275: Philosophy of Game Design - Part Three

Philosophy of Game Design - Part Three

Before discussing whether or not games are art, you must first decide what "art" really means.

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The first few paragraphs totally reminded me of BioShock o.O

Another interesting article. Very well done.

So the answer to the question is that the question is irrelevant?

Depending on the purpose of art, games could actually be one of the most artistic things ever? If you define art as a luxury that distracts people and prevents them from rising up against their leaders then I would consider games the third most powerful collection of art ever, behind television and the internet, respectively.

It's not art because it's interactive. It's not art because it's interactive in a way that can create multiple situations based on who is manipulating it, or how they manipulate it. It's not art because it can't be done by a layman.

The first is a fallacy because there are some other interactive pieces that can be considered art.

The second MAY be a fallacy because assuming the player did nothing incorrect some games will always have the same ending, no matter how they were manipulated.

The third is the closest thing to a logical reason to not call it art. Just because you are a layman in a skill set doesn't mean you can't create art.

The art that you create might not be good though. It might not be remembered when you're gone. It might not be remembered when you move either. I've lost track of how much art I've just thrown out or packed away to probably, and sometimes hopefully, never see again. I can't count how many failed web comic start up attempts I've found when I unpack after I move. Just because it is art doesn't mean that it's any good. If it's not good, then you can just put it up on deviant art though. Somebody might like it.

Are games art?
Yes.
Why?
Because everything is art.
The way i cook food is art, the way i walk down stairs is art, the pc i am typing at just now is art, this website is art, my job is art.

Art is subjective. As long as someone, anyone thinks something is art, then it is art.

Does it really matter?
That's a different question.

vxicepickxv:
The art that you create might not be good though. It might not be remembered when you're gone. It might not be remembered when you move either. I've lost track of how much art I've just thrown out or packed away to probably, and sometimes hopefully, never see again. I can't count how many failed web comic start up attempts I've found when I unpack after I move. Just because it is art doesn't mean that it's any good. If it's not good, then you can just put it up on deviant art though. Somebody might like it.

For the sake of discussion, perhaps one would argue that if it is not successful then it isn't art? I mean, almost everything we call art today is successful, know, or widely loved.

Edit:

RikSharp:

Why?
Because everything is art.

If everything is art then there is nothing that makes "art" special...basically, if everything is "art" then nothing is.

While the constant references to schools of philosophy kind of turns me off, the last few paragraphs intrigued me. That's really taking the common idea that games will be considered art when everyone plays games a step further and I kind of agree with him.

Think about it. Almost everyone has drawn a sketch or painted a painting in art class, but this used to be reserved to artists with patrons. Same with movies, anyone now has the ability to record a movie, even with their cell phone if they want. Maybe some day programming will be an elementary school class similar to art and gym. When everyone knows the joy of creating a game, they will appreciate the work of professional programmers even more.

Man, thank you, Mr. Yang.

Since Ebert said what he said we've had to endure quite a few journalists out of their depth writing platitudes like "art is subjective" or going for who cares approaches without ever bothering to research the subject matter (that would be art, as well as games) in any amount of depth.

This article barely scratches the surface of the issue, and it's already more focused, knowledgeable and interesting than most of what was written about this at the time. Kudos.

I can tell there are much confused wanderings in your soul. I have come to make all things clear, and shall now give you the one true definition of art. Prepare your mind.

Art is any intentional form of human expression.

There you have it. Hear me now, believe me later.

(Oh, and video games have elements of art, some games have major art elements, some have minor. Does this make games on the whole art? I'm not sure. I'd probably prefer to call games simply "games" and not "art", but follow up by saying games include art that's just as significant as any other traditional art. Therefore, games are superior to pure art because they not only contain art but also other elements.)

