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Default Side Quest: Video Games As Art

October 19th, 2011, 07:46
It's been a long time since we had a Side Quest editorial piece. Jacob Way, producer on the indie zombie RPG I Shall Remain recently covered offered to write some articles. At some point, we hope Jacob will delve into the design of his game but for this first piece, Jacob looks at the "games as art" debate. A sample:
In my first article, I'm going to revisit an ongoing debate on whether or not video game design can be called an art form. I think those in the RPG realm who seek carefully written stories in their games can quickly say 'yes', but it's important to know why we say yes. I'm going to open up the floor with a quote by Roger Ebert. Immediately, I expect everyone on this website to balk at what he says. But what he said needs to be carefully considered.
“I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.”
Read it here - and thanks to Jake for participating.
More information.

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October 19th, 2011, 07:46
A quick thanks to Jake for submitting this article.

From my perspective, the answer is a clear "yes". Most game may not address deep issues about the human condition - but some do. I've never seen anyone seriously suggesting some crappy piece of pop art isn't "art" - it may not be great art - but it's still art. Likewise, most games are designed primarily as entertainment - even disposable entertainment - but that doesn't exclude them as art.

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October 19th, 2011, 08:34
Great article, it has some really valid points. Especially the last sentence about how we should judge our games. That part hits spot one of the major reasons to play something that actually challenges your mind instead of playing something that pretty much makes the brain go into hibernation mode. That's why I'll always prefer a deep strategy or RPG to a FPS or Hack'n'Slash.

And NOBODY can claim that Planescape Torment isn't a work of art. It's probably one of the few art pieces I've actually appreciated.
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October 19th, 2011, 08:38
I've been reading more about I Shall Remain and it's sounding better and better. Was a little hesitant at first because it does look like a lot of zombie shooter games, but after reading "Our Story" I'm convinced you are trying for more than that.

I got a question about Kickstarter though. It says you need 12 grand in order to get funded so if I pledge there and you don't make it to that mark my pledge and all the goodies that came along with that pledge are null and void?

Ok, now about the actual article. I never looked at books or even movies that way before. I can remember some really good movies and books, but I need to rewatch or reread them to really start to remember. Same goes with games. I'll have forgotten large parts of a game like Pool of Radiance, but when I start playing it again I'll remember all the good times I had when I was a kid.

In the end I really don't think it matters what people call computer games. They are art to me and part of my culture growing up. Anyone remember the pac-man craze? Jesus I had Pac-Man everything from bedsheets to a costume that my mom made for Halloween.

Good article and now that I know that I Shall Remain is coming up really soon, I'll keep a closer eye on it. Looking good…but seriously tone down the girl screaming

@tomasp3n Oh you'll get people who will disagree with you. That is a given considering this is the net, but they'll be wrong

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October 19th, 2011, 09:29
I don't see any clear definition of what art is in that article, apart from the very ambiguous suggestion that art affects us in a positive way and it makes a good use of our time. (I visited my grandma yesterday, it affected me in a positive way and it was a good use of my time.)

Of course I would be skeptical with anyone trying to come up with a definition of art (good luck to anyone who tries - we can't come up with a definition of RPG here… and RPGs are what most of us know very well!) There have been, however, through time, several people that have diligently studied the subject. I suggest that one one needs to at least pick some and see how games fit within their theories before producing a conclusion.

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October 19th, 2011, 11:44
Hello. Been lurking for ages, but suddenly decided to register to give my humble view, since this particular subject keeps popping up in different forums.

I would suggest that claiming something not to be "art" immediately elevates it to "art".

The very definition of "art" is that people talk about it in tems of "art". Denying that something is "art" is talking about it in terms of "art", hence, it must be "art".

Funny as it might seem, my definition of "art" is a serious proposition. For the benefit of those that don't get it, I'd like to elaborate:

A common mistake in this type of discussion is confusing the concept of art with good art. Even bad "art" is "art". That Planescape Torment is often mentioned in these discussions indicates that some (presumably better) games might be "art", while other games might not. But this is not the case.

Claiming something not to be "art" immediately elevates it to "art". "Elevate" is a key word here, since "art" works as a pedestal. But it only works if you know what you are talking about when you make the claim. You don't need to be an art professor, but you need to have some notion of what "art" is supposed to be. Any notion will do, actually.

Anyway, "art" works as a pedestal. Claiming that something is not "art" is equal to claiming that it doesn't belong on the pedestal. But in order to know what you are talking about when you make the claim, you must first put that something on the pedestal, to see if it belongs there. To make any sort of judgement on whether something is "art" or not, you must first view it as "art", which actually makes it "art".

That is why anything exhibited in an art gallery must be art, because it being exhibited there forces you to view it as art. You might conclude that it's not really art and doesn't belong there, but by then the damage is done, and you have to settle for it being bad art.
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October 19th, 2011, 12:19
When I look back at how I've lived my life, I hardly recall any times I played a video game.

You have youth, we have memories of times when games were designed to be engaging. You can't have everything

I got a question about Kickstarter though. It says you need 12 grand in order to get funded so if I pledge there and you don't make it to that mark my pledge and all the goodies that came along with that pledge are null and void?

I may be wrong but I'm guessing that if it is called a pledge then you aren't charged until the 12K goal is met, which means there is nothing to nullify. I've never actually pledged on kickstarter or the like so this is just a guess though.

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October 19th, 2011, 12:30
My personal definition of "pure" art:

The expression of the internal without DIRECT external influence.

Anything commercial in nature will be tainted, but it can still be "pure enough" - and video games most certainly have that potential.

