Mosh Pits, Hank Green, and Speaking With Care

I will probably never be in a mosh pit. In fact it is kind of unlikely that I will ever experience live music outside of the classical genre. My life long sensory processing disorder makes the concert atmosphere sound both unappealing and inadvisable so I’m not even that upset about it. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t get curious about why others enjoy these kinds of wild, high energy situations. But I had yet to find someone who was able to explain the appeal in a way that made sense within the context of how I experience the world. Hank Green seems to be the one who had the magic recipe though because in a four minute YoutTube video he was able to explain why he liked mosh pits in a way that both celebrated the physical experience of being in one but also the context of these experiences. Whether or not he intended it as such, I think this video is an ideal example of how to speak about experiences that are inherently inaccessible in a way that fosters understanding and connection.

Read More »

In the Eye of the Beholder: Hollow Knight and the exploration of Joseph Anderson

Video games are considered the domain of a very particular type of people, and those people are often not the same ones who create or curate more traditional arts. However, the ways in which traditional arts are understood still provide a framework through which the huge variety of video games can be understood. Not only is game critic Joseph Anderson seemingly aware of some of these traditions he actively considers what makes a game beautiful and arguably a work of art: it isn’t about having a particular type of game play but rather is about how the game impacts the player. Hollow Knight is a game that is in many ways an aesthetic experience that just happens to also include the elements of a Metroidvania game, where the player is forced to build the story by interpreting a decaying land. These are the types of issues that are vital to traditional fine art studies and Anderson is able to address these considerations without stepping away from his own genre of game critic.

Online coverage of video games often includes a lot of shouting and truly terrible audio, but Joseph Anderson is a critic whose videos are always calm, well organized and rational. He makes the videos that I think art people would want to watch because he goes into them prepared to have an educated discussion without assuming the person watching has experienced the works that he is talking about. In fact, this is a part of Anderson’s work that I think both the world of video game criticism and art criticism could learn a lot from since his videos are accessible without feeling overly contrived. His YouTube channel is worth watching for that educational value alone, but he also has an impressive way of handling some of the important questions around the overlap of video games and art.

Hollow Knight is part of a clear genre that has emerged in recent years as nostalgia for early gaming – the Metroidvania genre. However, this is not the angle through which Anderson approaches the game, rather he debates whether the flaws of Hollow Knight as a game are actually assets to Hollow Knight as an art. He is still working within the conventions of game review and criticism (he discusses the fact that the game is spectacular value for money purely based on length and challenge) but much of this feeds back into a consideration of what it means for a video game to be an art. Among the factors that play into this conversation is that this is a game produced by a very small team of developers. It doesn’t have the large commercialist tone that often sterilizes the games produced by major developers. Anderson connects these elements to the aesthetic quality of Hollow Knight and the kind of mental energy that exploring its world requires – the player is shaping the art that they experience. It is not dissimilar to how art theory considers the reciprocal looking process that creates meaning through the idea of ‘the gaze’. In the end it is about how the art object and the viewer collaborate to make meaning – something that is evident in games like Hollow Knight where the viewer must build a narrative of a fallen city largely on their own. These are elements that would make the game ‘good’ for anyone who decided to pick it up, but Anderson is able to draw together the elements into a true discussion of the piece as an art.

Ultimately what makes Joseph Anderson unique, and interesting to listen to even for a non-gamer is his abilities to work within the conventions of game review while moving beyond the kinds of questions that are normally the focus of this kind of writing. It is his brand of thoughtful critique that might help to build the recognition of video game projects as fine art. Because in reality the discourse that surrounds art objects is often what defines them as art. Anderson even begins to put forward some of the questions that will become important when (or if) interactive media become a part of the art world: How do you display a video game in a museum? How would these kinds of works integrate with art history courses?

