Eloquence is a wonderful paradox—it’s both impossible to attain and impossible to escape. Professional communicators spend their lives in pursuit of eloquence in specific domains, never feeling they’ve quite “arrived.” Yet at the same time every event, being the instantaneous product of the current state of reality, can’t help but be eloquent of the moment in which it arises. Of course, the distinction has to do with context. Those with a vocation for eloquence often try to reduce the burden of context as much as possible; within their target audience, their aim is to reach as many people as they can (and the way in which they define their target audience—consciously or not—makes all the difference). “Naive” eloquence has no such aspirations, and as such its recognition depends solely on the eye of the beholder.
There’s things I want to say in this life, and there’s people I want to work for who have their own things to say as well. Since interactive media are my vocation, it’s my goal to become more eloquent in my use of those media, not just for the sake of having marketable skills but because eloquence in the right place at the right time can be transformative. Equally as important as developing my own eloquence, however, is advancing in my ability to find it in others. Justice is tightly bound to acknowledgments of eloquence from unexpected sources, and since everything is eloquent of something if only you’re prepared to see it, then the act of readying yourself to recognize unfamiliar eloquence is something of an imperative.
There’s no substitute for the uncomfortable process of immersing yourself in something foreign for a long enough period of time that you begin adopt some of its sensibilities—and thus its eloquence—as your own. What interactive media can provide, however, are “bridge experiences” that allow a person to temporarily adopt a shadow of someone else’s eloquence and thereby recognize it as such. Any quality communication can accomplish this, but interactive media does it in a uniquely tactile way in which you can literally feel and play your way through the contours of someone else’s fluency.
It’s easy to forget that this is what it’s all about. As authors of interactive media we can waste a lot of time trying to make sure everybody knows how articulate we are, when in reality the state of our skills can’t help but be revealed in the work, whether we like it or not. On any given project, commercial or otherwise, we’re tasked with representing a particular kind of eloquence; what’s most important is to ask what we’ve done to enable others to make that eloquence their own.
Sometimes, the things we have to do to accomplish that seem antithetical to how we want to feel about our own work; we want to possess the mystique of the artist, we want to keep things hidden, we don’t want to appear too overt or even helpful. All of which would be valid desires if our feelings were important. But in fact, and again paradoxically, the ability of a particular piece to accomplish what it needs to often depends directly upon our own annihilation.
When Shigeru Miyamoto breaks the fourth wall and has a character tell you to “press the A button to jump” it’s like an evangelist asking you if you know Jesus. Our insides twist up: we don’t really have to do it this way, do we? There’s got to be more subtle, more reasoned, more sophisticated ways to discuss these questions, don’t there?
Perhaps. But in the end, that only matters if your feelings matter in comparison to what the work needs to accomplish. And there’s a distinct possibility that they don’t.