Three Finger Salute - Artful games

QuarterToThree Message Boards: Free for all: Three Finger Salute - Artful games
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Sunday, September 30, 2001 - 04:20 pm:

Okay, Tom, I already feel like a dope for asking, because I know that I should know this already, but...Well, I assume that was a largely sarcastic article, right? (Just can't pass up the chance to make fun of us, I know!!) As I was reading it, I kept going "Nope, he's being sarcastic...Wait, maybe he's serious...Nope, sarcastic...Well, maybe serious..."

I know that you try really hard to do that with darn near every article, and somebody always has to come out and ask...

So, what's the deal, Chick? What's the serious/sarcasm ratio in that column??


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By TomChick on Sunday, September 30, 2001 - 04:36 pm:

100% unmitigated sarcasm. I do not believe games are art. And I'm ready to rassle Ralph Koster to prove it.

-Tom


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jeff Lackey on Sunday, September 30, 2001 - 04:50 pm:

I believe that QT3 posts qualify as art. They require thought, creativity (hey, we've all seen the creativity that people use in putting down others' opinions here,) and free expression. Tell me the differnce between a computer game as art and a QT3 post as art? Remember that the quality of art does not determine the actual qualification.

I believe that I'll get a government endowment for further study. Just to make sure, I have my toes dipped in pools of chocolate as I type this, thus qualifying this post as performance art.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Sunday, September 30, 2001 - 05:27 pm:

Yeah, I thought so. Some points were actually pretty well-made for sarcasm...You almost convinced me!!

Okay, I was already convinced, but that's neither here nor there...

Great article, just the same. I was fairly sure that you were being sarcastic, and, even though I don't agree with your point, it was a great article.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 11:28 am:

"100% unmitigated sarcasm. I do not believe games are art."

Just out of curiosity, why not?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By TomChick on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 12:22 pm:

I'd hate for this to veer off into an actual discussion, but here goes:

I grant people have different definitions of art, so it might be more instructive to explain what art means -- for me -- rather than to just argue about whether games are art.

The bottom line is that art -- for me -- is something that teaches me about being human. I've learned things about myself and others from reading Crime and Punishment. From seeing Magnolia. From the weird spectacle of Richard Meier's buildings. From Brahms First Symphony. Maybe even from certain pop music.

This all sounds very pretentious, sure. But the only thing I've learned about myself from computer games is that I'm a master at frittering time. Computer games so far have existed solely on the plane of entertainment, diversion, puzzles. Most of them are no more art than a crossword puzzle. Those with narratives are usually limited or hobbled by their interactive nature. Often, they're badly written, stilted, and juvenile.

Of course, computer games have artistic elements. So do slasher films and graffiti. But I want a definition of art that excludes schlock and mere diversion. Some people want an all inclusive definition of art. If that works for them, fine by me. Nobody's saying we all need an objective perspective on the issue.

But for me, computer games are not art. I don't say this to demean them. There's nothing wrong with not being art.

Here's an experiment: for those of you who regard computer games as art, name for me a form of entertainment that *isn't* art. Is there one? Because if computer games make it, surely everything else does and entertainment may as well be synonymous with art.

And I'm still prepared to doff my shirt and rassle Ralph Koster over the issue. That's not a gay thing, by the way. And I can only say this because I seem to recall from E3 that he's a fairly short fellow...

-Tom


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 02:09 pm:

Yeah, this is a conversation that could go on forever. One of the first essays I had to write in freshman art history was "define art." It's almost a trick question. Still, I think everyone does have a personal definition. People like to define things. I know I do.

My own definition of art is indeed a lot more broad, I'm really hesitant to include aesthetic judgement as part of that definition. Plenty of art is schlock--that doesn't make it not art, merely bad art.

I think entertainment is not synonymous with art, but rather a subcategory.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jason McCullough on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 02:20 pm:

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=art*1+0

'art - noun [U]

the making of what is expressive or beautiful, or things that are considered to be expressive or beautiful.

An art is an activity through which people express particular ideas.'

Further searching puts expressive at 'a face/voice which shows a lot of feeling', 'to show (a feeling, opinion or fact)'.

As much as it pains me to say it, as the industry will probably be overrun by people making ghost-women-talking-about-their-mining-town games, by the Cambridge definition games are probably art. Planescape: Torment or Anachronox, at least. Space Invaders is probably closer to architecture-style art than literature.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jeff Lackey on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 02:37 pm:

OK - I said it sarcastically in an earlier post, but based on that definition, let me throw out a straw horse: why does a post to Quarter to Three not qualify as art, if we use such broad criteria?

The definition of art to which I subscribe(and I think by its very nature, art demands personal definitions:) the cognitive function of art is to bring man's fundamental concepts and values to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allow him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts. Thus the reason why art is so personal, and there can be no universal lines drawn - what is art is as diverse as the thoughts and feelings and experiences of every individual on earth. In fact, it implies that the definition of art is not in the hands of the artist, but in the "eyes of the beholder."

FWIW


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jason McCullough on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 02:49 pm:

A post here can qualify as art just fine under that definition; it's highly unlikely any of us is good enough to make it so, however. What's wrong with that?

Here's a counter-loony question: is the book Nichomean Ethics art? Can a dialogue be considered art if it's not pre-written for the stage?

'the cognitive function of art is to bring man's fundamental concepts and values to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allow him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts.'

What fundamental concepts? Eating?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bub (Bub) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 03:02 pm:

Trying to define art is foolish (as we've seen in this and other threads). I think Chick did a fine job skewering the far more odious practice of reviewers and designers who pretentiously hang the art label/definition on their games. And do so, presumably, so they can feel more important themselves. Y'know, the Wagner James Aus of the world.

Ben thinks games are art (maybe bad art). Tom disagrees. Fine, we can all live with that. But anyone who points out the ineffability of B&W's relationship to God, or Max Payne as a cinematic tour de force, is something we can all disagree with.

-Andrew


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jason McCullough on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 03:56 pm:

'And do so, presumably, so they can feel more important themselves. Y'know, the Wagner James Aus of the world.'

Yep. Claiming art status is time-tested way to cover up that your computer game is just a shell game (B&W) or a shooter with a badly written plot (Max Payne).


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bub (Bub) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 04:05 pm:

Or that your own critique of same is somehow extremely important (Wagner).


