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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But not all Marxists agreed that social realism best advanced social justice; some felt it was too vulgar, too obvious or too comfortable.

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One famous Marxist artist, Bertolt Brecht, argued that experimenting with the form itself - whether in theater, painting or perhaps videogames - would be intrinsically political because it would force the viewer or player to be more critical. Breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the player, for example, might force him or her to reflect on their real-life actions.

A good game fights for social justice through formal experimentation that encourages players to reflect on themselves.

Another incredibly influential neo-Marxist theorist, Theodor Adorno, claimed that art should not be political at all. He argued that artworks (like videogames) were forms of expression, symbols of our personal freedom to will things into existence. By using art (or games) as a tool, for commercial exploitation or social good or otherwise, you sacrifice your freedom to some outside purpose - and sacrificing any artistic freedom is the ultimate betrayal of art and fosters that Marxist "false consciousness" within the artist.

By this account, a good game doesn't advance social justice. A good game remains as apolitical as possible. Games should not be used as tools; art is art and games are games.

Now we're back where we started, muttering horribly pointless things like "art is art" and you're probably rolling your eyes.

Again, talking about art like this might feel useless because there are no definitive judgments to be made about art. Everyone has their own opinion and taste in art and we generally respect that as a matter of personal preference in this postmodern age.

Maybe everyone had it wrong. Games aren't art - but not because some of some theoretical idea of authorship or the "sublime" or Marxist aesthetics. Games aren't art because so few people are making them compared to the huge amount consuming them.

Games aren't art because learning how to code is still too daunting, while comparatively anyone can pick up a paintbrush or a camera and start making work. The most user-friendly solutions like Unreal, Unity and GameMaker still require substantial programming knowledge. Even if you do manage to make something that works, good luck getting distribution on any console!

So maybe games aren't art because you aren't making them. Maybe a good game is a game that you made. Maybe we need more and better paintbrushes - more intuitive ones that my grandmother can use.

In this sense, games won't be art until there are millions of videogames, designed by everyone, flooding the marketplace like in 1983 with the crash of the game industry. Except in this glorious future we won't call it "flooding the marketplace" because we won't commodify games like that anymore and your children will laugh at you for doing so. No, we won't call it "the crash."

Instead, we'll call it "the renaissance."

Robert Yang is currently an MFA student studying "Design and Technology" at Parsons, The New School for Design. Before, he studied English and taught game design at UC Berkeley. If he's famous for anything, it's probably for his artsy-fartsy Half-Life 2 mod series "Radiator" that's still (slowly) being worked on.

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