That's a scary thought, that mass produced slog and mediocrity would be called the gaming renaissance. Art is done all the time, but artistic quality is something many of us can appreciate. Many dropped names of the art world have all kinds of dispute over them and how valuable as "art" they are. Post-modernism takes a special knowledge to appreciate, but surrealism takes not just a craned head but two different sets of eyes, and still gets the title attached. Pollack isn't anything really special or interesting to look at, but is revered by those who find his spring period a wonderful trip into the insights of the soul. Is his scattered mass of lines such an insight? To someone, absolutely. To everyone, not a chance.

There are already thousands of independent games which are usually made by a single person. They're called flash games, and I can say that they are not the renaissance. Check out http://www.Newgrounds.com and you'll find mostly derivative crap, together with a few genuine pieces of art. All things subscribe to Sturgeon's Law: that 99% of everything is crap.

Iron Lightning:
There are already thousands of independent games which are usually made by a single person. They're called flash games, and I can say that they are not the renaissance. Check out http://www.Newgrounds.com and you'll find mostly derivative crap, together with a few genuine pieces of art. All things subscribe to Sturgeon's Law: that 99% of everything is crap.

You're missing the point. These thousands of independent games are designed by like-minded people. Think about it. Who wants to make flash games? People who like flash games (and/or want to make money off of it). So if someone already likes them, why on earth would they try and expand and appeal to a different audience? What I believe Mr. Yang is saying, is that once game design becomes accessible to the point where anyone can make a game, that's when we will have the renaissance. Because all of these people with different backgrounds/life styles, who may have not played many games (and the ones they have, may have been extraordinarily different than the average game), will base their game on different conventions than that of the typical one. Perhaps they will draw their inspiration from outdoor games rather than from diablo. Not only that, once games broaden their horizons - we will see even more bad games... but different bad games. As opposed to their being thousands of shitty platformers that all copy from each other, there will be shitty games that form new genres. Furthermore, this will allow us to see these different games and let someone decide whether or not they like this or that, and be inspired in different ways. Allowing more diversity on games that are good or bad, and thus heightening the games that are good to supreme goodness.

Not sure if that made sense or not, but it did in my mind.

Brumbek:
I can tell there are much confused wanderings in your soul. I have come to make all things clear, and shall now give you the one true definition of art. Prepare your mind.

Art is any intentional form of human expression.

There you have it. Hear me now, believe me later.

(Oh, and video games have elements of art, some games have major art elements, some have minor. Does this make games on the whole art? I'm not sure. I'd probably prefer to call games simply "games" and not "art", but follow up by saying games include art that's just as significant as any other traditional art. Therefore, games are superior to pure art because they not only contain art but also other elements.)

This is probably the truest, and, if I may say it, fairest definition of art, especially when applied to games. If anything created to show an idea of the creator, to display their brilliance with pride, is art, then we can safely say that everything is art, while still having a distinct sense of what's good and what's bad.

If the primary intention of the game is to show off nuanced characters then we can judge it based on that. If its primary intention is to show off brilliant deep gameplay mechanics, then it can be judged equally in merit to the prior game based on that. And so on and so forth. Thus, the only real argument becomes what is good expression of those concepts, and how do the different styles of expression within the medium effect each other in game? Which is a far healthier and more productive stance.

Is a game with an excellent narrative, but poor gameplay Better or worse artistically than a game with slightly less narrative quality but passable gameplay, assuming both attempt to push narrative as their main feature and focus?

So what this article teaches us, is that LittleBigPlanet 2 is art.

Awesome.

I have a pretty simple definition of art which has served me well:

Art is a pattern of sensory input designed to alter the mental state of a person who perceives it.

I find it very useful to think about art this way, and it leads to some very interesting ways of analyzing it.

I would trim the definition of art completely and declare art anything that's not a copy. But I should not, because such attitude distracts from the problem of importance of art and bypasses the reasons the word was invented for. perhaps it's best to undrerstand the term as fractal, especially in games.

Brumbek:
I can tell there are much confused wanderings in your soul. I have come to make all things clear, and shall now give you the one true definition of art. Prepare your mind.

Art is any intentional form of human expression.

There you have it. Hear me now, believe me later.