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 04:25 pm:

Yeah, well, that's true enough.

Still, I just dislike the idea that art has to be "important." Like I should remove my hat and look all solemn when I walk into a room full of art, or something. There is no hidden meaning or enlightening virtue in any of Monet's haystack paintinings, or in one of Vermeer's portraits, but I'd definitely call them art. Jacek Yerka's paintings don't change my understanding of the world one whit, yet they are spooky and eerie and vaguely menacing, and I think he is an enormously talented artist. His work entertains me. I also hate using "entertainment" as a derogatory word.

As much as I hate turning to the dictionary to help define elusive philosophical concepts, that Cambridge definition isn't too bad. Art is ultimately about communicating ideas, and just as ideas can be trite or trivial or entertaining or deeply meaningful or anything in between, so too can art.

I think games, right now, are about at the level that movies were at in the early twentieth century. The novelty hasn't worn off yet--we're still at the stage where a guy shooting a gun at the camera freaks us out. But just because games have yet to become particularly sophisticated, that doesn't mean that they can't, or won't.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Gordon Cameron on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 04:59 pm:

Of course it all hinges on one's definition of art.

Scott McCloud, in "Understanding Comics," defined art as anything we do which does not pertain to our survival or reproduction. This is obviously a *very* broad definition.

I have a rather old-fashioned curmudgeonly view of art myself. I think there is something to be said for idea of authorial intent, of an intellect (the creator's) presenting something unchanged for another intellect (the audience) to receive and (presumably) benefit from. I think allowing the audience to participate in a work of art can diminish that work. This is why Choose Your Own Adventure books are not considered an advance in literature, and the whole "Interactive Movie" thing never lived up to the hype. It is also why Audience Previews can be disastrous for some movies ("Magnificent Ambersons" being one of the most egregious examples). I don't want to "participate" in the way "Hamlet" ends. I'm reading "Hamlet" because I want to learn from Shakespeare, not tell him something.

Now, having said this, I will explore some of the inconsistencies and complexities in this position.

First, much art is innately collaborative. Movies and jazz music come readily to mind: there is no "one" creator for these art forms. *But* there is still a meaningful division between the creator(s) and the audience.

Second, there is the unique position of the *interpretive* art. An actor who interprets "Hamlet," or a pianist who interprets Chopin, are in the peculiar position of both *receiving* and *modifying/recreating* an artistic text. To be an interpreter is to be in a sort of halfway-house between the artist and the audience -- a little bit of both at the same time.

I also think we have to look at different kinds of game differently. For instance, the *more* linear a computer game is, the more it fits into conventional definitions of "art" and the more easily we might include it in that category. (Ironically, linearity, which is a hallmark of almost all traditional art, is also sometimes seen as a bad thing for gaming. Not always, admittedly.) One game that is frequently mentioned as "artistic" is "Grim Fandango." I haven't played it, but since it is an adventure game, I assume it is rather linear -- therefore the Creator gets to control a great deal of what the Audience is experiencing, and it's closer to the traditional artist/audience relationship.

But what about a game like Age of Empires II, or Quake? Obviously there is art *in* these games -- the graphics, the music, etc. -- but can they in and of themselves be deemed artworks? I don't think they really can. Or if they can, then why not call "Chess" a work of art, or "Tennis" for that matter? Games are frameworks of rules within which people can exercise their skills and challenge themselves. They are not traditionally deemed art in and of themselves. But -- and here is where it gets interesting -- the most masterly practioners of these games are sometimes considered a kind of "artist." For instance, you might say there is "art" in the way McEnroe serves and volleys, or in the way Michael Jordan dunks, or in the way Bobby Fischer sets up an assault on the enemy queen, or in the way Thresh rocket-jumps.

In fact, games are systems of rules in which we can express our humanity in *limited* ways. Games create microcosms of realities, but microcosms with only one or a few dimensions. Yet within the context of the game, we can be "artistic" just as traditional artists can express themselves within the context of reality in toto.

I have rambled rather far afield here. Finally I would like to point out that the ancillary elements of games -- the peripheral stuff -- is often more artistically valid than the games themselves. I think the bizarre post-modern graphics of "Pac-Man" are more culturally interesting than the simple mechanics of the game itself. I also think Martin Galway's brilliant SID-chip musical compositions for "Parallax," "Rambo," and "Yie Arr Kung Fu" are of far greater ultimate value than the games themselves.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Steve on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 10:50 pm:

Bah, art is stuff I like, stuff that means something to me. End of discussion.

Oh, and NOLF is a true work of art.

(Sorry, this thread was getting too serious for its own good so I needed to wumpus it.)


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bub (Bub) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 11:15 pm:

Fuel for the fire.

Let's say games *are* art.
How many other "artforms" are interactive*?

If games are "collections of art" as someone put it (music, drawings, etc.,) then the "gaminess" or interactivity, it seems to me, is a real limiting factor.

-Andrew
*in the same, integral, way games are.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bruce_Geryk (Bruce) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 11:29 pm:

What's wrong with being serious? I thought it was all the rage now that irony and cynicism are passť.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jason McCullough on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 11:46 pm:

Seriousness also makes your art more Arty; anything funny can't be art. Seriousness is defined by art-house films about uppity yankees recording hillbilly songs about how horrible their continued existence is for profit and learning to fall in love with the simpler ways of a more inbred time, so games need more of that.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jason_cross (Jason_cross) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 11:49 pm:

My sister is one of those people - a trained artist - who has a much broader definition of "art" than the general populace. As I've found most trained artists do. The main problem with her is that when she tries to explain what encompasses art, I usually have a hard time finding things that AREN'T art by that definition. By my sister's broad definition of art, how I cut the lawn is art, and so are all the college kids gyrating down at the local techno club. I think a definition of art that is too broad cheapens what is truly art, rather than justifies the distinction between "bad art" and "good art." If the definition of art were sufficiently narrow, there would be no bad art or good art, just art you did or did not like.

I think to the general populace, art is something you appreciate but do not control, that you find in a museum.

I'm with Chick. I totally think games are not art: though unlike a crossword puzzle, I think they CONTAIN art. =)


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Monday, October 1, 2001 - 11:51 pm:


Quote:

I don't want to "participate" in the way "Hamlet" ends. I'm reading "Hamlet" because I want to learn from Shakespeare, not tell him something.




So, art can't be interactive?

