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.