A long circle that finally comes closed at the end…
Gape in befuddled musement while listening to Rambles and stuff. (Stories, mediums, Christianity, and rabbit trails).
[rainy music, or something]
Alright! Another tired rainy day. [yawns] I stayed up late last night working on the music video again! I finally got it all edited together and uploaded and it’s done! But now I’m tired again. So, driving back from work in the rain, tired, hoping that this is not a recording of my last hours on earth as I crash into someone out of control and die!
So, let’s talk about fiction! It seems like a lot of people write fiction… Well, actually I guess I could make this a more general statement, that people tend to produce works that they’re not ready to produce, because they want to be the kind of person who can produce those works?
Now I’m getting too abstract.
So, role-playing. Role-playing is kind of the most fundamental form of fantasy. It’s imagining that you are someone else (Or in a different situation) and then working through that situation. And people do this with themselves all the time, (I would hope anyway! (I mean, I do)) Where you’re like “Okay, Well, I’m coming up to this stoplight and, if it turns red then I’m going to stop and if it stays green for another two seconds then even if it turns red I’m gonna keep going.” Kind of work out these scenarios. You’re projecting your consciousness into a different situation than the one you’re in currently with the hopes that that simulation will be useful at some time in the future… ostensibly.
And people do this (of course) with things that are impossible, where they worry about things that couldn’t possibly happen or they worry about things that have a vanishingly remote possibility of happening. They fantisize about what they would do in some situation that was ideal for whatever reason. Which is fine. I mean, it’s good to excercise your ability to think about stuff. But, role-playing. Everyone does it, and if you don’t do it… I would encourage you to try it! It doesn’t mean talking out loud or talking to yourself or day-dreaming. It’s just excercising your mind to try out what would you do, what would you think, what was your reaction going to be if you were in some different situation.
So that’s role-playing.
Then above role-playing there’s story-telling. It’s another step removed. It’s, ok, here’s a character that’s not me (just like in role-playing. Because there’s really no difference between yourself in a different situation and an entirely different person) so here’s this person that’s not me, and I’m going to imagine that they’re interacting with this other person that’s not me, and they have a conversation and then they do something, and then there’s another person that’s not me… and so there’s a whole bunch of role-playing going on. It’s basically a large set of role-playing all rolled together in story-telling. It’s this whole sequence of events that happen because of these characters that are interacting. So it’s basically still just role-playing, but it’s a lot of role-playing, and with multiple characters. The term is usually reserved for playing a single role, and story-telling is multiple roles.
So you tell this story… and story-telling has different depths and different amounts of investment you have to do to get into it. Pure verbal story-telling can be very sparese or very elaborate. And then you can get into different mediums, like books, where you write it down. And if you write it down then it needs to be very consistent because the reader can go back and re-read stuff and see how it correlates with different things that you said. Written storytelling requires a high level of internal consistency in the world. And then there’s visual story-telling like comic-books and pictures and visual novels and that requires not only consistency, but it requires a lot of… ahh, you have to role-play as societies? Because how things look conveys a lot about them that you wouldn’t get otherwise with audio information. It’s a different kind of role-playing, but I think maybe it’s about on par with writing. With writing you convey a lot of internal states. A lot of feelings, a lot of people’s thoughts, that are kind of hard to get across in visual media. With visual… like audio, er, visual (“audio books” hah) with visual novels and comic books and things you convey a lot of external states so you’ve got these characters, and then there’s a lot of external stuff that you can convey very easily with the visuals. How they look, what their clothing is doing, the environment they’re in, the background, other character’s reactions, external reactions.
So, visual stuff is usually external, audio is mostly internal, or textual is internal. And that goes back to the whole… audio is a much longer wavelength than light, and so it penetrates much deeper into a thing and it’s metaphorically true as well as factually true. So you’ve got these different forms of story-telling.
