2019-05-24 Tyranny of Excellence

Paul Beakley wrote a thing about Story Games and the Tyranny of Excellence but what spoke to me was this (emphasis mine):

The big revelation to me is that inclusion and acceptance is more explicitly valued in many OSR spaces than storygaming spaces, sometimes at the expense of demanding excellence.

It reminded me of the early days of the One Page Dungeon Contest. Back in 2009 I wrote on my blog:

Essentially I like a healthy mix of adventures I think of myself and professionally produced adventures. But when it comes to my own stuff, I’m never quite sure with what to compare it to. Should I aspire to write as the pros? I don’t think that would be time well spent. The One Page Dungeon Contest gives me the opportunity to compare my work with ordinary DMs from all over the world. I can learn from the successes and failures from others. That’s why I hope that the contest submissions will remain a crazy mix of things. I don’t want a contest dominated by Wolfgang Baur, Monte Cook, Eric Mona, Nicolas Logue and other people in their league. I want to compare my entry with authors in my league.

I want to get back to that sharing of amateur stuff. I want to get back to sharing stuff for free on the blogs. I don’t mind people having Patreons and Kickstarters and doing beautiful, massive, mesmerizing things. I sometimes buy this stuff, too. But I also want to see people who prep games like I do. Who draw maps that are too small, notes that can barely be read, like I do. Who have games nearly fall apart and pull through, barely manage their time or can hardly prep their game, like I do.

Paul Beakley again, same blog post:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” And boy did that fuck up my approach to recreation. Demanding constant iterative improvement in yourself and others is uhh…not always recreational.

I have a similar reaction when I see people trying to monetize their gaming. The blog is also asking for money, the stuff we make needs art, the Twitch channel or the YouTube channel is monetized, there are stars that monetize this and that, and I wonder: it sounds like work, not like play. This constant hustling is alienating.

I’m not poor, so I don’t know anything about the realities of hustling. But it seems to me that if you’re poor, you need to work and make money. But for the love all the things you love, don’t turn the thing you love into a hustle. Flip burgers or something. Keep work and play separate. Don’t turn your game into a poorly paid job.

At the end, Paul Beakley talks about the tradition of valuing excellence:

I mean, striving and improving can be good! I would never suggest anyone stop trying. Rather, let’s remember there are considerations in addition to chasing down a narrowly defined form of excellence.

A similar thought underpinned two decisions I made when I was running the One Page Dungeon Contest.

  1. Let’s distribute prizes as widely as possible. Everybody wins! Every earnest submission is a win for all of us. The barrier for winning a prize is low: making the effort to write something up and sharing it is worth a prize.
  2. Let’s not use fixed categories or “best overall”. Let’s just assign tags and categories as we read through the entries and then see whether they form clusters and just use those. There is more than one axis of excellence!



(psst it’s Beakley not Beakly)

– Aaron Griffin 2019-05-24 23:21 UTC

For me, it’s also worth considering the evaluative criteria. Not everything needs to be a polished product, or even shared at all, to be excellent. There’s a particular kind of excellence in the practice of play itself, which is inherently transient.

Brendan 2019-05-24 23:59 UTC

Not to disparage those who make wonderful things worth money, but, amen...

Michael Julius 2019-05-25 00:43 UTC

Thanks, Aaron!

I totally agree with you, Brendan, regarding the multiple dimensions of excellence. I think this is what Paul assumes: that within a certain group, ideas of excellence vary. As a lot of the story gaming community talk online appears to be focused on publishing (as seen from my outsider point of view), that narrows it down significantly. The group of people I seem to connect to is often talking about smaller snippets, too: a random table, a bunch of spells, a house rule, a technique or procedure – smaller things with a wider range of quality criteria (at least from where I am standing).

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-25 04:57 UTC

Continued: 2019-05-26 The Quality of Capitalism.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-26 19:44 UTC

I still don’t understand the appeal of watching other people play a TTPRG. At least for a whole campaign. I have watched a couple one shots just to see how a game actually plays, or to better understand a game system (or both, like Legends of Wulin). Trying to make a living doing that is just beyond me. I purposefully avoid working with things that I love as a hobby, so i don’t ruin that love. I work to live, I can’t imagine living to work which is what gaming for profit would feel like.

– David Rybacki 2019-05-28 23:59 UTC

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