Certainly, games are as much about art as movies or literature.
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October 19th, 2011, 15:29
Welcome out of the closet Mr. Smiley.

Your definition of art is actually the best one I've ever heard, so I'll have to change my earlier statement of Planescape Torment being "just" art. It's damn beatiful art.
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October 19th, 2011, 17:55
"But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art"

The problem I see with his premise is that the word 'art' is a lot like the word 'rpg' - everyone defines the terms differently.

Addmittedly, I've never cried or felt sad over a story in a videogame. And even the most interesting videogame characters never stick with me like they can when reading a book orwatching a good movie. But they've certainly made me ANGRY - hence my handle, theMADgamer.

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October 19th, 2011, 19:29
The problem with Roger Ebert's analysis is that he is not likely a expert on video games. He knows a lot about literature, film, and other sorts of artistic expression, but I doubt he knows too much about video games. As a person that briefly studied film, and has had a passion about it for well over a decade, and also received a degree in literature, I would say there are definitely games out there that have rivaled the artistic and emotional impact of those mediums. Sure, many others are money-grabs and shallow, but how many rubbish films come out for each truly great one? Either that or his video game time is too occupied by Call of Duty.
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October 19th, 2011, 19:32
I think Mr Smiley is on the right track. To me the definition of art is even more basic though. It doesn't matter whether someone says something is or isn't art. As long as anyone perceives (sees/hears/feels/etc) art in a manmade thing, then it is art to that person, at least. If he communicates his perception to others, then that object can becomes art to those he talks with.
Last edited by Thrasher; October 19th, 2011 at 19:55.
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October 19th, 2011, 19:42
Originally Posted by Thrasher View Post
I think Mr Smiley is on the right track. To me the definition of art is even more basic though. It doesn't matter whether someone says something is or isn't art. As long as anyone perceives (sees/hears/feels/etc) art in a manmade thing, then it is art to that person, at least. If he communicates his perception others, then that object can becomes art to those he talks with.
Hence the state of the art market, where value pretty much boils down to supply and demand.

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October 19th, 2011, 19:47
How can the ending to the original Fallout not be seen as art? What about the truly artistic indie movement going on? Braid was about as artistic as something can be.
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October 19th, 2011, 19:52
Originally Posted by Thrasher View Post
I think Mr Smiley is on the right track. To me the definition of art is even more basic though. It doesn't matter whether someone says something is or isn't art. As long as anyone perceives (sees/hears/feels/etc) art in a manmade thing, then it is art to that person, at least. If he communicates his perception others, then that object can becomes art to those he talks with.
I agree. I was at an abstract museum of art once and one exhible was a hanger hanging from a rod with another hanger hanging from the first hanger. This was 'art.'

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October 19th, 2011, 20:18
THe problem is : The "industry" is just *not* trating video games as "art".

Cheap DVD cases, online DRM, DRM in general, no printed handbooks, talking or even defining "games" merely as "SKUs" …

Just everything points towars the "industry" ingnoring this "games are art" thing completely … For them, they are merely tools to get money/profits …

There is a definitive, distinct hiatus between how gamers see games and how "the industry" see games.

If the industry would *really* agree to this "games are art" principle, they would treat them differently, I'm sure …

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October 19th, 2011, 20:57
I used to be very adamant about games being art like movies or books.

But I have come to another conclusion that is simply: Depends.

Games often are compared to Movies or Books. But people forget that games should be compared to Audiovisual materials, Literary materals or Audio materials.

Audiovisual materials can be movies (which are considered art), but also documentaries or gameshows or reality tv or sports broadcasts and those last four aren't always art.

From the literrary angle you have fiction and non-fiction. Fiction is often art and non-fiction is more informational.

I don't really consider any form of the FIFA games to be art by definition.

Not every video of something is a movie, a broadcast of a football match is not art.

Maybe I'm thinking to much about it, but personally I think not even the most clasic painters were really artists, some were, but others just painted portrets just as a photographer takes your picture so they can put it on your ID.

My final conclusion actually winds down to the fact that a video, a book an audio fragment and a game aren't art by being what they are but you also can't say they aren't art. So a strict sentence like "Games aren't art" is as nonsensical as "Movies are ART period!"
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October 19th, 2011, 21:03
Art is inherently subjective, which was the point I was trying to get to above. There's no absolutely right or wrong answer.
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November 16th, 2011, 17:32
"To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic. "

That is one of the most closed minded comments i've ever heard. Think of how many people in the world can actually name much of the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists. Lots of people watch movies, but how many of them remember the director's name of a movie that really moved them? Even further, can we name the artists who worked on make-up, special effects, etc? Yes in the gaming world, those who've been around will remember very clearly names like Roberta Williams, Richard Garriot, Chris Taylor, John Carmack, Peter Molyneux and so on. Art is meant to invoke emotion. And aside from certain novels, for me personally, I don't think there's been any other "art" that has invoked as much emotion as some of the earlier Sierra and Bioware games. Yes I agree that they can be a time sink, but I would venture to say it's comparatively much less time than those who plunk their royal ass on the couch and watch endless hour of meaningless television. Maybe before making the comments of being more cultured, civilized and empathetic, Mr Ebert might have a different point of view if he had my experience to sit down with my 6 year old daughter and relive the moments of Monkey Island together. As an amateur programmer working on a very amateur game, I'm creating something, not to make profit, but out of an emotional response from my life experiences with games, and wanting to pass that on to other generations who may feel the same way. I can't pass on the art of generations of cooking recipes, or come close to my wife's delicious cooking, but I can do this. And if even one person can find enjoyment in it, just like cooking, then it is art, not matter how amateur or awful it is.
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