(Oh, and video games have elements of art, some games have major art elements, some have minor. Does this make games on the whole art? I'm not sure. I'd probably prefer to call games simply "games" and not "art", but follow up by saying games include art that's just as significant as any other traditional art. Therefore, games are superior to pure art because they not only contain art but also other elements.)

I myself thought this, but I wasn't sure about the human part. You also quite clarified the fractality of art as well.

A... a renaissance?

I sure hope not. There's enough shovelware and garbage on the market as is. To have everyone and their grandmother making games... I shudder to think of it.

But then... I don't know. Perhaps that is what's needed.

Whatever the case, it was an interesting read.

Robert Yang:
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.

hawk533:

Think about it. Almost everyone has drawn a sketch or painted a painting in art class, but this used to be reserved to artists with patrons. Same with movies, anyone now has the ability to record a movie, even with their cell phone if they want. Maybe some day programming will be an elementary school class similar to art and gym. When everyone knows the joy of creating a game, they will appreciate the work of professional programmers even more.

badvibration:

What I believe Mr. Yang is saying, is that once game design becomes accessible to the point where anyone can make a game, that's when we will have the renaissance. Because all of these people with different backgrounds/life styles, who may have not played many games (and the ones they have, may have been extraordinarily different than the average game), will base their game on different conventions than that of the typical one. Perhaps they will draw their inspiration from outdoor games rather than from diablo. Not only that, once games broaden their horizons - we will see even more bad games... but different bad games. As opposed to their being thousands of shitty platformers that all copy from each other, there will be shitty games that form new genres. Furthermore, this will allow us to see these different games and let someone decide whether or not they like this or that, and be inspired in different ways. Allowing more diversity on games that are good or bad, and thus heightening the games that are good to supreme goodness.

Not sure if that made sense or not, but it did in my mind.

Software like Kodu and LBP already make it possible for essentially anyone to make games. I would definitely say we've seen an explosion in the number of amateur games over the last few years, so if this is the sole requirement for games becoming art then I'd confidently say we are already there.

Games aren't art because learning how to code is still too daunting

This is interesting. Is an artform defined by its access to the masses?

Sculptors are most certainly artists, however I think most people would rather take a crack at coding then trying to hammer and chisel a lump of rock into something beautiful. Buying a piano and taking the time to learn to write and play your own compositions would be a very expensive and time consuming thing to do, not to mention most people probably don't have the kind of talent music demands for it to not be shite... does that mean that creating music isn't art?

Of course not.

Games most certainly CAN be art, but I don't think its inherent in the form. For example, I personally consider Bioshock to be a true example of art. However, I have often asked myself(and I ask you too, forum goers, if you have a mind to answer), whether Bioshock is an art because of its fantastic writing(this would make writing the artform), its unique and haunting visual style(this would make the character and location design the artform) or whether, it really is the fact that I can be forced to ask myself real questions and have genuinely moving realisations in an interactive medium that makes it so great.

I think the answer is, in this case, all of these things are contributors.

This, however much I love games, brings me to a conclusion that games are not art.

Beautiful music -whatever genre that happens to be for you- is what it is, entirely alone. With your eyes closed and nothing else around you, the music can create its effects entirely on its own. Poetry and great stories need no images or soundtrack to be effecting and memorable. Fantastic sculptures and stunning images don't need anything other then what they are in order to lift your spirits or put you in a dark frame of mind...

Games, even the best, draw from great writing, music, visuals, technology and a fair amount of our own efforts in order to be good, and if any piece of this is flawed, the whole thing is out.

This, to me, is what separates games and art. Not that games aren't unique and brilliant forms of entertainment and ways of telling a story.

Either way, this kind of serious discussion is exactly what the gaming world needs, imo. More of this, less of people calling each other names over xbox please. Nice article, I've enjoyed the series.

Thorvan:

Brumbek:
Art is any intentional form of human expression.

