THE NUMBER 1 IMPORTANT FACT ABOUT THIS THREAD
TO ELABORATE ON IMPORTANT FACT NUMBER 1
The question of whether games are art or not is silly.
...threads consisting of
1. GAMES ARE ART BECAUSE *SEMANTIC VOMIT*
2. GAMES ARE NOT ART BECAUSE *SEMANTIC VOMIT*
always (always) goes poorly, and the discussion of what constitutes the label is largely irrelevant (and quite an impedence) to having an interesting discussion upon the expressive qualities of the medium.
With that in mind...
Okay, you all know the deal. It seems that there is a widespread, mainstream view of videogames that boils down to that they are about as legimate of a medium for creative expression as comic books were before "graphic novels." For the past three decades many advocates of videogames have been arguing that videogames have the potential for sophisticated, meaningful display of thoughts and emotions--another way to say videogames can be "art." Currently there is no universal agreement on videogaming's artistic merit except possibly that "we aren't there yet."
Let's talk about videogames and art and debate on how they are related.
A Few Things that You Probably Shouldn't Say
Please do not make statements like the ones below unless you have a really, really good reason for doing so. They are dead-end arguments at best, and pushing these points just dodges the issue at hand. The basic rule of thumb here to not argue about the semantics.
Anything can be art, so of course videogames are art.
Okay, "Can videogames be art?" is a loaded question out of the box. The question entirely depends on the definition of art being used. Really, the question about videogames being art is silly (see above); it's more of a question of videogames being good
art and how they can do so.
Art sucks so be glad that videogames don't try to be sucky art.
For some reason I hear this more than I would think to hear it. First off, art is a loaded word (see above), and usually when someone says something like this, art is likened to those (post)modern pieces like urinals or abstract shapes that took 30 minutes to draw or videos of people kicking a bucket down an alley. Sure people call that stuff art, but it seems the fallacy here is that people assume that if videogames are "art" that every
videogame must be like this kind of art. Of course, this is utterly absurd. Projects in any medium that are considered art are in a niche category. Just because you don't like high-brow material and would rather be entertained by Michael Bay flicks does not mean there's a demand and arguably a need for experimental creations that can occasionally advance a medium forward. Videogames lack this niche category, and that lack is what is under discussion. The question is not whether videogames can be art like urinals in a museum can, but rather if they can be art like Citizen Kane
or The Marriage of Figaro
are art. You get the idea.
Fun is a weird word. There is no cognitive in any language but English that directly corresponds to the word fun, and it seems to be the word that's thrown around most when evaluating a videogame. Here's the problem, fun is a very flimsy catch-all word that could mean just about anything depending on the conversation, just like saying something is art. Entertaining, amusing, enjoyable, etc. are all better, more specific words. Basing your opinion on the word fun is just going to create confusion. Use at your own risk.
Some Often-Discussed Subjects That Will Probably Come Up and Are Totally Cool to Talk About
Stories in Games, Branching Narratives and Cutscenes
An often-used argument is that games have stories and such and that this alone validates games as a creative medium. The often-used rebuttal is that much of the story in a game is revealed in parts of the game that aren't actually the game
; in the words of David Jaffe: "Dude, you cried during a fucking cutscene!" Games often cited in this argument the Metal Gear Solid
and Final Fantasy
series. Lot of cutscene, but does the gameplay correspond to the story? A good question to ask is, would the story be better in a game than in a book or a movie? Still, an interactive and story is definitely a worth discussion.
Gameplay Itself Being the "Art"
I hope this will be discussed a lot. I don't think there's any doubt that stories, graphics and music can be considered artistic and sophisticated. If you look at the actual design and engineering
of a game, is that part of it an art? If you strip a game of its music, story, and visuals can you still have something that can evoke a wide assortment of emotions and thought to the point that movies and books can?