I think art should "draw you in." Some people, when they look at a painting, get so "drawn in" to the painting, it moves them, touches them. Thus, art seems to want to draw people in, and I'd say interactivity takes that to the next level. Though I admit that rarely does a game "touch" people, that's highly subjective.

However trivial computer games in general may be, I will never look at computer games the same after playing Baldur's Gate II. It's changed the way I look at some small (very small) part of life. The fact that this very part of life is trivial seems irrelevant. It's changed how I look at things. That, at least, makes it worthy of *consideration* as art.

It's a small percentage, but I think that some computer games are worthy of the term -- in my book, anyway. I'm not sure that, even as many times as this conversation has come up around here, I know what my definition of art is. But I know it when I see it. And I know that I'm far more affected by some games than I am by many paintings or sculptures, so they pretty much have to qualify, in my book.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By TomChick on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 03:33 am:

"The main problem with her is that when she tries to explain what encompasses art, I usually have a hard time finding things that AREN'T art by that definition."

Exactly. The term 'art' only has so much room inside before it ceases to be a useful definition.

-Tom


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 04:24 am:

I agree. But I still think that some games qualify. I realize at this point it's all subjective, so I'm not trying to convince anyone else, but more figure out what I think about the whole thing. I know that I know when I see something that qualifies as art. As I've said, I've seen some stuff traditionally called art that I don't think is as "artful" as some games. Some movies count, right? So why not some games?

I know you were highly sarcastic in your article, but you made some great points. Especially there at the end, when you said "If can be considered art, why not a computer game?" Granted, only some of your examples qualified by most standards, but...Well, why not?

I guess, for me, anything that really impacts me, and leaves me different than I was before -- even in some small way, like computer games do -- counts as art, most of the time.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By deanco on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 07:50 am:

The kid plays so much Pokemon on the Game Boy that when he turned 6 I told him he leveled up to 'niveau six'. He seemed to understand that better than adding another year to his age. Does that count as far as art affecting the way we see the world?

DeanCo--


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Eapen on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 09:29 am:

As a guy who is paid to interpret music, I've got some opinions on this. I guess that what I view as art (classical symphonies, opera, etc.) is only art through the lens of history. I'm going to briefly mention a bit of music history, grossly simplified to make a point. When Mozart wrote opera and Haydn wrote symphonies, they wrote it for the money. Every morning they woke up and instead of going to a normal job, they sat down and wrote (and wrote and wrote). They were hacks (and I mean that in a good way) that wrote entertainment for the masses. If they followed the right "rules", they were hired again, if they didn't, they stopped gaining sponsors and they went hungry. In the end, they are elevated to artists because they did what other composers of the age did but did it much much better.

So, how do I feel about art in video games? I feel like people are rushing to define everything as art. I really get turned off by seeing something that's a bit new and different and hear it be classified as art. I think that we just need a good dose of time before we know if what game developers are doing is art. Going on what I know of music history, I'd say that fifty or a hundred years from now is the only time we'll get a clue as to what the art of this genre truly is. By then, everyone will know that Daikatana was far ahead of it's time and it will be elevated to it's proper place in history.

(ok that last sentence was a joke).

In summary, I believe that time is the only thing that can define art. What we come back to over the years, what we come back to experience as our views of the worlds change, that is what becomes art. What's the hurry to define it?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Gordon Cameron on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 10:32 am:

Of course all the great artists were hacks (Shakespeare, Mozart, Louis Armstrong), and they did it for money not (just) love, but that doesn't really change what they were doing. They were still creating texts that came from their mind to be absorbed by others. The texts were not necessarily immutable, of course -- they borrowed themes from one another, changed things around, rewrote compositions over and over again -- art is always messier in real-time than history later makes it out to be. But they were still giving *us* the benefit of *their* expertise (combined with human/personality elements). Most of us can't do counterpoint the way Mozart could, can't play the trumpet the way Louis could, etc. We are benefiting from their amazing abilities -- this is why their art continues to appeal to us. Classic definitions of art are not really interactive except for the interpreters (the stage-actors and concert-pianists I mentioned).

Michael Murphy: I wouldn't venture to assert, unilaterally, that something interactive *can't* be art (notice the halfway-house of interpretation I mentioned), but at the same time I am *very* skeptical of any assertion that an increase in interactivity improves art forms in any meaningful way. As I said, Choose Your Own Adventure books are obviously not an advancement of literature. For my own experience of art, it *always* boils down to my brain receiving something that someone else created -- this goes from the "classical" forms (i.e. the counterpoint in a Bach fugue, the cinematography in a Scorsese movie) all the way up to *certain* elements in computer games (the brilliant prose in a Zork game, the magnificent architecture in Unreal). What I have yet to see is how, in the latter examples, the interactivity (i.e. MY participation) in any serious way contributes to those products' being "artistic." Making these things participatory *can* in some way make them a more enriching experience for me -- don't get me wrong -- but then I sometimes think playing tennis is a more worthwhile experience for me than reading a novel. That doesn't make Tennis art; it makes Tennis a game. A different, yet totally worthwhile, human endeavor.

If Baldur's Gate II is a work of art, in what sense is it one? Is it because the dialogue/prose scenes are well-written? Or because the backgrounds are beautifully rendered? Or because the musical score is magnificent? Put this all together and I guess you have a sort of static Wagnerian "music-drama" -- a melding of art-forms in a non-motion-picture, "storybook" sort of a way. That's fine. That can be art as surely as a Movie (itself a frankensteinian mish-mash of various pre-existing genres) can, I suppose. But I guess I wonder this: what is it about the *interactive* nature of BG2 that makes it uniquely artistic? Is the prose somehow improved by going through dialogue paths (back to Choose Your Own Adventure)? Are the rendered backgrounds more effective because you can actually *walk* through them rather than simply look at them? Are you able to participate in the narrative of BG2 in a more direct and personal way than you are able, for instance, to participate in Constantin Levin's life by reading Anna Karenina?

I'm not trying to shoot you down, I'd really be interested to know where you think the *art* is in BG2 (as a whole, rather than its separate constituent parts), and how the *interactivity* somehow gives the art a new, valid dimension...


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 12:14 pm:

"Let's say games *are* art.
How many other "artforms" are interactive*?"

Not many, which is what makes games so unique. Some theater is interactive, in a limited way. Some performance art, too.

