Why Creative Works Don’t Always Have To Make Sense – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about why some creative works can still be good even when they don’t make logical sense, I’m going to have to start by spending several paragraphs talking enthusiastically about playing an old computer game whilst listening to even older heavy metal music. There’s a good reason for this that will become obvious later.

Anyway, as regular readers of this site probably know, I’m going through a bit of a “Quake” phase at the moment. If you’ve never heard of this classic mid-late 1990s computer game before, it’s basically a gothic horror-themed action game where you fight lots of monsters. But, whilst playing yet another level of the game’s “Dissolution Of Eternity” expansion pack, I suddenly realised something…. this game makes no logical sense!

Seriously, you run through a series of random rooms and the game just throws lots of monsters at you. After a while, playing the game begins to take on a strange rhythm- like some kind of bizarre dance that ultimately doesn’t mean anything and is done purely for it’s own sake. For a while, I almost started to feel like I was wasting my time…

…But, then, I found myself in the middle of an ancient Egypt-themed level and my attitude suddenly changed.

This is a screenshot from E2M4 of “Quake: Dissolution Of Eternity” (1997) [an expansion for “Quake” (1996)]. This one level is amazing!

Almost instinctively, I paused the game for a second, went through my music collection and started playing an ancient Egypt-themed heavy metal song by Iron Maiden called “Powerslave” loudly in the background. Then I continued playing.

Iron Maiden’s music suddenly felt just as awesome as it did in the months after I first discovered the band during my early teens and “Quake” suddenly felt just as cool as it did when I’d previously played it during my childhood, my mid-late teens and my early-mid twenties. And I realised that I didn’t give a damn that this game’s story and premise made no sense whatsoever. It was just awesome fun for the sake of awesome fun.

So, what was the point of this? Well, it’s an illustrative example of how (and why) a creative work can still be enjoyable even when it doesn’t make perfect logical sense. “Quake” is just a game about shooting random monsters and “Powerslave” is a random song about ancient Egyptian gods, death, servitude and… pharaohs? I don’t know. But, the experience of playing “Quake” and/or listening to “Powerslave” is brilliant regardless.

These things are enjoyable because they have some underlying element that is enjoyable regardless of whether the rest of the work makes perfect logical sense. They evoke emotions. They provide an experience. They make you spontaneously play the air guitar. They look cool. I could go on for a while…

A good literary example of this kind of thing would be Poppy Z. Brite’s “Lost Souls”. This is a novel that is almost plotless, yet it is one of my favourite novels of all time purely because of things like the atmosphere, the narrative style, the characters and the general “attitude” of the book. On a purely story-based level, it shouldn’t be a great novel. But, thanks to all of this other stuff, it is an astonishingly great novel.

The same is true for art too. A painting or drawing doesn’t have to be 100% realistic or even a depiction of part of a logical story to be impressive. If the artist’s style, the composition, the lighting, the use of colour etc… is interesting enough, then the fact that the picture makes no logical sense or has no deeper meaning doesn’t matter because it is a demonstration of the artist’s technical skill and aesthetic sensibilities.

So, yes, creative works don’t “have” to make sense in order to be interesting or enjoyable. However, this only works if the creative work in question has some other underlying element that is inherently interesting, fun, evocative or fascinating.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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