And then there’s movies, which has, kind of an extended version of visual storytelling. So not only do you have to manage what things look like, but you have to manage the timing of things. In a visual novel people can monitor their own timing, they can spend as long or as short an amount of time as they want on this image or this piece of dialogue, but in a movie you can’t! You have to rely on the director to do that. So the director is really responsible for even more when he’s doing a movie. And then I suppose you could have audio theater (EDITOR’S NOTE: Which this podcast might fall under (Though not, of course, the text transcription, which is the only place this note exists, therefore adding a hint of irony. Text is much easier to amend than audio.)) which is the audio form of movie where it’s not text that’s set (and then you can read it at your own pace) but it’s text that’s being conveyed… but again that would also be true of visual novels. You can read a visual novel much more quickly than you can watch a movie, just because you can skim through stuff, and you don’t have to rely on the lowest common denominator. So anyway, there’s different rates and different mediums that you can convey stuff in.
Uhhh… where was I going with this?
… Oh! Ok.
So then there’s games.
And games are kind of another step beyond that. So instead of doing one specific role playing, you’re setting the rules for role-playing. Designing a game, and making a game, and conveying a game is even more difficult because it not only requires mastery of all these other aspects of role-play, but it requires mastery over all possible role-playing that could be carried out in the game. And so it’s, like I said, it requires mastery of all that stuff to the n-th degree, where you have to be able to imagine the scenario from any angle, from any position, from any starting point to any ending point, with any goal in mind. Because the player should be free to pursue whatever goal they want within this game system.
So that’s the three tiers for me. Individual personal role-playing, and then conveyed role-playing in the form of set medium like books and movies and visual novels, or in the form of a non-set form which is a general form, a generalized system, which is a game. So, people tend to, I think, work in… and this is been said before. Basically you keep getting promoted until you reach your limits, and then you’re incompetent at what you’re doing, and then you don’t get promoted any more, and you’re working on that, and you keep getting better at it (hopefully. I mean, ideally that’s what you do).
But if you’re producing something for consumption, if you’re producing a profesional work, if you’re producing something for people to enjoy… you should probably work from within your competence, rather than outside it. So, take whatever you’re interested in, whatever you’re like “Oh man, this is really cool stuff, I want to be able to figure it out.” and take one step back from that. If you are interested in games, take a step back and do movies. If you’re interested in movies, take a step back and maybe do books or visual novels. If you’re interested in visual novels or books, well, take a step back and just do role-playing, internally until you get a handle on that… if you’re interested in producing something polished, something for people to enjoy.
I have no problem (of course) with experimenting! I do all the time myself! Things that I’m totally out of my depth in, and just trying to do stuff and figure things out. But a professional should be more competent than an amature (like myself). Advice to professionals. Take a step back from the things that you feel like are just barely within your grasp and do something you’re really good at. If you want to sell it.
(8:54) As an example, there are a lot of games today that would be pretty decent movies if they were produced as movies. But they are produced as games, and the problem is that a game is a form that is generalized. It’s not designed to tell just one story, it’s designed to tell a lot of stories! So when someone comes into a game and they’re like “ooh, I really love telling stories! I’m going to make this game. Because games are awesome!” The problem is they’re trying to tell this one story, and they should take a step back, write a book or make a movie, or make a comic-book, or something, and then you could really nail that one story. But making a game, if you’re trying to tell a story, is not the right medium. You’re stepping outside the bounds.
And the same thing with visual novels and books, I see a lot of people writing visual novels or writing books or drawing stuff, and they’re like “Oh, this stuff is really cool, I want to make a visual novel!” But the problem is that they’re just not very good at internally personalizing role-playing. They don’t have a handle on that. They don’t know what they themselves would do in a certain situation. And so it comes out very hackneyed, very poorly constructed, over the top, or scenery chewing, or goofy. Because they’re still struggling with this idea of role-playing. They haven’t really nailed that yet. And this is probably why you don’t see anyone selling role-playing. (EDITOR’S NOTE: On further reflection, actors fall pretty squarely into this category.) Because role-playing is the lowest form. Everyone can do it. And in fact everyone has to do it in order to communicate. Because in order to communicate with someone you have to be imagining what they are thinking and kind of visualizing internally their internal state, and figuring out what they are going to say before they say it, so that you can have a response ready for when they say what you think they are going to say. And then adapting it, it’s a very tight process. You have to have some form of empathy. So any way, communication relies a lot on role-playing.
