The Thin Veil between Creator and Creation

No, this is not a theological post. That particular part of my mind has been offline for a bit. The amazingly clickable title refers to creative output and media and, in particular, games.

I am on the cusp of finishing up another wonderful tabletop RPG and feeling quite proud of it. I still choose to use Kickstarter, in spite of the controversy, and this sword is double-edged. On the one is a grand and supportive community eager to see me succeed, but on the other is the same community equivocally sharing expectations and having the apparent clout to see those expectations come to fruit.

It’s weird and it’s wonderful and, to be clear, I’m grateful to all of my backers and readers and general supporters.

But it’s also hard as there is such a thin membrane between creatives and their audiences today.

My recollection is, though probably inaccurate, that the artists I looked up to lived on some sort of mountain-fortress. If you were allowed in, perhaps by a certain promotion or through a mailed response, that allowance was a mere peep. From gaming review magazines to bands to authors, theirs was a secretive and impregnable world obscured by my own boyish caprice.

No doubt this mysticism remains true today for kids, but I have to imagine that if in the past the realm of creatives was more accessible to grown folks it was only marginally so than it was for us children.

Today, thanks to the good ol’ internet, it really seems like there is not only more visibility from creatives but, apart from mega stars, more a sense of ownership on the part of their audience. And this is not exactly the possessiveness of fandom, but the ownership of (at best) a critic or (at worst) an employer.

Again I want to be clear. Even though I opened this with a bit of anecdote regarding my recent Kickstarter, I am in no way referring to any of those backers. All their requests have been completely kind and reasonable so far. I speak more of the broader internet mob at large. My own experience is no more than a small reminder of the broader zeitgeist.

Thanks almost entirely to social media, it is not just a rare treat to hear from your favorite creators (be they an actor or game dev or whatever) but an expectation. Engagement is unending and, worse yet, criticism is thick. Criticism of products themselves, of how a company is being run, of how (apparently) all content is created from some kind of political stance.

(I’m processing this as I go, so please forgive any disjointedness.)

Certainly customers and audiences have and deserve a voice, but without the access granted by something like Twitter that voice is considerably small and granted to only the dyest of hards (that’s some unfortunate word play on “diehard”). My problem, and the impetus for this rambling post, is that every untrained pen gets to have a say. With little understanding of the creative process (any creative process, be it game design or music production or whatever), anyone can pick up their baggage and dump it into a Reddit thread that you thought was about a tabletop skirmish but somehow also seems to be about someone’s unrealized dreams of of game design.

This hit me hard last year when the wonderful Earthborne Rangers took to Kickstarter and the first response of a vocal minority was not unimpeded joy and encouragement, but critiques concerning the design of the Kickstarter page and wildly improbable issues surrounding fulfillment.

It’s one thing to humbly present a thought, it’s another to act like you know better than an experienced team of game developers and artists.

More recently, I’ve been following criticisms of Tacticus‘ battlepass launch. Again it seems like your average internet enjoyer not only can but must take to these Reddit streets with half-formed opinions that largely seem to be more related to a misunderstanding of design intention and marketing choices than of valid anxieties around the implementation of a subscription model. It’s as if they do not understand that a free toilet game will not only fail to hit in the same way as a $60 AAA release, but that it will also fail to meet their deepest needs as human persons.

It’s not that such critiques are invalid, they’re just misplaced.

There is far more to unpack if we continue this line of thought down the way of games and current monetization models, more to unpack like the value of a product making so many demands of ones time. But that is for another rambling essay.

And so I remain torn. The democratization of creative output is helpful when it’s leveraged against artists abusing their positions and against corporations manipulating consumers. When it’s a tiny, independent team doing their seeming best, however, I just sometimes wish people would shut the fuck up. But what do I know. I’m just an old man yelling at a cloud.

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