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World of Design: The Lost Art of Making Things Up

In a previous article I shared differences between entertainment media and how it feels imagination is less often required of people today. What changed?

ideas.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

The most important thing that we've ever learned--the most important thing we've learned as far as children are concerned--is never, never let them near a television set, or better still just don't install the idiotic thing at all. It rots the senses in the head. It kills imagination dead. It clogs and clutters up the mind. It makes a child so dull and blind. He can no longer understand a fairy tale in fairyland. His brain becomes as soft as cheese. His thinking powers rust and freeze. He cannot think he only sees! –Mike Teavee, by Danny Elfman, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

With most forms of entertainment you need to use your imagination because there are things missing that you have to add in. Games are part of that. You need to imagine things that aren't actually there. How much imagination you need depends on what kind of entertainment.

“A Fairytale in Fairyland”

Let's differentiate imaginative play from an unfettered imagination, which is wild imagining separated from reality, with imagination in the service of problem-solving or real-world entertainment. This kind of thinking is something we learn early as children but society gradually becomes considered “daydreaming” as adults, a negative connotation. As such, an unfettered imagination tends to be the domain of children who have more time and freedom to imagine. But even in childhood play, things are changing.

“It Clogs and Clutters up the Mind”

For example, with video games much less imagination is required than with tabletop games, because the video game can show so much more (now with photo-realism). There's a tendency these days to expect games and life in general to be highly attractive. We expect movies to be extravaganzas with lots of computer-generated special effects. We can even make a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as in Terminator Genesys.

These are all aids to imagination. As a result, imagination is no longer required nearly as much in play as it was before, due in no small part because of corporate branding. Kids don't just get a set of race cars and have to imagine the rest. Instead they get cars from the movie Cars, or go-karts from Mario Kart, and so forth.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is an example of the power of imagination. Originally it was a radio program in Britain, which I happened to hear when I was living there in the late 70s. Then it was brought to TV (same actors), then it was a book, then a series of books, then a radio program again, and then a movie, and somewhere in there I suspect there were video games as well. I've always thought the original radio program was more entertaining than the movie or even than the books.

As the history of Dungeons & Dragons has demonstrated, there’s money to be made in creating content. In the past, it was expected that tabletop board games have lots of attractive artwork and bits, often miniatures. The less multimedia a game has, the more imagination required. This is in part a shift for Fifth Edition, which placed “theater of the mind” as a viable playstyle that involves descriptions only and no board or miniatures. Theater of the mind eschews props, but they can easily become a substitute for imaginative descriptions. For example, I rarely use miniatures (but do use a board and pieces); yet many people won't play without them.

“He Cannot Think He Only Sees”

When we stop using our imagination, we are no longer “thinking” but only “seeing” – processing information instead of creating it. In comparison, it seems to me that imagination is used less in gaming than it used to. The sandbox style of play in D&D is very much associated with the old school renaissance (OSR) and thereby older adults. But perhaps it’s just shifted online. Children play Minecraft and Roblox, worlds in which players are encouraged to create something from nothing.

The tension behind open world video games is that it costs money to create them. Emergent play by playing in a sandbox-style world is risky; players may have an amazing experience by interacting with randomly generated monsters and other players, or they may find it boring and quit. Given the upfront investments in these types of games, it’s critical that they have a means of getting players to keep paying and coming back for more. One way is to brand them, which is why corporations want to create branded worlds that have a unique intellectual property. In video games, subscriptions are one means of guaranteeing repeat play and therefore access to the imaginative world.

In tabletop games, designers can try to help player imagination but the ultimate decisions about a designer’s work are with the publisher, not the designer. Because aids cost money. Of course if the designer self-publishes then the designer decides how to spend money in order to get aids to imagination. Since tabletop publishers can’t “turn off” your imaginative play, they can instead produce pieces of a world that you must buy one book at a time, or explore one adventure at a time ("modules").

Modules often provide player maps and other visual aids. The popularity of modules can even be argued as a failure of GM imagination. To be fair, it's also a matter of convenience in a world that poses a great many calls on one's time. Even if you do buy an adventure, the imagination of the DM and players is still required. No two games run from the same published adventure are alike.

In my opinion, the ability to use imagination has atrophied from lack of use due to changes in media. Can we do anything to change it as individual game designers? Probably not. The best we can do is keep producing and hope that tabletop games continue to offer something no other medium can provide: unfettered imagination.

Your turn: Do you see a difference in how gamers today use their imagination in tabletop play?
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

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Ok, there's two things.