And I feel like a lot of authors fall into these traps, that people do all the time of course, and children and myself included of course, a power fantasy or you do some sort of dis-empowerment fantasy, or some sort of very simple straightforward scenario building where it’s like “well, okay, I want to have this awesome line… I want to deliver this line so I have to kind of work backward to get everyone into position so that this line makes sense. Stuff like that, where it’s like, “Well, that’s nice, but if you want to really make a consistent, interesting, well-rounded story, you can’t just have a few cool lines and then work everything around toward those. You have to have something more. You have to have a lot of internally consistent rich characters. And this is what I mean by “rich” that they are consistently role-played. That you role-play them as consistent people instead of role-playing them all as yourself, or role-playing them all as some archetype or something. Or as a stereotype.
It becomes rather wearying reading webcomics that are basically just people trying to figure out how to role-play. Or reading books where people are just writing themselves in as obvious author-insertion characters, or trying to make a point. They’re trying to work through the ramifications of some sort of philosophy and they’re trying to make a point about it. So all of their characters are either preaching this philosophy, or are in contrast these starkly obvious straw-man opponents to this philosophy, so then they can be like “Oh, see? It really makes sense! It all works out!” And it’s like “No, well, yeah, but really… you just constructed the whole world that way! This is not the environment to be making some sort of high-minded philosophical point! If you want to do that, you can, but a story isn’t… that’s not…” Stories are much more enjoyable when they feel real. And the real world isn’t (as far as I can tell) constructed around telling one person about one philosophical point. It’s much more complicated than that.
Everyone is learning things all the time when you’re talking with someone you’ll see them grow as a person. They’ll learn something, you’ll say something to them, they’ll be interested or not interested, they’ll change. So constructing an entire social system in order to convey this one idea just seems like a huge waste to me. If you have the idea, just convey it, just use normal communication. You don’t have to use a story to tell this thing. A story is a much more expanded form. You don’t need all that.
Now I feel like I’m rambling.
So I’m trying to convey this idea that there are a lot of different modes of fiction, and if you find yourself struggling in the mode that you’re working in, that’s great… but don’t sell it. Don’t be pretending that you’re doing everyone a favor by making this experiment and then trying to be like, “Oh, isn’t this great? Isn’t it a great story?” It isn’t a great story. If you, as an author, are struggling with it then there’s no way that you’ll be able to convince other people that it’s valuable.
And of course I say that, but it’s not true. People are convinced all the time by poorly written and poorly constructed and poorly designed games and poorly filmed movies. It happens all the time and it’s just a shame is all. And I’m not saying that anything I make is super great like this… but then again I’m not saying that I’m a professional at any of this. I’m an amature, I experiment with a lot of things, I’m not trying to make anything that’s really polished. If I were trying to make something really polished, which I have in a few cases, then I take a step back from what I’m interested in, and work with what I’m comfortable with. For example, I wrote a book, and the book is not a movie, it’s not a visual novel, it’s just text. And it involves only a few characters, it’s not very complicated. But it deals with technology which I’m very comfortable with, and it deals with a few characters having dialogue with each other which I’m comfortable with. I’ve already worked through all that stuff. I know how to role-play, I know how to produce dialogue and all that stuff. I’ve, in the past, experimented a lot with that, trying to become comfortable with it, and I’ve gotten to a place where I feel like I’m competent there. So when I wrote this book I feel like I did a good job and I’m not ashamed that it’s somehow a big experiment.
But there are a number of books, even books that people have recommended to me, being like “Wow this is a really good book!” and I start reading it and it’s just so… hackneyed! So stumbling and trite! Characters that are entirely built as a foil to the main character’s strengths. Or there’s this character that’s an obvious author-insertion character. One character gets all the good lines… At a certain point you’re like, “Why did you make this this way, if all you wanted to do was write an essay about how these ideas are great ideas, and instead you wrote a whole book about it?” And it’s like, “Well… you should have just written the essay.”
Just write an essay if you have some sort of point you’re trying to make. If you’re trying to tell a story, I’d love to hear it, but it seems like a lot of times, professionals are experimenting, trying to jam a message into this story. And they forget to write a story! And they forget to write characters, because these characters are all in service to this point that they’re trying to make. This huge sermon! And I’ve had a number of people tell me “Oh, you should read this or read that.” and I read them and… hmm, ahh… I can’t… I don’t even want to talk to them about it any more. Because it’s like, “How could you… I mean… first off. The author clearly does not know their trade.” And the same goes with movies. You know, I watch a movie and the director doesn’t know what he’s doing! And it’s a shame, and it’s a huge waste, but… you know, I can see that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so… and if I can see that, as a non-professional, I’m sure other professionals can see that, people who actually know what their doing as a film director and, it’s just, you know, why would you put this person in charge of millions of dollars? I don’t know.