If art is about aesthetic experiences or about implicating the viewer in the making of meaning than video games certainly have the means to do so. Joseph Anderson makes wonderful defenses of these games as art in his videos while remaining firmly in line with the video game community while also steering viewers towards important questions about what will happen when the video game as art becomes more widely recognized.  These are not questions with easy answers but they are ones that I think will become increasingly relevant as video games continue to ask valuable and challenging questions of the people who play them.

The House That MineCraft Built: Monumental Buildings in the World of the Internet

Humans like to build large impressive structures. It’s one of the general truths that history can speak to given that monumental architecture appears all over the globe while there continues to be few nations today who trade off tallest tower titles. A perhaps under appreciated subsection of the human drive to build great things in the modern age is the amount of problem solving and creativity that goes into large scale builds in games like MineCraft. Building in virtual worlds is an incredibly diverse hobby and sweeping generalizations are probably not a good idea both because generalizations usually aren’t and because it is near impossible to actually survey the entire breath of anything on the internet. So, for the sake of explorations and argument the MineCraft community that plays on the HermitCraft server as well as the people who watch them is a good point of reference. HermitCraft gathers some of the top talented builders and creative types of the MineCraft internet (at least as I have been exposed to it) to build in a shared world on projects that are both collaborative and individual.

Beyond that its hard to make any kind of statement about what gets built because it varies widely and includes no small amount of ‘because I can’ type projects. A personal favorite was a multi weeklong building battle that included, dragons, spaceships and Pixar references all built at a truly impressive scale while occasionally fighting off raiders.  HermitCraft is an opportunity to see top level players working together, or at the very least in proximity to each other, but there are multitudes of other MineCraft projects that are easily found through the internet. People recreate real world buildings or entire fictional worlds like Middle Earth and most of the time it is all put up for everyone to see free of charge. Many creators even have a particular style, either aesthetically or in the types of things they build ranging from houses, to resource farms to restone contraptions which are the pseudo-tech of the in game world.The popular players who are playing on serves like HermitCraft probably make some kind of income through Patreon, YouTube ads or other sponsorships but for the most part the people who build online are not getting paid or praised yet they continue to pour their time into the game.

While the creative mode in the game is tailored for those kinds of building projects there are a great many people who choose to work in the much less forgiving survival environment in which the plot-based part of the game occurs. And with survival MineCraft comes logistics concerns because materials aren’t always easy to come by and there are zombies, skeleton and assorted other creatures coming to kill you. These are not the kind of logistical concerns that come up in real world building, where ensuring project survival across the multiple generations required for cathedral building was a pressing concern or in global resource purchasing that is an integral part of building practice today. However, the choice of these players to build their creations in a virtual environment that makes some attempt to replicate the concerns of real world architects is another reflection of the purpose that MineCraft is serving when it is played in this way. It also offers the opportunity for different types of buildings, ones that actually benefit the player’s ability to function in the virtual world and improve success rates on future projects. They don’t just want to build something that is aesthetically pleasing, these players enjoy the process and challenge of executing a plan in that kind of hostile environment.

None of this is to say that building projects in game like MineCraft are just as challenging as building in the real world. Instead a consideration of how architectural, history, trends, and ongoing progress is mimicked in a created world – exposing the parts of the design and building process that fascinate people. If working on these projects, both in the real world and on the computer, wasn’t rewarding no one would do it. MineCraft though proves that the process of designing and constructing something is incredibly rewarding since millions of people pay for the game and sink hours of unpaid, usually unacknowledged, time into creating impressive large-scale builds. That willingness to work and created in an unrecognized sector shows that this is a kind of creative practice that offers something incredibly rewarding to the players – beyond the considerations of real-world success. This is a fascinating part of any artistic practice, the benefit to the artist regardless of the recognition they may gain and the expansion of this aspect of art onto the internet is something worth considering.