Mid-20th century, people didn't read. At least, they certainly didn't read fiction. The idea of reading novels for pleasure was pretty far outside the norm for the vast majority of people in the mid-20th. Sure, read the newspaper, or a magazine, but, reading for pleasure? Fiction? Particularly Science Fiction or Fantasy? Yeah, not happening.
You couldn't be more wrong. Reading, in terms of the number of people who read and the number of books they read, peaked in the mid-20th century. Reading fiction has been in decline for decades.

The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn't cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.

In 1978, Gallup found that 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year (13 percent said they'd read more than 50!). Today, Pew finds that just 28 percent hit the 11 mark.



The Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent American Time Use Survey found a decline in leisure reading—a record low 19% of Americans age 15 and older reported that they read for pleasure


You realize that in the mid-20th century you could actually read every spec fic novel that was released, year on year without too much difficulty? We're talking maybe 20 novels a year, in a VERY good year.
There might only be 20 speculative fiction novels written a year from the 40s-70s that are still widely read today. But there were hundreds a year being published, even if much of it was pulpy by our standards. Stuff like the Lensman series, Doc Savage, and Perry Rhodan had hundreds of titles, with global numbers published in the millions.

Ever heard of Lionel Fanthorpe? He wrote 180 science fiction books in the 50s and 60s. How about Walter Gibson? He wrote 282 Shadow novels in the 30s and 40s. Andre Norton wrote 250 novels, most of them before 1980. Poul Anderson wrote over 100 books. Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock each wrote over 70, most of them before 1980. Isaac Asimov alone wrote or edited more than 500 books.


So, how you could possibly claim that writers were more imaginative, more descriptive or more detailed in the past than now is mind blowing. How in the world did you come to that conclusion?
Have you attended any writing workshops or read any writing guidebooks? Because I've done loads of both. And they all point out that styles of writing are always changing, and one of those changes is that fiction today is more concerned with the interior lives of characters than in the past, while being less concerned with presenting detailed depictions of fictional settings. In general, people used to read to be transported to other worlds in their imagination. But TV, movies, and videogames gradually took on that immersive role. Now people read to be transported into the heads of other people. Writers today are advised not to imitate the descriptive style of writers from 30 years ago, as it's unappealing to modern readers.

Do you honestly think you couldn't tell just by reading a few pages (or even paragraphs) of a novel written in 1970 and one written today which was contemporary?
 
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Aaron L

Hero
I agree. In much the same way that dwarves are all Scottish, or tend to be portrayed that way. Once that took hold, for a lot of people, they have trouble with a dwarf who's not a Scottish stereotype.
Ugh, I can't stand that crap. It feels like the entire Dwarven race has devolved into beer-swilling, pseudo-Scottish, Chaotic Neutral Barbarians. And I hate it.

I also think part of the reason is because of the diversification and break down of media into tiny little pockets and bubbles of barely-interacting segments, such that no one has a shared base of reference anymore and therefore larger mindscape structures can no longer be built up out of shared references (or because the shared references that do exist are far too shallow themselves to be able to stand anything more weighty being built atop them.)
Just as no one has a shared base of facts anymore, no one has a shared base of Fantasy anymore, either, and therefore it has caused most of the Fantasy landscape to become much more shallow and superficial because no tall structures of Fantastic mindworks can be built upon such unstable ground.
 

While I agree that reading for pleasure was very common throughout the 20th century, I don’t think that it has negatively impacted the imagination. And the same goes for other media. They have impacted imagination, to be sure, but to claim some kind of diminishment just seems a bit of a stretch.

As for the shift in how fiction tends to portray imagery, I think it’s more an increase in the basic level if knowledge that people have. A writer doesn’t need to describe general scenery in as much detail precisely because most readers will have a greater capacity to do so themselves.

Someone in 1920, for example, will have less exposure to geography beyond what they experience daily. A desert? A jungle? A canyon? Their capacity to understand these things relied on the author being able to suitably explain them.

A reader in 2020, however, will have an understanding of these things based solely on the words. The specific image they picture in their mind will vary from person to person, and yes it may be influenced by media....but so what? Isn't that the author’s goal in 1920? Writers today write with the expectation that their reader has a wider understanding than one in 1920, generally speaking.

No, I don’t think this idea has much merit. I also don't think that this is the relevant area for examining imagination in RPGs. The GM is an imperfect substitute for the author in this comparison.

To me, how a game allows or facilitates a wide array of actions by the players and what those players choose to do with those actions would be a better metric. I don’t think it requires a lot of imagination by a player to choose between casting a pre-defined spell or declaring an attack, for example.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I regularly use my students experiences with video games and movies to help them write better fiction, and invariably works really well. So there's that.
 

