291: Almost Art

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I'm a huge fan of Samyn's work, and I think a lot of his harsh (but let's be honest, spot on) words come from a frustration with the current state of the art. Yeah, there's a few games out there with fantastic storylines. The Bioware games come to mind, for example. But even so, said writing is overlayed on a fundamentally "game based" foundation. Bioshock might be a pointed satire about Objectivism and the illusion of free choice, but at the end of the day, the vast majority of the game is about the FPS mechanics. Most of the narrative is delivered in non interactive cutscenes-- which begs the question of why have a game at all. Why not just watch a movie? Even extremely narrative games like Heavy Rain are essentially short movies-- a Choose Your Own Adventure book with cutscenes in place of pages.

Samyn and Harvey have made a few interactive explorations of a virtual environment: a phrase that trips off the tongue with a decided lack of ease. Since Tale of Tales uses videogame technology, their work gets dropped into the game catagory. But really, they don't make games (despite the slightly snarky jokes about games in The Path's mechanics)

Videogame technology has an awful lot of potential, but as Samyn points out, it's much clunkier than we think it is. I think as the technology becomes easier to work with, we're going to see more independent studios creating works like Tale of Tales'. To a certain extent, it's happening in the 2D realm already with Flash. For all its flaws, the relative ease of Flash has allowed many artists to create web based 2D art, often interactive-- and more importantly, informed by that interactivity.

ShadowKirby:

Azaraxzealot:
Really? in order to become an art form we need to follow a specific theme/emotion/action? well then hell, WE'RE ALREADY THERE! i mean, when it comes to games like Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption, what do you think was thought about first? the guns or the setting/characters/story?

Thing is, setting/characters/story are not something that are specific to games.

hmm... then what should we be exploring? an interactive way of conveying the setting/story/characters without resorting to "Guy blows a lot of shit up."? we'll have to wait and see.

I think this is a really well done and written article, as you address where most of my personal problems within the industry lie. I do think that a script should be brought into the games development much earlier as a basis and foundation rather than a cover up to it.

However, I would like to say, if Gaming is not an art form, what is it? Or What is an Art? You can't scratch off gaming as simply being "not art. period.", can you? Even dissecting it you can discover art. "Brutal Legend", look at the landscape in that. What's the difference between looking at that and, per say, a finely painted painting? A designer and concept artist have still sat down and thought and animated and brought to life this scenic view, just the same as the painter has sat down to turn the canvas colourful.

For greater public interest of it being an art, that might be harder, due to the current views that still stigmatise the label. It's not like gaming is the only medium that has drawn stigma either. Comics went through it in the 30s, I believe. Video Nasties, the banned Horror Films of the 80's. Christ, what about the Bonfire of the Vanities in Italy? Everything form of expression goes through some form of it. Is it because gaming is trying to go through a period of expression and merely seems to have difficulty to find its feet that everyone is so quick to dismiss it?

"Video Games? They make my son do bad things, no there not an art form"
"Yes, your sons addiction to Smacking Up that he cleverly hides behind you back has nothing to do with that, no."

So, if FOX and other places are going to proclaim this Stigma, what about a greater public perception of gaming? What if gaming is still possibly a cult thing still? A fearfully large, passionate cult thing, yes, but I'm pretty sure music isn't because most people do engage with it. You ask a person on the street their favourite band, most will give you a reply, gaming? Not so much.

Until it does gain recognition, I guess this is the way it will be followed. An art reigned down by media oppression. Beautiful, isn't it? What about "6 Days in Fallujah"? Here is a game that the developers did go about to gain some artistic integrity. They even designed a new engine for the game to operate to the most authenticity it could, to deliver the true story of what these soldiers went through, and not just run off another COD or Gears rip. And as soon as it was announced, it was "horrible", "disgusting", "not giving our heroes a true word". Here is the medium being used for art. Would it be perceived the same way if it were a book or a film? I doubt so.

So yes, you're right, games are "almost" and art. But they are only "almost" by your definition. And for an idea; an emotion felt by the author of a game? I'm very eager to suggest to you to watch the "Game Mechanics" episode by Extra Credits on the Escapist, to see if it does change your perception, even slightly.

