Embrace the Fog of War

In 4x and several top-down view games, in general, you can only see the area you’ve explored around you. It gets wider and more complete the more you move around, building and searching.

Art’s like that. You start with the barest notion of what you’re going to end up with. You’re creating a new world with a new map, and it can be a little scary and not a little confusing.

But just as we trust in the game designers to allow few if any dead ends and disconnected areas, we trust our selves to uncover the patterns and the countryside of the piece we’re working on.

We discover the map in the process of creating, and if we open up to the discovery, it’s an exciting journey. An exciting game.

Five Card Mario

John Green did a thoughtful Anthropocene Reviewed segment about the comparison of Mario Kart to life, musing over whether it’s more akin to “poker than chess,” and how that relates to “real life”—that is to say, the non-gaming part of existence. It set me thinking about not only the aptness of his parallel, but of what we both want and need from our games. The two things might be not both be compatible or possible.

Turning to Circles

The most valuable thing about an MFA—master of fine arts, just in case you’re reading this as a non-initiate/academic know-it-all—for most grads isn’t the time spent feverishly creating a cohesive body of work that is the culmination of your knowledge and insight and skill so far. It’s the network of fellow artists and future curators around you while you do it. That may be worth a few tens of thousands if you’re a genius and getting recognized for it. But for the rest of us, feeling like most trips to the canvas, computer, pad, or instrument is a baffling slog where even you don’t understand what it all means and where it’s going, it’s about the connections.

We need each other. But it isn’t just the social imperative, we help each other accomplish things in the world, sometimes without even meaning to. Most of the jobs I’ve fallen into over the years have been through knowing someone who already works there, or is close to someone else who does. Your work gets seen or heard more often because you’ve made connections with someone who has a space to show or who knows you and what you do. It’s important and fruitful to cultivate your friendships and contacts like a garden. (Resisting the urge here to write some piffle about weeding—let’s focus on the affirmative.)

Go for the scholarships, if you’re into the school schema. I certainly am by nature. But it isn’t the only path, and the lessons we can learn from what surrounds the art school paradigm can apply to us whether we get into Yale or not.

Meet enough people and show them what you do and something bigger will happen. It’s like a math postulate. Never mind that sometimes the thing is small. There’s still an element of luck in the universe, no denying. It’s just that it’s a lot easier to roll the dice when you’re at the table with some fellow gamers who’ve brought bags of them.

Always a Whole New World

I used to play a lot of Minecraft. Or, rather, I played it for extended periods when I fired it up. I played vanilla (for the uninitiated, “vanilla” means the unmodified, straight-out-of-the-download-folder version), with texture packs, mod packs, and custom DIY mods I threw together. One of the first things I did when I got an iPad was download the mobile version and play a half-hour of it.

And really that’s all I needed.

The first day and night cycle in Minecraft is compelling in the same way as a blank canvas or page. Everything is new, you have a whole world to explore and build. If you want. Or not. You can do absolutely nothing, just wander around, watch the sun arc over you, splash in the water, head south.

As you walk, break things, add bits here and there, the world is changed, new possibilities and vistas are created as you move to the edges of what you’ve seen and what you’ve made.

Even if I never go very far beyond that first day. the hidden and limitless possibilities ingrained in a fresh world—a fresh game—are intoxicating. The cool thing is that it’s always there, waiting.

You can always start again.