The Two Creative Revolutions: One Continues

We’re experiencing a creative revolution. Self-publishing technology, POD, and word processors lets one make a novel or comic alone (though hopefully one is social enough to get an editor). A lone game designer or a small crew can make a quality game with common libraries and engines. CGI allows a film like “Manborg” to be made cheaply and efficiently.

This does not mean this explosion of work is one of quality, but it is historically noteworthy. The power to get creative work out and available is accessible by a much wider audience than in the past. To judge by the wok out there, many people are willing to take advantage of this power.

Again, we may complain about a lack of quality, but we’re not lacking for quantity, even if we may wish we were.

We have a revolution in creativity-empowering tools, but that’s not the only revolution. There’s another change that’s gone on, eclipsed by the tools. This shadow revolution, this parallel change, is the idea that all of us can be authors and coders and artists.

There’s been a revolution in our narratives about ourselves.

The Narrative Of The Creative

If you give someone the tools, they’re just tools. You have to give them an idea of how to use them, or even tell them that they can use them. They may, simply, not have using those tools as part of their identity – think how many people think “they can’t do math” as part of their identity.

It’s the same with creative tools. Even available, people may not even think hey can or should use them. Those of us who were alive before this broadened availability of publishing tools and the like (such as me) remember when being a novelist or a game developer was a pipe dream at best. There was a dream, but not the narrative, not the idea you could do it, or a path too it.

But that’s been changing over the decades.

Dungeon And Dragons seems old hat now – literally old in many cases. For its time it was revolutionary, but it’s easy to forget what was revolutionary was the idea. Dungeons and Dragons said you can make a world, you can create, and gave you a way to build a story. DUugeons and Dragons wasn’t a game, it was an operating system and coding instructions, and it said “here you go, you can go wild.”

I imagine many an author and game creator was inspired by D&D and it’s children and clones and siblings.

The ‘zine revolution was another narrative revolution. There were enough tools for people to start self-publishing on a small scale compared to today, and folks went wild. I remember when it seemed everyone was suddenly running a newsletter as I thumbed through Factsheet Five or looked at APAs. I recall the rush of “hey, I can do this.”

The rush of the narrative of “I can.”

Le’ts talk fanfic.  How may authors started writing with fanfic? How many will admit it (hint: a lesser percentage than those that started with it). I recall the explosion of fanfic across the internet as people realized “I can do this” and did it. Yes, what they did may have involved Cloud Strife battling Alucard with Pokemon, but they did it and it became part of their identity.

Tools are useless without the narrative, the story, the idea that you can use this tool to make something. Without the idea to use it, a tool is just a tool. With a narrative, the use of the too becomes part of your ientity and you apply yourself.

The tool is one revolutiion. The narrative the other.

The narrative that “you too can create” is more revolutionary than the tool in many respects. The tool is a construct, a feat of engineering, building on science and technology. It is an ‘evolutionary revolution.’ The Narrative changes what people are, it re-invents them, and lets them re-invent themselves, it’s a revolutionary evolution.

However, our tools are far more mature than the narrative of what to do with them.  That leads to the oft-expressed problem that we may be making a lot of stuff, but some of it isn’t good.

Tools Our Invented, We’re A Work In Progress

Several creatives I know will confess, with  a heavy heart, they’re a bit disillusioned with the creativity of what’s being made. Sure, the repetitive movies and unoriginal TV shows are one thing. But they’re also concerned about the people using new creative tools to do uncreative things, independent creativity used to make unoriginal media.

More Space Marines and Vampires. Derivative pseudo-hip B-movies. Retro games to be sold only because they play to nostolgia. I’m sure you’ve heard people complain about Amazon Authors or Yet Another Cheap Indie Game or whatever. You may be even one to complain.

We’ve got the tools, but what are we using them for?

The thing is, we’re still building a better narrative on what to do with this. We have the tools, but we’re still building a new idea of what a creative person is.

In fact, what we seem to be is a reflection of commercialism.

Our Current Role Models Are The Gatekeepers

Whenever I hear criticism of a lot of hopeful creatives using the new tools, its that they’re doing the same thing big publishing houses are doing; repetitive, derivative, pandering media.  There’s only so much Not Twilight, Not Warhammer 40K, Not Lord Of The Rings people want.

People are following the narrative of “do what sells” or “do this thing everyone is doing.” In short, they’re following an identity set by many other authors and big publishers that is “play it safe do what’s popular this way.” Their identity is forged by imitating the former gatekeepers.

People have a partially revolutionary personal narrative (“I too can create”) but what they do with it is to be like everyone else far too often.

Can you blame them? The tools are now – the narrative is even less formed..

The Next Revolution Is In Us

What’s needed to complete the revolution in the tools is to build a new narrative on what to do with these tools. What is the role of creativity in people’s lives? How can someone use these tools in a variety of fulfilling ways, not vaguely trying to be JK Rowling #2 or Generic Youtube Personality 257?

I’m not quite sure I have an answer, but this is what’s come to mind:

  • We can define our own creative identities and ask who we are. Having our heads together lets us guide others.
  • We should team up with our fellow creatives using the “revolutionary tools” to discuss these issues. We can learn from each other.
  • We should mentor others. If we can’t give them a narrative, but we can coach them into finding one or developing one.
  • We should ask what the role of creativity is for us and our culture.
  • We can shut up about lousy work except when relevant. There’s only so much complaining gets you.

What do you think?


– Steven Savage