Reply to Stephen Bond's "Player Freedom"

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Victor Gijsbers

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Sep 6, 2007, 10:24:16 AM9/6/07
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Taken to its extremes, it's just a form of loneliness.
-- "Player Freedom", Stephen Bond

There will be a time when I will understand, cognitively and
intuitively, that Art was yet another idol to be smashed and abandoned,
the object of yet another love to be outgrown. But that time is not now;
for I still offer my sacrifice at the idol's altar, and my love is only
growing hotter. Am I an artist? I certainly wish to become one. And
therefore I must defend myself when I am represented as an enemy of Art.

This accusation is made in Stephen Bond's recent essay "Player Freedom".
Like most of the material on Stephen's site, this essay is thoughtful
and intelligent (which are not the same), and the result of accute
psychological observation. Its theme is the autism of much interactive
fiction, and how this autism is incompatible with art. According to
Stephen, interactive fiction of the Zork variety, but also of the
complete-player-freedom variety which I am supposed to advocate, allows
the player to avoid contact with other human minds. It is solipsistic,
and therefore autistic. Art, on the other hand, is created by a
personality mightily striving to express itself in its work.
Experiencing art consists in submitting oneself to this personality,
however temporarily, and coming as close to it as possible. Obviously,
if this is the case, art and autistic interactive fiction are quite each
other's opposites.

Stephen and I might disagree about some details. I don't think justice
is done to art when it is defined as expression of the personality of
the artist, but that is because I think art is a way by which not only
we, but also the artist himself can transcend the bounds of our current
consciousness; it is not just that we submit to the artist, but the
artist opens both himself and us to something that is greater than
either - though not, strictly speaking, external to us. Yet this
difference between a romantic-expressionist and a spiritual-mystic
theory of art should not be important in the current discussion. Stephen
and I evict exactly the same works of interactive fiction from the
Temple of Art - at least in principle.

Let me make the extent of our agreement clear by stating that I agree
with all of the following theses: Player freedom as such is not worth
striving for. Taking to its logical extreme, player freedom is just a
form of loneliness. If the player can do anything and receives no
responses (appreciative or critical, depending on what she does), this
loneliness has been achieved. If that happens, we have gone as far from
art as we possibly can.

Let me now quote at some length from an essay that recently came to my
attention.


"[I]f the player is allowed unlimited power over the work, something
seems to be lost that is central to interactive fiction: it's dialogical
character. Like a face-to-face roleplaying game, an interactive fiction
is fundamentally an exchange between two (or more) people who are
constantly offering, accepting and rejecting ideas. In traditional
interactive fiction (as in traditional roleplaying games) this
relationship is highly asymmetric: the player always offers, the program
always accepts or rejects; but the relationship is nevertheless present,
and central to our experience of interactive fiction.

If the player is given unlimited control over the work, as was suggested
in the previous section, this relationship is broken. For now the player
both offers ideas, and accepts or rejects them. (The program is only
allowed to accept and reject as long as the player does not decide to
override it.) Presumably, this will turn playing such an interactive
fiction into a rather roundabout and unfulfilling way of writing a
story. It might turn out to be as empty an experience as playing a
face-to-face roleplaying game alone - and that is quite empty indeed."


Doesn't it seem as if the author of this article agrees with Stephen
Bond that unlimited player freedom will lead to solipstic, autistic
works that do not qualify as art? Doesn't it seem as if Stephen has
found a natural ally here, in his quest to save our medium from the
threat of spiritual vacuity? And yet the article I quote from is my own
"Co-authorship and Community", which is exactly the article from which
Stephen has drawn the conclusion that I am advocating solipsistic,
unlimited-freedom interactive fiction. This is surprising.

Make no mistake: the model I use in my essay is not the one that Stephen
uses to define art. For Stephen, in art we submit to the unified vision
of a single creator; whereas in the community-based feedback system I
describe we have dynamic processes of mutual appreciation, criticism and
influence. Arguments might perhaps be given why Stephen's model is
superior to mine, as far as the creation of art is concerned; but these
arguments are not given in Stephen's essay. Arguments might perhaps be
given why my model can never be succesfully implemented; but for such
arguments one will search in vain as well.

