Sign Your Work
I’ve been giving some time this morning to thinking about how artists sign their work due in part to my reading of a chapter in the book The Methodologies of Art by Laurie Schneider Adams, and, at a meta level, it is also related to a thesis I’m formulating. The chapter in question deals with autobiography, and, among other things, the way in which authors appear in their works. I am curious to hear what you have to say, and the ways in which you have signed your own work, if at all.
Here is a ridiculously simple line from the text:
When artists sign their works, they claim them as theirs.
Right, of course, but what this got me thinking about was the lack of this signature in games. If our names appear in the credits at all, is that signature worth anything? Do we feel a sense of artistry, of ownership, when we place our names there, if we are the ones to place our names there? Do we feel a sense of artistry, of ownership, when we make something with 10, 20, 40, or 100 others? I think we very much can over whatever it is we made, and I wonder if we did, would this signature, this conceit to autobiography, to ownership, improve games overall?
There have even been cases in our market where artists (and here I refer to game developers as artists in the broader sense) have been forced by market forces, publishers or previous commitments to sign works of art they may not have otherwise signed. Pollock used to dump paintings he didn’t care for, literally. In our industry, that’s not an option. Your garbage gets released with rare exception. So, this complicates things, I guess. Poaching, the elimination of manuals, and the favoring of the corporate logo over the artist, have driven names off of games, even in the secondary role they already occupied. Imagine if in a Matisse exhibit, we only saw his claim to ownership in the catalog which accompanied a show.
If you have created a work of art or a game and were the one responsible for coding and bringing up your name on screen, I bet you felt something. Signing something is a per-formative ritual. Very early on in my designs (game or not), I remember the feeling that went into coding the screen which would bring up my name. In Wizardry 1, the designers even signed levels 8 and 9 with their initials. You can find my initials in later games. I appear in the Jagged Alliance series as Buzz Garneau, too. These allowances don’t amount to true signatures, of course. And signatures need not always be of the “sign your name here” variety.
Whistler signed some of his paintings with a butterfly to which he affixed a scorpion’s tail in his letters and critiques. Other artists integrated themselves within their own paintings as characters or as material using things from their own bodies or minds. I have signed my games with math on more than one occasion, and my Mechanic is the Message series includes multiple mathematical signatures. It is not my name I am signing, but a pattern that covers one game and bridges to the others. In a sense, I like weaving these things. In Siochan Leat (the Irish game), the game is signed in many ways and is highly autobiographical. It is my history and it also reveals my feelings about its present state. While writing this, the irony of the procedural signature above (“by bbrathwaite”) is not lost on me. I don’t even need to do anything, and so, I suppose I feel nothing with that signature as well.
So, think for a minute about completing a work of art by yourself. Think about that moment of decision and reflection when you take your brush, keyboard, pencil, whatever in your hand and write your name. It is a decision point, and it signifies the end and an approval. It is a simultaneous celebration and a letting go. I think something important happens here, and I think the lack of it in games perhaps makes them lack something, too.
Brenda Brathwaite, 2009.