The Industry's (Un)Willingness to Make "Art" Games
I think this will come up somewhat. There's a lot of money going into AAA videogames, and it's understandable that publishers will want to see a return for that money and play it safe when making games. There is very little risk-taking in the videogame industry compared to other mediums, and that certainly can create doubt over whether there can be a Citizen Kane
or a even a Ben Hur
Authorial Control Versus Player Interaction
That games are interactive creates some interesting conundrums for a game designer. How do they present a crafted, artistic statement when the player can go and fuck things up in their game? Okay, that's a gross simplification of the issue, but nevertheless, how much a developer has control over their videogame is definitely an issue worth discussing.
Most Games that Try to Be Art are Terrible
There are a good amount of people who argue that developers who try to make a game artsy don't know what they hell they are doing. In many of these videogames the game design is much less entertaining than a standard mainstream game. Where is the middle ground where a game has some intellectual appeal and can be rudimentary entertainment at the same time? WARNING:
this argument is dangerously close to the fallacy "if videogames that try to be artsy suck, videogames are totally not art and you should be glad they aren't." Be careful! An interesting question involving this subject is "are artsy videogames that we have right now 'bad' because simply that videogames are a young medium and just hasn't evolved yet to the point where good game design with intellectual appeal exists?"
Some Game Highlights
I see these games cited as examples of "games that are art" a whole lot.
Metal Gear Solid Series
: Known for narrative that goes above and beyond the call of duty (MGS2 especially got praised for its post-modern story), the Metal Gear Solid
games have been called artistic more than once.
: The Ayn Rand references and surprisingly mature subject matter contained in Bioshock
got it a lot of praise from the gaming community and showed that a game could cover some pretty high-brow material and still be a success.
Final Fantasy VII/Final Fantasy Series
: People love talking about Aerith, and FFVII did do a lot for RPGs--a genre that tends to actually have a story more than most games. Pretty good stories in most of the rest of the series as well(FFX stands out in my mind).
Silent Hill 2
: This is a survival-horror game with a unique story that dealt with themes and issues that may not actually be covered elsewhere in the game industry. Should be noted that the game mechanics, and most every facet of SH2, contributed to the atmosphere of the game. Sure you're character couldn't aim worth shit and the combat wasn't great, but that made the experience all the more terrifying.
: Oh my, Killer7
is fucked up. Everything from the visual style to simply the gameplay was a complete reversal of standard videogame conventions, if not a direct satire. If there was a post-modern videogame, this would be the one to point to.
Ico/Shadow of the Colossus
: These two games aren't as balls-to-the-walls crazy as Killer7
but definitely have some interesting features. I especially think Shadow of the Colossus
stands out because of the way it paces the gameplay to accentuate the story. People tend to actually hate playing SotC though.
: When people weren't bitching about the $15 price-tag of the game, they acclaimed Braid
for having really nifty, mind-warping puzzles. Braid
combines this engaging gameplay with a really high-brow and intellectual (and pretentious according to naysayers) story that arguably is intertwined with the gameplay.
Indigo Prophecy/Heavy Rain
: A very interesting set of games that focus on widely-branching stories and play like an interactive movie. The gameplay can be criticized to be one big quicktime event, however.
: Mass Effect
, Baldur's Gate
, Dragon Age
all are known for their really well-done dialogue and stories. Also these games tend to have sex-scenes.
: There are tons of small, mostly independent games that take a shot at having some artistic intent. The Marriage
, The Path
, Pixeljunk Eden
...the list goes on. Probably the most "out-there" games. These games tend to get shat on for having crap gameplay and childish artistic statements, however. Still, these games aren't backed by risk-weary publishers and have the freedom to go where blockbuster titles cannot.
Jim Sterling's explosive article on indie games not having to act like indie games.
Followups and other articles on the same subject include I Wanna Be the Guy's creator's take on indie games and how most fail at art
and Gamasutra's followup on the Sterling article.
Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid, gives speeches and rants on artistic game design and related news a lot.
Roger Ebert argues that player control makes games ever unworthy.
You probably know this one but hey it needs to be remembered when talking about art and games.
Chris Crawford, outspoken former game designer, wrote probably the first book focusing videogames as art.
Crawford also gave a speech announcing his departure from videogames back in 1992.
This article made a spash way back when MGS2 was new.
From the same site (different journalist), bemoans the failure of the industry to produce artistic works.
More links might show up....
That about covers the basics. Videogames, art, what is your take?