"If games are "collections of art" as someone put it (music, drawings, etc.,) then the "gaminess" or interactivity, it seems to me, is a real limiting factor."

On the contrary, I think that interactivity is the media's greatest strength--one that designers often overlook. I think that the ability to create an experience for the player--but one that they can react to and alter--is really an amazing thing. It's like a play in which you get to participate, as a leading character. The designer creates the experience, but you help create the story based on what you do.

Interactivity creates an experience that is about you, the viewer. What other art form does that as a matter of course? By the same token, I think that forcing a lot of linearity on the player really wastes a lot of the media's potential, because the more the designer forces his own story on you, the less the game is about you.

"If Baldur's Gate II is a work of art, in what sense is it one? Is it because the dialogue/prose scenes are well-written? Or because the backgrounds are beautifully rendered?"

That's getting back to defining art based on aesthetic judgement. "If it's not beautiful, it's not art." Like I said before, I don't subscribe to that definition.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Gordon Cameron on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 12:42 pm:

Well, I never said art had to be "beautiful." That's a whole other can of worms, as it depends what you mean by "beauty". Norman Mailer (I think it was him) said that while Picasso's "Desmoiselles D'Avignon" was a striking, important work of art, it was also ugly. Depends what you mean by ugly, depends what you mean by beauty, yada yada.

But if you don't subscribe to that definition, out of curiosity, what definition *do* you subscribe to? If our definition of art is so broad as to include not only Beethoven and Danielle Steele and Duke Ellington and Da Vinci, but also Ultima and Baldur's Gate and Grim Fandango, and then maybe Sim City and Age of Empires II and Combat Mission and M.U.L.E., then honestly why not also Monopoly and Chess and Tennis? And if you are going to call Chess a work of art in and of itself, then have you not defined art so broadly as to include anything? (I am not accusing you of going so far, but there is a question here of where we draw the line.)

Two questions:

a) is it *quantitative* not just *qualitative* (i.e. Dickens is art but Harlequin romances are not, because one is good literature and the other is bad literature)

b) If it is *quantitative*, what are the essential ingredients? If our perception of the essential ingredients is evolving, I think that's okay -- definitions change, culture changes, language changes -- but I also think we need to still define art in *some* way or the word loses all meaning...


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Gordon Cameron on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 12:44 pm:

*errata*

Correction to the last bit in the above message, item b) meant to read "If it is *qualitative*, what are the..."

Is there an edit-message function here? I guess I'd have to register to get that...


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Brian Rucker on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 12:59 pm:

Two quick points as I'm nearly exhausted by this topic having realized a while ago that whether games are 'art' by any definition doesn't mean I'll get better games as a result of this conclusion. That's what I'm after. I'm starting to think of games, in this period, as I do graphic design. It borrows images and concepts from art so it's practioners can communicate about the visual in verbal terms - but it has functional elements as well. Graphic design exists to communicate to a particular public and to communicate clearly. Games exist to entertain a particular public and they must function on those terms.

I do think that down the road we may find better ways of understanding games as art, as Eapen points out, but we need more context to appreciate them.

Quickly, as for Tom's definition of art as something created by a human that illuminates some aspect of what it is to be human - this is something I very much like. I have to confess that there are few if any games that have touched or awakened me on the same level as certain songs or books I've encountered. Ideas about who I am don't come from my gaming experiences. On the other hand, I've rarely found myself pondering architecture's relevence to my existence even while appreciating the elements of design incorporated.

Then we have Gordon's idea that art is about the transmittal of humanistic concepts or perspectives between humans. Going back to architecture - what if the 'art' of a game isn't a narrative, emotional or philisophical construct as much as it is the shape and movement of the gameplay itself? Isn't architecture a fundamentally collaborative experience?

Perhaps the ways we move through a gamespace and the decision making we participate in when playing is in some ways like the exploration of architectural space or how our eyes move through the field of a painting? They do rove where they will. Trying to anticipate this is a part of the painter's craft.


We shouldn't overanalyze this, I agree, but the alternative to abandoning computer gaming to the abyss of commercialism has to be recognising some meaning and quality in the craft of design itself.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Gordon Cameron on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 01:03 pm:

Just so it's out there, I might more or less define art this way:

A text (in the broad sense, including musical composition, dance routine, novel, poem, painting, etc.) whose function is primarily non-practical, presented by a creator or creators for the enjoyment/edification of an audience. The text should be created in some medium that requires rare skill to master, so that the work of the artist is somehow separated from what any person might be able to do with no particular skills at all.

Aagh, that's a pretty shitty definition, and anyway "enjoyment/edification" is dangerously vague.

I'll come back to it.

Meanwhile here are two quotes, one from Oscar Wilde, one from Vladimir Nabokov, that I have liked.

Wilde (from the preface to "The Picture of Dorian Gray"):

"The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.

Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbols do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless."

*************************

Nabokov (from the Afterword to "Lolita"):

"There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray's assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann."

***********************

For my part, I am sympathetic to Wilde's characterization of art as "useless" (i.e. non-practical) and with Nabokov's appeal to "aesthetic bliss", although I am aware that we then need to define "aesthetic bliss" in its own right. Also, I do not quite share Nabokov's insistence that art be non-educational. For instance, I find Shakespeare quite educational, and have learned much from the pure logic and humanistic observation of his work. It could be argued that this is not where the *art* in Shakespeare lies -- that the philosophy and ethical lessons are peripheral -- but I for one do not find much pleasure in his plotting anyway. Perhaps his exquisite virtuosity with the English language, his perfect mastery of iambic pentameter, his construction of immortal theatrical tableaux (Hamlet with Yorick's skull, Lear holding Cordelia's body, etc.) is where the "art" lies. I ramble again...

None of this addresses the question of "interactivity," but it does go to the question of how we define art in the first place...


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Gordon Cameron on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 01:13 pm:

"Perhaps the ways we move through a gamespace and the decision making we participate in when playing is in some ways like the exploration of architectural space or how our eyes move through the field of a painting? They do rove where they will. Trying to anticipate this is a part of the painter's craft."

This is kind of interesting. Even beyond the halfway-house of the interpreter (actor/musician etc.) that I have already mentioned, there is some sense in which *all* art is interactive. As you say, each of us chooses which way to scan a painting, or the frame of a movie, or which actor to focus on during a play, or which parts of the plot to pay most attention to while reading a novel, or which contrapuntal voice to notice while listening to a fugue. And of course, each time we come back to a work of art, we can examine a *different* part of it -- which is precisely why good art rewards multiple viewings/readings/listenings. This is a kind of interactivity, only less pronounced than that in a computer game.

