How We Might Enjoy Things Differently: Internal vs External

Two artists get two different phones. One gets an iPhone. Beautiful and perfect out of the box. The other get’s some android phone. It’s gross and has awful pre-installed garbage on it so he roots it, flashes the rom, spends hours customizing widgits. The result probably isn’t as good as Apple’s best offering. The artist with the Apple Phone asks why the artist with the android phone would buy such a shoddy, poorly designed device. The Artist with the android phone asks why would he buy a phone where he can’t express them self.

Neither of these artists are inherently more artistic than the other. They prioritize things differently. The first person wants to surround themselves with well designed things. They want everything they own to be expertly designed and use their knowledge to choose well. He is externally minded. His phone isn’t about him. His phone and it’s design is about the phone. He shows his taste by having what he thinks is the best, most well designed phone. To the second, everything he owns his about him and a tool to use to express himself. He is internally minded. Instead of wanting a universally well designed phone, he wants exactly what he wants. This doesn’t necessarily mean gaudy and garish and filled with pictures of his dogs. Perhaps it’s high contrast minimalism, vs iOS7’s pastel minimalism. Maybe it’s the same style, but the Internally Minded artist still wants it to be his.

As a person in the second camp who’s often defending my self from people in the first camp I’ve always found this divide interesting and I think it might apply to more than just artists and what they look for (in the case of phones, inherently good design vs control), but perhaps how we enjoy all media. This also isn’t a dichotomy. Plenty of people fall in in the middle and you can also want both traits. We might also approach different types of things differently, but whatever.

So let’s talk about literature (though this can apply to any story driven media). I’ve often read people talk about the ‘meaning’ of a book and what it’s trying to say. They will deride books written with no inherent thesis or will try and manufacture meaning where it doesn’t exist. Some books definitely serve themselves better to this sort of study, but others (Anything by Stephen King, for example, who sorta just writes has he goes with only very basic planning) really don’t. But what’s the opposite of the externally minded reader? It’s not as clear cut as the design example. Still, I think the difference is that the internally minded person is driven more by things like curiosity and wonder and characters. External analysis talks about the author and what he’s trying to say. Internal talks about how we feel and how we relate to it and what it makes us curious about. If we were to talk about the extreme version of internal enjoyment, we’d talk about people writing fanfiction and roleplaying fan characters. They literally are taking a degree of personal ownership over the work. This compared to the far end of external analysis, which is cold and clinical. How you felt doesn’t matter — if you don’t get why something was written the way it was, you’re “missing the point”. Who understands the meaning of the story better? The person who has deciphered the authors opinions, or the person who gleams a personal truth? Personally, I pass no judgement.

I even see the same thing in games. Different games have different capacities for self-expression. A Sudoku has no player expression. You solve it and each successful move you make is the same one anyone else who’s succeeding would make, with skill being the only differenting factor. Tetris is highly driven by optimized play, so skill is again almost key, though some players of the same skill level may make different decisions and express different styles and have slightly different strengths and weaknesses, ultimately it’s not very expressive. Something simple like Mario is very expressive. Situations can be approached many different ways and as long as you’re not speedrunning it, you can approach the game a ton of different ways. Then you have games like Devil May Cry which have moves and techniques that are, strictly speaking, unnecessary, but exist because the game wishes to give the players the ability to play stylistically. Fighting games can have two players of similar skill level playing a character two totally different ways. Stuff that seems useless and redundant to some designers/players is critical to other. This is also probably why we see a big divide in the effectiveness of plots in games. Those searching for perfectly well constructed thematic stories are often disappointed, while those who deeply indulge themselves in the worlds they play in become heavily invested.

I might be full of shit with all of this, but even if I’m not, I’m not sure what good any of it is. Still, the next time you argue with someone and it seems like they’re coming at the subject from an entirely different world, this might be why. This, or maybe a million other different reasons. Still, felt the need to put this out there.

8 thoughts on “How We Might Enjoy Things Differently: Internal vs External

  1. Thanks for posting this cause been running into this kind of conflict quite a lot lately.

    I’m actually in the first camp defending myself against the second (which btw, I have no good argument why I like ios better, I just do.) That, in addition to the second constantly telling me the Apple hardware just sucks period pricewise, so there’s that.

