Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.


Posted by Nathan P. on September 10, 2006

Last night I saw The Pillowman, a haunting and very, very thoughtful play about the nature of art and where the responsibility of the artist lies, among other themes. There’s also this thread where Ben talks about tradition over at Anyway, and this thread about why there aren’t any games about 9-11 at Story Games. Let’s not forget Jason’s thread about the ethics of game design, and I’ll humbly link to my own concerns on the subject.

All of which is striking directly at something that I feel very strongly about: the responsibility of the artist. As in, if an artist creates art, and that art causes someone else to do a horrible thing, is the artist responsible?

I think not. I think, that once you blame the artist for the consequences of someone else’s action, you are in effect telling them to stop making art. And that, my friends, is not acceptable to me.

I don’t think that you can blame the creators of a videogame for some kid taking a gun to school; you cannot blame a television show for the obsessive fans; you can’t blame a role-playing game for some nutjob doing a crime while “in character.”

But. Artists do still have responsibility and accountability, and that’s for fulfilling their goals as artists and seeing clearly what effects that fulfillment may or may not have on their audience.

In The Pillowman, the protagonist writes a story about a little boy who gets his toes chopped off by a traveling stranger. He tells this story to his mentally deficient older brother, the only family he has in the world. The older brother goes out and acts out the story, killing the child in the process.

Is the protagonist responsible for the death of the child? I think not. Is he responsible for forseeing that his brother, who has the mind of a child and who looks up to him for everything, might take his stories as something that he is asking the brother to do, and change (or not change) his stories as he sees fit? I think so.

I’d be really interested to hear others opinions on this. Where do you see the line?


4 Responses to “Responsibility”

  1. Mark Nau said

    My view is that responsibility and authority have to map onto each other or else you get problems.

    If I am responsible for something I have no authority over, that’s ridiculous. How can I be held accountable for something that I don’t have say over?

    If I have authority over something, but no responsibility for the outcome, that leads to obvious corruptive badness.

    Now, in general, the maker of a piece of art has NO AUTHORITY over what people make of it. Ergo no responsiblity.

    The tricky case is where I bring my stuff to people who aren’t legally competent, who aren’t fully capable of taking authority over their own lives. Then we have to ask how much authority I have over the situation. If I’m a guy making a movie, then the answer is very little. The guardians have the authority. If I’m telling my mentally deficient brother a story, then it all falls on me.

  2. Hiya,

    I’ve given this some consideration due to the nature of the game I’m designing. If you remove the potential for harm, you also remove the potential for healing through catharsis, and the ability to challenge issues. Sometimes the only reason lines exist is because everyone has been afraid to cross them.

    I’d also like to point you to this interview with the creator of the Columbine RPG, which people are pointing to as the “cause” of the Dawson college killing spree. It’s related and interesting:


    See ya,


  3. As an addendum,

    I think it is also dangerous to take a stance that absolves people of their responsibility to protect themselves. We have too much of that in our society.

    I’m not saying this is your stance, but it did seem close to some peoples stance in the threads you linked to.

  4. Mark: thats a solid distinction, but that grey area (where you have equal parts authority and responsibility, say) is truly grey. I think I would prefer to err on the side that preserves an artists ability to create, in general. Specific cases are, of course, wildly differentiable.

    Clyde: Thanks for posting, and for that link. It’s mad interesting – and I think the point he makes about being concerned with the creation, and not the reception, of the game is solid gold.

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