Even though I know you have your opinions and I have mine (and I am honestly not trying to demote your own opinion, I just go over a bit when it comes to gaming), I still think that gaming is an art form as current, but to reach YOUR definition of an art form, it goes need to take steps forward and publishers do need to be more weary of it. But if you keep your eyes open, you can see some examples already living.

Some games art, some aren't.

In fact, all games are art if one says they are. The entire concept of what art is is that it's something that's it means something to someone more than the sum of it's parts.

If I throw a stick at a wall, and call it art, who are you to say ohterwise?

What if I told you that the action of me throwing that stick was a symbolic representation of my life and feelings? what if I told you that me doing that caused me to come to terms with my own personal demons?

Is it art then?

It's like in slumdog millionare. To the boy (forgot his name), every question in who wants to be a millionare he knew the answer to because of a infliutinal moment of his life.

To you ane me, it's just a quiz question, but to him, it's his parent's dying or his brother becoming a hitman etc.

This article generalises to the nth degree. Games are not art. Cinema is not art. Books are not, TV is not, 'art' is not. Music is not. SOME instances of any of these things ARE artistic, and deserve to be called art, though these instances in all areas are, arguably, considerably rarer than those that aren't art: pure entertainment, and -to coin a phrase- 'shit'. I want to pick out a couple of points messy made earlier.

I also found the 'Would you kindly.' reveal to be very potent. I had thought about it earlier in the game, but just put it down to bad characterisation or something and moved on. That said, it didn't really have much effect on the game itself. To what messy said about any amount of freedom in a game simply being a only respresentation of freedom, I say all art is but representation, and offers far less freedom. Freedom is hardly a criteria for art, representation however, of whatever you can get your hands or mind on, is.

On another point the article made, why can't the game mechanics be the focus of the art? As a programmer I say poo to that, and I shall mock and belittle any who dare say that game mechanics cannot be artistic. You seem to want the industry to 'think outside the box' by focussing on what the other mediums already focus on, story and/or presentation. This is already the problem with games today though. Perhaps not the story, but the presentation certainly is looked upon as being more important than how fun it is.

"One man's trash is another mans tresure."
The reason games are "bland" and not made for the story is because the public ignores the story. Art is there, you just have to TRY to find it. Look at Crysis, The game has a lot of beauty, I concider the graphics of that to be art. I concider the story in games to be as much of a story as a book. As a game designer/ writer myself, I heavily disagree with saying games aren't made for a story. I got the ideas for the games I am attempting to make by writing stories about them. The art and writing is there, you just have to pay attention. Up until a year ago, I liked the campeign of games, but I never really payed any attention. Halo 3 ODST was the game to open my eyes, to make me replay Halo and Call of Duty to get the full effect of the campaign. I think that the writer of this is lazy, honestly.

Article lost me in many, many places, but especially here:

"Instead of starting from a well-defined format (such as a rules-based game)"

Um...what is a game, unless it is rules based? Yeah, yeah, you don't want to _start_ there but so what? Rules are what defines games-otherwise you're just playing the real world.

Also:
"The games industry will need to shed its fear of giving a single person such an important role in the production process.
Art creation is not a team sport. Everybody needs to work in function of the expression of the ideas of the author."

Sounds like someone wasn't given all the leeway he wanted.

Because as it so happens, making movies and TV and comics and even many authors who just work in books, say that their work would not exist without the presence of others.

All in all, this article comes across as this big ol' opinion piece being written by someone with elitist ideals and sourpussed because nobody wants to jump on his bandwagon.

Gee, maybe it's YOU, not US.

The problem with the whole "games as art" discussion is that last time I checked, we still hadn't made up our mind on what art is in the first place. Still, while we may never come to a conclusion, the discussions still shows that there is a desire for videogames to evolve and become something more.

I think the article brings up a couple of really good points, not only why videogames have yet to reach cultural relevance but also why we want them to. It's a point that often seems to get overlooked in the discussion.

edthehyena:
While I can agree with this article about most games, I find it funny how the author over-generalizes to the point of ignoring even his own games. Just because the vast majority of games are not made as art doesn't mean all games aren't made as art.

On the other hand, I would expect this from Tale of Tales. I read their blog once, and it was full of this kind of pretentious bile for games.

Tale of Tales doesn't sell "games", they sell "interactive experiences"

And I think it's clear he's (harshly) talking about games in a very general sense, not generalizing directly.

