Sense in the User-Created Divide

I’ve been following a thread over on Raph Koster’s blog (Link) that I wanted to call out.

The topic is user-created content.

The title of the post is “Quit being snobby about user-created content“.

You get the picture.

And I figure many of you can already see the battle lines. This debate isn’t new – neither for videogame developers nor many others. I can imagine craftsmen in the 19th century having a similar argument about mass industrially-produced product. I recall graphic designers in the 1980’s debating and expressing concerns regarding their own profession as desktop publishing came on the scene and empowered the masses. Same thing.

Early on I posted a short and admittedly pretty worthless contribution to that discussion on Raph’s blog. Since then I’ve restrained myself because, frankly, I’ve gotten tired of this debate and didn’t have anything worth saying. Well… not so tired I didn’t occasionally peek in to see how it was going. And now I can be glad I did take the time to at least do that.

Andy Haven has posted (Link) what I think is the best comment on the thread and one of the better one’s I’ve read recently. It helps a little (kinda) if you read all the junk the rest of us posted before him, but if you only have time to read his observation it’s worth it:

I just read all 53 comments, and find it hard to believe that in a crowd of gamers, we’re talking about the quality of the content and/or the “talent index” as if that’s the most important thing. Perhaps it’s because of the words chosen: “User created content” puts the emphasis on the “stuff;” the content. It makes us think about the quality of the stuff (is that a prett virtual pony? no….) and, therefore, the talent/skill, time, effort, etc. of amateurs vs. pros or however you want to classify it.

The quality of the content does not matter. Period. Forget the noun (content) and recall that games are about verbs. “Users creating content,” or “creation enabled” or “user modifiable” (or something more verb-y) if defined as a feature of a virtual space is, I think, much more easily understood to be something very, very different than unmodifiable, professionally developed spaces. Not better, but different. And not different by dint of the quality of the “stuff,” but by the quality of being able to “do something creator-ish.”

I don’t care that you can’t draw, Richard. If I put you in a room with blank paper and crayons and a bunch of books w/ pictures and told you, “Play,” I bet you’d do *something* with the paper/crayons vs. reading the books. Maybe you’d use them to play hangman. Or to write prose in green. Or to play another game with another person in the room. The “thing” you create doesn’t matter; your ability to choose to participate in a creative context vs. a passive, audience context is what constitutes an entirely different/additional level of play.

Let’s try this on for size. Game XYZ features user-generated high-scores. Uh… duh. Game ABC features user-generated combat. As opposed to… watching NPC’s bash each other? Hooray!

More verbs is better in many, many cases. We are all adept at filtering what we don’t want. Your crap is my bling. Now, I’m not saying I don’t want good design management and/or UI that works to help me enjoy a space properly. But that has zero to do with who does the creating. Unless I miss my guess, everyone in this room has played dozens, if not HUNDREDS, of really, really bad professionally created games. So? If the pros have the “right” to create crap for money, everyone should have the right to create crap for love, glory, masturbation, etc.

It’s not the pile of blocks that matters. It’s the building. It’s not the quality of the drawing that matters, it’s the fun of making marks.

User creativity in games. Forget the content quality. The world is too big and too many people have too much spare time (especially in this space) to argue for quality standards. Designers, yes, will often produce “a thing” that more people find interesting, fun, attractive. But users now often find the ability to produce their own crap much more stimulating than monkeying about with something handed down from above.

Playing is fun. Scores are a side-product. Creating is fun. The content is a side-product. Create = play.

Some day, when fabbing takes off, Industrial Design professionals will be having similarly heated debates (right now the one’s I’ve come across are still mostly luke warm).

When they do, I expect I’ll be reading this again. And maybe by then I’ll have posted something linking his point that “games are about verbs” with my earlier assertion that “design is a verb“.