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The Black Box Movement and Remix Culture

black box movement

Since both philosophies are currently having a strong influence on my approach to game design, I should take a moment to explain how the Black Box Movement and Remix Culture fit together. These are my personal opinions. They aren’t meant to be interpreted as representative of either creative community. I can only speak to my own takeaways, and perspectives that I’m finding to be useful.

On the most basic level, they’re both about clearing away obstacles for creators. Black Box says you don’t have to do things the way other people do them. Remix culture encourages building upon what already exists. Between the two, a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done, freeing the creator to spend more time creating.

The Black Box Movement and Remix Culture

I think there’s more to it, though. To explain, I turn to the eponymous manifesto presented in the documentary RiP!: A Remixers Manifesto. There are four basic tenets:

  1. Culture always builds on the past.
  2. The past always tries to control the future.
  3. Our future is becoming less free.
  4. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past

Applying this to the Black Box Movement, this is what I see:

Culture always builds on the past.

We like certain games, so we create our own refinements and variations. From fantasy heartbreakers to the Open Game License, we expand upon the work of others. From a Black Box perspective, we look at the way people have done things and follow their examples for everything from layout to marketing. So we advertise in the same spaces, sell through the same venues, and make things that look like like previously successful products.

The past always tries to control the future.

There is an assumption that the way things have been done successfully in the past is the One True Way. Retailers and supply chains are set up to operate in a particular way. Customers have expectations regarding content and format. Therefore, to tap into that you need to do certain things the way they’ve always been done.

Our future is becoming less free.

It is becoming more difficult to create, if you accept certain assumptions. You have to create a big, fat hardcover. A lot of money needs to be spent on original art. There’s no success without a Kickstarter campaign. If you’re not in retail stores or doing a lot of conventions, you’ll languish in obscurity. It’s impossible to make a living in this industry unless you work for one of the few big publishers. The Black Box Movement rejects those assumptions as givens.

To build free societies you must limit the control of the past.

A lot of this comes down to finding new ways of doing things. It’s going to take a while before both people accept that alternatives are viable. They already do. There was a time when you couldn’t download things from DriveThruRPG or order physical books from Amazon. Those are now established institutions. We need to be open to the idea that there are other ways of doing things. Therefore, new definitions of success have to be found.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press publishes creative aids and story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.

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