    I sort of got lost what point you’re trying to make with player expressive games like fighting games, especially since I’m not sure how an external expressive person sees it compared to an internal.

  2. Last point is a bit muddy so lemme see what I can do. Player why it’s generally hard to tell, though this might be like the Johnny Spike Timmy thing. Someone like Mike Z would be an internal — someone like say, Justin would be external. He doesn’t care about anything but winning and doesn’t show much preference toward anything. DESIGN WISE this can be an extremer thing. Like Kicks for example, has a design goal, wants Aces Wild to allow players to be stylish and express
    himself. Certain OTHER PEOPLE could be named as the opposite of that and consider just options to be a waste of the player’s time and consideration. Hopefully that makes more sense!

  3. I have an iPhone, my reasoning for that is literally: I needed something I cared enough about to not lose it.

    Up until then, my mobile phones were always out of battery, pieces and parts were missing, the charge station was somewhere lost or there was no money on it. So… Which category would that be?

    Also, the iPhone made me realize how terrible a touchscreen controlled device is.. How can people live without a keyboard? But I guess that’s besides the point.

    I have nothing really to add to the topic itself..

  4. Also, holy cow that thread has 7 more pages since last time I had a look at it… I already thought, people are running in circles at page 4, did that get any better?..

  5. I can’t accurately comment on how many circles it’s running. I’ve only been occasionally viewing a few sentences of the thread from between my fingers like I’m watching a horror movie. That said, talking to the people who are still fighting, they’re callling it the Doom Thread 2 so… yeah.

  6. So, now that I’m now aware of the two mindsets, comes the question of how to get the two to get along or find middle ground? Especially since I’m in the reverse of your situation (external defending his choices from the internals. I live with two of them.)

  7. Hard to say! It depends on the situation. If someone is just being a judgy argumentative prick, then this is just an added layer on the problem — getting past this layer of communication still leaves you arguing with a hardass. If you’re say, buying appliances with two other reasonable people who just don’t share you values, well.. damn that’d still be even harder. You can’t even agree to disagree. If you’re just defending choices, well..

    Don’t be counter-judgy. Leave room for them to be comfortable with their decisions. Generally it’s easier to get away with stuff when you go well I like X (be that elegance or strong authorial messages or whatever) so thusly I like product Y then just going like “I like Product Y because all other products are inferior”. Being a needless hardass just makes for some annoying arguments (as an extreme version, I’m having flashbacks to arguing Apple with Sirlin and how he’d just try and shame half his forum).

    I guess it ultimately comes down to what it always comes down — it’s just a ‘social skills’ thing and all this little theory can do, assuming it’s even true, is give you a hint on how you can communicate without making your room-mates go into defend/destroy mode. Every social situation is going to be different!

  8. I was having a vaguely similar conversation with a couple friends the other day, mainly about the appeal of Junji Ito’s stuff. At one point someone brought up how he’s found this huge divide between people who love and hate The Enigma of Amigara Fault in particular (originator of the “This is my hole! It was meant for me!” meme), with the one camp really focused on the creepy notion of being inexplicably drawn to this tunnel, traveling through in absolute darkness, no clue when or if you’ll come out… and the other camp just kinda going “Pfft, what the heck is scary about noodle people?”

    It seems to be very much of a “Participant”/Observer sorta thing, which you see pretty easily with games. If you’re in the former camp, it’s a huge disconnect when you’re playing a game, and that’s you there on the screen, inhabiting some character and acting how you feel makes sense for that character, and then suddenly you hit some cutscene trigger and suddenly that’s not you anymore, it’s some dork spouting nonsense that totally disconnects from what you’ve been doing while in control.

    Meanwhile, the Observers seem to be the people most successful game developers want to cater to, as a general trend, since that sort of strong characterization is way more common lately, even in series that originally had strong leanings towards personal self-expression (via dialog trees or the whole silent-protagonist angle, or just generally open-ended gameplay- like say, in the original X-Com, you’ve got aliens in a barn, do you carefully creep in and check all the corners, or just fire a missile through the window?)

    Really though, to me it seems like the medium is inherently geared towards the former group, to the extent that I really just can’t see what the appeal even is in playing games with the outside observer mindset.

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