Saturday, October 24, 2009

VGA 1-1 [Origin Orating]

[*Author’s Note* About two years ago now, I started writing posts obnoxiously titled “Games as Art” on My intent was to go about the topic by outright denying that there was ever a debate in the first place. There was no set schedule or anything --- I posted them pretty much whenever I felt like it and they consistently provoked a generous response, granted I was always demanding conflict to my own opinionated stances. The few worlds I’ve placed up here at Misanthropic Gamer have since taken on the simple moniker of “VGA *insert respective world number here*” to deceptively mask (even to myself) the fact that I’m still talking about the damn subject.

VGA also serving as an abbreviation to the quickening obsolescence (much like the entire worth of the ‘are they art’ debate) of video graphics arrays is just a ‘happy mistake’, I assure you. Since I only have ‘a world and a half’ left to go now, I thought I’d begin posting the revamped versions of the original blogs. This is not just simply to provide edits, clarifications, and revisit certain topics, but to transfer them to Misanthropic Gamer by rebuilding them entirely. I deleted them from 1UP because I think they fit here better now (in essence, the posts among many other things --- led here to begin with). Anyway, this reimagining includes integrating all the comments, ideas, and responses that I received within the posts themselves now; just as a way to show some semblance of gratitude towards those that actually took the time to read them.]

So without further ado…

Video Games As Art 1-1
Originally Posted: Friday // November 9th, 2007 3:02:28 Cental Standard Time

As an art student [Note: I’m a pissed off drop-out now by the way…] I feel it's my responsibility to shoot this overdone topic in the face and develop it until I'm satisfied with it, so expect to see this series iterated and developed upon until I can reach a final conclusion at 8-4 [Note: My conclusion by the way, was that gamers are people, who by default suck ass --- go figure]. Are games a form of Art? Yes. We (the entire damn race) have not fully grasped the concept of either subject (i.e. video games or art) in enough depth to even question it to begin with. What makes a video game? (the technicalities are mostly irrelevant) and more importantly, what makes art? (one can't touch the latter with a ten foot pole from any direction to begin with).

First, let’s take a look at both terms, at how the dictionary classifies them:

Vid•e•o Game
(plural vid•e•o games)
Electronic game controlled by microprocessor: an electronic or computerized game, usually controlled by a microprocessor, played by making images move on a computer or television screen or, for hand-held games, on a liquid-crystal display. An electronic game played by means of images on a video screen and often emphasizing fast action
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The definition is inherently flawed, yet because it’s so suggestively insulting --- some insight is gained towards what our dear medium truly represents.

art [pronunciation: aart]
noun (plural arts)
1. creation of beautiful things: the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works, e.g. in painting, music, or writing
2. beautiful objects: beautiful or thought-provoking works produced through creative activity
3. branch of art: a branch or category of art, especially one of the visual arts
4. artistic skill: the skill and technique involved in producing visual representations
5. study of art: the study of a branch of the visual arts
6. creation by humans: creation by human endeavor rather than by nature
7. techniques or craft: the set of techniques used by somebody in a particular field, or the use of those techniques
the art of the typographer
8. ability: the skill or ability to do something well
the art of conversation
9. cunning: the ability to achieve things by deceitful or cunning methods (literary)
or arts, npl
1. forms of creative beauty: activities enjoyed for the beauty they create or the way they present ideas, e.g. painting, music, and literature
2. nonscientific subjects: nonscientific and nontechnical subjects at school or college
[13th century. Via French < Latin art- "skill"]
have something down to a fine art to be able to do something very skillfully
The Latin stem art- "skill," from which art is derived, is also the source of Englishartificial,artisan, andinert.
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

It’s amazing how vague the definition is to a word that's definitive to such a large part of our civilization can be isn't it (i.e. art)? I took six more dictionary entries than I did the first time I wrote this and the nebulously subjective mess still remains stalwart. The definition leaves the idea so wide open that it's almost difficult to comprehend that someone can even raise the argument that a game can't be art. Art is something humans can create but can't understand, and I'm willing to bet that out of any of the other higher-reasoning creatures in this universe (assuming there are any of course), we're among the few races that can accomplish such an idiotic feat. Art is subjective as it is, but we still have people that will try and lay down some definitive structure on it, and art will always step out of this, it will break this structure. It’s typically people that haven't played them (or play them in a very cursory manner) who attempt to lay down this standard. I find that extremely amusing. Because the window is left so wide open in terms of the definition, people fill in the holes with whatever they like.

“Even an artist like Jackson Pollack, who is an extremely well-known abstract painter, has had people looking down at him saying "What? That's art?" For me it comes down to the person, and if the game can elicit any kind of emotion in any aspect, then I think it could be called art.”
-Mandy E. aka schatzi, 1UP Blogger

Matt Spayth and Randy Moosepayo express a hard-to-deny disillusionment with all games being called art. I agree with both of them in the sense that the ideal is to accept all games as art, yet it’s hard as hell sometimes. We all have filters, but occasionally we’ll come together and establish certain truths, such as stances of enjoyable design to which we apply the atrocious word, ‘quality’. This is not new, nor is it uncommon (see religion). I read ‘somewhere’ that games can't produce the emotional response that is the required essence of what makes art. The person that said this should be publicly murdered for the amusement of all people who enjoy creative mediums of any kind. Why? Because obviously this man/woman hasn't sat down and played a videogame for more than half an hour in their entire life. This is a statement or thought born entirely of ignorance which is one of the many ‘corruptions of reason’ that the human condition is inherently composed of. It's also a statement that in itself represents hundreds of thousands of years of stupidity. The only thing people in general do consistently on a daily basis (and successfully mind you) is prove how stupid they are; we all do it, so it’s one of the few things to place faith in as well (as opposed to ignoring it out of some misplaced sense of morality).

