I Like To Move It

I Like To Move It
Philosophy of Game Design - Part Three

Robert Yang | 12 Oct 2010 12:39
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Some might argue that there is no longer any single value like "beauty" or "truth" or "sublime" to unify art today. Which isn't bad; in trying to conform to any single value like that, perhaps the artist is actually stifling their own expression.


That's a justification for Tale of Tales' "No" response, and personally I'm a little sympathetic to that argument. What makes a good game? Not blindly following formal conventions and forcing players to do what they've done before.

Then there's a whole tradition of aesthetics arguing that art isn't necessarily beautiful or sublime or dead - that art can be practical and useful as a tool.

You might dismiss such "art" as surprisingly decent state-sponsored propaganda, poorly designed and thinly veiled advertisements, or the common groan-inducing movie tie-in game with short scenes from the film as unlockable "extras."

But no, those are corrupt commercial applications of art and bad examples of art as a tool, argues Marxist aesthetics. Most art has been co-opted by the powerful to keep the powerless in a state of constant distraction - this art, along with culture, political institutions and religion ("opiate of the masses") forms the "superstructure" that keeps the powerless in a state of "false consciousness."

That gross oversimplification is more or less how Marxism feels about art - in fact, it would probably point menacingly at videogames as a startlingly dangerous type of mind control, distracting us with a fictional war against the Zerg instead of our real-life ongoing class struggle against the rich.

To fight such empty entertainment, Marxism would argue for a new revolutionary type of game that highlights economic inequities in society, the growing power of the rich and the weakness of the poor. Existing long before Marxism but now heavily influenced by it, this artistic tradition is known as "social realism:" a good game fights for social justice in the world by representing it and critiquing it.

Many game developers operate in this tradition. Molleindustria seeks to "free videogames from the 'dictatorship of entertainment,' using them instead to describe pressing social needs" with well-designed satirical flash games like the McDonalds Game and Oilgarchy. The "Newsgames" project aims to coin a new genre that merges journalism with mechanics. Games for Change advocates new ways to bring awareness to human rights issues, poverty and global conflicts. I would also argue that the Metal Gear Solid series, BioShock series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Deus Ex operate in a kind of a social realist context and attack the values they see as oppression. The list goes on.

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