But anyway. So, first off, the creator doesn’t really have a firm handle on their trade. And secondly they are trying to do something with their trade that it’s not designed to do. And thirdly, the person who read this clearly doesn’t have a very refined sense of quality for this work, because they recommended this work which is clearly amateurish in it’s form and its content. And fourthly this person is not even aware that they are unaware of the terms of quality, because they suggested this book to me! And they were like “Hey, I think you would really enjoy…” Knowing that I am a person of high standards, and principles, and… maybe they’re hoping that they had good taste? And that I will affirm their idea that this is a good book? Um… I don’t know… But it rarely works.
If you don’t even know what is good or bad with movies or books or computer games or whatever… don’t recommend things to me! I will find out that you are incompetent, that you are unaware that you are incompetent, and that the person that you are recommending is incompetent… [sigh] anyway. I do enjoy getting recommendations from people and hearing things that people have to say about, “oh well, I like this medium” or, “I like that medium” or, “I really enjoy this” or, “I feel that they had a good point!” but, if the point is all that gets across, like if it’s not a good story, it’s just a good point, then do me the favor of condensing it yourself and you write the essay. You write the point. Write down what they said, and then I won’t have to read the whole book, I won’t have to watch the whole movie, I won’t have to waste my time, energy, and money consuming this thing that you’ve already consumed and digested and can very easily convey to me.
And so that’s another thing about people assume that other people want to have their time consumed in entertainment. And I find that strange. I mean, we have a short time to live. And it seems like we would want to use that time as well as possible, as efficiently as possible. And if consuming a really good story with lots of deep interesting characters is something that you can do, then that’s great. But if all you’re doing is consuming shallow trite stories that have obvious moral messages, and then you think that that moral message is a good one, I would appreciate it if you just tell me that message. And then you’ve saved me a lot of time and energy. And then you will have my gratitude, instead of telling me to read something that will reveal both the author’s and your own lack of of judgement in the area of this particular medium, which will not grant you my gratitude.
If my gratitude is something you’re interested in! If it’s not, do whatever you want. I mean, obviously you can say or recommend anything that you want to me and I am free to take it or leave it.
But, this goes for other people too. I would hope that other people are interested in becoming competent and judging good from bad in the things that they experience. And increasing their skill there. So I think that if you are giving people advice about what they should watch or what you enjoyed, take the time, maybe ten or fifteen seconds, and digest what it is that you’re trying to say. And if you find that the only thing you really enjoyed was a particular message or metaphor or some aspect of it, then just convey that aspect, and then the other person is saved all that effort, and you’ve done them a huge favor.
And! Then if you are in fact someone who is competent and able in judging different kinds of media, or you believe yourself to be so, then certainly I would love to have a discussion with you about the different qualities of merit. But so rarely do I get that that I find it doubtful that there are many people who do have interest in developing skill in those areas. It seems like most people are more interested in enjoying things than they are in evaluating them.
Which is fine! I mean, enjoying your life is good… and it’s probably the only objective good, temporally anyway. And that goes all the way back to Ecclesiasties, enjoying things presently. Well, it’s about delayed gratification. If I enjoy something now that’s of low quality, I’m training myself to disregard the value of an experiences. And that will cause less enjoyment further on down the road (I would expect) because then I would be less able to differentiate good from bad and my experiences in the future will be overall worse, because I won’t be able to avoid bad things and celebrate good things.
So if you’re just interested in enjoying life right now, then that’s great! Enjoy every thing and recommend everything to everyone. But if you have some vision for the future (If you expect to live beyond tomorrow) I think it behooves you to develop faculties for evaluating good from evil. Evaluating what it is that is valuable. And then using those skills to evaluate the things that you’re experiencing.