Almost any gamer on the face of this planet has AT LEAST one video game he/she can connect with on a deep emotional level. Sure, not every game represents the best overall concept of art. Look back at some of the most basic forms of art there are though, pictures, drawings, and paintings. How many of these periods did we have where "certain artists" were in demand while others and their artwork were looked down upon like dog shit? More than enough, that's for damn sure. There are paintings that deconstruct ideas and concepts to the point where it's just basically colored squares (e.g. Piet Mondrian). If we can pride ourselves on seeing art to that point, why in God's name is there such an issue over classifying a fictional narrative/experience that we can influence for ourselves (created by dozens upon dozens of talented artists by the way) as a piece of artwork? Is its infantile state reason enough to simply piss all over it because we've done it with everything else we've later accepted as ‘art’? Makes sense to me --- why the hell not?

“You can prove anything is art, you’ll have to bust your ass however, to prove that something --- anything isn’t.”
-SnakeLinkSonic, jackass

There are thousands of games out there and they all borrow some of the most satisfying aspects from plenty of other mediums. A commonly cited example is Shadow of the Colossus. In a very old review, I stated the game is basically an interactive painting and I stand by that today. The ambiguity of the plot and the solitude of the play can probably send hundreds of different ideas spinning off in the heads of the many of people that completed it (or played it for that matter). You know what? You can't even get that with most films of today. The general viewpoint of videogames is altered by the media drastically as well. They are most commonly played up as some kind of ultra violent and addictive digital drug that we should keep our kids away from (or oppressively control their exposure to). We also have our most average sitcoms for example, where someone is playing a game and all we’re able hear is random beeps, blips, and buzzing reminiscent from various eightes titles. Yes, I'm fully aware that they have to communicate the fact that someone is playing a videogame to everyone watching, but I’ll never pretend like that’s not even the slightest bit offensive to me.

It stuns me that a title such as Manhunt 2 can catch censor hell while the rise in film’s ‘torture-porn’ hasn't been quelled since it began upping the ante in during the 2000s. The law tends to stand firm when another GTA game comes out, but it’s fine dragging our six year olds to see R-rated films. It's ludicrous to even contemplate why things like this can happen to begin with.

Video games by their very nature require the player to interact with them, so not only do we transcend the nature of being a simple audience, we become the artists as well. It’s more interesting to note this individual attribute of the medium, rather than use it to irrationally isolate them from the arena of artwork. There are plenty of developers that are always pushing medium’s relevance in society. There are of course, the obvious developers --- but let’s consider the universally known progress of a studio such as Nintendo. Say what you will about them recycling the Zelda, Metroid, and Mario franchises over the past twenty years, but they are still creating the titles are among the best (if not the best) in simply presenting "mechanics themselves" as art. When one moves to even a slightly more niche series such as Metal Gear, we can analyze how they --- in their own ways are pushing the medium into entirely different areas as well; though they may be progressing at much slower paces (i.e. what does Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots have to say in conjunction with a title like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves?). We mustn’t forget that various genres are still years away from moving their own bars up to begin with, due to technology being an inherently and majorly influential factor (e.g. the stealth genre).

Roger Ebert
Ebert and Kojima clarified their "games cannot be art" statements in some articles that are probably still floating around somewhere. I have the URLs for the original entries that I read, but they're no longer functional. They just redirect me to Edge.

"Anything can be art. Even a can of Campbell's soup. What I should have said is that games could not be high art, as I understand it. How do I know this? How many games have I played? I know it by the definition of the vast majority of games. They tend to involve
(1) point and shoot in many variations and plotlines,
(2) treasure or scavenger hunts, as in 'Myst', and
(3) player control of the outcome. I don't think these attributes have much to do with art; they have more in common with sports."

-Roger Ebert

Look at all the strings that the dinosaur attached to his clarification. What the hell does high art even mean to him? How does he ‘understand it’? At best, he’s simply an elitist and a tired old product of his times (not to mention an absolute slave to his beloved medium, film). There’s more to be said about his boundaries in comprehending the foundations of interaction than anything that even remotely suggests conclusive evidence towards a game not being art (or in this case, on some low-grade scale of the idea). What games do have in common with sports is why we have things like the MLG now.

