Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gaming, an artform?

Ah, what the hell, I'll throw my hat into the ring. Lets work with wikipedia's definition:

"Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions."

From this we got most art. There is a slight issue with this definition, in that it includes what we might call "low art": excitement is an emotion easily elicited from films we might not want to call art. So for the purposes of this discussion we need to be able to elecit more than simply excitement to qualify our work as art.

So, next, what makes a video game? This is an important distinction, as, if films can be art, then we could just put the godfather in and make the player press A occasionally. That really wouldn't be a game. So for our video game to succesfully be art AND a game:

-it must require input from the player, which can affect the events that occur- either a simple success/failure or something more varied
-it must require some level of skill from the player
-The game elements must have some impact on the artistic message

I hope that our gentle reader that something that satisfies this is a video game that is art.

So, for a simple example, lets say we play out an opening scene of a game, and, depending on the actions we choose, we then watch a short film depicting the consequences. There, i've just created a small piece of art. It still qualifies (loosely) as a game- to get all the potential consequences I would have to try different, perhaps unexpected things, which would force me to think laterally- basically an adventure game. Its video game art because our actions are having an effect on the narrative, we are seeing consequences from what we are doing. For an example of this see air pressure, a simple game that plays with our knowledge of the form to present a story that is a little more complex than we think.

It has to be said that games generally speaking DO detract from art. Braid might be an artistic look at the effect of the time, but most of the time you'll be swearing repeatedly trying to complete a really bloody hard puzzle. Thats fun, and al good, but I'm not convinced that experience has anything to do with art. Final fantasy might be considered a piece of art, but I'd argue that what it is is art intertwined with game- the game part has no influence on the story, the true art that you are experiencing, so you are basically playing a game to be rewarded with art. Most games that qualify unreservedly as art in my mind tend to be smaller, lower scale, and have their gamist parts integrated into the gameplay- the Path is another example of this.

Does it matter that most games aren't art? Not really- I don't think most games should strive for that, because a lot of what makes games fun is disconnected from art in a way that they can't be joined. In a funny way Ebert is a little right- I don't think most games will every be art, but his ignorance of the form means that he misses all those games that clearly ARE art.

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