So, for example, if you’re going to recommend a movie to someone, or if you’re going to recommend a book to someone. If you’re just interested in enjoying stuff right now, then just say “I enjoyed it, I thought it was fun, it was a great time, and now I’m ten minutes or ten hours closer to death, and that’s fantastic! I’m enjoying life!” But if you are interested in evaluating things, then you can be like “Okay, well, I read this thing, and I thought it was good for these reasons, and bad for these reasons, and here’s why.” And that will tell the person who is listening to you talk about this (hopefully they are listening) you’ll be telling them not only what you thought about this particular piece of media, but also your philosophy about media, about experiences, about different qualities and different things, and good, and evil.
Because the reasons that you give will reveal your motivations, your goals, your ideas, that are often very difficult to get to. People are reluctant to reveal those things because then they are open themselves to critique! Because then people can evaluate whether or not this person is “a good person” or not. And that’s frightening, I understand. And I don’t particularly like it myself, but I am… devoted? I guess? Or committed to that? As a Christian and as a thinking person. I think it’s extremely valuable to always be open to being judged by other people, and then changing. And obviously you don’t have to conform to everyone’s oppinions, but being able to admit that someone else may or may not like you is a very important skill. Because otherwise you either have to ignore everyone (which is dangerous because then no one can give you feedback if you’re doing something that’s harmful to others or yourself) or you are going to be constantly crushed. People are not perfect (yourself included and myself included) other people can see that and so if they are judging you they are going to find flaws in you and if you can’t ignore what people say about you and think about you, or differentiate good from evil in their opinions, then you won’t have any way to validate yourself, basically.
And that’s one of the things that’s is so valuable about Christianity. (and I don’t want to be like “Christianity is valuable because it allows you to shrug off criticism.” But it does allow you to do that and I think it’s one of the really neat aspects about Christianity is that) It gives you a frame of reference for value (for personal value) outside of mortals opinions. Because God thinks we’re valuable.
According to Christianity, God thinks we’re valuable. He thinks we’re so valuable that He decided to die so we wouldn’t have to die. And that is an incredibly potent and incredibly firm anchor for personal value. It allows you to accept the idea that other people, who are not God, might think that you are less than deific, without it crushing you, and without it requiring you to reject them as an individual. So, then, instead of, someone says “hey, your shirt looks dumb” and you can be like “okay, why do you think that?” Whereas otherwise if your self value is based either in your own opinion (in which case you could just ignore them (but maybe your shirt does look dumb)) or entirely in other peoples opinion (in which case it would be impossible to ignore them and you would be crushed, and you would be like “Oh, I must be a terrible person because my shirt looks dumb”). You can say, “Okay, well, I’m not a terrible person. I know this because God died for me. And so, I’m going to try to figure out what it is about my shirt, and not about me as a person, but about my shirt, that this other person finds offensive or ludicrous or whatever it was that they were making the comment about.” Or maybe they are trying to hurt you.
But you can accept that they are trying to hurt you without actually being hurt. Which is incredibly valuable because the world is full of people who are going to hurt you from time to time, either intentionally (because they are sadists) or unintentionally (because they are not good at communicating).
Man, now I’m way off on tangent X.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This should be prefaced with something along the lines of “You can get this self-worth from other places.”) So usually it’s going to be a religion, it’s going to be something where you are valuing some ideal instead of an individual. And I’m not going to say those are equally valid, because I don’t think that. I think that Jesus Christ really is the only way to be free from sin and death, but there are other ways (if all you’re really interested in is being able to deal with criticism) then there are other ways to affirm individual self-value other than becoming an immortal servant of an alien being who wants to rule the world… which is what Christianity boils down to… if you want to boil it in that way.
And I think it’s interesting (kind of working back toward story-telling and mediums) that God chose to convey His word… He didn’t convey it as role-playing, but He also didn’t convey it in some other media form. He didn’t make an image. He didn’t make a movie. He didn’t make some, a play or a form that is temporal. He made an a-temporal form, which games and movies don’t fall into, it’s books and role-playing… well even role-playing, to a certain degree, is temporal. But books, narrative, written text narrative, and written text narrative with pictures (which is visual novels) are both a-temporal in the sense that you can experience them at whatever rate you choose, and they are not affected by your experience rate.
Like, if you are kind of mentally slow, you might have a hard time following a movie, whereas if you are really on top of things you might find a movie boring because it’s too slow for you. But God chose to convey His word, and not only His word but His word in an a-temporal form, and it ended up being written, and it’s ended up being extremely useful because it’s accessible by a huge number of people, while also not specifying too much. Which allows you to adapt that word and use it for your own circumstances. Or, I say “allows you to adapt it” but it is really God who is adapting the word to you.