The people who play on the HermitCraft server and the multitude of other creative building practices on the internet live in a strange place between the art of the real world and the beauties of the internet. They are not trying to make hyper visual monuments of human achievement, but they are still building things that are undeniably large. They sink hours of largely unpaid, unacknowledged time into the games that they play and figure out how to monetize their practices later, through Youtube or other platforms. The world of the internet has opened these kinds of opportunities for new forms of creative practice and while some aspects of these communities mimic the real world practices, they are based on MineCraft in general and HermitCraft in particular show the impressive range that is possible in the virtual realm.

 

The Maker’s Mark: Adam Savage, Bernadette Banner, and the Craftspeople of the Present

Today’s culture relies heavily on mass produced goods and the seemingly endless supply of entertainment, however there are corners of the internet where easy entertainment is focused on the people who create goods that are far from convenient but are usually beautiful. Made famous by MythBusters Adam Savage is a figure that many people recognize, and he has used his MythBusters success to launch a special kind of internet career. One that has in many ways helped to draw attention to other makers who are engaged in crafts that are often overlooked. Bernadette Banner is another such individual, one who creates beautiful historical clothing, usually with the techniques and technology that would have been used throughout history. These are people who are creating beautiful objects through a fascinating combination of creativity and well-honed skills that fit into a long tradition of crafts people who are experts in how to take an idea from inspiration to completion.

Crafts don’t occur in a void and neither Banner nor Savage make it seem like it does. Consideration is often given to the source of materials and the work of the people who made or sold the materials that are being put into a given project. By acknowledging the sources of materials there is a sense of the maker within the larger community of creators and suppliers. Savage and Banner are both quite open in their admiration of other people in their field. They collaborate with other makers, talk about what they learn from watching others and sometimes engage in thoughtful disagreement over the best way to make something work. Aside from their community of those in the present, there is also acknowledgement of the history of their work. Bernadette Banner’s connection is often more obvious as she is intentionally recreating historical garments and regularly talks about the sewing writers of the past and present. However, Adam Savage will often also make nods to history, talking about how the machinery he has access to improves on older techniques or sometimes using those older techniques to enhance the finished project. While society often emphasizes singular genius, makers situated themselves in a community of expert creators.

Part of the way that makers like Adam Savage or Bernadette Banner place themselves within a community of experts is through their inclusion of their process. Videos on either of these people’s channels are rarely just showcases of completed projects. Savage’s Tested channel has a long running series of ‘one day builds’ which really do span the whole day of building while Bernadette Banner often features project diaries that track over what is often months of work. These types of videos allow both creators to showcase how they go from the research and planning stage, which usually involves consulting others in their field either in person or through textual resources. There is also a complete willingness to show when things done go according to plan as well as the problem-solving process that is done calmly and in a systematic way. There is no illusion that these makers are perfect masters of their crafts. They are experts and part of that expertise is their ability to work through mistakes or misjudgments.

These videos are at the opposite end of the spectrum to the DIY life hacks that are increasingly a part of popular culture. Hack videos and how-tos try and make a process as simple as possible and while they may be useful if you want to make a stir fry or knit a scarf they hide a lot of the hard work that the people who do this for a living put in. By showing every aspect of the creation of their work the crafts people of the internet foster an interest in how things are really made and offer a challenge to those who want to genuinely put the work in to gain the skill that goes into craft work of all kinds. The DIY world shows you how to do something while makers like Adam Savage and Bernadette Banner show the audience how they work, how creativity and process work together.

Most people no longer rely on crafts people for their day to day existence when bulk stores and mass-produced commodities are much easier to come by but there is still a level of fascination with people who make beautiful things with their hands. Even though they display their work on YouTube or other internet platforms rather than a market square, people like Bernadette Banner and Adam Savage are bringing the world of the crafts back into the modern eye. So while I may never own a hand sewn 15th century dress, or a real life Wall-E robot, by placing their work online these makers remind their audiences that there is a process of creation that is less about perfection and more about working through problems and utilizing resource to create a work that is not necessarily flawless but is none the less a masterful demonstrate of skill.