Why it hurts to be an artist

Quite a while ago when giving lectures in narrative construction even though it was early in the morning my students were already there looking like they hadn’t slept and with their arms folded over their chests. With a defiant look in their eyes, they declared, “We won’t do this”.

The course I was giving was one of those fantastic moments when I got the opportunity to teach narrative construction for interactive media and where the students, that were studying screenwriting (film), had voluntarily signed up for the course. The assignment I had given the students was to role-play in “World of Warcraft” (an online game) as I wanted them to get a sense of the context and with what frequency one had to communicate in order to get the players´ attention. It was also a chance for the students to explore their skills in creating characters and writing dialogues and where “World of Warcraft” was a great tool from where one could get immediate response to the creation, compared to the time it normally takes before a film or a game hits the market, and where it didn’t matter if it didn’t work as one could start all over again with a new creation. This I explained again thoroughly to my students when one of them declared, “We are not doing this. We are artists!” It was then it just slipped out of my mouth, “It hurts to create”, and without saying a word the students went back to work and completed the assignment.

I never stopped thinking about what happened where I after a while could see a pattern in other students´ behaviours that after the first lecture and when getting to work (hands-on) someone was getting mad at me. And when the occurrence almost became sadness to me knowing that after the “honeymoon” some of the students would get frustrated in some or another way, I decided to find out what cognitively happened to us. It was then I should find the answers to many of my questions that also relates to my profession as a narrative constructor, which explains why I consistently refer in my texts to the cognitive process of learning and understanding; as what we experience as hurting or put us in an anxious mood is the fact that we don´t like to not understand and therefore we like to come to a conclusion very quickly as to lower the anxiety and not having to strain the thinking.

I like to thank all students that I have met through the years for helping me understand a little bit more and if you are still mad at me it´s okay as I now know why it hurts to be an artist. But what I truly wanted to tell but never got a chance because narrative construction is not a part of the programs within game studies and human-computer interaction is how to prevail the doubts and uncertainty that afflict the mind when working on projects for several years. It is then you shall stay by the beliefs that if the head hurt badly during the development of the concept, then you have done your best. And that is more than enough because others tend to stop much earlier.

Here is an interview with the designer Fumito Ueda who tells about how he stayed motivated during nine years developing the game “The last guardian”.

Katarina Gyllenbäck

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