Reflection #2: Context

"To think that there is a single, generally agreed upon concept of art is to get it precisely backwards. Americans' attitude towards art is profoundly divided, disjointed and confused; and my message to gamers is to simply ignore the "is-it-art?" debate altogether." - Jim Preston, Senior Designer at Electronic Arts (previously editor for PC Gamer)

My students enter a year-long Thesis sequence in their Senior year. Their courses, emphasizing critical analysis of their studies, their industry and their chosen focus, are taken alongside both Graphic Design and Interaction Design majors. I have learned a considerable amount from co-teaching with the Faculty from those fields. Despite my background in game-specific development, being in such close proximity to someone dual-wielding studio practice and a tenure-track academic career has helped me see how truly interdisciplinary so many fields of design are. While one may have only recently emerged, they all share similar plights. Any creative endeavor can be shaken at its core by having its purpose challenged. Simultaneously, any creative endeavor can be reinforced, strengthened, and immortalized by having its purpose realized and related with. So, creatives study to figure out how to do the latter and know what went wrong if the former instance occurs.

So many things I've been exposed to that are framed or presented in a way that attempts to elevate its meaning mean nothing to me. I simply don't get it.

Art, in the sense that something is perceived as meaningful, avant garde or worthy of transcendence, only exists within an individual's context. We strive to help our users, viewers and audience to connect the dots on their own. We go to design schools, art academies, study online and out of books to do what we can to represent ideas in some creative form.We iterate on our ideas and mechanics and procedures to ensure this matrix is constructed to communicate our goals as effectively as possible. We study precedents, focus groups, and research case studies that these endeavors could most effectively sync with in order to express, educate, entertain, or communicate  recreate this context. We eventually learn as design students, all humans in general, that this battle is not one we can just win. We can get close, contribute to each individual's construction of the context, and carry on from there, but we cannot just force any particular context on someone. As we are all the sum of our experiences, these moments that define us are the cosmic material that provides each matrix's structure.

I can't just make anyone see that a mechanic in my game represents the role of my wife in my personal, professional and creative life. I can write about it but can that manifest the context? I can vocalize it, will that work? I can reinforce it in my game and make players repeat tasks and be given numerous indications that there is some Serious meaning behind a seemingly ambiguous and 'normal' process in a game, but will that work every time? I can try to show, not tell, is that best? As the primary provider for all of your upgrades and new abilities, you must rely on this female character and visit her regularly. Without her, you cannot grow. Over time, you'll discover that you have changed, but fundamentally you are still the same as before. Perceiving this message in fragments is one thing, but to truly understand it and reach that penultimate context of its whole relies on the sum of your existence and that perfect moment of clarity to connect the dots.

We are all conditioned. Being challenged by these moments of inspiration and musings is something that everyone should strive to seek. Hunt these moments down. Never stop being a student.

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