A couple of weeks back there was some chatter going on around the intarwebs regarding an RPG adventure released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess that took home a well-known industry award. That adventure, Blood in the Chocolate, garnered its author – Dungeons and Donuts blogger Kiel Chenier – a Gold Ennie for Best Adventure.
My immediate response was ‘Oh god, here we go again…’ followed by some disappointment and even a little bit of anger. I had planned to write a response to the kerfluffle (such as it was) in the midst of the noise but I held off…partly because I was so damn busy but also because I didn’t want to dash something off in the midst of a pissy moment. So – I set it aside.
Then I watched this:
Bishop’s talk catalyzed the thoughts I’ve had in my head since that eruption of discontent a couple weeks back. At the time, I went after Kiel’s critics generally – and specifically landed on picking a fight with those who drop the term Edgelord into debates over content as a dismissive stroke. I’ll re-iterate: I fucking hate the term ‘Edgelord’. My chief reason is that it serves the very same purpose calling someone an SJW pejoratively does – namely to categorize someone so that their opinions or thoughts can be brushed aside without consideration.
I think there’s a huge problem with this. I think we can all agree that internet discourse is often pretty ‘bottom of the barrel’ stuff. I’m fairly certain the amount of times any such discussions have actually come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion or resulted in positive social change is vanishingly small, if not entirely non-existent. (Okay, you twat in the back row – I can already hear you heckling me with ‘Well why are you writing this, then?’ Call me an optimist, I guess.) In any event – despite the already terrible quality of online chatter…why do people insist on shitting it up with decidedly witless title-slinging? I suspect for some it’s a means of self-elevation. Defining oneself by what one is not is pretty low-hanging fruit from a polemic standpoint. It’s just another means of turning someone you don’t like into a distasteful ‘other’ which can then be dismissed out of hand. Real clever work, there. Honestly – whenever I see someone using ‘Edgelord’ or ‘SJW’ to demean someone I immediately start to question everything else they say – mainly because, by some weird form of mental jiu-jitsu, in seeking to define someone else they’ve mostly succeeded in defining themselves. Funny how that works.
Anyway, to the larger point at hand.
It’s all context, isn’t it? Some time ago I wrote a thing about Pasolini’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom – easily one of the more unpleasant film experiences one is likely to find. Clocking in at just under two-and-a-half hours, Salo is essentially wall-to-wall footage of children being sexually abused and murdered. (Lest you think Pasolini’s film is not nearly dark enough, try reading the book sometime…trust me…Pasolini lets you off light.) Naturally, the film has been dismissed by many since it’s 1975 release as sadistic trash, unworthy of serious consideration as art. Of course – the opposite is true. And the reason for this is context.
Pasolini’s film, as abhorrent as the content is, is a commentary on fascism – and more specifically at the fascist creeps who served in Italy’s government at the time. And no – these weren’t garden-variety right-wingers who stylized themselves as fascists – these were actual fascists who served in the Mussolini regime during World War II and who had managed to hang onto power for the next three decades. Pasolini’s film was a grand ‘fuck you’ to the monsters who were untouchable by any other means.
While I won’t claim that the gaming industry has yet produced a work under a similar creative atmosphere, I think the overall takeaway here is that all art is created under some kind of context, and that if we dismiss things out of hand because we find them repulsive or offensive we often miss the finer points.
I want to make myself clear at this point. I am not in any way saying that people shouldn’t criticize things. God knows, I’ve gone on record many times voicing my attitude that we don’t criticize things enough. But I think the means by which we discuss creative works is stunted and counterproductive.
Allow me to circle back to that ‘Edgelord’ thing for a moment. ‘Edgelord’ is often used to dismiss people who produce or promote work for the sake of being dark or edgy. I won’t say that there is no single person who does so, but I think such people are few and far between. The fact is – yes, there are people who by their nature produce work that is ‘let’s set it out on the coffee table for grandma to look at when she comes over for tea’. But most of those people do so for a reason, even if that reason is self-satisfaction.
I tend to be such a person. For years I never really gave much thought to why my mind drifted towards the consumption and production of work that many might find objectionable. Two years ago I had a nervous breakdown, however, and in the midst of this state I began to examine my own thoughts a bit more closely. As I did so I came across a book, a slim academic work entitled ‘The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness‘. In this work, author Stanton Marlan has quite a bit to say about the dark side of creativity and why people choose to examine it.
In short, many people use art to deal with inner trauma or pain. Indeed, some of this art is uplifting and joyous, but others see it more as an exorcism – a means of sorting out one’s inner inventory of bad shit. Sometimes people don’t really understand that this is why they do it. Certainly for me that was the case for many years. Clearly this is but one reason of many possible reasons for the creation of so called ‘edgy’ works (clearly Pasolini had other things in mind) but I know for myself this is definitely part of my desire to wallow in dark, violent imagery.
While I was recovering from my breakdown I embarked on a series of interviews about depression with other game designers and found that many (not all, but many) of them shared my same thoughts and ideas about depression and darkness and its’ relation to art. The fact is – not everyone who produces this kind of work is dealing with trauma or depression, but some do…and that’s enough for me to ask some simple questions when faced with this stuff. Why does it exist? What is the writer or artist’s intent? What are they trying to say?
I’m well aware that many people find certain themes and content personally disturbing – often because they have trauma or issues of their own that are exacerbated by engaging with this kind of work. On the other hand there are people like myself who are soothed by it in some weird fashion. Everyone deals with this stuff in a different manner and I think that’s great – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You know, Kiel was one of the people I interviewed for my blog. I got to know him not as some faceless person on the internet or a name on a byline in some game product – but as a person. He was very gracious and candid and I like to think that our chat gave me some insight into why he wrote Blood and Chocolate…why some of that content is in there and what it means to him. When I see people taking him to task over it, and making judgements of character based on that work…it frustrates me. Because I see people dismissing something out of hand without taking the time and effort to understand why it exists. Instead, Kiel is dismissed as an ‘Edgelord’ for no good reason.
I’ve never met Kiel in person, but I like to think I have a good sense of who he is. I don’t think anything in this adventure was written out of spite or because Kiel is some kind of closet miscreant. And if this is true of Kiel, I imagine it’s true of most of the people whose work I see.
Do the work, people. Don’t read some bullshit post on SomethingAwful and run with it. If you feel compelled to say something about the work online, do the author a favor and read it. And if you feel something bothers you about it – do the decent thing and just ask them. Engage with them instead of spreading some bullshit about them on someone else’s say-so. If you still feel it’s something you don’t like, then by all means – have at it. Speak your mind. But at least you’ll have done the legwork instead of becoming someone else’s mouthpiece.