Khelon Testudo

Cleric of Stronmaus
I think I can refute this with two words: Critical Role.

While Mercer does use miniatures for combat, the many thousands who follow critical role get a tiny picture of them. By far the biggest source of the artwork and cosplay are images painted with Mercer's words, and those of his players. And many many thousands are sucked into his fiction. His campaign world is his own. Imagination isn't dead, and people flock to it when they see it offered.
 

pemerton

Legend
To me, how a game allows or facilitates a wide array of actions by the players and what those players choose to do with those actions would be a better metric. I don’t think it requires a lot of imagination by a player to choose between casting a pre-defined spell or declaring an attack, for example.
Right. This is what I was trying to get at upthread, both through general points and with the play example.
 

Right. This is what I was trying to get at upthread, both through general points and with the play example.

So this may be a bit rambly, but I have a few thoughts about some of the topics in this thread.

I find the focus of a discussion on imagination in RPGs being the ability on the players' parts to mentally picture what the GM is narrating to be a bit odd. Is it a measure of the players' imagination, the GM's, the designer of the module or other published work? It's unclear, and each of these carries a lot of assumptions.

I think there are many areas we can examine imagination in gaming, and each would have a different focus. Imaginative game design is likely a different thing from imaginative GMing which is different from imaginative play. Yet, all three of these things clearly can influence one another. But at the same time, I think strong imagination in one area can overcome a shortcoming in another.

So a GM and or the players can overcome a shortcoming in design, or the design can strongly encourage imaginative play in folks who would otherwise just take the prescribed actions offered (i.e. "I hack it with my sword" or "I cast fireball").

Given the greater variety of game design today, and the varied approaches to play that have both fostered that design and also been shaped by it, I don't see how we can say that there is less imagination in gaming today.

I do think choice of media is a factor that really matters. And I think such a choice will have pros and cons. I think the OP and many in this thread are focusing on the cons as opposed to the pros. So, give a kid a pile of legos and tell him to make something. Give the same kid a pile of clay and tell him to make something. The medium is going to influence what is made, so you will see different things being made with legos than with clay. The kd may build a house with the legos and a volcano with the clay, for example. There may also be some overlap of things that can be built using either medium.

I think this is more just a matter of the limits of media than an overall lack of imagination. I don't think anyone here would look at a kid who showed you his lego house and say "That's pretty good.....but a volcano would have been more impressive!"
 

pemerton

Legend
I find the focus of a discussion on imagination in RPGs being the ability on the players' parts to mentally picture what the GM is narrating to be a bit odd.

<snip>

I think there are many areas we can examine imagination in gaming, and each would have a different focus. Imaginative game design is likely a different thing from imaginative GMing which is different from imaginative play. Yet, all three of these things clearly can influence one another. But at the same time, I think strong imagination in one area can overcome a shortcoming in another.

So a GM and or the players can overcome a shortcoming in design, or the design can strongly encourage imaginative play in folks who would otherwise just take the prescribed actions offered (i.e. "I hack it with my sword" or "I cast fireball").
To pick up on just a couple of your points:

I agree that the focus in this thread on mentally picturing the GM's narration is odd. GM narration is not the core of the RPG experience - if it were, then RPGing would just be a variant on being told a story.

Your reference to "prescribed actions" is also interesting. A narrow conception of action declaration, along those lines, fits with the assumption that the core of play is GM narration. Whereas once we think of action declaration in a less "mechanical" and more "fiction first" way, then I think it becomes pretty clear that that is where imagination in RPGing is found. That goes all the way back to Gygaxian dungeon exploration play, where engaging the fiction is key (think of ToH as a paradigm). I don't do that particular sort of RPGing, and I don't think you (hawkeyefan) do either, but engaging the fiction remains the core of my RPGing and hence the place where the imagining takes place.
 

Just an FYI, I don't do the text wall response thing. So if you want me to respond to every point you make, give me a paragraph response, and I will do so (edit: also just want to be clear that I am not intending to negatively characterize your post as a 'wall of text'---realized that sounded dismissive, I just dislike responding to multiple quotations from a single post)
Alright, well, just so cards are on the table: I don't like basically being told "make a less-complete argument," either. So if we're going to meet in the middle on this, I'd like assurance that you'll read brief statements as being more nuanced and cautious than they will sound when stated so succinctly. If that seems fair to you, then please, respond away.

