Art is People Too

In this episode, I struggle with, and mostly reject, a lot of the formalist ideas I previously held about art. Art – whether it’s games, music, movies, or anything else – is largely about connecting with other people. When you like something, it’s largely because of a lot of subconscious processes that are largely informed by a specific language of art that you personally have developed for yourself, based on your own personal experiences that aren’t the same as anyone else’s. So just as I would be a pretty bad judge of West African music as someone who has very little exposure to it, I am also a bad judge of someone who makes puzzle platformers, or someone who makes death metal music. These are specific aesthetics, or languages, that I just don’t really have the cultural capital or emotional connections to connect with. But the point is, I should try. Just as I am open to meeting and having relationships with new, different kinds of people, I should be the same way with new, different kinds of art. Art is a reflection of people, and I think it’s probably healthy to look at it that way.

Also, some Push the Lane updates!

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Enjoy the show! Special thanks to Aaron Oman and Jean-Marc Nielly for their generous support! <3

  • Jake Forbes

    Thanks for letting us into the evolution of your mental model. It’s very healthy to acknowledge and embrace the limits of one’s own experience and gaming culture in particular needs to speak this more often.

    Early in the talk you struggled to come up with a designer on the level of Spielberg or the Beatles but you sort of came to it at the end when you confessed to playing Mario Odyssey. Shigeru Miyamoto is probably the safest bet for a nigh-universally beloved designer.

    Also excited for the next PTL update!

  • Thanks for listening! And good point, I guess people never really turned on Miyamoto.

  • Jereshroom

    I think you’re a little too fast to give up on objectivity here. It’s true that nothing will seem “best” to everyone, because everyone has their own cultural and personal preferences, but I think some things are “better” in that they seem better to most outsiders.
    Some languages are better, for instance, because they are easier to learn. Now it’s easy to get caught up in thinking one’s own language is better, or valuing a specific part of language a lot (eg. puns), but I think most multilingual people can tell that some languages really suck… like English’s absurd lack of rules. Language might be cultural, but a group of somewhat-objective people, given power over what languages are learned, could certainly choose or invent one that is clearly superior to most natural languages.
    Same for music — some people might love dub-step best, but I suspect most people, with no previous experience with dubstep or orchestral music, would choose the latter.
    And of course for games. People here and now might prefer games which match their culture, but if you want to make something that holds up well, and can be maximally-appreciated by first-time-gamers (be they children, older people, immigrants, whatever), I think your previous method works much better. That being said, making broadly-appealing games, rather than appealing to a given culture, might not be economically-feasible right now. But I don’t say it’s impossible — Tetris seems to have done that, for instance.

  • A language being easier to learn has to do not with anything intrinsic about the language, but what your native language is. So Spanish is pretty easy to learn if your first language is English, but really hard to learn if your first language is Japanese. There might be some “objective better”-ness to language – like some constructed languages such as Esperanto have really rigid systems that make them easier to learn — but honestly, that doesn’t really matter, because no one is starting from scratch, everyone is starting from some native tongue. So whatever “good clean rules you have” are still going to be vastly-overridden by “how close is this language to my native tongue”.

    >I suspect most people, with no previous experience with dubstep or orchestral music, would choose the latter.

    Why? I think there’s a good chance that this suspicion is just factually incorrect. And certainly incorrect if you swapped reggaeton for dubstep.

  • hilbert90

    Around six months ago (or longer?), I asked the 4X subreddit if there were any 4X games that didn’t run into the boring late game problem. I asked because I love the first 50-100 turns of games like Civ and Endless Legend. It presents some of the most fun strategic challenges I’ve had in games: one must manage competing sets of resources, weigh risk/reward and cost/benefit of “fast expanding,” decide if one should balance the weaknesses of your starting position and faction or if one should go “all in” on the strengths.

    Etc, etc. You probably already feel mostly the same. The answer I got was that there wasn’t. It’s somehow inherent to the “grand strategy” genre to stagnate after a certain point. I kind of don’t buy this, but I’m not sure why.

    On a related note, I think all these games need single player ELO. I’ve been playing Endless Space 2 recently, and it’s frustrating to have a few “tiers” of difficulty. The difficulty level in these games comes almost entirely from multipliers that allow the AI to get things faster, do more damage, etc. It seems like it would be so much better to let these multipliers be practically unbounded as the player gets better. With an ELO system, the challenge increase would be more granular, and for the best players, they wouldn’t get bored with the highest difficulty.

  • Isaac Shalev

    This was a great episode, and a brave one. Your ability to be introspective and self-critical is really something. Thanks for sharing it out loud.

    On objectivity, I’ll say that the question is always one of context. You can evaluate something only relative to some agreed-upon goal. Taking your example of languages, there are specific use-cases in which some languages are better. For example, phonetic alphabets are much better at condensing meaning into fewer characters and representing a larger vocabulary with less memory load. But non-phonetic languages are incredibly expressive because they combine individual concepts, eg famously the word crisis in Chinese is danger+opportunity. Neither is explicitly better than the other, but each is better for certain purposes.

    I think your approach to strategy games was developed in a narrower context than many of us embrace when we’re playing or designing games. You’re now expanding your context, and that’s changing your evaluation function.

    Lastly, you talked about what people are primed for and what they might be able to enjoy. It reminds me of a few things. First, I showed some Alexander Pope poetry to a non-literary friend. She thought it was very cliche. Of course, the irony is that when Pope wrote “to err is human, to forgive, divine” or “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” it was highly original! We can appreciate Pope’s greatness, even if to modern ears he sounds tired. We can appreciate Pope’s greatness, even if his art no longer resonates. I’m also reminded of Professor Frink on the Simpsons pushing one of those baby toys with marbles trapped in a dome that bounce around wildly. A kindergartener asks if he can play with it, and Frink says “No! You couldn’t possibly appreciate it on as many levels as I do!”

  • Thanks so much for listening, and for this really great comment. Yeah, someone on Twitter the other day said “wow that was one hell of a flip flop” or something. But yeah I see it as more of just a broadening of the kinds of things that I’m thinking about and am accepting of. The theory I’ve been using is still just as useful for making the kind of system I am still primarily interested in making.