Tobold and The Parable of the Elephant Sculpture

Formidable Guardian; Symbolism of the Elephant, by Tony the Misfit
Formidable Guardian; Symbolism of the Elephant, by Tony the Misfit

It’s a bit late, but I’ve only really managed to start blogging again due to real life concerns such as storms and school. Luckily, I’ve finally got some actual time to start writing again.

Anyway, Tobold’s got a nice story and discussion going on over at his blog, and I like it to call it the parable of the Elephant Sculpture, for the simple reason that “story” doesn’t imply some sort of deeper meaning that one can take away from it.

For the sake of keeping the parable intact, I’ve opted to repost it here. You can also check it out at the above link, and follow the discussion there.

The Parable of the Elephant Sculpture

Once upon a time there was a sculptor who made an elephant sculpture. It took him years to make, and the effort of many helpers, because his elephant sculpture was huge, and of exquisite craftsmanship. Every single wrinkle in the elephants skin was sculpted to the finest detail, and all the dimensions were so realistic that the sculpture was almost life-like. Once he had finished his sculpture, he proceeded to sell it. And because the sculpture was so well done, it achieved a high price at an art auction, and sold for 11 million.

The other sculptors saw that, and thought that they could earn such big money too. Obviously the public wanted elephant statues, so they all started making elephant statues. Only they didn’t have the patience of the original sculptor, and wanted to get rich too. So their elephants were much smaller, of inferior craftsmanship, and not life-like at all. Some were rather roughly hewn, others decorated with gaudy stones to distract from the lesser quality. But when these inferiors elephant statue copies were put up for auction, they didn’t sell all that well. Some didn’t sell at all, so bad were they. Some attracted initial interest before the auction, but when the buyers saw the inferior quality, they only bid 300,000 for it, and the other sculptors were much disappointed. “Oh!”, they cried, “the original sculptor was lucky that he made his elephant statue just when the market wanted one. Sculpting is dead, nobody will ever get more than 1 million for his sculpture.”

Meanwhile the original sculptor was back in his studio, making a sculpture of a tiger. A huge sculpture, and of exquisite craftsmanship. Every single hair of the tiger’s fur was sculpted to the finest detail, and all the dimensions were so realistic that the sculpture was almost life-like. I am sure that once he is ready and puts it on the market, he will get more than 1 million for his new sculpture. You see, the public didn’t yearn for an elephant sculpture at all, they just appreciated the size and great workmanship. And all the imitators would have better spent more attention to detail than just copy the basic shape of the elephant sculpture.

I trust you haven’t left this blog post completely after checking out the discussion on Tobold’s blog, so I thought to weigh in with some of my own thoughts.

While I do agree with the parable as it relates to MMORPGs, I find myself wondering if the symbolism is lacking somehow. For instance, my first thought after reading it was about smaller, lesser-known online games that seek to have a niche audience, like Fallen Earth. Would that be an elephant statue that’s appreciated by a small subset of people because they appreciate the love that’s been put into the piece? Would Lord of the Rings Online be an imitation elephant rather than a separate type of entity altogether or an elephant with an ideal amount of craftsmanship that wasn’t noticed as much by the viewing public as a result of the large crowd developing around the well-sculpted elephant we know as WoW?

Honestly, I’m not sure how to answer my own questions.

I suppose what I took from Tobold’s tale and the resulting discussion surrounding the symbolism was that everyone ascribes value to something in differing amounts based on their own preferences or experiences. The elephant in question doesn’t matter as much as the value given it by the people who are experiencing it.

Some of them may have seen elephants before, and therefore have different ideas of the value of an elephant. For some people who’ve never seen an elephant before, a massively well-crafted and detailed sculpture may simply blow them away with awesomeness.

Personally, I’d like to be awestuck by awesomeness a second time, because sometimes, if you’ve seen and experienced one MMO, everything else feels like the same damned thing.