Body of Knowledge

I’ve been thinking about ideas and about plagiarism. The concept of stealing ideas is a bit of a tricky one, since it conceives of ideas as having a single origin point, or of being discrete and quantifiable things – but so much of the life-cycle ideas is of them being misinterpreted, reinterpreted, hazily remembered, recombined, turned into new ideas. I have not plagiarized and have no intention to, no one has ever accused me and I hope no one ever will, but I’m sure that some bits and pieces of other ideas which have originated elsewhere have found their way into my work. How could they not?

There’s so many ways for this to go wrong and I have honestly zero idea how to approach this as a problem. People should get credit for their work, but also it should be possible to accumulate knowledge without strenuously and probably erroneously tracking the source for every tidbit we happen to pick up. I can see the endpoints of both sides of this chain of logic though, and neither is satisfactory: Either we regard everything that goes on in our minds as wholly our own, and the credit and benefit of all ideation goes to the highest profile person to convincingly present those ideas, or we regard everything that goes on in our minds as coming from elsewhere, at which point presentation of ideas stagnates as everyone is certain that their ideas must have been presented elsewhere and better before. I feel like I’ve been on both sides of this, and found both deeply unsatisfactory.

Fortunately we are not restrained to only the extremes of every possible divide. There’s probably a few guidelines worth following here:

  1. If you know an idea came from elsewhere, give credit. If you’re not sure and it’s searchable, do a search. If you’re not sure and don’t find anything, but someone points it out later, update to give credit.

  2. Independent discovery happens all the time, but there’s no reason not to give someone credit if they happen to come up with the same idea. Go ahead and link to their work as further reading if it comes to your attention later.

  3. Try to add something new. Personally this is always my goal when writing, but it’s a worthy goal as well to just seek to share knowledge – a fact I sometimes forget to my detriment. If you’re just sharing knowledge, though, try to share some of the context where you got that knowledge as well – context is everything, and sometimes this context will make it easier to give credit where it’s due, especially when that credit is experience gained as part of a community or culture. It will also, incidentally, probably make the knowledge more useful.

  4. Boost the voices of others when they say something that you feel is worthwhile. Giving credit for the ideas that inspire you is great when it comes to the piece that has been inspired, but maybe even better if you do it every day.

When it comes to that last point I feel rather remiss. I think I feel hesitant to try to boost other peoples voices because I usually feel that I don’t have much voice of my own, and that it feels weirdly presumptuous to do so, but I definitely should get over it. In the spirit of trying to do better, here’s a few voices that I think have had a particular influence on me:

This current reflection, in particular, I started writing as a consideration of Liz Ryerson‘s recent thoughts on the economy of ideas in games writing. She’s a particularly incisive voice in critique around games culture, though she’s now distanced herself from that scene. Also I think her game Problem Attic is quite interesting, particularly in how it harnesses the mechanics of glitchiness into metaphor and has likely inspired several of my pieces.

A lot of the original inspiration for starting a blog to talk about game design came from the lectures of Jon Blow – though I often disagree with his perspective nowadays, I still feel his critiques of mainstream game design were interesting and edifying. Unfortunately I unfollowed his Twitter feed after his unimpressive and unnecessary response to the Google memo shit show, but I can’t deny that his ideas have greatly influenced my own.

I was also inspired to begin this blog by the insightful and hilarious discussions on the Idle Thumbs Podcast, where the experience of playing games is taken apart, put back together again, and extrapolated out into absurd scenarios exploring why we love ridiculous video game bullshit.

There’s probably more I should put here, but I don’t expect to solve this all at once. I’ll just try to boost more voices in the future – and, perhaps, the first step in doing that is to believe that my own voice can be heard.

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