Flawed genius

I’m always on the lookout for flawed genius. Rather than solid perfection, I prefer the crazy, quirky, and niche every time.

I stole this term from Paul Barnett of Mythic Entertainment, who was discussing his (late) game Warhammer Online, and its rival World of Warcraft:

“I believe WoW is a work of flawed genius. When you dismantle [these works] you can never be sure whether you get genius or flaw.”

I once evoked this in the finale post of Sakurasou na Pet no Kanojo, and though my prose is awfully unpolished, the sentiment stands.

What flawed genius is, to me, is a work with all the quirks left in. There’s a tendency—especially among business types—to sand down all the edges, in the hopes of broadening the story’s appeal and making it accessible to as many people as possible.

That’s the absolute worst thing you can do. There’s a word for something palatable to everyone, and it’s average—and average slides into mediocrity awfully fast. A work of flawed genius is one that dares to push away some so it can delight others. It’s a particular taste, even an acquired taste, but when you’ve got it, it engenders nothing but love. It’s a story all the greater for its flaws, because those are what make it feel real.

Characters are like this too. Flawed characters are more compelling than perfect characters, because we can relate to them. It makes them feel real, to know that they too have their imperfections, just like us. So it is with stories—the flawed ones are all the more compelling, because they echo our own flawed lives.

Technically perfect but artistically void KyoAni quasi-originals. Paint-by-the-numbers gunmetal gray and military brown AAA video games. Blockbuster movies focus-grouped into mediocrity. These have no soul, so even when they’re enjoyable, they dribble out of the mind and melt away. They’re pleasant pastimes at best, but they have trouble being more.

But flawed genius stays with you. They’re usually the work of one passionate individual, who channeled the unique them into a work only they could create. They are the stories that, when they strike a chord, change the way you view the world.

Striving for perfection isn’t a bad instinct. Every artist should try to produce the best work they can. But it should be their best work, not the Frankenstein’s monster of other works they’ve seen sell before.

Artists steal, but they shouldn’t steal something because it’s worked before. They should steal because they love it, because it calls out to them, and because incorporating it into their own work will improve it for the better.

Tell your own story. Leave the eccentricities in. Remember that true geniuses are always flawed. But most of all, don’t sand down all the corners. To some people, those corners will be the most interesting part.

4 thoughts on “Flawed genius

  1. I just noticed that both Sakurasou and Ping Pong had a common theme of effort vs. talent. But they turned out quite different.

  2. I have never seen one creator (that isn’t an absolute narcissist) ever think their creation is perfection, no matter. They always strive for more, and are upset over the flaws, because their desire and abililties increase as they create and express their passion.

    Perfection does not exist for many reasons, but the desire for more is my favorite.

    • No need to get upset over the flaws. Creators should be proud of what they’ve done, and where they’ve come from. They should just be certain to not make the same mistakes next time. It’s better to make new mistakes.

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