A lot of this seems to depend on Michael's personal definition of what art is.

And to be honest, that will always be the problem with declaring any medium a form of art.

Fangobra:
A lot of this seems to depend on Michael's personal definition of what art is.

And to be honest, that will always be the problem with declaring any medium a form of art.

Agreed. The entire debate over whether videogames are/should be/are not/can/can't be art seems irrelevant given that there is no agreed upon definition of art. A friend of mine believes that art MUST convey some sort of ideology, and thus anything that does not (including works made primarily to entertain) are not and cannot be art, whereas I disagree with such a notion. But who is to say that either of us are correct?

Whee, yet another pile of cargo-cult faux-intellectual bullshit dressed up with a lot of offensive overgeneralizations to make it "edgy." And the best part is, any criticism of it is automatically dismissed as "You just don't agree because I don't like something you like and you're just butthurt so shut up you Fanboy™."

So, not only does this article take as fiat a definition of "art" that has been openly defied for years by some of the artsiest names in other media, he then states that "Art is about something, games are not." Games aren't "about something?" Well, a lot of games aren't, but neither are a lot of movies, books, and other fiction. I could list a gazillion counterexamples to the "games aren't art" bandwagon (BioShock, the early FF games, Majora's Mask), but they would all inevitably be dismissed as not living up to the standards of the author's supreme (and rapidly-shifting) artistic opinions.

And then we get into the "Art is not a team effort" statement, which almost plays like a PARODY of a butthurt auteur upset that he didn't get all the creative control he wanted on his last BEST GAME IDEA EVAR project.

To me, this read like someone who has trouble engaging with games on a level past boardgames and toys. I suppose the penalty for a world with free speech is that we have to be subjected to the thoughts of other no matter how short sighted or backward we might think them. However, by and large I just kept thinking, "Holy Shit! You really don't understand do you." Why do I get the feeling that the escapist only posted this as some attempt a "objectivity" or "fairness" in the debate as to whether games are art or not. Of course games are art. Granted, bejeweled, notsomuch, but I think that taking that as the paradigm of the games that are now produced WILDLY misses the point, and makes it seem like the writer is out of touch.

In related news, the world is round AND goes around the sun! WHO'D'VE THUNK?!?!

The how art is made section made me laugh harder and harder. Particularly the "art is made on purpose" as if to imply that games happen by accident. Maybe I missed the point there, but really I don't see what else he could've meant.

I generally appreciate the content on here, so part of my brain wants to assume the writer meant something other than what he did in point of fact say. Something, I hope, much less foolish, shortsighted and frankly a little insulting.

My view on this whole art thing is that, as long as you're professional you can pretty much get away with ANY kind of art. No matter how silly it is.

I'll name 3 examples.

1: Someone used his phone number as ART. This is bull imo.
2: Someone painted 6 lines like / / / / / but different lengths. Claimed it was art. Give me a ruler and I can do the same thing but the fun part about that is that NO ONE would give a damn.
3: I'm sure plenty of people here have seen that painting with 4-5 blocks with different color on them and saying it was a bathroom theme or something.
4: A monkey was allowed to paint a painting and the critics couldn't tell the difference. Elephants have done it as well too.

Now, if those things can be classed as art I'm damn sure these games I name will be classed as art as well.

Mirror Edge
Fallout 3 and the rest with it
Psychonauts(While limited it's still like art)
Braid
Duke Nukem(People have made art out of naked women and this is not related to some sex magazine either. So Duke can do it as well)

Actually I could probably name more games but I just can't be bothered to do so. But games do not need to get more art in them. No, they need to first get better at the core, much better on some games. Square Enix really needs to fix themselves up as well.

Also Gamers and art usually do not mix. As one tend to find the other thing completely boring and it's almost always bad for the sales. Unless you get lucky. Like Braid but they used charming puzzles.

BreakfastMan:
I agree with some of the points you made, but one of the things you talk about rubs me the wrong way. You talk about the story in the game like it is the only thing that can make a game artistic. What about the visual style of the game? What about the sound design? Why cannot the mechanics of the game itself be art? Also, I think there are more games that qualify as art out today than you let on.

Because visual/sound/mechanics in modern games doesn't say anything.

Games are made with an interesting subject matter or an interesting hook, but the content of the game never really explores the subject. Games doesn't really say anything about the subjects they try to depict.