Think of it. The musical score of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is immutable. It is absolutely solid, except for the possible differences in various editions and ur-texts and whatnot. Differences creep in along the way. When a pianist sits down to play the WTC, he is changing it by his interpretation, his choice of musical instrument (harpsichord? clavichord? piano?), etc. There is interaction here. Then, at one more remove, the listener is also "changing" it insofar as his mental experience of the music is altered by his own brain. Is he going to pay attention to the primary voice or the secondary voice? Is he going to focus on the counterpoint or the melody or the harmony? Is he distracted by birds outside (we are delving into John Cage territory here). All these things can be deemed "interactive."

But it's worth noting that we can still extract the *essence* of Bach. The one common thing to all performances, all listenings, all recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier, is that they are based on the *same musical score*. That is the essence of the composition. That is in some real, meaningful sense, immutable.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bub (Bub) on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 02:49 pm:

"The kid plays so much Pokemon on the Game Boy that when he turned 6 I told him he leveled up to 'niveau six'. He seemed to understand that better than adding another year to his age. Does that count as far as art affecting the way we see the world?"

DeanCo... maybe it does. But this story makes me fairly sad for some reason.

I agree with Tom. You guys are stretching the definition of art like silly-putty here. It's becoming a meaningless term that all of us here can only relate to subjectively. Look, I spit on the monitor accidentally. That's art. Look I coded Daikatana last night. That's art. Look my 5 year old relates better to Pokemon concepts than real world one's. That's art. Bah.

That was a fine column regardless Tom.
-Andrew


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Alan Au (Itsatrap) on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 02:51 pm:

On the topic of art, sure I think games are art. In fact, lots of games qualify as *bad* art. Basically, I think the term 'art' is really a useless descriptor when it comes to classifying games.

- Alan


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 09:01 pm:

I always thought of art as anything designed to let me briefly escape the chains of my own perception, and share someone else's viewpoint of the world, however briefly.

Does a video game do that? Perhaps. But it's rare, and it goes beyond mere entertainment. There has to be some kind of epiphany. Like suddenly stumbling across a window in your house that you never noticed before-- though you've lived there for years.

Lots of things do that for me.. paintings, music, movies, writing, etc. It's a question of intention and design. I don't think art can be accidental-- the author has to set out knowing that he is attempting not only to entertain, but to open himself up to the world. And of course, different things resonate with different people.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that Sleater-Kinney sucks.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jason_cross (Jason_cross) on Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 10:31 pm:

>is it *quantitative* not just *qualitative*

The definition of any noun (like "art" or "cat" or "cigarette") purely describes the qualities of an object or subject, not it's quantity or quality.

Sometimes I think people mistakenly use "art" as both a noun and an adjective.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Gordon Cameron on Wednesday, October 3, 2001 - 12:16 am:

"purely describes the qualities of an object or subject, not its quantity or quality."

Isn't there a self-contradiction in that sentence?

Anyway that phrase was just meant as part of the question whether bad art is still art. I.e., if any literature is art, then is *all* literature, however terrible, art? This is what I meant by "quantitative" as opposed to "qualitative" -- that even though Dickens and Harlequin Romances may qualitatively be the same thing (prose narratives), one is high enough up on the scale to qualify as "art" but the other is mere "entertainment." This is all rather tangential to the video game question. Sorry if I misused the term "qualitative" but at any rate I have never used the word "art" as an adjective...

*sigh* my head is spinning with all these tiresome clauses. One thing that annoys me about aesthetics is the total lack of any firmly established foundation or clear definition of terms. Anything goes, really, if you can express it eloquently...


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Wednesday, October 3, 2001 - 12:38 am:

I don't think art is tied to aesthetic value. I've said several times: I think art is essentially subjective. What's art to one might not be to another. I don't think that means that we have to stretch the definition to encompass *anything* -- I simply think that each person will have his own definition, as evidenced here.

I don't think all literature has to be considered art just because some literature is art, but it's not about quality. It's about -- well, that special something that art has. If a movie, or book, or game, or painting, or song, or architectural wonders are art to me, by my definition, that's because it has some quality that moves me. If I can't put words to that quality, does it make it less art? Why is the Mona Lisa art? Is it because of the colors used? Is it the life-likeness of the painting? I don't know. It's because it touches people. It gives people a glimpse into the mind of the painter. But what about architecture? Why is it art? I don't know. It makes no substantial impact on us, it doesn't always give a glimpse of the creator's soul (not in the sense of a painting, anyway), but it touches us, it moves us. It takes out breath away. Such is art.

That said, I disagree with the statement that art is only art through time. I think when the first person a painter shows a great painting to -- the Mona Lisa, for example -- looks at it, that person can be moved. He can be touched. When a painting is put on display mere weeks after it's finished, people look, people are moved, people *experience* art. Maybe that's what art it -- it's anything moving, that people experience, maybe. I can look at a lot of paintings. But only some of them will make a lasting impression. Only some of them will touch me on a deeper level than your average painting.

So, why do I consider Baldur's Gate 2 to be art? It has made as lasting an impression on me, perhaps, as statue I've seen. It moved me when I played it, because it goes far beyond your average game. Sure, it's just a game, and as such, probably won't "touch me" in the same way as the Mona Lisa, but that doesn't make it "not art." I agree that it seems silly to call computer games "art." But when I play a game, and it takes my breath away, for whatever reason...

The first time I played Ultima 9, about fifteen minutes into the game, my wife was there with me, and I walked to the hill just outside Lord British's castle, and off to my left, the sun was setting. I turned to face it, and my wife and I just sat there, and watched, for several minutes. Neither of us said a word. We just sat there, our mouths gaping. That moment, as silly and trivial as it is, has stuck with me. No, it hasn't changed my life. I'm not a better person because of it. But I can remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday. It made a lasting impression. It's not monumental. It means absolutely *nothing* in the grand scheme of things. But I haven't forgotten it, in several years.

There was *something* artful about that moment.

I don't think you have to have words to describe what's art. I think it will touch you in some way, and that makes it qualify as art, to you. I don't think all works of art share certain qualities, other than that they touch people, and people remember them. They move people. Sometimes they make people think, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they change your life, sometimes they don't.