This is probably the truest, and, if I may say it, fairest definition of art, especially when applied to games. If anything created to show an idea of the creator, to display their brilliance with pride, is art, then we can safely say that everything is art, while still having a distinct sense of what's good and what's bad.

If the primary intention of the game is to show off nuanced characters then we can judge it based on that. If its primary intention is to show off brilliant deep gameplay mechanics, then it can be judged equally in merit to the prior game based on that. And so on and so forth. Thus, the only real argument becomes what is good expression of those concepts, and how do the different styles of expression within the medium effect each other in game? Which is a far healthier and more productive stance.

Exactly correct! It is absolutely essential that art can be both bad and good. Anyone who says art is neutral or all good is fundamentally misunderstanding art.

The above definition allows for very lively and useful discussions about which games are best at expressing the human condition and resonating with the soul. Naturally we all have different tastes but all criticism should revolve around the central universal truths we all share (design, aesthetics, ect.).

Er, definition of art must by default leave "intention" out of the picture. You can't know if the person who made the thing, or if it even WAS a person, had any intentions of making anything. Or if it was actual design, or accident.

You can find something designed by an aleatory algorithm totally beautiful and artistic, so where does that leave "art?" Really now, art is from the view of the observer and pretending it isn't is writing yourself into a corner. If you observed the result of said algorithm WITHOUT the knowledge that it wasn't someone that consciously designed it, and instead the person who wrote the algorithm did it as, say, homework for a class with zero interest in it being art or anything like that, then what?

This is the reason these definitions fail:

"Art is any intentional form of human expression."

Not really as my example above shoots a rather huge hole in this as you can't tell intention just by the finished product. You need extra information that may or may not be available and everything else is assumption.

and

"Art is a pattern of sensory input designed to alter the mental state of a person who perceives it."

My example above also shows that "design" can be entirely accidental or aleatory. That you perceive an illusion of "design" in things isn't false, but it doesn't mean actual design (by somebody) must be necessarily involved. It can be an accident, and again this requires information that may or may not be available. Design assumes intention and you may or may not be able to get this information from only the finished result.

And it creates the retarded scenario that finding out something behind the previously thought work of "art" makes it suddenly not "art." Which would be the logical consequence of such definitions, and it really makes absolutely no sense as information ex-post-facto can't negate the experience you already had.

Hence, saying X is or isn't "art" is nonsense, since it's only a personal opinion. Others may share it, it may be part of culture, but it's simply a personal judgment. You can't objectively state X is art, you can just explain your reasons, but they are subjective.

And that's how you can tell these arguments about games being or not being "art" are made by people who have, often, no real understanding of modern aesthetics and modern art history. In reality there's so much stuff out there that you'd find extremely conflicting opinions on it being or not being "art" that games are kind of insignificant in comparison. After all, people have been arguing about this for a long, long, long, time.

no. fucking. shit. Logan. I already knew about the big questions about art philosophy long, long, LONG ago and you have really done nothing I didn't hear in philosophy of art class. This is not somehow an epiphany for the "games are art" argument (which has a lot against that's for sure), it's just that now you know what the damn questions are.

We haven't all learned a great deal about art Aiddon... In fact, in the gaming culture, i'd say having any real insight into artistic theory/philosophy puts you in quite a slim minority.

Being useless to you doesn't make the article bad.

Everything has the potential to be viewed as art, it's all in how you approach it.

Philosophers are rarely any help. Generally they just make stuff up and then talk themselves into circles.

The question of whether or not games are art isn't one that can be resolved simply by providing a definition for art which encompasses gaming. For one thing, you would need that definition to be broadly accepted in order for your argument to be broadly accepted.

So it's refreshing to read an article that doesn't try to resolve the question but rather frames it within the context of established theory. We didn't all study philosophy of art so this article was highly informative, to me at least.

Oh, and a huge +1 to the final conclusion. For the art of gaming to evolve, it desperately needs to be more accessible to would-be creators. Developers should waste less time making their own bland, generic content and put more effort into empowering users to show them how it should be done.

 

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