1. OP's (and Socrates', etc.) argument isn't "new media change things," it is explicitly "new media are bad for humanity," e.g. "When we stop using our imagination, we are no longer “thinking” but only “seeing” – processing information instead of creating it."
2. Even if the argument was "new media change things" (which, again, that's not what it says), it would simply be a trivial statement ("new thing is new") and 95% of the article would be irrelevant.
3. You said our ability to remember is affected, but actual human activity looks more like being selective about memory: that is, not reduced ability but altered priorities. We choose to remember different things.
4. The OP never mentioned social media, not even once, only mentioning visual media (movies, minis, special effects, etc.), while you have repeatedly based your entire argument on social media. Why?
5. You claim creativity has been severely curtailed by modern media, but video games, TV, movies, literature, and even (non-D&D) tabletop RPGs are exploding with new applications for design, tech, and/or narrative, especially for previously-ignored narratives (e.g. female protagonists, socially marginalized people, etc.) How do you explain this?

That is about as concise as I can possibly get without actually dropping key points. I hope it is short enough.
 

Your turn: Do you see a difference in how gamers today use their imagination in tabletop play?
Not in particular. But I've noticed a significant difference in self-esteem amongst gamers in their 20's. Which makes them more willing to share their imagination, as they see it as having value more than my peers when I was in my 20's.
 

You couldn't be more wrong. Reading, in terms of the number of people who read and the number of books they read, peaked in the mid-20th century. Reading fiction has been in decline for decades.

The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn't cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.

In 1978, Gallup found that 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year (13 percent said they'd read more than 50!). Today, Pew finds that just 28 percent hit the 11 mark.



The Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent American Time Use Survey found a decline in leisure reading—a record low 19% of Americans age 15 and older reported that they read for pleasure


[...]

Do you honestly think you couldn't tell just by reading a few pages (or even paragraphs) of a novel written in 1970 and one written today which was contemporary?
It's worth noting that the 20-somethings I game with have all read at least one book a month. Often more, especially if you count rule books.

Then again, I game with a bunch of high-school geeks who happen to have aged past high school, most of whom have one or more learning difficulties. All of them are readers. And all play video games. And almost all like boardgames. And they are a delight, a welcomed array of insanity that makes my life filled with fun, and with frequent surprises for me as a GM.
 

Alright, well, just so cards are on the table: I don't like basically being told "make a less-complete argument," either. So if we're going to meet in the middle on this, I'd like assurance that you'll read brief statements as being more nuanced and cautious than they will sound when stated so succinctly. If that seems fair to you, then please, respond away.

1. OP's (and Socrates', etc.) argument isn't "new media change things," it is explicitly "new media are bad for humanity," e.g. "When we stop using our imagination, we are no longer “thinking” but only “seeing” – processing information instead of creating it."
2. Even if the argument was "new media change things" (which, again, that's not what it says), it would simply be a trivial statement ("new thing is new") and 95% of the article would be irrelevant.
3. You said our ability to remember is affected, but actual human activity looks more like being selective about memory: that is, not reduced ability but altered priorities. We choose to remember different things.
4. The OP never mentioned social media, not even once, only mentioning visual media (movies, minis, special effects, etc.), while you have repeatedly based your entire argument on social media. Why?
5. You claim creativity has been severely curtailed by modern media, but video games, TV, movies, literature, and even (non-D&D) tabletop RPGs are exploding with new applications for design, tech, and/or narrative, especially for previously-ignored narratives (e.g. female protagonists, socially marginalized people, etc.) How do you explain this?

That is about as concise as I can possibly get without actually dropping key points. I hope it is short enough.

Fair enough. I don't mind bullet points. It is dealing with a bunch of invdividual quotes that bothers me. Just one point it has been a while since I made the post so I may be hazy on some of my initial reasons.

1. I was simply pointing out that Socrates saying that is grounded in something real: an advance in media tech, like the development of writing and books, is going to change how humans do things like memorize. And any change is going to have good and bad. I am not a luddite by any means, I just think you have to be honest about the upsides and downsides, so we understand how these things impact us. I think this is particularly relevant today because we are living through such a development (with the internet and social media) and we are actively deciding how those things are going to be a part of our lives

2. But change matters. Like I said you have seen that with every advance in communication technology. To be clear, I support all those changes, but each change did seem to produce a period of some social upheaval (which is just one negative) and a change in how we think about the world.

3. Again, this is a point where unless you have some actual fact to point to, what i was always taught is the shift to writing meant we stopped memorizing large volumes of material in our head orally. And like I said this is something many of us saw in miniature ourselves with the shift to smart phones (where you no longer memorized phone numbers). Maybe that is just a shift in priority I suppose, but the end result is I find it a lot harder to remember high volumes of content because I know I can just look them up

4. Because this is a living discussion and I wasn't limiting it to only dealing with the OPs argument but taking the topic into expanded territory. I think if you are going to discuss the impact of media on creativity, you have to talk about the impact of the internet and social media.