But they touch you, and they stay with you. And so, they are art.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By BobM on Wednesday, October 3, 2001 - 12:46 pm:

Assignment: Is Ico (PS2) art?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jason McCullough on Wednesday, October 3, 2001 - 04:34 pm:

'The first time I played Ultima 9, about fifteen minutes into the game, my wife was there with me, and I walked to the hill just outside Lord British's castle, and off to my left, the sun was setting. I turned to face it, and my wife and I just sat there, and watched, for several minutes. Neither of us said a word. We just sat there, our mouths gaping. That moment, as silly and trivial as it is, has stuck with me. No, it hasn't changed my life. I'm not a better person because of it. But I can remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday. It made a lasting impression. It's not monumental. It means absolutely *nothing* in the grand scheme of things. But I haven't forgotten it, in several years.'

Man, talk about incommensurable personal experiences. I feel nothing but nausea thinking of that buggy and slow trainwreck of a game, sunsets included. ;0


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Raph Koster on Friday, October 5, 2001 - 08:55 pm:

I'm here to be wrassled. But only if you spell my name right. :) Next time, you can get a prompter answer if you alert me to the fact that you're using (and misspelling!) my name in vain...

I don't get how anyone can say with a straight face that games can't be art.

Interactivity precludes it? So much for musical improvisers, theatre (which is BASED on interactions between actors), live storytellers, and so on.

Yeah, sure, the theoretical crowd will tell ya that most all arts rely on a leap of closure, and therefore all communications media and especially all forms of art are interactive to an extent, in that the viewer/reader/listener constructsan interpretation and therefore interacts. Whatever, that's all fru-fru bullshit. :) Even leaving that OUT, a lot of art is based on interactivity. Ever played in a band? That's interaction between multiple people. It can't produce art? Or are you saying there has to be a passive observer to make a performance into art?

If you define art as aesthetic appeal, then it's entirely subjective. So let's not even bother discussing it in those terms. Besides, there's stuff like Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" which is intensely emotionally powerful and has very little aesthetic appeal and is generally acknowledged as a work of art. We won't even get into all the plain old ugly artwork that has been done--and I don't mean just stuff post-Impressionism either, consider the work of Hieronymus Bosch for example.

So let's go with Tom's actual statement. That "art -- for me -- is something that teaches me about being human."

You cannot seriously be saying that a game cannot teach you something about being human. The evidence is all around you that it has happened many times. Maybe not to YOU, but to many others. I've seen too many stories to recount, and I am sure you have too.

But even if you discount all those stories, why say that games are *incapable* of teaching you something about what it is to be human? What precludes it?

Are movies not capable of it? Because we can embed a movie in a game, and then you'd have had that experience.

Is music not capable of it? Because we can embed music in a game, and then...

Aren't stories capable of it? Because we can embed stories...

Can't art be capable of it? Because we can...

A better question is, can games accomplish it purely through *what makes them games*. I still the the answer is yes.

And if you wrote any articles about how The Sims made you replicate your family or pretend to drown your editors, or how you spent hours trying to get a skin to match your girlfriend but then she burned to death on the stove, and ESPECIALLY if you commented to anyone how the damn game was just a commentary on consumerist culture, you think so too.

-Raph

PS, I did a "case for art" (in MMOs) as a guest column over at Biting the Hand, that unfortunately came out on Sept 11. There's some good reasons to wish that more developers saw what we do as an art form.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Jeff Lackey on Friday, October 5, 2001 - 09:53 pm:

"You cannot seriously be saying that a game cannot teach you something about being human."

I'll argue that you can't use that statement in such a blanket fashion to define art (and thus call games "art")

The recent acts of terrorism taught me much about being human. It also invoked quite a bit of emotion. I hardly would call them art.

I've sat in many a confrontational meeting that taught me quite a bit about human interactions. I don't call that art.

While on the topic of work: I've had to fire a number of people. I've learned a lot about being human from that. It sure isn't art.

When my wife and I got out of grad school and had money and no kids, we started collecting art of various types. While I had studied art and art history in school, there was nothing like being a regular at various galleries in the Houston area, and getting to know some wonderful gallery owners who loved to sit and talk art all evening long and go through their exhibits and catalogs and books, to get to "know" art. And I came to the conclusion that a general definition of art is both futile and perhaps ignorant. Because I believe that art doesn't become art unless it connects with another person as art. We purchased a number of pieces that absolutely moved us, transfixed us. But a Zupan or Pissaro that says something to me may be a blank canvas to someone else. Likewise, I remember shows we went to in which the featured art was a white canvas, with literally a single pencil circle in the middle. That may have been art to someone, but it wasn't to me.

I just don't think art is absolute. I was watching a show on the satellite a couple of nights ago on forensic photographers. The guys taking the photos were pure mechanics, trying to get the absolutely best angles and details for the detectives. It wasn't art to them. It wasn't art to the detectives. And it sure wasn't art to the victims families, nor the juries. But, as a serious amateur photographer, I could easily have seen some of these photos in a gallery showing - they caught my emotions in what they captured.

FWIW


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By mtkafka (Mtkafka) on Friday, October 5, 2001 - 11:08 pm:

I always thought that the best definition of art was sorta the Aristotle imitation of life, of art. Games can and usually do imitate lots of different aspects of life... be it obvious or unintended.

plus theres a lot of movies that are supposed to be art, and paintings that are supposed to be art, that dont teach me nuthin bout being human! that definition of art is purely subjective, as Koster says.

The definition of art since the romantic era raphaelites doesnt really do much in todays world. The new art is back to the classical definition imo (i am a classicist type mindset...), of what does it pertain to social function or the function of it upon the person, like aristotles poetics, the rules of tragedt and pathos and whatnut... there is no exact rules for modern art, except of that which is of two extremes, one pertaining to the intellect, and the other on the emotions. It should be inbetween.

uhm, im getting lost. but what im trying to say, is games can be art... though the definition of what is the art of it all is still not determined. I think genre titles for games are more indicative of art handles... ie a simulations artistry is its devising a reality that emulates, an adventure game is interaction and closest to movies, an action game excels with its devise of making ... action, like a Hitchcock thriller... strategy games art is the art of making one think outside the normal boundaries... uhm... im getting lost again.