I've actually written something similar in Gamasutra. I also see games as having a lot of potential to depict a meaningful message. Games need to say something about whatever they choose to be about, whether it be in visual style/sounds/mechanics/narratives/or anything else. Games are like books with great titles, but what's missing is meaningful content.

Excellent article.

Zefar:
My view on this whole art thing is that, as long as you're professional you can pretty much get away with ANY kind of art. No matter how silly it is.

I'll name 3 examples.

1: Someone used his phone number as ART. This is bull imo.
2: Someone painted 6 lines like / / / / / but different lengths. Claimed it was art. Give me a ruler and I can do the same thing but the fun part about that is that NO ONE would give a damn.
3: I'm sure plenty of people here have seen that painting with 4-5 blocks with different color on them and saying it was a bathroom theme or something.
4: A monkey was allowed to paint a painting and the critics couldn't tell the difference. Elephants have done it as well too.

You're missing the point of art. All of the art you've cited are heavily emphasized on context.

For example: phone number as art can be seen as a hypocritical irony about the identification of individuals by numbers.
2. never heard of this example
3. the blocks came at a time when art required form, Mondrian is radicalizing this concept by his exploration of what form means.
4. Most modern art is created in context (see street art), therefore, a simple doll can be artistic if there's a context to it. However, when you take a picture away from its context, sure they all look the same, therefore it's impossible for critics to say what's the art.

But the difference is that games include a self-contained context, meaning that the context is within the world itself; therefore, the art in games is in itself. And the point of it all is that, like the art that you've used as examples, games can achieve artistic merit if they say something meaningful within its own context. This means that even without outside context, games should be able to say something about their subjects, but without outside context, many modern paintings are just random scribbles.

Though I mostly agree with the spirit of the article, its tone is a bit too authoritative for me to support fully. We're long past the age where art was easily-defined, or where it was an expression of a single mind, or, in fact, where the art object had a clear-cut function and goal. A much broader and safer approach is to define it as meaningful communication with an audience by means of an art object.

The games that represent us today, the biggest, best and most successful games, are mostly digital toys. WoW is a skinner box, Black Ops is a digital sport (with an almost vestigial pulpy Bond thriller attached to it), and playing a Mario game is as meaningful as solving a jigsaw puzzle. When some game miraculously comes with a vivid imagination, tugs at our heartstrings, and gives us a truly memorable experience, we heap praise on it. This has happened maybe twenty to thirty times. Most of those are flops.

The issue isn't whether games can be art, but the fact that the audience for them is perfectly satisfied with a product that can be classified alongside action figures, Lego and Monopoly. Even from a purely commercial standpoint, look at the biggest box-office results and you'll see stuff like Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter, Inception, Up, none of which earned their spot by "being a competent technical achievement". But what can you say about our top-grossers: Wii Sports, Gran Turismo, Mario Kart, Grand Theft Auto, Modern Warfare, The Sims, Pokemon, and Nintendogs?

The movies above are definitely commercial endeavors, but they succeed because they communicate meaningfully and effortlessly with their audience. BUT... I've yet to see a movie that made me feel like some games. I'm not naming any because everybody always uses the same five or six titles, you know what kind of game I'm talking about. And still, to say that these little gems of mine represent anything significant in the bulk of what gaming is and is trying to be today, would be fooling myself.

I think what games need to do is focus more on being in the world, because thats what sets us apart from other media. Instead of reading about a guy or seeing what happens to some guy you become that guy and so his interactions are your interactions and if done well his emotions are your emotions. Game mechanics are another thing we need to fix, they need to be more seamless in their implementation. If you play heavy rain the actions become a second nature in the game and you don't really notice it, but in some games they just pull up a quick time event out of nowhere and it breaks up the gameplay. I think we also need to take into account the fact that games have only recently been thought of as art and we can't expect amazing levels of artistry straight away.

Wow...this is the first time I've basically disagreed with everything an escapist article has said.

Michael Samyn:
Almost Art

Before games can accept their role as an art form, developers will have to let go of an outdated loyalty to the way games are made.

Read Full Article

I feel bad, because I'm certain that Michael Samyn is an incredibly intelligent and accomplished man, and I really enjoyed reading this article. I don't think he truly understands about art however.

