Saturday, February 14, 2009

A pretty good summary of the archive, in letter format

So I received this email some time ago from a fellow named Adam, reproduced with his permission:


Ozark1,

I'm contacting you because I have a question about your play generated map and document archive that I found. I'm just wondering if it is the case at all that you pay people for their donations. I don't mean to sound selfish, and I apologize if i do - in no way do i fail to see neither the aesthetic value of what you have preserved nor the respected and genuine purpose of your site. Thank you for your time.
adam


In all fairness I must say that I misread the second to last sentence, and thought he was challenging the aesthetic value and purpose of the archive. I was confused by a double-negative. But I the response I wrote I felt summed up the PlaGMaDA project and its intent pretty well.


Hi Adam,

First, I don't pay anyone for the donated pieces at all. Occasionally I'll bid on something I see on eBay, such as some 1975 in-house TSR character sheet which were up last week. Unfortunately, those things tend to quickly get out of the price range I allow for eBay items. I always offer to reimburse donors for shipping, but am seldom taken up on the offer.

The purpose of the site is just that described in the mission statement - in short, to create a catalog of "play generated objects" and to identify some types of these as folk art objects with both aesthetic and cultural value. The initial focus of the archive is on role playing game maps and supporting play documents.

These items, the maps especially, meet every definition of "folk art" I can find - not that I am trained folk art historian. As such, I am positing that these are items which need to be preserved as objects potentially worthy of study. Sadly, the documents are often considered valueless and discarded by their owners after their time of usefulness has passed - incidentally, this is another common trait defining folk art.

So I'm arguing that these documents are valuable as culture. They are a fundamental component of tabletop role playing games, a revolutionary new form of play originating in the 1970s without which we wouldn't have contemporary computer RPGs. Enough scholarly interest is spent on contemporary game culture that at some point someone is bound to need this sort of archive. It's a service. As a curator at the American Folk Art Museum said, "Tim, you're going to make some graduate student very happy one day." I'm not a trained cultural theorist, but even I can see other interesting paths of research hidden within the archive.

Aesthetically the archive is a mixed bag. I'm not going to say that "beauty is in the eyes of beholder", that's a crap cop out. I will say, again, that all the elements which make folk art desirable are generally to be found in a document in the archive. Especially the maps. They have an authenticity derived from their purpose and use, and are usually loaded with "empty signifiers" which convey a lot of importance but no concrete meaning. The average map is a labor and it shows, this alone loads it with a certain value. Even the dungeon keys can make an interesting read.

Furthermore, many maps have a visual relationship with certain minimalist artists in which I take a great and secret pleasure.

Last, and certainly not least, is the history of the game itself and the nostalgic pleasure lots of folks have found going through the archive. I play RPGs, you probably play RPGs, lots of folks play RPGs. Most of us have done it our whole lives. It's interesting to be able to see AD&D character sheets of mysterious origin detailing the characteristics of strangers, to puzzle over the logic of home-brew rules, to revel in the decisions a 1970s GM made as to how many hobgoblins to place in a dungeon. It's like looking through family photographs, in a way. Or maybe photographs of another family who visited the same places around the same time you did as a child. The archive is a history of folks you don't know who played the same games and had many of the same experience and adventures as you, they are friends you never met.

Rock on,

tim h

1 comment:

Gordo Phreshmex said...

Best archive ever! Keep up the great work. Thanks!