5. I didn't claim modern media is curtailing creativity. I don't think it is that simple. What I said was social media is homogenizing and narrowing creativity IMO. And I probably should have added the qualifier "in many ways" because obviously there are places where creativity and experimentation are flourishing. And where I specifically think it has this impact is the way social media puts pressure on artist, through criticism and social pressure. If you are putting out art of any kind, and it exists in the online space, you are getting a level of hypercriticism we haven't experienced before, and this criticism isn't always an accurate reflection of what most people might think (sometimes it is just the loudest people). I think that level of critique can be paralyzing. And I think when you add in some of the social pressures that have arisen around issues of sensitivity, that only adds to it. That said, as I have repeated many times, I am not a luddite. I think overall the internet is good. And I don't think we need to clamp down on it or anything like that. But I do think we need to approach it with the right frame of mind so it doesn't control us, and it doesn't suck the life and fun out of the creative process (something I have certainly experienced firsthand with game design). Also this isn't a 'criticism of criticism'. Critiques can be very helpful and good. But this is a new medium and we are still grappling with what it means. Like I said when propaganda posters first hit, we were more at their mercy. But over time we became more familiar with the purpose, rhetoric and language of propaganda posters. Now the internet is a new kind of medium like that and sometimes we allow it to have that kind of impact on us, when we should probably be more wary and pay closer attention to the rhetoric of twitter, the rhetoric of face book, and even the rhetoric of forums like this. Edit: I used the word stifling, and I said that for myself: I find the impact of social media has been stifling my creativity. But I also sense and believe it is stifling the creativity of others as well (however I think this is part of the learning curve and I think being aware of it means we can surmount it)
 
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@Bedrockgames
"Any change is going to have some good and some bad" is a very squishy argument. Like, by that argument, using vaccines is going to have "some good and some bad" because all those kids not getting sick now means drug manufacturers won't be selling as much cough medicine to families, so maybe we should sit back and re-evaluate whether vaccines are a good idea or not. New media change how we view and prioritize things. That's not "some good mixed with some bad," that's just the way anything is, ANYTHING changing will do that. If you want to actually have a conversation, we need to talk about more than just this nebulous "some bad." WHAT bad?

The "real grounding" of Socrates' argument is fear of change, is taking that nebulous "but BAAAAD things might happen!" and using it as an excuse. You claim to not be a luddite, but nebulous "change can be bad!" comments are exactly the kind of argument that luddism trades in. Be specific. And that's the problem with the OP: it gets specific...and, simply, wrong. "A period of upheaval" is literally just another way of saying "a time of change." As Babylon 5's G'kar put it: "G'quan wrote, '...The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.' " We pass through moments of transition when there are no great changes, when we iterate on what we have. We pass through moments of revelation when something new and different comes; and revelation is always a challenging thing. But it is trivial to say that revelation is a challenging thing, as a result--we already know this, we have all lived through our own personal moments of revelation. What is not trivial, and is indeed worth discussing, is which problems do or may arise, and how we may face them.

On point 3: Yes, we chose not to memorize large volumes because it was not needed. And, as you say, we now often do not take the time to memorize phone numbers. That does not mean we lack the capacity, it simply means we are not choosing to use it that way. But that's why I referenced things like Shakespearean actors or nerdy Monty Python fans; these are people demonstrating that humanity still totally has that capacity. We have not lost the ability to remember large amounts of information. We have re-directed our memory to things that are more useful to us, now that large quantities of verbal information can be referenced quickly, rather than needing personal encyclopedic knowledge. We can work more with abstractions than with the grit of direct memorization--which is, if anything, useful to our modern, specialized academia.

As for the social media tie in...fair enough, I guess, it just seems to come in out of the blue when it wasn't discussed in the article itself, but becomes basically the only thing you personally talked about. The jump from static media (which is non-participatory and "pre-imagined" as the OP might put it) to social media (which is participatory and, therefore, open to whatever humanity might wish to do with it) was really jarring. I think your concerns about social media in particular are somewhat overblown. Social media has revealed that humanity is what it has always been: a spectrum, a distribution. Our brains are not wired well for processing "billions of other humans," so seeing the terrible dregs and amazing heights of our entire species leads to instinctive responses that do not accurately reflect the facts (e.g. "oh god, if <random Internet Person> is this bad, my life is HORRIBLE" when they're one-in-a-million and you've only ever personally met 5,000 living humans). Which, by the way? This is an example of a non-nebulous concern: how to cultivate positive social media communities while preserving the spontaneity and creativity that makes "humans interacting with each other" worthwhile.