These systems offer a context for goal-oriented, rules-based experiences that already have a place in society: next to other games. Since nothing new is happening here, society is not affected.

I think that you are coming from a position where you are not accepting that they already are art. Games are iconic and have been cutting edge since Pong. Think of games like Pac Man, Tetris, Space Invaders and suchlike, and you already have a recognisable collection of "classics", some of which have had a cameo in contemporary fine art. The first few games defined the genre, and as with every art medium, the skills have only increased and competed for superiority.

Art Is About Something. Games Are Not.
When a medium can represent a soldier and it can recreate a theater of war, it needs to have something to say about this subject matter.

An art movement, maybe. An art medium doesn't have to be, and a medium is what games are. For example, we can all learn, or guess the meaning to a Lucien Freud painting, and some of us may get it. The woman who paints her garden or a hill does so for pleasure, perhaps using the very same materials. Not only is the intention behind the creation completely different, but the old lady has no meaning behind her painting. While it may be less interesting, and most definitely isn't part of the current art movement, it's still a piece of artwork.

The Myth of the Infancy of the Medium
The games industry does not allow videogames to evolve into a mature medium out of creative opportunism. Not being recognized as an art form gives game creators a certain amount of freedom that they would not have if they were to take up their responsibility as authors. Today, game developers don't need to be concerned with the message that their game is sending to its audience. They can simply continue playing with technology and hide behind the fact that their only purpose is fun entertainment.

Even without knowing that you work within the games industry, I could have guessed by this point :) It's relevance is questionable, but I also think you are wrong here. Yes, the videogame industry isn't in its infancy, but artists can get away with anything, if their work is considered art. Think of some of the shock art that was produced by the YBA's. Medal of Honor was slammed for featuring a battle that was playable as Taliban, something an artist could paint, sculpt, perform or film. With an artistic meaning behind it, games could produce what they want, and for the most part, they do and are able to.

Through all of art history, there's been a strong tendency towards representation. Throughout the ages, artists seem to have tried to fool their audience into believing they were seeing something that wasn't really there. Even when art was more spiritual, there was a desire for the experience of another reality.

Art has had different importance throughout history. It was a form of communication, it was a method of recording, it became a decoration, it moved to an expression, it turned into a question, and then started becoming a philosophical exercise. It continues to change, and its relevance will no doubt will continue to be something completely different long after we are gone. Videogames, like art, are representations, just maybe not of some high philosophical ideal that you think is appropriate.

How Art Is Made
It's not sufficient to make a fun game and then have some academics haul out Duchamp and Fluxus so we can call it art. First of all, that's not how this works. Art is made on purpose, even when the artist includes chance in his method. And secondly, we're not talking about so-called high art here anyway. The fine art on display in museums of contemporary art has long lost the social and cultural relevance that we are after.

When are computergames not made on purpose? You don't just sneeze and they pop out of thin air :p

Currently, videogames are created to be fun experiences, or sometimes out of technical curiosity. Art, however, is created from an entirely different motivation: to explore certain themes or to convey messages that cannot be said in any other way.

Why can't the motivation for the art be "fun"? Why can't the motivation for the art be to create an interactive experience? Like art, no game is the same, and so each experience or "representation" is unique to each title.
As I have previously pointed out, art isn't necessarily to explore themes or to convey messages. Some art is, yes, but not all art. In your rejection of the current contemporary art movements, you reject this limited mindset, and you are completely free to create something for whatever reason or motivation that you have. Remember, games are the medium, not the movement. Go back to the old lady, or an amateur who sells drawings on a market stall, or even the kids who rap into their mobile phones- is none of that art? They all have different motivations, some with no meaning behind it, and some with a potentially shallow meaning, but they are still art. In rejecting the "high art" mentality, you also have to reject these preconceived ideals of what art is, and go back to the most basic definition. Looking up the word art on an online dictionary will bring you many results and definitions, none of which are wrong. Computer games easily fit into these

To Hell With Efficiency!
The admirable tightness of videogame production planning may very well be the core reason why games haven't evolved into an art form yet. There simply is no place for art in such a tight schedule.
The efficiency necessary to produce a game requires that everyone involved knows what is being made. The only way to ensure this is by using design templates that everyone is aware of. Conventions are easy to communicate, but explaining an original idea is very hard, especially if the idea is very personal on top of that.
By definition, the essence of a work of art can only be communicated through the work itself. Otherwise, there is no point to making the work in the first place. This essence cannot be communicated to fellow team members, per definition. In a small studio like our own, we solved this problem by only hiring people who already create the kind of art that fits with ours. Larger teams obviously don't have this luxury. The only way to create art with a large team is for everyone to trust the author to follow his vision and to give him full authority over the production, because the author is the only one who has the real knowledge of what is actually being made.

