Doing Your Best, No Exceptions

I just read a brilliant post on always aiming to do your best work by ann_leckie at LiveJournal. (Found via the wise and talented Elizabeth Bear, who has an ongoing habit of posting things that make me think harder and write better.) Go read it yourself. 

It dovetails nicely with a couple of the bullet points I wrote in my March post, Some Things I've Learned About ARG Design. Particularly this one: 

  • Content is a reward. Make sure the content you provide is worth the effort you're rewarding. Even an autoresponder should be worth the time it takes to read it. 

And this one too: 

  • Each discrete piece of your game should be independently entertaining in its own right, even if the player never sees another piece of it. 

It's getting at the same thing: Always try to do the best you can. Make sure you're making every possible piece of content that your audience will see is the best that you can make it. 

But this is an ideal -- or to be more specific, it's my ideal -- and it's really, really hard to do. It made me think about doing your best and trying your hardest. Comparing it to my many years of hair-raising tales from behind the curtain, I thought: "But Andrea, if you were really trying your best, why did you...?" 

This is where I think transmedia as a performance art has a particularly soft, weak point, where it hurts if you poke us too hard. We get a lot of our ideals and standards from related but distinctly different disciplines. With a novel, for example, you generally have the liberty to look at the story a month later to see if it still makes sense. With a play, you can rehearse every day for six weeks before your premiere. 

But you can't revise an ARG. You don't get much time to rehearse, either. The show must go on, even when something doesn't go according to plan, even when you've missed a deadline, even when something has broken.

In my experience, an ARG is by definition never, ever the best you could have possibly made it, if you had had a little more time, or a little more money, or or or... 

Sometimes you craft an amazing piece of content or game mechanic, and it gets cut or unrecognizably altered or is simply never built for cruel but undeniable reasons like timing or budget.

Or maybe that perfect idea conflicts with a throwaway line you shoved into the first week for color, and now you can't do it without breaking the story. No take-backsies!

And sometime the implementation of an idea isn't as shiny as you'd hoped; maybe there are bugs, maybe there are typos. (And I promise you, there are always bugs and typos.) 

You could fix these things, sure... in a perfect world, with unlimited resources and development time. But you know, we don't get that. Not even close. Probably never will, either.

So I do try to live up that lofty ideal, to always, always do my best work. But at the same time, I wonder if I couldn't be more forgiving of myself during all those coulda-shoulda-woulda moments. Like the actor who falls on their face during their big entrance, it's not that I'm not trying my best, it's that sometimes my best isn't perfect. And maybe... maybe that's OK, too, as long as I'm always striving and always getting better.

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