I’m guessing that a lot of you think that now – right now – is a golden age of creation. And in many ways, it is. It’s never been a better time to make art of all kinds, from video games – my own art of choice – through books to filmed entertainment and beyond.
Sure, the massive media disintermediation spawned by the Internet has spawned a golden age for creators, at least for touching audiences directly. But finding great, sometimes underappreciated art is the thing we consumers need the most help on right now – especially because there’s so much of it out there, and so much of it that can be easily accessed.
That’s why, in many ways, this is the ‘Age Of Curation’, not the age of creation. And here’s five reasons why:
1. What people value the most is their time. And many of us have ever less of it. Those dashed-off hours in between school or work and family demand a certain focus. We need to know what’s good – and not necessarily just popular – out there.
2. A few decades back, you might have one to five choices each for newspapers, radio stations, TV, or films. Now you have millions for each medium. All of your spare time could be taken up with arranging your collection, or working out what art you might want to consume – let alone getting on with enjoying it!
3. Once upon a time, your taste in art was – to a certain extent – shaped by your limited choices. Now you can go MUCH further down the rabbit hole with complete ease. For example, there’s a website purely about English-language versions of visual novel games. This – while actually fascinating – is a compilation of other sources in a niche so narrow that wider websites may not ever mention it.
4. An individual’s lens can only go so far into the minutiae before they fail to check out or appreciate the bigger picture. Having tried to manage 800+ RSS feeds, each dealing with a small but fascinating aspect of the video game biz, I can tell you – it’s massive information overload. And that’s just for one medium, and staying away from big, obvious stories/websites.
Get down too deep, and you’ve no idea what’s going on across the entire medium. And how the heck do you work out where to start? A big part of this new age of creation is that you have infinite choice, and no clear concept of where to start.
5. So what’s the fix? You need a filter. And I strongly believe that while algorithmical filters work, you need people to tell you about things you wouldn’t find that way. When I look at book suggestions on Amazon, or artist radio on Last.fm, they’re logical and basically useful – but they’re not a concatenated, cool-hunted melange that reaches out and touches your heart.
Some form of this filtration has been in shape for decades, largely in print form, of course. Music-wise, the New Musical Express in particular helped to define grunge and Britpop, and could genuinely be called tastemaking. Nowadays, we’ve got Pitchfork, and a plethora of other quietly influential wonders (I’m a particular fan of The Quietus.)
In the video game space, sites like Tiny Cartridge (for Nintendo formats), our own GameSetWatch (for alt.game oddness in general) and IndieGames (for independent games, methinks!), and the late lamented Offworld (watch this space for a Brandon Boyer-helmed spiritual sequel!) are designed to be just that – a way to find something unique. And further up the pageviews tree, even big sites like Kotaku have also amped up the cool-hunting to positive effect. (Heck, even our own Independent Games Festival is effectively curation, although of a much more time-honored type.)
The genuinely scary thing, however, is that ‘looking for the unexpected’ is not actually necessarily a good way to get heard over the clamor of the Internet. Rock papers like NME and Rolling Stone had a certain monopoly of voice that allowed them – after their rise – to be a little more avant or exploratory.
But on the Internet, growth through this tastemaking leadership takes exponentially longer and is a lot more hassle, talking Machiavellian-style. If you’re just looking for page views, most of the time you might as well publish the obvious news, quickly. Some of the greatest successes in the video game website space of the past few years, like, VG247, operate on the ‘all the news, fairly damn fast’ model – which is also perfectly valid.
And yet, it’s heartening to see that genuinely passionate, tastemaking journalism like that on RockPaperShotgun rewarded by a big audience in the game space. The ultimate vindication of this new age of curation is that reprint culture or pure bot intelligence can’t replace human-sourced recommendations, passions and suggestions.
[Having switched from creation to curation myself in my career, I often think there’s a lot more to be said about the role of the curator. Would you be interested in hearing more? If so, I may do some interviews with abstruse curators on how they find and package information for the slavering public.]