If curtailment isn't what you meant, why did you use words like "homogenization" ( = uniformity of thought, the antithesis of creativity) or speak of a "conformist culture...especially in the arts"? Conformism and homogenization are absolutely the deadening of creativity. If you think criticism and social pressure are suddenly a big deal, I strongly suggest that you look into the history of art critique. The Dadaist movement, for example, came into being in part because there was a stranglehold by certain groups over what things were allowed to be considered worthy of display in museums and the like. The criticism was just much, much harder to see because it was hidden--never allowing the works to come into the light at all. Social media has simply made it more public--which means we actually get to SEE the criticism happening, and can thus DO something about it.

I have no idea what you mean by "the rhetoric of twitter, the rhetoric of facebook, and even the rhetoric of forums like this." There is no "rhetoric." There's just people, like you and me, talking to each other. "The rhetoric of X" implies some kind of organized or structured approach, some kind of formalism or common standard. There is no such thing; we are getting the unfiltered words and opinions of people. (Well, mostly unfiltered. Some forums have language filters.) What do you mean by "stifling your creativity"? You aren't required to use social media when you do creative work. You can still do exactly as you did before. Choosing to use social media does, implicitly, mean welcoming critical voices, some of which will be jerks because some humans are jerks, something that has been true for as long as there have been things you could call "humans." I fail to see how the fact that people can speak publicly, about publicly-displayed work, has any impact on what artistic works you are capable of generating. It certainly can have an effect on your reputation or how others perceive you, but that has always been the case with all art ever, it's (again) just more obvious that that happens now.
 

@Bedrockgames
"Any change is going to have some good and some bad" is a very squishy argument. Like, by that argument, using vaccines is going to have "some good and some bad" because all those kids not getting sick now means drug manufacturers won't be selling as much cough medicine to families, so maybe we should sit back and re-evaluate whether vaccines are a good idea or not. New media change how we view and prioritize things. That's not "some good mixed with some bad," that's just the way anything is, ANYTHING changing will do that. If you want to actually have a conversation, we need to talk about more than just this nebulous "some bad." WHAT bad?

I don't thin it is squeamish at all. It is an accurate one. And I am not talking about "any technology" (like vaccines for example). I am talking specifically about advances in communication technology, in particular rapid, widespread, and cheap communication. Like I said if you look at any massive change in communication technology, that produces good and bad. Does it produce them in equal measure? No. But just look at the printing press. I think we can all agree that was a good development, that it is something we are thankful for now. But when it first emerged it was incredibly disruptive, at least in Europe. Now perhaps that disruption was needed. And there were obviously other reasons why that disruption occurred to. But it broke apart religious consensus and helped produce the protestant reformation, and eventually that leads to violent religious conflict. Again, not saying these developments didn't eventually lead to better things. But that kind of upheaval should at least give us pause in moments like this to ask ourselves what kind of world are we stepping into, and how should we deal with the ways this technology is going to impact us. I think with the internet and social media, it is very clear there is a lot of bad things that come along with it. That doesn't make it mostly bad, nor does it mean it should be stopped in its tracks. But anyone who has lived through this transition can see it has changed a number of things (including stuff like our attention span, how we deal with other people, how we operate creatively, etc). It is worth examining, and and it is worth looking at what aspects of the internet are producing negative results in ones own creative life and making decisions about to do about that. For me, that meant realizing that a lot of the 'consensus' I was perceiving online was an illusion, and that I needed to start tuning out large swaths of social media because they were stifling me and making me feel paralyzed creatively.
 

The "real grounding" of Socrates' argument is fear of change, is taking that nebulous "but BAAAAD things might happen!" and using it as an excuse. You claim to not be a luddite, but nebulous "change can be bad!" comments are exactly the kind of argument that luddism trades in. Be specific. And that's the problem with the OP: it gets specific...and, simply, wrong. "A period of upheaval" is literally just another way of saying "a time of change." As Babylon 5's G'kar put it: "G'quan wrote, '...The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.' " We pass through moments of transition when there are no great changes, when we iterate on what we have. We pass through moments of revelation when something new and different comes; and revelation is always a challenging thing. But it is trivial to say that revelation is a challenging thing, as a result--we already know this, we have all lived through our own personal moments of revelation. What is not trivial, and is indeed worth discussing, is which problems do or may arise, and how we may face them.

