Monday, December 18, 2006

An open letter to Raph Koster

Raph Koster (web page) just announced that he's launched his new company, Areae. It / he is gonna do virtual world stuff. There's a Gamasutra article and interview.

"Open Letter" is so quaint and 19th century, doncha think? You know what I mean, though, right? It's a blog post with a track-back to Raph's post about the announcement. Which is as close as you can politely get on the cyberplane to simply up'n hollering:

"Hey, Raph! I got sumfin to say about yer new comp'ny!"

Open letter indeed. Ahem.

Beyond the congratulations and well wishes, which are explicit in the comments to his post and which I'll make here again -- congrats, Raph, and best wishes -- are the hopes of thousands if not millions of gamers in the English speaking world and, probably, a not-insignificant number of Chinese and Indian and Korean players, too. The game world, basically. I don't know if the Russians and the Belgians give a fat rat's ass about Raph, but it would be a tough argument to say that his reach doesn't extend to China.

There are lots of folks in the gaming industry with influence, ideas, money, power, big hair, cred, friends, intellectual property licenses, etc. Very few of them (if any), though, have something that Raph has that I think is insanely important:

An MFA in poetry.

Why is this vital? Because we are in the friggin' Age of Content, which I keep saying over and over again. All the neat "things" (ooh... highly technical term) we do online are, essentially quests for content. We either seek to create it, or to find it or to better leverage it.

A recent Pew study (that I can't lay link on at the moment) said that kids spend 8 hours (6 of them actual; 2ish overlapping) on media consumption. Media. That's content. Some of that time is spent creating stuff. More time than was spent doing so a few years ago. Creative time is going to keep going up, as the tools for content creation and distro become even easier, cheaper, faster and more share-y. Boo-yah. Excellent. I love it. So what?

So what is... poetry. We need more of it. And we need it in games and virtual worlds. We need bad poetry more than we need really good pinball machines. I'm not saying that I'd like Raph to write badly poetic virtual worlds, but I'd frankly rather have those than wonderfully mechanistic non-poetic ones.

What the diggity am I talking about this time?

Poetry is the medium where many, many memes happen at the same time. Great poetry can involve the overlap of sound, rhythm, meter (not the same as rhythm), metaphor, direct meaning, indirect meaning, cultural meaning, historicity, visual meaning, phonetic meaning, reference, humor, satire, self-satire... all kinds of things. Sometimes wrapped up in a ball so tight it takes 1,000 times as much text to explain a poem as it does to write it. See Pound's, "In A Station of the Metro," and some famous takes on it for a great example.

Taking the familiar and making it better, faster, shinier, zippier, etc. is fine. And that's the work of good and great craftspeople. When I look at and play World of Warcraft, I see a truly refined and honed example of the MMO. It's truly state-of-the-art. Which is great. We need people and companies and processes and programs that take the current, existing technology and ideas and make them as good as they can be.

But it's not what Raph was put on earth to do. Because that's not what poets do.

We smash up the atoms of meaning. We take the fact of sound and make it into another part of the fact of meaning. There's no logical reason why the rhyme and meter of verse should make the words feel... better. But they do. Sometimes. When put together right. There's no logical reason why amazingly placed line breaks should do so much to increase the meaning and impact of words. But they do. There's no logical reason why extended metaphors should move us so completely. But they do.

Craft is logic. Poetry moves beyond logic and provides us jumps in joy that were impossible to see even a moment before we found them.

Raph: try to make Areae a place where we all can write some poetry together, not just run through better mouse-traps. I know that's a major request. And I'll try to put some thought into exactly what the fong I mean by that, because while poetry is often mushy, it's also possible to define what makes it good or bad.

Again... best of luck.

When You are Old

by W. B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment