There’s also this strange, unhealthy love of sick artists not just in video games but in the wider art world; this idea that artists need to be insane or addicted or otherwise impaired to create great art. It’s not to say that those artists can’t create great art (clearly, they can) or that their art is somehow lesser, but that more often than not those self-destructive tendencies interfere with their ability to complete projects that take more than one sitting.
Eric is, apart from being a good friend, one of the better writers I know on the subject of video games as culture — and also video games as forum (as opposed to just form).
I've long wrestled with, and rejected, the idea that damage or sickness is a prerequisite of good art — that the artist needs to be a screwed-up person in order for his art to be "genuine". The most obvious problem with this formulation is how it leads us to believe the reverse: that in order to become an artist, you have to get screwed up.
Here's what I suspect the real formula is like. Real art requires that someone experience life in its fullness and in all its complexity and ambivalence. Those experiences are not always positive; not everyone comes out the other side of such things whole. But the more whole you are when you come out the other side, the better-equipped you will be to report back on what you have seen.
The notion that art is based on truth and not lies is the hoariest cliché around, and the idea that the truth can be a terrible thing is only one rung down from that. Sure, exposure to too much of the truth is like having a run-in with Cthulhu: too much at once and you're a gibbering wreck. But it's the truth, not the damage, that's most important.
All entertainment is an art form, whether or not it wants to be or has been intended to be. The best art — the most nourishing kind, the most empowering kind — is the kind that reveals truth without substituting for it a better, more seductive lie. If anything, it is at struggle with itself not to do that; it puts the tears of its temptation on display so that we might also see. Justice may ultimately prevail in Sanshō the Bailiff, but the movie is not foolish enough to believe such justice comes at no cost, or that even the prevalence of justice is by itself enough to bring grace. The Great Gatsby understands that money and power and infamy cannot provide even the simulation of the winding back of the clock or the melding-together of the pieces of broken hearts. And my reading of Alien (see how far up the pop ladder we can go?) is that the universe owes none of us a living, but that by itself is no excuse to stab each other in the back.
None of this stuff, if you ask me, requires a damaged person to be its agent. F. Scott Fitzgerald's alcoholism and breakdown were not prerequisites for his work but inhibitors of it. I suspect we're long past believing that in Fitzgerald's case, but it's tempting to trot out that delusion every time we see what looks like a good case for it. We want to believe that the real thing, the genuine thing, comes at such a cost that only a few would ever dare to pay it. And yes, only a few would indeed ever dare to pay it, but not because of the damage, but rather because of the responsibility to do right by what they know. If that counts as damage, then we're worse off than I thought. Let's not conflate more issues than we absoutely have to.