So you're on a pretty good first date. The dinner was excellent, conversation was free-flowing and so was the rather splendid sauvignon blanc. The candle has burnt down to a glowing stump that throws the shadows into sharp relief, and there she is, illuminated across the table from you. The atmosphere is thick and personal; most of the other diners left almost an hour ago. A waiter is quite clearly doing you a massive favour by letting you stay on, and something tells you that tonight is destined to get even better.
And then it happens: she leans forward and grabs your hand, and puts her perfect lips next to your ear. The hairs on the back of your neck rise up as she tells you:
"Baby, I want you to sequence break
to think the women of videogames are beautiful. It's super-lame
to be attracted to them, and if you are you better not say anything, because even the geekiest of geeks will laugh at you.
And my impulse reaction is to say: rightly so! I mean, come on, seriously? Are normal women that imperfect or inaccessible to you? You're probably just transferring romantic frustrations to videogame characters because you have a degree of interaction with them, unlike in real life
And then I realise what a knee-jerk argument that is. It's intuitive and makes sense, but some things have got me thinking recently.
Firstly, there is this post
from PA themselves. Of course, the comic plays off the creep angle, but I hovered on the words of the post, particularly the phrase: "authentically beautiful
." To save you time, this
are what they're talking about. And there's all sorts
of what could quite reasonably
be called "authentic beauty
" in hundreds of other games.
That's obvious, you might say. And I suppose it is. But what is starting to become apparent to me is that we're soon going to have things better
Now here's the thing. At what point does it stop being okay to call something like, say, this...
beautiful, and yet this...
is not? I include the Mucha deliberately to pre-empt the 'it's realistic' argument.
Frequently you hear 'it's just pixels' or 'it's just polygons' or the like, but 2D art is surely just paint or graphite or pastels, and 3D just clay, metal, marble. There is
a tactility there that is lacking in the videogame form, and perhaps that actualization of the beautiful concept is where the divide lies - the game will never be real in any way, but a sculpture or painting can be beheld in reality, even if it is not drawn from a real source. But we can fully appreciate something being beautiful when just a picture in a magazine or on the internet - we do not have to see it in person. So why not a game character? Is it just that knowledge
of its immaterialism?
Not to branch into subjective idealism, but the point is, if you look back at that Kirsten Bell comparison picture, that is a videogame imitating real life. It's not perfect, but supposing it was (as it will inevitably be, very soon)? If the real life figure has a level of beauty, does it not stand to reason that a perfect copy would have exactly the same amount of beauty? And if that is true, is it not entirely understandable that it possesses the same allure? Where is it coming from, in that situation, that the left-hand picture (picture
, not person) is beautiful and the right is not?
I suppose part of it is that you can concede beauty without sanctioning attraction. Just look at how many people will comment on members of their own sex being beautiful without (at least openly!) being attracted to them in a carnal manner. The problem therefore maybe lies not in that person A is finding character B beautiful, but that the purity of the aesthetic appreciation is sullied by a physical attraction.
Now, I can accept that, but if that is the case, then is it still okay to appreciate, for example, artistic nudes? There is an inherent titillation in the nude form; it is very hard to make the argument that the naked body can be viewed divorced of this. If that were so, if the body and its sexual message were seperate, then presumably the Tate Modern would not currently be fighting to keep LINK REMOVED BY RAMIUS.
* (VERY VERY NOT SAFE FOR WORK or the easily disturbed - naked child
) in its gallery, because it would just be another nude. The inextricable sexual connotations of the model are where the controversy lies. I use this example because it is a very, very good illustration of my point. You cannot ever fully remove sexuality from nudity, and physical attraction in art has always had a strong presence.
Now characters in games are very rarely, for now, shown naked, but I would argue that nudity in art is often (though not always) a matter of control. It is placing the power in the hands - or eye - of the observer. Videogames may not often bare flesh, but they do have a substitute for that sort of power in the control exerted by the player. The ability to direct or manipulate or even injure/kill a female character at will is a different type of power, but one as potent as that which exposes the models within art. You only have to look at how many people try and find ways to replicate sexual acts with female characters in games to see an obvious display of this. If we accept the commonly-accepted theory that rape is about power, not sex, then we can transfer that fundamental aspect of 'control' and its consequences freely between art and videogame. In short, physical control over the character in a game substitutes for the control of the naked observed by the observer in art.
- Physical attraction has demonstrably always been an element of depictions of human beauty in art.
- Beauty is not contingent on physicality or reality.
- Videogames will soon reach a point where graphically they are photo-realistic, and some games already have their own non-realistic art style that rivals non-realistic paintings.
- When this is reached, we will have videogame characters who are 'authentically beautiful'.
- Beauty may not neccessarily cause physical attraction, but it correlates. Therefore authentically beautiful videogame characters stand a higher chance of causing physical attraction.
- The highest erotic stimulus in art is in artistic nudes. I argue that a significant degree of this eroticism is due to the control of the observer.
- The control of the observer in the artistic nude is substituted with the control of the player in a videogame (in accordance with the theory that rape is about power, not sex).
I have yet to actually reach a conclusion on this. I personally don't find videogame characters physically attractive at the moment, but I do find many beautiful, and I am perfectly willing to concede that the elicitation of a (admittedly shallow) physical attraction as graphical technology progresses may be inevitable. In ten years time, is it going to be any weirder to find videogame characters erotic than it is to find it in art? Do we react so strongly against it at the moment because the possibility of its truth is unsettling? Is it acceptable, either conceptually or logically?
I await replies with interest.
*Flippy here. The picture in question is called 'American Spirituality', and features a naked ten-year-old Brooke Shields. It is currently being held by the Tate Modern.