People don't competitively watch movies or read books (not officially anyway), and it’s an area videogames have every right to explore now (is he just subconsciously pissed that films don’t facilitate that?). I don't personally like the arena of competitive gaming, but games are one of the most moldable and flexible mediums there are and competitive play is definitive proof of it. One’s own influence on a game only enhances its worth as art, it just significantly alters the roles of both the artist(s) and audience in the process. Ebert has thus presented his thoughts on art as subjectively incoherent. Subjectivity is in no way a problem, but when someone doesn’t even know what the hell they’re saying in the first place --- whoever they’re speaking to may as well be an inanimate object.

Hideo Kojima
For a developer and famous ‘Engrishman’, he came off being far more articulate than Ebert did --- that’s for damn sure.

“I don't think they're art either, videogames. The thing is, art is something that radiates the artist, the person who creates that piece of art. If 100 people walk by and a single person is captivated by whatever that piece radiates, it's art. But videogames aren't trying to capture one person. A videogame should make sure that all 100 people that play that game should enjoy the service provided by that videogame. It's something of a service. It's not art. But I guess the way of providing service with that videogame is an artistic style, a form of art.

For example, look at a concept car. You don't have to be able to drive a car, but if it's called a car and it has artistic elements in the visuals, then it's art. But an actual car, like a videogame, is interactive, so it's something used by people, so it's like a car where you have to drive it. There are 100 people driving a car; they have 100 ways of driving it and using it. It could be families driving the car. It could be a couple driving a car. The owner of the car could be driving along the coastline or they could go up into the mountains, so this car has to be able to be driven by all 100 of these people, so in that sense, it's totally not art."

Art is the stuff you find in the museum, whether it be a painting or a statue. What I'm doing, what videogame creators are doing, is running the museum --- how do we light up things, where do we place things, how do we sell tickets? It's basically running the museum for those who come to the museum to look at the art. For better or worse, what I do, Hideo Kojima, myself, is run the museum and also create the art that's displayed in the museum."
- Hideo Kojima

Kojima makes sense as long as one recognizes that he’s cemented his own definition for what art is. At least he provided some amount of insight before verbally vomiting for us. Whereas most people will dance around exposing their subjective definition, he clearly states that it’s something that radiates the artist, irrevocably tying his perception of his own creations to the notion of them being mere ‘products’. I’d counter that his team simply being ‘museum managers’ as what I perceive to be him meeting ‘us’ (gamers) halfway, that’s it. Placing the notion of an artist’s singular influence on their art is wonky (not to mention a tad egotistical) to say the least. If there was but one person left on the entire planet and they drew the most beautiful rendering ever, would it be art? I won’t say no, but I will imply the foundations for its entire worth being questioned. Both the audience and artist are required for art, videogames are just shifting the entire mold in a new direction. I still vow to step very curtly on Kojima’s foot if I ever meet him. Then (and only then) will I consider giving the creator of my favorite title of all time --- a handshake (and a pat on the ass too, if he’s not too pissed about his foot still).

“Gears of War and Bioshock…the end”
-Aaron Shoemaker aka BreakfastPills, 1UP Blogger

See? I have problems with such a quote now, but will I argue it? I’d just as soon make an attempt at self-fellatio. People’s standards are the only deterrents that inhibit them from announcing art towards such a machismo fantasy and a more streamlined version ofSystem Shock 2. So what makes a great game? What transcends a game to a level apart from other forms of ‘accepted art’? I’ll present a trio of my favorites, the big three ‘E’s.

Exploration - This has been one of the most influential aspects of almost any great game that has ever come out. How the world one is given and how we're able to access it. Even in the 8-bit days, something like Mario could be perceived as big and expansive, because the player could explore the levels to their heart’s content. Then over a decade later what did we get? That in 3D on steroids. It's been growing since. Miyamoto's childhood influence from exploring has poured into games and allowed them to grow at an extremely rapid pace (yet still not fast enough for some of us).

Engagement - This is where the game most definitely shines in it's creative aspect. How did the game draw you into its world? How did it make you remember a certain moment or affect you in a certain way? How did it create the illusion that you truly had control over your character (or that you WERE the character)? This ranges from the feel of controlling Mario by holding the button down to jump higher to how profound the switch was for gamers to assume the role of Big Boss in lieu of his artificially created son. I spent my first 3 hours in Super Mario 64 doing back flips and long jumps off any random surface I could before actually playing the game proper. Games have grown in the sense that they are now trickling in a wider variance for how the most infinitesimal things can deeply affect a player’s perception. The only problem there is getting gamers to appreciate it more…

Experience - Most of the games I've played and enjoyed to a passionate level involve me completing the game, watching the credits roll and feeling like I just exited another plane of existence. Akin to waking up from another life or an incredible dream --- this is experience. It’s artificial and has various strings, but is insanely resonant (and it’s my most revered aspect of any game). How a gamer can or cannot stitch their ‘real’ presence to that of their avatar’s world defines how they see the majority of games. I personally live and die by Experiencism, which is something that no person or game can take from me, despite their relative ‘quality’.

We could get all sorts of messy with the arenas of visuals, audio, and various mechanics; but do I even have to at this point? Not really. The laundry list of things to cover in games is longer than I want to list, but have dedicated this series to glancing at anyway. By those standards, I’ve already failed --- and am proud of it. There's absolutely too much artistic value and resources that go into these games to NOT call the finished project a piece of art.

I rest my case.