Well, due to a mixture of binge-watching Jim Sterling’s game industry criticism videos on Youtube, binge-reading Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomics, being slightly disappointed by a monster movie and deliberately not binge-reading an epic sci-fi novel from the 1980s (“The Snow Queen” by Joan D. Vinge), I suddenly realised that my thoughts about these four different things had one thing in common.
They all made me think about creative works and quality. So, as a way of writing all of this wasted time off as “productive”, I thought that I’d share some of three of these rambling thoughts.
1) Good creative works keep you returning (using honest methods): If a creative work is any good, then it is something that you will want to return to. For example, the “Subnormality” webcomics I binge-read were all ones that I’ve read several times before. I returned to them because of their amazing hyper-detailed art (that makes me care more about making art), the surreal humour/creativity and the profound dialogue.
Likewise, although I’m only reading about 20-30 pages of “The Snow Queen” almost every day (after getting burnt out by lots of binge-reading over the past year or two), I haven’t abandoned this enormous book. This is because it contains a really interesting fictional world, a complex storyline, compelling characters etc… Although my enthusiasm seems to have shifted a bit from reading stuff to watching stuff, I still find myself returning to this book almost every day because of these things, even if I’m reading it much more slowly than I would have done several weeks or months ago.
What’s the point of all of this? Good creative works are things that make you want to spend time with them because they give something to the audience. Because their quality is it’s own reward. These creative works don’t need to do anything other than be themselves because this is enough to make people want to look at them again and again. In other words, they keep the audience returning via honest methods. By using nothing more than the sheer quality, creativity and uniqueness of their writing, art, acting, lyrics, gameplay, instrumentation, journalism etc…
Bad creative works, on the other hand, can’t do this. So, they sometimes rely on other methods to keep the audience returning. Whether it is excessive advertising, cultivating peer pressure, various other forms of subtle psychological manipulation etc… that – as pointed out in many Jim Sterling videos – focus more on financial greed than on the audience’s enjoyment.
In short, when you experience a good creative work, you feel richer for the experience. When you experience a bad creative work, you feel cheated. When you return to a good creative work, it is because it has something more to offer you. When you return to a bad creative work, it is because it has tricked you into returning in order to take something from you (eg: happiness, time, opinions, money etc…).
2) Bad creative works still have value: If you spend long enough around creative works, you’ll probably want to start making some of your own. Surprisingly, both good and bad creative works can teach you a lot about how to do this. Whilst it’s fairly obvious that good creative works can spark your imagination, show you how to do things well and also inspire you to keep practicing, learning, experimenting etc… I thought that I’d talk about what bad creative works can teach you.
Because, yes, bad creative works do actually have some value.
They show you what not to do and this is just as important as learning what to do. For example, whilst it isn’t quite a “bad” film, the 1997 monster movie “The Relic” can teach you a few lessons about how not to handle lighting in visual media (eg: gloomy lighting is awesome – but you also need to include enough brightness to contrast with that gloom and allow the audience to see what is going on). It can also teach you the importance of including detailed characters (who the audience can get invested in) in the horror genre. I could go on, but all of this film’s mistakes are valuable lessons for any artist, writer, director, game dev etc… watching it.
Likewise, learning how to recognise and avoid bad creative works can also teach you how to find good creative works. It teaches you to judge creative works on their own merits and to understand your own tastes more. This also means that things like manufactured popularity, advertising and other tricks that are sometimes used to foist bad creative works onto you won’t have as much of an effect.
But, saying all of this, remember that….
3) Sometimes good creative works can be popular too: Yes, a lot of “popular” or “mainstream” stuff is there because of advertising or marketing tricks used to disguise sub-par or mediocre things. Just because something is “cool” or “trendy” doesn’t mean that it is necessarily good. But, use your own judgement! Being the kind of person who automatically dismisses anything “popular” as bad will mean that you’ll miss out on those uncommon creative works that are actually popular because of their quality.
To give an embarrassing personal example: Although I’d heard a couple of their songs in the background over the years (it’s kind of impossible not to), I only really “discovered” The Beatles relatively recently. For many years, I actively avoided their music because of it’s mainstream ultra-popularity.
Then, after seeing a Beatles-inspired level in a “Doom II” WAD (for younger gamers, this is like DLC – but fan-made and free, like it should be), I felt curious enough about the band to actually properly listen to some of their music and… Wow… It suddenly made perfect sense why so many people have been fans of them for the past few decades. They were a timelessly brilliant and absolutely amazing band, who richly deserve those decades of praise.
So, yes, just because a lot of great creative works either languish in indie obscurity or are overlooked cult classics (just look at how the critics reacted to “Blade Runner” when it was first released) doesn’t mean that popularity automatically equals “bad”. Sometimes good creative works become popular because of their quality, rather than despite it.
So, again, the lesson here is to use your own judgement. To experience enough examples of good and bad creative works that you become aware enough of your own standards, tastes, sensibilities, emotions etc.. to be able to make your own decisions about the quality of a creative work, uninfluenced by popularity.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