Again, I think you must have a particular piece or movement in mind when you write this, but in your definition many dances, films, sculptures, theatre productions, instalments and architecture would also not be considered to be art. In fact, many drawings and paintings would also be excommunicated from the art world. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel most certainly wasn't done on whim. And, you'll hate this, but mass production or repetition has been commonplace in art for a very long time. Just ask Warhol, or Duchamp :P Does Damien Hirst make his own artwork? No, he has a group of people to do it for him. Warhol was famous for it, with "The Factory" in New York during the 60's

I think most people have a problem with games as art for their obvious commercial appeal. Games are made to be a consumer product. So was art for a long time, and you don't find many professional artists who don't sell their work. In fact, art was, and is, a decoration, a sellable commodity, and games take on that role in a different, more disposable way, one which couldn't be a more accurate portrayal of life today. If there was ever a real argument against videogames as art, it would be the lack of accessibility to people. For a long time it just wasn't reasonable for a person/artist to sit down and create a computer game. That has changed now, especially with the rise in popularity of programming gaming "apps" for the iPhone. Even better is the fact that these independent developers get paid for their work, as money is so essential and vital to the industry and intrinsic to games as an art form.
No, there is no "computer games movement", but then what do you expect? There was no "painting" movement. Every art movement has influenced all media, from paint, through to architecture, and games are no different. They will represent cultural change, and ideology the same as any other media. Just because you can't relate to, or recognise the connection, doesn't mean it's not there :)

Bluh. I really don't agree with this article at all, and, against my better judgement, I'm going to post why. So bear with this post as I begin the process of picking apart and debating your argument.

Videogames clearly have potential; they just have not accepted their role as an art form yet. Gameplay is king in most videogames. To play them is to compete in a sort of digital sport.

Gameplay is king in most videogames because, shocker, games are all about gameplay. And who says that the only use of gameplay is to compete in sport? The potential for developers to use gameplay outside of combat-oriented situations does exist. Think of a multiplayer Minecraft game set to Peaceful difficulty: there's no competition, no goals set by the game for the players to strive for, nothing. And it's not like having goals is a bad thing, either; in fact, I'd argue that not having a specific goal would actually be more damaging to games in the long run than having them. Cinema and literature have goals, too--it's called a plot, and a lack of one is usually a really big detriment to the overall quality of a piece of media--but the difference in games is that the plot is taken at the player's leisure and puts the player in the role of fulfilling or even failing the plots and subplots presented. Hell, if someone comes along and really knows how to make a game that doesn't completely focus on successful completion and actually make it matter, then game developers will realize an incredibly powerful tool at their disposal for conveying messages.

Art Is About Something. Games Are Not.

The Mona Lisa is about nothing. Okay, not entirely true, it does depict a woman of somewhat notable stature, but other than that, it's pretty shallow. There's no deeper meaning, no metaphor or symbolism, hell, it's not even complete. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, which is clearly about something, but crosses over into the True Art is Incomprehensible territory in that no one can actually nail down any sort of overarching metaphor other than the whole "Garden of Eden/Earth/Hell" thing going on. Of course, since these fall on the extreme edges of the "symbolism" spectrum, games must fall somewhere in the middle. That is, unless you want to tell me that Mother 3, especially its final battle, is somehow less symbolic and less artistic than the Mona Lisa.

Instead, videogames are manufactured as commodities produced to fulfill a certain need. Unlike other commercial media, what videogames are about is rarely significant. Their entire reason for existing is to provide fun to their customers.

Uh, that's just basic marketing and basic business sense. If you're not catering to your consumers, you're not going to have consumers to cater to. This is true of every form of media, not just games. And it's not just fun, it's general escapism. Most people want to consume media to be entertained; gaining insight on different topics is just a neat little side-effect.

