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November 15, 2009


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I have to agree with Calvin, Fran and Johnny. The "auteur" is more a social construction from within art history, and the other critical approaches- such as film studies- that developed from it.

Leonardo Da Vinci is considered a genius, but he could hardly have produced all that he did without a workshop of skilled apprentices, lending their talents to him as he had done as an apprentice. This was the typical way that art works were made.

More recently, many major artists,such as Damien Hirsh, Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol rely on essentially collaborative efforts to realise their vision. That this is inadequately discussed reflects on trends in certain schools of art history rather than trends in art production.

"...auteurship was never real, but it took until games before we were forced to acknowledge its falseness."

A lack of auteurship is one of the best predictors of a creative project's failure.

Only very, very rarely do a large group of talented people collaborate effectively on a creative project -- be it a game, film, a theme-park ride -- without an established creative leader who establishes a broad vision and helps focus the rest of the team's talents on filling out and implementing that vision.

Absent this creative leader (let's call this person an "auteur") even very talented groups almost always miscommunicate with one another, perpetually disagree over creative decisions and thus either create a profoundly incoherent work, or go about the work with tremendous inefficiency, or both.

This isn't to devalue the essential contributions of the non-auteurs of the group (who can and often should modify the vision of the auteur whenever they conceive of ideas that are even more in-line with the auteur's vision than the auteur's original ideas), but simply to point out that a lack of good creative leadership typically induces creative-project-suicide.

Also, just because games deal in possibility-spaces defined by game-mechanics doesn't mean that "all the ways in which [players] express themselves are beautiful". Game developers choose a possibility-space that is tiny compared to all possibility-spaces; this choice is one dimension of authorial intent. A second is the choice of context in which these game-mechanics are presented. Players have freedom only within the constraints the game developer allows, and players themselves may not consider all possible choices within that freedom to be "beautiful".

Individuals will always judge some play-experiences to be "beautiful" but not others, and creative teams almost always suffer enormously without the focusing creative direction of a good auteur.

In my humble opinion, Legos leave out the part where the designer judges the player in some way (assuming we're talking about freeform legos and not "build a Tie Fighter lego sets"). Feels like that's something a game designer does that a toolset designer doesn't. Once the possibility space is set up, giving different parts of that space value or judgement. It doesn't have to be as black and white as "goals" but something about Legos feels far more freeform than even say, Sim City, where there isn't a specific goal but due to the nature of the space, there's a natural feeling of judgement.

One thing about the dialectic example that I can't figure out is that games are typically static...the clockmaker sets up the rules and is done, leaving behind an intricate clock for the player to explore. If there is to be any back and forth between the designer and player, it must have been pre-programmed, which implies that the designer had a sense for everything that would come up. To extend the analogy, it's as if Socrates had to program a robot that would debate on his behalf, and so if he expects to be a good conversationalist, he had better know in advance much of what would be discussed. But then again, when I try to mix Socrates with robots, I am usually left with just more confusion.

A while a ago, someone at the IT Copenhagen wrote a thesis on games and authorship. You might like to check it out:

"Who is the author of a game when a player can affect what happens?"
It's a great question.

In my opinion, the player is present in a game as a narrative category, an "actant". But this ludic presence needs to be configured by the "text" (the game). We wouldn't be useful to the game as the person that we are in real life because with our real skills we would fall wide apart from the abilities that the fictional character needs to be contructed in order to be able to carry further the plot. Hence, we are useful to the extent to which our real presence is articulated with that of the story person. The meaning of this is that we are the subject of a process of configuration before we can become active in the game as a game character: a game configures as as story character by using interfaces, controls, mechanics, POV etc.

To claim that the player is an author means first and foremost that the player needs to be the one who constructs the whole process of this configuration. But in my opinion, a player only can affect a game and its story after she has been configured as someone who can do that. Hence she must be already the creation of an author.

Ken Birdwell has an interesting article about Valve's "cabal" system for creating Half Life:

You really can't point to a single human being as the "author" of a game like that. But that doesn't mean there isn't authorial intention, it's just a group that's the author.

As a pro screenwriter, the word "auteur" just bugs me, because directors like to assume they're the "auteur" even though a screenwriter thought of it first, an editor made it was it is, the composer adds things that the others can't even fathom, etc. On BON COP / BAD COP we had four screenwriters, one star, a producer, a director, an editor, a production designer, and a composer all making the pic what it was. Who's the author? Erik Canuel? Patrick Huard?

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