Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Creator's Self-Delusion

"Game design is a powerful way of imprinting behaviors on people, and that it is entirely possible to imprint behaviors you didn’t want. Just as you can train a firefighter’s instincts through fire drills, just as you can train a people to grow up racist, you can train players to react in certain ways to certain situations. Games are always pretty abstracted from reality, so this training may not be happening in at all the ways you think it is. But it is always happening. Games teach, and you are teaching something . . . But in the end, they can also hugely improve a life. So like any tool, like any cultural artifact, their virtue lies not in themselves but in what the medium is used for. That’s an awesome responsibility."
- Raph Koster, Games affecting people

Here is a favored bits of wisdom to which Literature and Philosophy Professors so dearly cling. "Dear child, don't write something evil - for evil will come of it!"  I have had many a would-be creator preach Koster's sentiment, that on some great level our great works have great effects.  We must therefore soberly reflect upon the deep, abiding, mortifying responsibility we possess unto the world.

My, my, my, isn't it heady stuff?  So demonstrative of our importance as creators, so evidentiary that we have it us the power to write the Bible or Mein Kampf (Koster's examples) - only of course we don't because we are just so darn responsible.  How wonderful it is that we restrain ourselves!  How important it is that we sit together in academic classrooms and clubhouses and discuss at length the terrible obligation we bear to protect society from ourselves - and others, of course, for it is only right that while we restrain ourselves, we ought to condemn all those who do not . . . 

For there lies the crux.  It isn't what we dutiful creators refuse to create, it is the fault we are more than prepared to find in the writing that others do!  The pornographic, the ideological, the dangerous lawless willingness of creators to just create things willy-nilly, audaciously, immoderately, foolishly!  Woe ye that falleth into the pit, for thou creates at the world's peril!

As an ambitiously minded writer whose opinions were stark and direct about things, I was lectured upon this position (and warning) many a time.  I was able to see it for what it was; a fear, a construct to help explain how evil existed in the world . . . and most of all another moralism that could be safely ignored, for I never met a single lecturer who possessed the potential to write anything that might change the world.  Surely, if the goal is to play it safe with human minds, nothing of relevance will result.

The world is a wild and dangerous place, full of willingness to commit evil without so much as a shopping list to support its purpose.  Several millennia of this nonsense has well proven that such people will glom onto whatever convenient text presents itself, so long as it can be turned, twisted and carefully rehashed in a manner that it will ultimately prove/justify whatever we need it for.  Koster's very choice to include the Bible in his list of examples demonstrates rather plainly his apparent unawareness that it was written by several persons, rewritten on several occasions, split apart and hashed back together a dozen more times and carefully translated by various groups in order to create the text desired.  Heaven knows (joke) what the original authors intended - but it no longer matters, because the intention of the author was never part of the equation.

Further, it is silly to presume that we can create anything - a book, a game, anything - with a predictable, rational, singularly-opinionated audience in mind.  Hell, I can't even be sure of the several hundred readers of this blog, much less the potential millions who might read a novel of mine if it reached the popularity of Twilight: I Sat on a Rolled-up Cushion for 700 Pages.  It simply isn't possible to be so sure of every turn of phrase and every description I write that I won't, quite innocently, incite some wing-nut to shoot eighteen people during the showing of the book-made-into-film.  I can't conceive of the narrow-minded perspective necessary to believe that a creator's responsibility can remotely take that into account.  I presume people who spend their whole lives speaking only to people exactly like themselves - which may explain some of the shock when it is a university that falls under some cock-up's gun-sights.

Finally - and this is the thing that most baffles me about the argument - it presumes that I'm prepared to give responsibility for my decision-making process to whomever's book I just finished reading.  As if I am utterly bereft of any sense of consciousness . . . demonstrable when it happens that I read a very strong text - such as Mein Kampf - and immediately become the book's robot slave.

I have read Mein Kampf.  I read it when I was 14.  And I was very affected by it.  I decided it was obviously written by an extremely loony and yet obsessive person who possessed a rather disturbing depth of design along his one obscenely fixed frame of reference.  The book is frightening only in one degree: is it absurdly passionate.  It is not, however, the cursed video tape in the Ring.

But I get people all the time who pull out the old M.K. in this argument, the scary M.K., that has so obviously drawn us all into the destructive void, since at no time in history before the creation of that evil book were there crimes or mass slaughterings or war or racism or any of the other boogeymen we keep in the closet to remind us of the terrible responsibility we possess when we create anything.

Another creator is not responsible for me and my actions.  It is this way because I have no interest in allowing it to be any other way.  It is my responsibility to allow what will affect me.

It is there that the whole argument collapses.  It's only validity exists in my inability to view the world from another person's point of view - and thereby to imagine that I have power over others, simply because I am self-aware of my perspective and no other.  This makes it easy to convince myself that I am powerful and that all others are easily seduced and motivated by that power.

It is all nonsense.