Help:Spirit and Intent
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This is the sister-page to Precedent (DnD Guideline). Where that page focuses on balance as being founded upon compatibility; Spirit and Intent is designed to focus on quality as being founded upon the original intrinsic "idea" that a concept was designed to represent. Ultimately, this is all about protecting the integrity of an idea in the creative free-for-all that is an unregulated wiki.
Let's start by getting on the same page here. Go read authorial intent on wikipedia. That is what I am talking about here.
TL;DR: This wiki completely and totally opposes New Criticism out of sheer practicality.
When a user becomes a contributor by creating a new page, they are creating something new- an expansion of the wiki into untouched territory. When they do this, they do so with an intent. That is to say, they have an idea, and their creation is intended to represent that idea. Their objective, generally, is to communicate their intent as clearly and as effectively through the medium of this wiki and the game rules as possible. No expression of intent is ever perfect- no idea will ever be perfectly represented by a system which generalizes realities into simplified game terms. This is why we have talk pages- they allow other users to strike up a conversation with the contributor, so that they can get a better understanding of the authorial intent behind a work. When other users approach a page and decide to become editors by altering it, they are directly interacting with the product of the contributor's intent. As a general rule of thumb, for the sheer sake of practicality, editors should make some effort to respect and preserve authorial intent.
There is a very good reason for this: Because anyone can edit anything, it is entirely possible that, without any respect for authorial intent, any given page could slowly evolve into something completely unrelated to the original form it took. In fact, this has already happened to certain things on the wiki! The typical result is, the original contributor returns to find their work mutated into someone else's baby, and quits the site. Occasionally, they tweak their idea to avoid "inspiring" people so much and repost the original form of their idea. This can not stand. Concept drift isn't vandalism, and it isn't malicious, but it is bad for the community. So, while every edit page does say,
- "If you do not want your writing to be edited mercilessly and redistributed at will, then do not submit it here."
it DOES NOT say,
- "Ignore the ideas, values, beliefs, and opinions of your fellow editors at a whim." (If this is your desire, please review our Help:Behavioral Policy)
Think about it, if we as a community have absolutely no respect for the intent behind any page's creation, we are effectively saying that we have no respect for our fellow community members. We would also be giving absolutely no reason for anyone to want to post anything here- there would be no sense of stability. This is not my wiki. This is not your wiki. This is OUR wiki. And whether you like it or not, we are all going to have to compromise with each other if we want to be able to coexist in this place without it devolving into primordial chaos.
The Limits of Intent
Now, the astute among the readers may have noticed one flaw with this. What if the authorial intent is AWFUL? What if the author intends to vandalize the wiki with garbage pages? What if the author intends to post nothing but dysfunctional power-fantasies? What if the author intends to use this wiki to break copyright laws? Obviously, there must be some limit! Authorial intent can not be a sacred cow, or it would drain this wiki entirely of its collaborative spirit. And that phrase right there- collaborative spirit -is the defining boundary. Any time you go and interact with another person's creation, or really anything on this wiki, you should only ever do so with the desire of collaborating with ALL of the other users involved in that content. Every time you post something new to this wiki, you should only ever do so with the desire of collaborating with the community to make that page the best it can be. People who act in a manner which is destructive to this collaborative spirit, such as by manipulating people, by blatantly disregarding guidelines for quality, by breaking the law, by abusing other users, or by being territorial and possessive of "their" content are, to put it lightly, unwelcome here. Authorial intent is not your right to restrict others from editing pages you contributed- it is a courtesy you should extend to other users when editing works that they contributed.
The Spirit of a Page
The flip-side of authorial intent, here on the wiki, is called the "spirit" of a given thing- typically a page. The spirit of a page is the cumulative effect of the audience's interpretation of that page. Not just the interpretation of one user, but everyone who looks at it. Obviously, the more users are involved in working on a specific page, the more difficult it is for any one of them to discern what that page's spirit is. Spirit is best understood through an example.
- Let us suppose that User A contributes a new character race to the wiki. Now let us suppose User B reads the race, and is inspired by a phrasing quirk in the history section of the race. They edit that section, and suddenly the race's history section has become richly complex with a theme which had only incidentally come into existence. This theme was never intended by the author, but the page is decidedly better for it, so in the spirit of collaboration, User A thanks User B for their insightful input, and then asks them to ask first next time. Now along comes User C, she reads the page and really enjoys the richness of the history section, but finds it strange that it isn't reflected elsewhere in the race. So, she goes through the whole race page and just makes minor word choice and phrasing tweaks throughout in order to spread that thematic goodness all across the page. Once User C is done, the page has genuinely improved! User A comes back and sees the changes and, though they like all the work that has happened and appreciates the work of their fellow editors, feels that the page is deviating from their original intent. So, they go through and makes some further tweaks- preserving the rich thematic text, but focusing the race back on their original idea, rather than that theme.
The above progression of events describes the emergence of a page's spirit. In this case, the spirit of the page, thus far, consists of the author's intent, (because they continued to participate as an editor) and a theme which was accidentally invented in the imagination of another user. Many pages, over years of editors interacting with each other, begin to develop extraordinarily complex spirits which have very little to do with the interests or intent of any given editor. The emergence of a page's spirit is a guaranteed eventuality. So long as a page remains on this wiki, it will some day happen. Think of it as your creation maturing, growing up, and learning to fly on its own. The pages on this wiki are made better for having this effect, and it is the true power of collaborative homebrew done right. When people respect each other's creativity and focus on doing what is best for the page rather than themselves, the page takes on a life of its own, and the concept it contains becomes something bigger than anyone who helped create it.
Like authorial intent, every time you go to edit a piece of content, consider what you believe to be the spirit of that page, and try to support and protect that spirit. Often, just by reading a page you can feel certain elements standing out as having been very worked-up by previous editors. These are likely part of its spirit. If you are patient and diligent, you can also review the history of a page to see how it has grown and evolved over time, and who participated in what changes. Finally, if you go read the talk page, it is likely that you will find people discussing their individual ideas of how to advance the page over the entire time the page has existed. Now, like intent, there is a limit- and it is the exact same line.
Work with a focus on collaboration, and focus on doing what is best for a page. Preserve what is best about an author's intent, and respect the things other users have built up in a page as part of its spirit.