the pollyannappreciation principleramble

June 6, 2008

In a Gamer's Quarter thread, jjsimpso was talking about the use of numeric scores in game reviews. He refered to an older "games studies" dichotomy between "narrativists" (who place video games in a tradition of storytelling) and "ludologists" (who place video games more in the tradition of other forms of gaming... I guess the term is related to a Greek word for "play" and the similarity to "luddites" is just an unfortunate coincidence.)

jjsimpso proposes a two-score system to match this dualistic line of thinking, L-scores (for the mechanic and design) and N-scores (for the story, art, setting, etc) It immediately made me think of that passage Robin Williams' character has his student read aloud in Dead Poets' Society, allegedly from "Understanding Poetry, by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D."
To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech. Then ask two questions: One, how artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered, and two, how important is that objective. Question one rates the poem's perfection, question two rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining a poem's greatest becomes a relatively simple matter.

If the poem's score for perfection is plotted along the horizontal of a graph, and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron may score high on the vertical, but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great.
The movie uses this passage has a strawman to be knocked down, that poetry can only legitimately be felt, not analyzed.

I guess I disagree... I think the basic concept is sound (even if exact quantification is a bit odious), but you need many more scales for it to be useful, two dimensions just aren't enough. This would bring this kind of thought into line with my idea of Multiple Intelligence Theory for Art.

Just for kicks: I say 2 dimensions isn't enough, and have previously talked about Multiple Intelligences, but don't go into detail about what they might be... (a bit of a dodge on my part!) So for fun, what do I think some should be? The Pritchardian "importance" could more or less stay, except maybe it should be "subjective importance" and "universal importance"... "artfulness" is way too simple... there's "adherence to formal structure", "comprehensibility", "subtley", "cleverness"... then there are other traits like "humor", "thought provokingness", "emotion provokingness" (I'm sure there are more succinct words for many of these)... something that takes into account the "context of the authorship" (in general a decent work written by someone in pressed circumstances is more interesting than a work of equal decency written by someone in comfortable circumstances)

In short there is a multitude of possible scales, and I think people are free to come up with a subset of all possible scales they value most highly in art appreciation. For me, the most important take-away concept is that very little art or craft is valueless, so we should always hesitate before condemning a work with too heavy a hand. I dub this thinking "the pollyannappreciation principle".

(A nascent form of this thinking led my fellow a capella singers with Tufts sQ to saddle me with the unwieldy nickname "Kirk 'c'mon guys, it wasn't THAT bad, was it?' Israel" after a particularly brutal round of poor auditionees.)

Video of the Moment
With the Celtics lovely win in game one over LA, I'm hearing more about the chant "Beat LA!". To summarize, it comes from Celtics fans the final game 1982 Eastern Conference -- where the Celtics were just about to get beat by the 76ers...

It's considered a nice bit of sportsmanship by the Boston fans (not always known for being that classy, really.) I guess too though, LA can't object to it too much, even as its used in other sports (like the SF Giants against the Dodgers) since it does paint them as the city to beat.

has basketball always been this endless parade of fouls? seems like the flow is so broken.
wikipedia's "A cappella" page, collegiate a cappella section is a seething bed of shameless plugs. A whole paragraph on South Asian? Jeesh.