Friday, 12 September 2014

Cross-Pollination: Friendship and Creativity in Arts and Criticism

I recently had a Twitter conversation about the ridiculous demand that critics and artists shouldn't be friends, or that these friendships should be reported, scrutinized, shamed and generally treated as somehow unethical. Unsurprisingly, this brief conversation took place in the context of the ongoing campaigns of harassment largely directed at female game developers and critics. A great deal of incisive and excellent analysis of this parade of hatred masquerading as concerns about ethics has already been done so I won't attempt to add to that body of work.

However, I'd like to talk about friendship.

I was particularly struck during the exchange by the reminder that some have claimed that friendship between artists and critics (or artists and artists, journalists and academics, et cetera) is wrong, that it is some kind of breach of integrity.

Don't make connections, some individuals have said, don't be friends with each other. If you must have a friendship, treat it as a moral lapse. Be alone. Feel alone. Feel alone and all the more vulnerable to the harassment we are aiming at you.

Friendships come in a staggering range of types with so many areas of overlap that 'types' isn't really the right word at all. The sheer variety of the positive human connections possible when people like each other is astounding. There are so many ways to like and love, to be liked and to be loved. And they are deeply powerful.

The things that have really changed me for the better in my life have consistently been my shared affections with other people. And while not everyone necessarily finds friendship so important and transformative, many do. For some of us, our friendships (in all their variety, with partners and family members and chums) have kept us alive.  To devalue that, to attempt todefine it as something wrong shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of affection. Friendship is not cronyism or collusion. Friendship is the extending of care and respect to others that sometimes we can't muster for ourselves. It is often the best of us, shared with the people we care about.

And friendship is powerfully creative. Friendships are to creativity what pollinators are to flowers. When you positively engage with someone, when you know someone this way, you share ideas, inspirations and challenges.  You open like the petals of a flower. You make new things out of what your friendships give you, or sometimes what they take away (friendships aren't perfect). A comment from a partner inspires a game. A concern about a friend prompts a blog post. Friendships enhance our creative output. To demonize friendships is an attack on not just the personal health of the people who take strength from them, but it is an attack on creativity.

And while creativity is pretty much everywhere, in areas like game development and game criticism, creativity is absolutely essential. The demand that you stop connecting with other people in your field or that you must view your relationships through a lens of shame is an attempt to hold you and your creativity hostage.

So, here's my pitch. Make more friends in gaming. Cultivate  more positive connections. Be proud of your friendships, whatever form they take. Explore the possibilities of shared affection by engaging with people you admire and people who admire you. Find strength and inspiration in your connections. Give it right back to the people you care about.

Make art. Make essays. Show them to your friends.

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