The textual form, it’s not visual, it’s not external, it’s (as I said) audial (fundamentally) and fundamentally internal. It is an internal word that God conveyed. But it’s an external communication. So it’s this very tight loop between the word, which is an internal idea. It’s not an appearance, it’s not a visual thing, it’s an audial thing, it’s an internal, it’s a personalized message. But it’s also communicable! Because there are mortals who recieved this message and then communicated it to other mortals. And sometimes it’s been done visually, but it’s been done most reliably, most consistently, and with the most success (it appears) textually and audibly.
I think there’s a reason for that having to do with the internal nature, the internal state. Because God talks all the time about “I don’t care about what you look like. I care about your heart. I care about your soul. I care about your internal being.” and His whole word conveys that message, that medium, the word, is an internal medium. I think it’s encouraging, as a creator myself to know that, even when God conveys something, He limits Himself to the medium which is appropriate for that message. So I feel very comfortable doing the same for myself. So I don’t have to make a game out of some moral message I’m trying to write. I don’t have to make a story out of some scenario I’m playing out in my mind. I can limit these things to the medium in which they excel.
Because God does the same thing. God didn’t make… (well, and here we can get into some very interesting debates, but) God didn’t make a game out of His word. He made a word out of it. And left the game to something else, which we’re still discovering, [laughter] which we’re still experiencing. And our own experiences are movie-like in that they are temporal and visual as well as audial. So, those are personal in a sense, but they are personalized in a sense that they have congruity to our own person, they are not someone else’s experience, they are our own experiences. So movies are useful in that way, where they can be personalized but they are also going to be very much less lasting than the word, because the word is not as personalized, it allows the reader to personalize it for themselves, to internalize the story and the message.
Oh, and I also find it interesting that… there was an atheist that I was talking to who had read the Bible and was surprised that its message was not more of a moral message. It was almost entirely a narrative message. And he was just surprised! He said, “I thought,” and of course he didn’t say it in this way, it was not quite so cogent, but he was essentially conveying the idea that, “I thought the Bible was all about telling you whats right and wrong, and it seems like the Bible is just telling you what happened! And then you have to draw your own conclusions from that!” Which he was shocked by because there are some very nasty things that happened in the scriptures, and the Bible doesn’t make comment about a great number of them. It’s just like, “Well, this is what happened, and then this is what happened after it…” and sometimes it says “And God was displeased with this.” or “and God was, you know, happy with this person, so He blessed them.” but most of the time it’s just a narrative. It’s just saying “This happened and then this happened and then this happened…” and, “This person said this thing, and then this person said this thing…” and it’s conveying a story, it’s not conveying a moral, it’s not teaching this moral truth. And I thought it was so interesting that he would be surprised by that because he was a storyteller himself, and it seems that he should have known better that an excellent storyteller (and if indeed it was written by God then the Bible would be written by an excellent storyteller) would know better than to try to convey this heavy-handed preacher moral message in the form of a narrative. He would convey that through the internal role-playing experience of the individual readers, not through the text itself. And of course if He was going to convey some specific information to people, He would do it through their own experience, so that they would have the visual information as well as the audio and the word to go along with it. And this guy was an author and was working in the visual medium, so it seems like he should have known better than to have assumed that God was incompetent. But maybe he was, himself, not quite so competent as he appeared, and he didn’t quite understand these things. It very well could be, and there’s a lot of scripture about how those who hate God are alienated in their minds and darkened in their understanding, so maybe he didn’t understand these things. But I thought it was surprising that he as an author didn’t have a grasp on these fundamental principles of narrative and it’s purpose.
So there you go! Those are some of the things that I think about narrative and meaning and their different mediums and their forms and uses, and I managed to finally bring it back full circle, and bring it back to authorial ability and medium usefulness, so I’m going to cut it off here.
It’s been Paul Spooner, I’m tired, and I’m not doin’ sound right now I just finished making another song, and it was okay, it was alright and you can go listen to it if you want. I’m sure it’s been up for a while by now by the time I get around to editing and publishing this podcast. So, have a good time. [yawns] Oh, excuse me. I’m Paul Spooner. This is the Paul Spooner Podcast. Have a good day.