I fail to understand why Stephen categorises me as one of those who
advocate unlimited player freedom when half of my essay is about
limiting player freedom in order to make the experience of playing
meaningful. I fail to understand why he presents me as an enemy of art
when I am obviously trying to defend it; perhaps unsuccessfully, we can
certainly talk about that, but I am trying: let us not confuse my
intentions.

I hope that this brief reply has made my position clearer. After all,
the enemies of autism have better things to do than fight amongst
themselves.


Victor Gijsbers


Links:

Stephen Bond, "Player Freedom": http://plover.net/~bonds/playerfreedom.html
Victor Gijsbers, "Co-Authorship and Community":
http://lilith.gotdns.org/~victor/innovationcomp/Innovation.pdf
Emily Short, "On Stephen Bond on Player Freedom":
http://emshort.wordpress.com/2007/05/25/on-stephen-bond-on-player-freedom/

ptw...@gmail.com

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Sep 6, 2007, 12:21:12 PM9/6/07
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On Sep 6, 9:24 am, Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote:
> Taken to its extremes, it's just a form of loneliness.
> -- "Player Freedom", Stephen Bond
>
> There will be a time when I will understand, cognitively and
> intuitively, that Art was yet another idol to be smashed and abandoned,
> the object of yet another love to be outgrown. But that time is not now;
> for I still offer my sacrifice at the idol's altar, and my love is only
> growing hotter. Am I an artist? I certainly wish to become one. And
> therefore I must defend myself when I am represented as an enemy of Art.
>
[ big honking snip]

>
> I hope that this brief reply has made my position clearer. After all,
> the enemies of autism have better things to do than fight amongst
> themselves.
>
> Victor Gijsbers
>
> Links:
>
> Stephen Bond, "Player Freedom":http://plover.net/~bonds/playerfreedom.html
> Victor Gijsbers, "Co-Authorship and Community":http://lilith.gotdns.org/~victor/innovationcomp/Innovation.pdf
> Emily Short, "On Stephen Bond on Player Freedom":http://emshort.wordpress.com/2007/05/25/on-stephen-bond-on-player-fre...

Ah, Victor, don't take Stephen too seriously. I read articles to the
end on the principle of fairness, but I rarely find that his articles
change the first impression he gives me. -Paul

ptw...@gmail.com

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Sep 6, 2007, 1:07:57 PM9/6/07
to
On Sep 6, 9:24 am, Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote:
> Taken to its extremes, it's just a form of loneliness.
> -- "Player Freedom", Stephen Bond
>
> There will be a time when I will understand, cognitively and
> intuitively, that Art was yet another idol to be smashed and abandoned,
> the object of yet another love to be outgrown. But that time is not now;
> for I still offer my sacrifice at the idol's altar, and my love is only
> growing hotter. Am I an artist? I certainly wish to become one. And
> therefore I must defend myself when I am represented as an enemy of Art.
>
[ That Big Snip Again ]

>
> I hope that this brief reply has made my position clearer. After all,
> the enemies of autism have better things to do than fight amongst
> themselves.
>
> Victor Gijsbers
>
> Links:
>
> Stephen Bond, "Player Freedom":http://plover.net/~bonds/playerfreedom.html
> Victor Gijsbers, "Co-Authorship and Community":http://lilith.gotdns.org/~victor/innovationcomp/Innovation.pdf
> Emily Short, "On Stephen Bond on Player Freedom":http://emshort.wordpress.com/2007/05/25/on-stephen-bond-on-player-fre...

OK. So here's my short answer. Your co-authorship idea is
essentially a MUD/MUSH/MOO/etc. and has already been around for a
while. I have always understood multiuser environments in terms of co-
authored IF. It seems to me that art exists is both multi-authored
and single-authored IF under exactly the same conditions. It sounds
like you want to fire up MUD, tinker with it, then email the result
round robin style among a group of friends for further tinkering. I
don't find any disaster in that. -Paul

Victor Gijsbers

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Sep 6, 2007, 3:34:23 PM9/6/07
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I like your deflationary answer. :)

Regards,
Victor

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