Mental Wellbeing and the Role of AI

Mental wellbeing and the Internet do not mix. The Internet pulls out all the stops on people’s sense of restraint and reasonableness. Those who might hold back their acidic commentary face-to-face trip the threshold more easily when no one is staring them down. For those already armed with a mean streak, the Internet is a way to let rip.

After the Cthulhu Hack crowd-funding started to run late, every update (and I offered them monthly without fail) received a steady flow of negativity. It was never going to happen. Wasn’t the text finished before I started the crowdfunding? What was taking so long? I had a game planned for a specific date – will we have it for then? If you don’t refund my money, I will ruin you…

When I finally issued the PDF and started creating the print files, it felt like I had left those derisive comments behind. But, clearly, hecklers gonna heckle. Something new surfaced a few weeks after the PDF went out to backers.

Cthulhu Hack art by Paul Tomes

I’m happy to be open about my use of AI art. My books will use AI generators for some art, balanced significantly in favour of actual artists. AI art is a boon. I absolutely understand that it has an impact on the creativity community. Still, I have paid artists straight out of my pocket for every product before this one. I was funding the majority of the art in this book before the crowdfunding’s conclusion.

I struggle with anxiety, decision making and crippling rejection sensitivity dysphoria. The most basic decision – like making a phone call or asking someone a simple question – leaves me spiralling. No matter how important, there’s no proposal that I can’t talk my way out of.

Art direction pains me. My gnawing doubt constantly undermines the process. Paul Tomes was a dream to work with. He generated an image every day for his own benefit, and I could pick from them like a menu. Sometimes I asked for a change. Other times, he made improvements on his own. I paid him in advance and set my limit on the number of images I would use. I was delighted with the arrangement.

AI-generated Shoggoth image from Cthulhu Hack

It was much less like agonising torture, as was paying a subscription and feeding my random thoughts into an AI. An AI doesn’t trigger my anxiety. It doesn’t leave me questioning my every creative idea. The generative process learns from all the art it can scrape from the Internet. Still, I have never taken any artist for granted and always paid my way.

When push came to shove, I needed to get the Cthulhu Hack rules finished before the negativity ground me down and kicked all the creative impulses out of me. I had to find a way to get art for elements that remained incomplete, but I didn’t have it in me to search for an artist. When I had my initial ideas for the cover, I reached out to artists only to face rejection, long lead times, or just silence. Each one of those communications screwed with my sense of rejection and anxiety. And every response punched the wind from my sails.

What could I do? AI-generated art was not an unreasonable answer, given the nature of the subject matter.

I decided that as I would use AI for certain pieces in Cthulhu Hack, I would reimburse the artistic community at a rate similar to that of the rest of the book. I donated money to a charity supporting art and artists. I could pay an artist to do nothing, but that seemed weird. In Paul Tomes’s case, I negotiated a rate, and so I paid the charity at the same rate. Paul’s art comprises the majority of the images, cover included, and I have pictures to spare for supplements. All paid for. The charity—an artists’ benevolent fund—got paid for the rest.

AI-generated setting image from Save Innsmouth

I have paid for unusable in the past because you can only have so many stabs at corrections and adjustments. Yes, you can work with an artist to refine a concept, but when I struggle to engage with friends, family and long-time work colleagues on the most straightforward requests… Well, it rarely works out well. I understand that AI and AI art generation is a murky area, but my use presents a route that isn’t fraught with pain and despair for me.

Every issue is not black/white, cut-and-dried. Take a moment to consider that we’re all very different, and every issue has nuance. Mental wellbeing is essential. It’s crucial for everyone, including me.


2 responses to “Mental Wellbeing and the Role of AI”

  1. Andy Hemming Avatar
    Andy Hemming

    I can see you have approached this in good faith Paul, and that it’s caused you distress at points.

    Take care of yourself.

    1. Paul B Avatar
      Paul B

      It makes future Kickstarters and books a tougher prospect. My actions, even in good faith, will not change the nature of the trolls and horrors that stalk the Internet and the backer reports.

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