No this isn't the lesson at all from Socrates. First off, this story comes to us through written text. Plato wrote it down, and he must have been aware of the irony of doing so. I think we could have a long conversation about what this story really means (and it has been a while since i have read it). But my take from it was never, 'bad things might happen so we shouldn't allow technology to advance" (as I have said again and again, I am no luddite). But rather, technological advances often have unforeseen consequences and we need to reflect on those and make our decisions about advancements in ways that are not reckless or thoughtless. And we also need to think about what might be lost in the process (in socrates case, he was worried about the loss of knowledge that is transmitted face to face, through living conversation).

No, a period of upheaval is not the same as a time of change. A period of upheaval means things like disorder, pain, feuds, violence, collapse of institutions, etc. I was specifically talking about religious wars. As much as I love the printing press, I have to acknowledge the downside in terms of human lives and suffering in the form of violent religious conflict. It is something to be aware of, especially when we have seen that social media plays a role in not just creative fields but political and military fields (and even revolutions have sprung up around things like twitter). These are not minor things. I think it is pretty obvious that social media and the internet is having a profound impact on society. Just like it is folly to dismiss all change as bad. It is equal folly to embrace all change as good.
 

On point 3: Yes, we chose not to memorize large volumes because it was not needed. And, as you say, we now often do not take the time to memorize phone numbers. That does not mean we lack the capacity, it simply means we are not choosing to use it that way. But that's why I referenced things like Shakespearean actors or nerdy Monty Python fans; these are people demonstrating that humanity still totally has that capacity. We have not lost the ability to remember large amounts of information. We have re-directed our memory to things that are more useful to us, now that large quantities of verbal information can be referenced quickly, rather than needing personal encyclopedic knowledge. We can work more with abstractions than with the grit of direct memorization--which is, if anything, useful to our modern, specialized academia.

Whether the capacity has been lost I don't know. That is for neurologists to answer. But the point is even the Shakespearean actor is relying on text, not oral transmission. That is a big difference in how the thing is being memorized because they can go back to it. Again, I am not saying get rid of text. I am saying this is obviously going to impact how we memorize things.
 

f curtailment isn't what you meant, why did you use words like "homogenization" ( = uniformity of thought, the antithesis of creativity) or speak of a "conformist culture...especially in the arts"? Conformism and homogenization are absolutely the deadening of creativity. If you think criticism and social pressure are suddenly a big deal, I strongly suggest that you look into the history of art critique. The Dadaist movement, for example, came into being in part because there was a stranglehold by certain groups over what things were allowed to be considered worthy of display in museums and the like. The criticism was just much, much harder to see because it was hidden--never allowing the works to come into the light at all. Social media has simply made it more public--which means we actually get to SEE the criticism happening, and can thus DO something about it.

I have no idea what you mean by "the rhetoric of twitter, the rhetoric of facebook, and even the rhetoric of forums like this." There is no "rhetoric." There's just people, like you and me, talking to each other. "The rhetoric of X" implies some kind of organized or structured approach, some kind of formalism or common standard. There is no such thing; we are getting the unfiltered words and opinions of people. (Well, mostly unfiltered. Some forums have language filters.) What do you mean by "stifling your creativity"? You aren't required to use social media when you do creative work. You can still do exactly as you did before. Choosing to use social media does, implicitly, mean welcoming critical voices, some of which will be jerks because some humans are jerks, something that has been true for as long as there have been things you could call "humans." I fail to see how the fact that people can speak publicly, about publicly-displayed work, has any impact on what artistic works you are capable of generating. It certainly can have an effect on your reputation or how others perceive you, but that has always been the case with all art ever, it's (again) just more obvious that that happens now.

Sure on the Dada point, but my point is my whole life there has been an opening up of what is permissible creatively. It has been an expansion of creative freedom (largely because of the history you point to), but now we are getting to a point where every critique is given equal weight, where everyone weighs in and people give that equal weight, and social media is used to exert social pressure, and that mixture is resulting in a homogenization of creativity (you see this clearly in gaming and I personally an feel it as a designer). Not saying there are not outliers, but you see a narrowing around key ideas and styles. You see it all the time. People have their lives ruined on social media because they make something and people take issue not with the baseline idea behind it but because of how it is expressed or because of some perceived offense. You can say all day you don't think this is having that effect or it doesn't matter. All I can say is I absolutely had to stop listening to people on twitter (and to a lesser extent people on forums-----though I do think the more long form format allows for better nuance and clarification) in order to not have my own creativity stifled. My perception is other creators are feeling the same (and that many may be reluctant to voice that concern) but I could be wrong. But at the very least I can speak for myself on this subject: that being more careful about how I allow social media to influence my creative pursuits has opened up my creativity, and made it a lot less constrained by group think.
 