But there are people who still dont consider movies art, or rock n roll as art, etc etc.

anyway, i think Koster can kick Chicks ASS! he spells bettur!

BTW about ass kissing, I think Koster is helping to make SWG as close to "Art" we could conceive of an online experience... YOU ROCK!!!!

etc


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Raph Koster on Friday, October 5, 2001 - 11:09 pm:

Well, Jeff, as it happens I agree with you to a pretty large extent. I don't define art that way.

Tom does. :)

-Raph


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bub (Bub) on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 12:12 am:

Raph,
I think you were referencing me when you mentioned interactivity. You bring up musicians in a band or actors on a stage. Point taken. Imagine now if the audience was invited to "act" along or "sing" along, that's more the sort of interactivity games include.

How deep a story can a game tell if it must also give the gamer freedom to interact? There's a movie in my game, at that point I'm watching a movie (however good) and I'm no longer gaming. See my point?

I'm not saying games can't be art. Art is an almost meaningless word these days. This conversation proves it. Acts of terrorism as art? No. A naked woman cutting herself with a razor blade on stage in San Francisco, is that art? No... or is it? The Performance Artist I viewed and much of the audience that night thought it was indeed art.

Bah.

I do think the definition of art you're describing is so very subjective it ceases to have meaning to anyone but you and anyone who agrees with you.

The problem is, to most people, "art" does have a definition. It isn't in the dictionary. But when someone calls something "art". When that label is given, that thing transcends whatever it is and becomes "important". "I'm an ARTIST" the game programmer sniffs importantly. "I'm an art critic" the free newsrag performance art critic/hack protests...

See, to most people, the main thing "art" lends anything the term is used to describe is: meaning, and value, and importance. Whether that's in the actual definition or not, that's what it means to people. This pile of garbage or ball of bras is ART! This painting is ART! etc., So, whenever I hear someone calling a game "art" my bullshit and pretention sense tingles. Like mad.

Game makers shouldn't get hung up on considering themselves artists. We'd all be better served if their aim was entertainment. Don't try to teach me about humanity, try to make that $50 I spent a hell of a ride. If you aim for teaching me about humanity, and fail, then you've got nothing. If you teach me about humanity with your game and succeed then, chances are, you still have just a game.

It seems to me all the arguments where people try to convince other people that their work is art (whether that be games, comics, movies, porno, performance art, off-off-off Broadway theater, whatever), their main agenda isn't to convince people their work is art. It's to convince people it's respectible and important. The problem is, attaching a label like "art" to an entertainment media only makes those who disdain it disdain it more.

If you want your games taken seriously, just make good games. Use your artist skills to put art in games, but make sure above all that their good.

In short, I've yet to see a game I consider art. Even though I madly love many games. Raph, what games would you lend the title "art" to?

(Note: I've assumed a lot here, I'm not accusing Raph or anyone here defending their view of "art" of being a snob or a fool. I haven't read enough of Raph's thoughts on the matter to think that. I'm just reacting to the tone of the discussion.)
-Andrew


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Ben Sones (Felderin) on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 12:20 am:

"How deep a story can a game tell if it must also give the gamer freedom to interact?"

Fallout.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bruce_Geryk (Bruce) on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 12:27 am:

First, Raph gets big style points for mentioning Penderecki. Now that that's over:

"I don't get how anyone can say with a straight face that games can't be art."

Did someone say that with a straight face? I don't remember anyone saying that at all. Maybe I was drunk at the time.

Of course games can be art. A lot of things that generally aren't art can be art. I thought the discussion was whether or not games are art as they are right now. Which, to me, they pretty clearly are not. They're a way to waste time. Escapism. Which is great. I love escaping and wasting time. Both of those things.

I would argue that someone who is seriously emotionally affected by a computer game sunset has such a limited experience to draw from that that person really isn't in a position to evaluate art. Because art is inextricably tied to experience.

I absolutely agree with Tom that interactivity inhibits a game's putative artistic expression, not because interactivity is inherently opposed to art but simply because game interactivity requires me to click a button on some goddamn mouse and concentrate on not clicking on the thing that blows up the battleship. Artisitic experience requires a good deal of reflection, and that's not something I can do when I'm trying to kill the elf. Which, I should add for the millionth time, is not bad. I hate the elf, after all.

Maybe someday in the far, far future, when WWII Online works, games will be able to seriously present the elements of art in an interactive meedium. For example, there may be some kind of game in which I can systematically make plausible decisions for Anna Karenina in which she doesn't end up throwing herself under the train. But this is so far beyond alleged "artistic" games like Planetscape whatever (which I have played, so bite me) that it doesn't even have a place in the same discussion. They can't even get WWIIOL to take place in the same world war two. A lot of games don't even work when you ask them to be more than mouse-clicking simulators. Which is ok, because when I'm clicking the mouse I'm wasting a lot of time. Mission accomplished.

Of course, people are going to say "the story in Fallout is so deep, I am so amazed" yet it doesn't compare to most things written by a basic list of the twenty best American authors of the past fifty years. Yet it's a good game. If you really think it does, you possibly have a serious brain dysfunction. Which, in a couple years, I'll be able to treat you for. See me then!

-Bruce


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bruce_Geryk (Bruce) on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 12:31 am:

In the time that I wrote the last message, someone actually posted about Fallout. My comments about Fallout shouldn't be seen so much as a thundering denunciation of that post, as simply an unfortunate coincidence. I'm going to bed.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Mark Asher on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 01:29 am:

The most perplexing question is why gamers and designers want to even bring up the games as art issue? Clearly, they're not even close at this point, and the driving force behind games is to entertain anyway.

I don't lack for opportunities to experience art. I can read books, go to galleries, see plays. Why would I want my escapist games to become art?

Is this interest in finding ways to declare that games can be art someday a guilty justification of the time we spend with games?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 01:57 am:

Personally, whether or not games count as art makes precious little difference in the way I see them, or the time I spend with them. I won't spend any more or less time with them based on whether or not they qualify as art. I just stated my opinion to a question that someone else brought up.

Maybe you're right, Bruce. Maybe me qualifying some games as art is based on a limited experience. But maybe not -- and, either way, that doesn't alter the end result. I think some games, as they now stand, qualify in ways as art, to me. They don't to you? Fine. But that doesn't make me wrong.

