 K or better - and as such they are still casting about for something engaging that doesn't cost much.  Art, even bad art, fits that bill.

That's cruel and cold and probably unnecessary ... but then I've been to a number of these poetry readings over my life, and after those torturous hours, my empathy's been picked clean.

If the reader's paid attention, however, it will be noted that I haven't mentioned D&D yet - and I hardly did with the last post, either, so what's up with old Alexis?  Well, my point is this.

D&D is a very simple artistic endeavor, something any 10-13 year old with a brain can understand.  It is engaging, and it is CHEAP.  The cost of a few bottles of drink, a few bowls of eats, and five or six hours of hilarity and drama ensues.  D&D will always be popular with young people because young people haven't got a lot of money, they're pretty bored, they're desperate for something that's engaging and involves their emotions ... and they're dumb as hell about what's good and what's not.

This is why nostalgia is such a HUGE element of some people's conception of the game.  In the first part, because they remember when a few shit scraps of paper describing a dungeon didn't make them feel embarrassed as DMs, and in the second part, when they were dumb and uncompromised by comprehension of the big, nasty world, they were happy!

But as they aged, that all evaporated.  They began to comprehend how pathetic their efforts at world design were becoming.  Getting slapped in the face with CGI and performance art with the internet daily (yay, youtube!) is a sobering, brutal education.  How does one's piddling world constructed of pencils and paper measure up when there's all that out there to compete with?

A solution - and its not a new solution - is to run out and BUY a better world.  But how many players have wandered the aisles of game stores on their 16-year-old budget and dreamed of having all they wished they could buy?  More to the point ... how many of those have hit the age of 25, finding themselves earning $50 to $70 K a year, and have thus rushed out and bought everything?  I wonder - were they pleased?  Or did they discover that "everything" didn't measure up to the number of baseball games they could afford to attend, or the golf they could play now, or the skis they could afford or the boat they could put on a lake in the summer?

When someone says, "I haven't the time to play D&D now," what they really mean is that there are better things they can afford to do.  This is no different from the number of readers with a private book of poems they wrote as a teenager, buried in a box in the basement storeroom; or the unfinished novels so many people possess; or the guitar they gave to their nephew last year because, well, it hadn't been touched in years.

The young will always play; most of the old will find something better to do.  Very few of us, who saw the game as an artistic venture from the very beginning, will do this until we die.

We do not relish those first crappy days of our world.  We think of them with shame, appalled that we were ever so ignorant.  We love instead the intense, quality work we do now - because we are ABLE to do intense, quality work.  We don't do this because it is cheap; we do it because it is only more interesting that boating or skiing or golf or baseball games.  Oh sure, I'll do those things ... but understand, they're the second string where it comes to things that FASCINATE me.  They're not really important.  They're ordinary and often sort of dull.

I would rather be God any day of the week.


Pavel Berlin said...

That's awesome!!!
Can I translate it to Russian and post in my blog (with all due credits for sure).
I just want to share it. :)

Alexis said...

By all means.

Beedo said...

Really great post, puts a lot of things in perspective.

Pavel Berlin said...

Here is the link to Russian translation