@EzekielRaiden
And none of that even gets into the impact social media has on attention span, reading hobbits and writing ability. Again this is an area where I saw two big effects on my attention span and reading. Eye strain from screens was one. The other was a tendency to want to read for only ten minutes or so at a time (whereas my norm was 1-3 hours of reading at a time). This had a direct impact on my creativity, so I consciously consumed less social media and the effects were largely reversed. The best fix though was going on a complete social media holiday. In the same way, writing on social media on forums, Facebook, and twitter were all impacting my actual writing style and the quality of my writing. Again, reducing my that made a difference. Taking big breaks was the real fix though. I hear all the time from designers and writers who have the same experience. This isn’t to say social media is bad: just it had negative effects I didn’t anticipate on my creativity and writing.

Edit: ‘Hobbits’ should be ‘habits’ but I can’t bring myself to alter that line. Sometimes autocorrect has a good sense of humor
 

In my opinion, the ability to use imagination has atrophied from lack of use due to changes in media. Can we do anything to change it as individual game designers? Probably not. The best we can do is keep producing and hope that tabletop games continue to offer something no other medium can provide: unfettered imagination.

Your turn: Do you see a difference in how gamers today use their imagination in tabletop play?

Just to bring it back to this final point, since I did take things elsewhere, I would really need to get a better sense of the OPs thoughts on what caused this and how he would characterize the atrophy. My own opinion is media's impact isn't that black and white, and that a lot of what the OP is describing could just as easily be chalked up to things like cultural changes. I was young when video games first started becoming a normal part of everyday life. At the time they were exciting, and incredibly inventive (I still remember the newness factor and how that shaped what was thought of as possible in terms of game structure). I think over time, the target audience narrowed and the tried and true formats narrowed, so within that medium there was a clear narrowing of imagination (at least in terms of content and structure). I realize there has since been a big change though with the growth of smart phones, iPads and the internet, and I am not well versed enough in present day video games to comment on their structure. All I can comment on there is video games as I played them from roughly 1982 to 1999 (which is around the time I started to lose interest----though I did have consoles until about 2003). For me, how you describe that change over time is extremely subjective. I really enjoyed some of those early games that were not hindered by any established video game aesthetics or design principles, they were literally carving out new territory. Everything from the some of the weirder games we used to play on Intellivision (from Shark Shark to Tron: Deadly Discs) to the classic arcade stuff like the original Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers (or my favorite, Punch-out). I remember computer games in the mid-80a and late 80s like Kings Quest, Police Quest (pretty much any Sierra game at the time), and stuff like Pirates or Zany Golf. Then things feel like they crystalized and you could characterize that as a narrowing of creative vision or you could characterize it as a refining of design. Personally I enjoyed the charm, the creativity and the rough edges of stuff like Kings Quest but I also happily played the standard formats that were developing. And I think there was a lot of creativity any time the medium advances (I remember the impact of resident evil when that first came out----I don't think I had ever been that immersed in a video game). To tie it back to what I have been saying this whole time, which isn't advances in technology are bad, but rather don't throw the baby out with the bathwater----see what is getting left behind in the advance---I think that is more the point here for me. When it comes to video games I am probably not the best person to be analyzing because I haven't played them in almost two decades. So I am way out of touch. The last game I really enjoyed was Shenmue on Dreamcast (and Crazy Taxi was fun too).

In terms of whether video games negatively impacted my creativity. If I am being honest, it was a double edged sword. I think in some ways it enhanced my creativity, but in others video games did steer me away from the type of imagination the OP is talking about.

Just to get back to the don't throw the baby out with the bathwater thing, I think this is the appeal of something like the OSR to me (and the appeal of going back to the old game books and remembering how we used to do things). I think what you can get with any medium is a bulld up of stuff and a build up of assumptions over time, and those assumptions can become like this self reflective aesthetic that everyone feeds from. And that applies to styles of play as well. I remember feeling a creative atrophy around adventure structures in the mid-to-early 2000s. And the thing that broke that atrophy for me, was re-reading the 1E dmg and remembering how this used to be a game where we explored and didn't know where the dice were going to land (where we embraced the impact of dice on the story, rather than fought against it; and where something like a linear adventure structure built around encounters, which was the norm in the early 2000s, wasn't what first sparked my interest in the medium. Realizing that, and realizing that I had jettisoned something essential from the early days of the hobby, helped me to revitalize my interest at the time.
 

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