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Thursday, December 31, 2009

~Mimic and Mix

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mimic and Mix

Creative Redundancy
If a piece of music isn't original, is it worth anything? I hope the answer is "yes", because I don't see almost any of what I compose as original. I always intend for it to be original when I'm starting out, but soon after (This can take anywhere between a half minute and a week.) I realize that it's exactly like three things I've heard many times before.
Math Story
There was a time when I looked forward to math tests, as one looks forward to a boss fight in an action game. I guess that'd be ninth grade. I never prepared for them in the usual sense, memorizing rules and revisiting notes. But I was always ready.

Many people have told me I'm a natural at music. At least one person has told me that I'm a natural at writing. And now one person (Tanya) has told me that I'm a natural at acting. Also, I tell myself that I'm a natural at games. I don't really believe that yet, but I'd like to.

I am not capable of believing that I'm a natural at so many things. For one thing, it seems to me like a natural would have original thoughts, since his talent is not coming from what he's been taught but from what he already has. That's not me: I have no original thoughts. My music is an imitation of everything I've ever heard. My writing is an imitation of everything I've ever read (which I'll grant you isn't much). My acting... look, Barnaby is a combination of a Muppet, some of my friends, and Fudgie. That's where all the mannerisms come from.

So it seems less likely to me that I'm a natural at any specific things, and more likely that I'm a natural at imitation in general.

There's got to be some specific part of the brain that pulls out the exact memory-fragments and ideas needed to solve a problem. I guess it's what I'd call the "fulfilling needs" kind of inspiration. That part of the brain must be a little bit more effective for me than most people. That's the simplest explanation, isn't it? I'm not naturally talented at anything, I just have a knack for learning.

That sounds strange when you consider what I was like at school. I never studied. I never listened to what the teachers were saying, even when the subject might interest me. I failed many of my tests. Whatever part of the brain internalizes things you're taught, I barely have that.

So I have to conclude that there are two distinct kinds of learning. There's learning where someone tells you something, and you remember it. And then there's learning where you see something in its proper context, and you mimic it. The first is a passive kind of learning, where you become a container for pre-baked ideas. The second is an active kind of learning, where you figure out the principles for yourself by trial and error. That's where I excel.

What crystallized this understanding for me was Ambrose. When I was in Illinois I kept going over his lines over and over and over again, just hoping that somewhere in my head it would make some sort of connection and I'd see what I was supposed to be doing with it. And when I went over it enough times, it seemed obvious to me that he was a Buddhist, though his parents were surely Christian. I don't know why this was so obvious to me, but the parts just fit together better that way. And then I needed an explanation for how he'd be exposed to Buddhism, so I remembered what Tanya had said about a different character in the play wandering around a lot, and that fit in, and then I needed to understand why this character who now represented some of the ideals Tanya was talking about would want to marry a simple girl, and suddenly a new character (who I named Eve) popped into my head who he must have met before the play began and who broke his heart, and if that was the case then really he'd have to have a crush on a different female character during the play...

See, this is how I think. If I look at something long enough, I suddenly see how it fits together with lots of random ideas which I've seen in other places. And this is natural to me. It didn't take me any effort at all to come up with this whole massive dramatic story of Ambrose (which ended up being bigger in scope than The Matchmaker itself), but when I fit all the pieces in place I felt like they were there all along and there was no other "correct" way to make sense of him. No part of the story is an original idea of mine, it's all smushed together from other stories I know; coming up with the story is not what I'm proud of. What I'm proud of is that I saw how all these random pieces fit together, purely by intuition.

And that provides a compelling argument for the case that I'm meant to make games. The problem I've always had with believing that is that it's so much easier for me to make music than it is to make games. If I'm gifted at music, and not at games, then I'm wasting my life pursuing games rather than music. But that's no problem at all, is it? I've heard so much music in my life, that I can continually pull fragments of other pieces out of my memory and weave them together. That's what I'm good at, after all: I take ideas, find the rules behind them, and mix them with other ideas based on that logic. But games, they're not so easy. I've never played games like the ones I'm making. The logic behind them is uncharted territory. That doesn't mean I can't piece together the logic, but it means that it's going to be a challenge. I can't take pre-baked ideas, I have to assemble the ideas out of their more basic ingredients. Each and every step of making a game is a challenge because the way I figure out what I'm doing there is by putting together everything I know about anything, and seeing what comes out.

Most people couldn't take those tiny steps at all. I can. And it's hard, yes.

I'm not sure if I'm making any sense here. Let me try to be clearer. I believe in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Theoretically you can extrapolate any principle from any context, it's just going to be easier or harder depending on the context. So you can figure out how to make a new kind of experience by piecing together the logic of all the old kinds of experiences, it's just very hard.

Smilie was an amalgamation of ideas from interactive dialogues and Tamagotchis and Looney Tunes cartoons and puppets and kittens and the fly-swatting game from Mario Paint for the SNES and probably dozens of other things in the back of my head. And I saw how to put together all those random elements to make something that's new, without even realizing (at the time) that I was mimicking all these things. That's the only way there is to find new parts of gamism, and it's so difficult that I'm one of the few who can do it at all.

I think that argument makes some sort of sense.



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