The One Magic Power That All Artists And Writers (And Some Game Designers) Have

2015 Artwork Alan Moore Art Perceptions Article replacement sketch

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a brilliant quote from Alan Moore (taken from this video). The quote is: “Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images to achieve changes in consciousness“.

I was reminded of another quote too, I think it was also from Alan Moore but it may have been from someone else. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it goes something along the lines of “If my work can shift people’s perceptions of the world by even a fraction of an inch, then I have succeeded“.

But, why was I reminded of these quotes?

Well, I’d been having kind of a lazy Saturday night and I’d spent about three or four solid hours playing a couple of traditional “point and click” adventure games that I’d got recently (yes, I have no life. And I love it!).

One of them was a freeware game from the 1990s called “Beneath A Steel Sky” and the other was a more modern game called “Deponia” (which was on special offer at the time).

Both of these games are set in dystopic junk-strewn futures. They both also involve solving puzzles by examining objects, listening to sarcastic commentary about said objects and figuring out what kinds of strange things the game designers want you to do with them. Of course, you can obviously cheat and look for a guide on the internet (and, yes, I do this all the time with old adventure games).

Anyway, after playing both of these games for several hours, I decided to call it a night. But, before I went to sleep, I thought that I should probably make a backup copy of “Deponia” (since the installer that I bought was something like 3.5gb in size and I needed the space on my hard drive back). So, I reached for a stack of blank DVDs on my desk shelf, when a forgotten old USB memory stick fell off of the top of the DVD stack.

I picked it up and looked at it curiously before suddenly thinking something like “It’s an old USB stick. The damn thing has been broken for months.” Yes, I actually said these words in my mind, as if I was a character in an adventure game examining something. It took me a couple of seconds to realise that I’d done this and then I suddenly burst into laughter.

But, the fact remains, if I hadn’t been playing several solid hours of adventure games, I’d have probably just picked up the USB stick and put it back without even thinking about it. It was then that I realised that these games had subtly (and temporarily) shifted my perceptions of the world around me.

Now, if you’re expecting this to turn into a stern moral lecture about how violent videogames will turn us all into nihilistic sociopaths, you’ll be disappointed. I’ve had many long gaming sessions with much more violent games and I’ve never suddenly thought “I want to attack someone” or anything like that afterwards.

No, the reason why these old adventure games shifted my perspective on reality so much was because they were a lot more realistic than violent games are.

Yes, these adventure games were set in the distant future, but everything else about the games was a lot more “ordinary”. After all, we spend quite a lot of our lives looking at mundane objects, thinking about things and talking to people.

So, seeing a slightly different simulated version of the same things we see and do every day can temporarily shift our perspective on the real thing. Seeing ordinarily unconscious processes being shown in a more conscious way on the screen can make us think about our own lives more consciously for a few minutes at least.

The same thing holds true for comics and novels too. For example, after reading something by Warren Ellis, I tend to think about the world in a more creatively cynical way for a while afterwards.

After reading something by Poppy Z. Brite/Billy Martin, I’m more likely to daydream about stunningly handsome men. After reading one of G.R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, I am more likely to think about mediaeval history as something that was “cool” rather than as something boring I learnt about back when I was in primary school.

I’m sure you get the idea.

All artists and all writers have the power to shape how people see and think about the world, for at least a few minutes. So, make sure that you use this power. Because, as Alan Moore says, it’s a form of magic. And, well, it’s the closest thing to magic that we’ll probably get to experience on a regular basis.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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