We minimize the importance of the story and draw attention to our cool mechanics and the fun our players are having. At the expense, of course, of cultural significance and expanding the audience.

Instead of embracing the artistic potential of the medium, we have retreated into the comfortable zone of gaming.

As opposed to what? Endless cutscenes, a Powerpoint of supposedly thought-provoking stills, a forty-minute narration or a block of text over the same flame animation as it slowly scrolls upward imparting a meaningless and nonsensical story? I'd argue that "retreating" into gaming is exactly what we need, because that allows to take advantage of the artistic elements of the medium itself: nonlinear storytelling and the ability to purposely effect meaningful changes in the gaming environment, both things that practically need the interactivity of gameplay to actually work.

We don't need to have avatars that merely move around and acts as vessels for cutscene deliverance. We already have those, and they're called movies.

The games industry does not allow videogames to evolve into a mature medium out of creative opportunism. Not being recognized as an art form gives game creators a certain amount of freedom that they would not have if they were to take up their responsibility as authors. Today, game developers don't need to be concerned with the message that their game is sending to its audience. They can simply continue playing with technology and hide behind the fact that their only purpose is fun entertainment.

It's not a matter of shirking responsibilities as authors--when you publish things,you're responsible for any messages it sends out, including the ones that come about outside your own interpretation. Or maybe the backlash against Resident Evil 5 or Six Days in Fallujah means nothing at all. After all, they're just games, they're not about anything at all. Alternative argument: maybe the developers are too concerned about actually creating and polishing varied gameplay schemes (y'know, the things that actually matter) to worry about adding some high-concept bullshit that's going to matter very little in the long run of the actual game.

This kind of freedom, however, can only thrive within a niche of like-minded individuals. When confronted with anything outside of this dedicated sphere, unpleasant collisions occur.

And when companies like Pop Cap and Zynga pop up, or when companies like Nintendo began to expand its audience, a majority of the current audience throws their hands up in the air and enact three-day boycotts. Funny, that.

And no, this is relevant. Animation didn't gain widespread acceptance by being a bunch of high-concept pieces; it gained public acceptance by appealing to a wider audience. And games can and will do this by making games more accessible, not by trying to frame them and hang them in museums.

Technology has increasingly offered more tools towards the creation of this spectacle. Oil-based paints gave birth to almost tangible representations of food and fabric and skin. Printed books allowed us to dream away into fantasy worlds without the need for anyone else. Cinema combined visual representation and narrative flow with the representation of movement.

But the creation of those techniques didn't call for abandoning old techniques, too. Oil-based painting built upon the techniques learned from tempera painting, print combined oral storytelling with the highly bureaucratic method of record keeping (and even then, the price of parchment/vellum, transcription, and even basic literacy restricted the medium to only the extremely wealthy, and even then most surviving Western examples of the oldest books and codices were just parts of the Bible), and cinema was still built upon the theory of persistence of vision and early animation devices like zoetropes and nickelodeons.

We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If we want games to be accepted as art, we need to fully embrace the actual game part of it, not shy away from it.

Art, however, is created from an entirely different motivation: to explore certain themes or to convey messages that cannot be said in any other way.

You mean like through gameplay? If anyone wants to convey stories or emotions in a game from visuals, audio, narration/dialogue, or anything else that's not gameplay, then that story is not fit to be told through the medium of a game. Write a book or go film something instead. That's practically a point of Chris Crawford's Art of Interactive Design: don't try to force an interactive medium to fit within the confines of non-interactive elements.

...the design process needs to start from an idea, an emotion, a concept. Then all interactions, graphics and sounds are created to support the expression of this idea.

And if gameplay is the unique way for a game to convey a message, why just give it second priority? Gameplay should be co-designed along with concept, not developed as an afterthought.

In a small studio like our own, we solved this problem by only hiring people who already create the kind of art that fits with ours.

So, in essence, templates, like what you just decried prior to this statement.

Art creation is not a team sport. Everybody needs to work in function of the expression of the ideas of the author.

And the author needs to work under the needs of the people paying for the work. Michelangelo wasn't just given a fistful of cash and told to "paint the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel." He did have to work with the Church to actually get the plan approved.