And, I say, there will never be an objective definition on what is or isn't art. So, really, we'll never likely come to a general consensus.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 02:32 am:

Oh, and just for the record, I wouldn't call the experience "Seriously emotionally affected!!" :-)

I was surprised, and perhaps slightly astounded, at how well the sunset was portrayed. My wife have sat and watched the sun set several times -- but that was the first time we'd ever seen it so well done in a game.

Sorry if I got melodramatic in attempting to make a point!


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By TomChick on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 05:01 am:

Egad! Firstly, my sincere apologies for misspelling your name, Raph. I see "Raph" and it just parses itself into my head as "Ralph". Feel free to call me Tim for a while...

"You cannot seriously be saying that a game cannot teach you something about being human."

Yep. I can say that. Sure, games teach me that programmers and artists can struggle in the face of adversity, that polygons can do wonderful things, and that I can fritter time like nobody's business.

But when I categorize art as something that expresses what it means to be human -- uniquely human, wrestling with issues beyond the mere material/animal world and the immediate needs of food and air -- I can exlude hobbies like gaming, fly fishing, listening to the Indigo Girls, and keeping up with the Denver Broncos. These are entertainment. Diversion. I refuse to accept a definition of art so wide open that *nothing* is excluded. I refuse to render the word meaningless.

"But even if you discount all those stories, why say that games are *incapable* of teaching you something about what it is to be human? What precludes it?"

Fair enough. As some others have granted, perhaps it will happen. Someday. When the industry matures. When the people who make games, who play games, and who gather the money to fund games grow up, then one day, computer games might qualify as art by expressing something meaningful about being human.

-Tom


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Brian Rucker on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 09:13 am:

Well, I'll have to nudge a previous point that Bub made that defining art as anything that enlightens us as to an inner quality of humanity is pretty broad. While that may be, at least on a gut level, the most compelling definition of art I've heard the more I think about it the more I've learned from history books than literature about the essence of humanity.

I'd take that definition and add that it is an act of human artifice that redefines reality in order to expose hidden relationships bounded the context of the rules of an artform (whether regarding those rules as thesis or antithesis) and the perspective of the artist as shaped by the unique fingerprint of his imagination and experience.

How's that for pretentious and wordy? Do we get a prize? :)

While I agree there are few games that serve to expose very interesting, or sublime, relationships out there I'll agree with those who say that it is possible for games to get there. And I'll go on to say this is a good thing because I'm up for more interesting, subtle, cleverly wrought, and introspective titles. Cause the alternative is more dumbass games and that name is already copywrited. Isn't there enough litigation in the world already? :)

However letting anyone in any marketing department anywhere describe a product as art should be a capital crime. This alone is probably half the reason for so much hostility to us even thinking about games as art. The other half comes from the fact that post-modern art is a pile of inaccessible crap that exists to part suckers from their money without incorporating the concepts of bargain bins, monthly fees or reissued collector sets.

I'll reprise two points I've made previously in support of the idea of games as art.

The story of a game is the gameplay: The personal narrative a player gains from his experience dealing with dynamic plot elements, in the form of rules and engine variables, is the only story that matters in a game. If we can recognise this as story then we can look at the practive of improving the interactive experience as an artform. I prefer thinking along the lines of craft or commercial design but that's an open border. Folks cross back and forth over it all the time and have since long before Michelangelo and Da Vinci.

If architecture is art then so is game design: The rules, problem solving, cause and effect, choice of dimensional constraints, pacing, functionality, anticipating flow of movement, perspective and more all contribute to both architectural space and the gamescape. I think alot of folks consider 'interactivity' to be a player shoving stuff around but really he's acting within some set-in-stone code bases that define his experience just as structual supports shore up the most elegantly designed cathedrals or art galleries. There is function here. There is also art.

A huge mistake, sorry Raph I'm a great fan but I gotta say this, would be considering the graphics, FMVs, sound or prewritten 'story' in any game as an act of art in its own right. They are elements, materials, that shape the overall gestalt of the gamer's experience but dealing with the actual gameplay and the personal narrative that arises from it is the power of the form. Taken on their own story and multimedia are artifacts - like a Cathedral window removed to be put on display in a museum. One can appreciate it but it is without context and it isn't what the soul of the game is about.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Brian Rucker on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 09:38 am:

Err, my bad, I was thinking of Cheapass Games. For all I know there is no Dumbass Games. Company, that is.

I'm going to shoot my fact checker now.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By kazz on Monday, October 8, 2001 - 02:15 am:

"Trying to define art is foolish (as we've seen in this and other threads). "

Trying to define things isn't foolish. Trying to talk about a thing without understanding the definition is, though. I'm not saying you did, by the way. But I notice reviewers (and news people) have a nasty tendency to do that. A lot.

Art as teaching something about being human. Hmph. I never considered that approach, but might give it a whirl.

I don't think a game has ever taught me one thing about being human. Games are generally based around single protagonists in cookie-cutter moral situations. Not much to learn from a ham-handed approach like that.

I can say that I've used games as a means to an end to learning humanity. Civilization sent me on a history binge that has lasted to this day, basically inspiring me to learn the course of history, then to examine the human condition during that history. Ultima IV had a more humanistic point of view that got me thinking on a tangent. I think that's about it for inspirational games.

For my own $.02 (adjusted for inflation) I'd say it's pretty natural for game makers and entertainment people to try and describe what they do as art. We've all heard the stories of the total lack of respect game designers tend to get, from their parents, friends, and even their ungrateful fans. Sure, we all think it's cool to be a games designer. I even will go so far as to say there clearly is nobility in providing entertainment and bringing cheer to the lives of others. But I can't say that qualifies as art.

I can think of many movies that have influenced or uplifted or otherwise improved me as a person. But try as I might, I only come up with 2 games out of hundreds I've played. granted, I'm not trying that hard, but there it is.

I remember a friend telling me that crackead mayor Marion Barry once used the "if it's useless, it's got to be art" paraphrase once, when commenting on an ordinance requiring art in public buildings.

I've called old Marion "Art" ever since :-)


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Bub (Bub) on Monday, October 8, 2001 - 03:05 am:

Well put Kazz. It's much like game article writers calling themselves "journalists". The definition may fit in a strict sense, but the use of the term elevates the game writer and diminishes the real journalists.

(wink to Bruce Geryk)
-Andrew S. Bub
Gonzo Journalist


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