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boxing technocrat, angry technocrat, shrewd technocrat
Why Holmes again? Why now? Aside from the obvious (Guy Ritchie just did it and it made money, Benedict Cumberbatch just did it and it made money, Holmes is in the public domain) I think there's a deeper reason that, in 2014, people want to see Sherlock Holmes and want to see problems solved in a Sherlock Holmes way and with Sherlock Holmes mannerisms.
Basically, I think, if you ask most people what things have gotten better during their lifetime, they're gonna name technological things. Dial-up sucked. The entire universe on your phone is an undeniable advance over World Book. On a shallow scan: tech and know-how has, overall, done right by us. Or at least undeniably done something.
On the same shallow scan of the last decade or so: Few people would name recent improvements in creative fields or the way we see the world. Other than attitudes toward gay rights, there are very few recent ideological victories anyone can point to. Other than HBO and maybe stand-up comedy, few people would seriously make the argument anything in the arts is getting, on a mass scale, better.
As for ideology making things worse? Well we see that everywhere--9/11, Guantanamo Bay--it isn't hard for people to point to recent examples of Visionaries Fucking Us Clean Up.
Which is all to say that right now what people want isn't a visionary, it's a technocrat. It's not someone with new ideas about what to do--it's someone who'll do what we all know needs to be done correctly.
It was not always like this: there are times when the zeitgeist is seized by excitement with it's own newness and has an optimism about experimentation. These are times when people are ok with Han Solo being wrong half the time--he's Han fucking Solo.
I think this is one reason Obama won: he presented the competition as pre-eminently incompetent rather than moved by the wrong impulses, despite Hope and Change, he most often presented himself as the adult in the room. He out-adulted the competition on both sides. He wasn't gonna get mad and take a country off the map--this comforted people.
The Avengers has a telling back-and-forth between Captain America (a pre-eminent ideological hero) and Iron Man (a technocrat par excellence):
Cap: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?
Iron Man: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
Cap: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I've seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You're not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
Iron Man: I think I would just cut the wire.
Iron Man might as well have just said "Fuck you, I'm the IT guy". Iron Man doesn't have to be brave or noble or self-sacrificing because fuck it--you need him.
And the film bears it out, really: regardless of what the movie textually says the filmmakers and the audience clearly believe way more in the presentation of Iron Man than in the presentation of Cap.
Now Captain America would be a hard sell in any year after about 1950 but the movie's other ideological hero, Thor, comes off equally poorly-served.
The ideological heroes--the ones who make speeches about being good--are given lame plasticky costumes and only a few good lines and are kind of played for laughs. The characters who, noble or otherwise, are just overwhelmingly competent--Iron Man, Black Widow and the Hulk ("I have an army""We have a Hulk")--get cool costumes and believable things to say. 2014 believes and wants to believe way more in competence than in belief.
Look at Jackson's Rings movies--Jackson summons the terrifying, charismatic competence of Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas and the dwarves far more effectively than he manages to make the Hobbits' nobility and doing-the-right-thingness convincing. Sam's "The people in those tales never gave up" speech at the end of Two Towers is excruciating.
Ideological heroes aren't all naive goody-goodies, of course. Wolverine may the best at what he does but he's also pre-eminently ideological--he is defined by his willingness to play dirty. Put Wolverine and Captain America in a room in the comics and you get a clash of ideas every time. Put Iron Man and Hulk in a room and you get a clash of techniques.
People are well sick of ideas. They just want the goddamn file to print.
A technocrat is not emotionless--or at least the technocratic hero isn't. The pre-eminent technocratic hero emotion is scorn. "You had one job."
Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes hates everyone dumber than him soooooo much. And so do we--because it's their fault this murder isn't solved yet.
It's probably no coincidence that technocratic scorn is also an emotion everyone on the internet gets to feel dozens of times a day. Here's a fine example:
There's nothing wrong with a technocratic solution--the problem is when what's a creative or ideological choice is framed as one in the overwhelming rush to just get the goddamn file to print. "10 Ways To Fix America".
Whiiiiiiich all brings us around to games…
…people--especially technical people--desperately want technocratic (ideology-free, choice-free, creative-vision-free) solutions. "Broken game""unprofessional""oh god, the passive voice again""doing it wrong".
Here's some technocratic advice from one of indie RPGing's most well-regarded and bad designers:
Do you have any suggestions for people wanting to layout their smaller games?
Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Find layouts that you like and studiously reproduce them. I don't mean steal the actual art, of course. I mean, measure the text boxes, page proportions, type sizes, etc. and use them yourself. Page layout is a craft, like building a bookcase. Study the canons and classic methods and copy the masters, like an apprentice carpenter. ...Graphic design and layout are deep, complex art forms. They're worth learning, for sure, but don't expect to pick them up quickly or easily. Whenever I see someone online ask "How can I learn to do layout and design for my game?" I translate it to "How can I learn to compose a symphony?" It's just as vast a question, with no simple answers, just hard work.
Here's some advice from me: Reinvent the wheel. Totally ignore how everybody else did it--they aren't giving people your game. Games need a totally specific presentation and graphic design and every RPG ever has pretty much fucked that up. There are no masters in this field at all. So caveman together some fucked-up folk art layout that you think might serve whatever you're doing. Have a vision and go for it. It can't be worse than what people are already doing and it'll be fun. You might even win an award--we did.
Sherlock Holmes can solve a murder technocratically because there really is a right and wrong answer. You catch the villain or you don't.
And art isn't that kind of problem-solving and writing isn't that kind of problem-solving and, after a certain point, RPGs aren't like that.
After a certain point, a thing can't simply be well-designed. It needs to pick a direction and an audience and it has to pick the compromises it is and isn't willing to live with.
I will trade having to talk about the rules once in a while for speed of access. Some people won't. We need different games. There isn't a technocratic way to determine which of these solutions is more right. We aren't solving a murder, we're entertaining people at our house.
Designing an RPG is more like throwing a party than it is like anything else: There are parts of that which require mere competence, but there are many that require vision. Imagine a version of perfection, imagine who would enjoy it, and then design at that.
There are gamer communities who really really do not want to believe this--they have a Cult of Competence and think that with enough playtesting or enough designing or enough arguing they can somehow make The Game That Will Be Undeniably Best or, at least, better than the games that were produced without all this wrangling and sitting at the feet of the masters.
And if all else fails, there's the appeal to capitalism. The best game is the one that makes the most money, right? That's, at least, a nice, technocratic way to keep score. Unfortunately if popularity and money made a game good then all RPGs are worse than 80s D&D and Vampire and other obviously broken games and all RPGs are worse than Farmville.
But these nerds fucking love their Technocratic Scorn. They need something to cling to that's as solid and objective as the fact Miley used the wrong "they're".
The biggest mystery is these technocrats never seem to produce games that don't suck on butts. You'd think that all those chops would at least have some payoff especially when the RPG field is chock full of high-profile obvious technical mistakes anybody can point to. You'd think that ten years of arguing and theorizing about games might make the resulting games more effective overall than some random thing some GM wrote--but it never is.
Technical chops need to be employed by someone who knows what they're for: a means to an end. And they need to know that end is special, particular, eccentric to them and has no guarantee of being universally popular.
If you're designing a game, what you're doing is making something creative. And if you don't go at it as more than a problem to be solved it will suck and your game will be stupid. Aiming for money is dumb, aiming for popularity is dumb, believing enough Game Brainery will achieve either is dumb and basically fuck you and all your Steve Vai records.