And also, what we don't need in this industry are unflinching auteurs who are completely closed to outside ideas and influences of their teams. It doesn't create good working environments, and it's a bane to interpersonal communication that teams so desperately need to thrive. And artists can really only grow when their are is actually critiqued by both peers and consumers alike, not by giving them complete dictatorial control over a project and given express permission to block all input from team members that doesn't gel with their own interpretation of their work.

And that looks like the end of the article. I think I'm done here for now. And please, to anyone who is thinking of quoting me, for the love of God snip this thing.

cake_crawler:
This article generalises to the nth degree. Games are not art. Cinema is not art. Books are not, TV is not, 'art' is not. Music is not. SOME instances of any of these things ARE artistic, and deserve to be called art, though these instances in all areas are, arguably, considerably rarer than those that aren't art: pure entertainment, and -to coin a phrase- 'shit'. I want to pick out a couple of points messy made earlier.

I also found the 'Would you kindly.' reveal to be very potent. I had thought about it earlier in the game, but just put it down to bad characterisation or something and moved on. That said, it didn't really have much effect on the game itself. To what messy said about any amount of freedom in a game simply being a only respresentation of freedom, I say all art is but representation, and offers far less freedom. Freedom is hardly a criteria for art, representation however, of whatever you can get your hands or mind on, is.

On another point the article made, why can't the game mechanics be the focus of the art? As a programmer I say poo to that, and I shall mock and belittle any who dare say that game mechanics cannot be artistic. You seem to want the industry to 'think outside the box' by focussing on what the other mediums already focus on, story and/or presentation. This is already the problem with games today though. Perhaps not the story, but the presentation certainly is looked upon as being more important than how fun it is.

Great post, but regarding the whole freedom/representation thing, don't games use freedom as a means of representation? Take the scripted sequences from the various Call of Duty games as an example - seen from first person they work spectacularly, the tension and the dynamic of the scene is communicated much better, they never break the flow with cutscenes, they use optical tricks like depth of field and simple blurry filters to give a sort of feedback as to what the protagonist is feeling. This is what games do best, and that no other medium can do. But it's also paper-thin because it's completely mechanical and constrained. A movie shot in first-person could do it.

Like you said, mechanics and environments can also convey meaning. For example, there are no text dumps (or much dialogue for that matter) in Shadow of the Colossus, but a lot can be gleaned from just the way the characters move, how the protagonist cannot wield a sword to save his life but can shoot arrows like a pro, how he behaves around his horse, etc. But game mechanics can only convey a story if you're free to use them as you see fit. The best thing from the above-mentioned CoD scripted sequences is that they seamlessly blend into gameplay. You shoot at people from the back of a truck when it suddenly comes to a stop because a chopper destroyed the bridge. You dismount, shoot some more guys, then the chopper makes another pass and you get knocked to the ground, injured. The Big Bad descends from the chopper and death seems certain, but then your dying buddy hands you a pistol...

Now, this is your standard action scene from every other 90s action extravaganza. In a movie, it's yawn-worthy material. But the great thing here is that you get to move the camera in first-person while everything is happening around you, and you get to pull the trigger in the most crucial moment and save the day.

Of course, it's all tightly scripted and controlled to give a semblance of a spontaneous action scene, and only works once. Even for such big AAA games, the technology isn't advanced enough to achieve emergent gameplay in this kind of detail and dynamic. But the freedom to act (or not to act, in which case you get a nice game over screen) is what makes it special.

If videogames ever become a respectable art form, it won't happen because we will have made fantastic JRPGs. Movies already have those linear narratives. A story conveyed through the mechanics, or through interaction and exploration, is a much better place to start.

Saying that videogames aren't art is like saying cinema isn't art. There are a lot of terrible motion pictures. And there are a lot of motion pictures that are great, but aren't art. And there are motion pictures that are called art, and because they have proven cinema to be art, cinema can be called art. It's the same with games. Most games aren't art. But there are quite a few that are. Plenty of games fit this ridiculously nebulous definition that art is "about something." Many people have mentioned BioShock already. Silent Hill 2 dealt heavily with regret and guilt. Braid, for as simple as it was, spoke volumes about the nature of memory and man's struggle against time. The appearance of an artistic game may not be as frequent as an artistic film or novel but it does and will continue to happen. Underneath the flat-out attacks on both gamers and the medium, this read more as decrying genre. The author is clearly incensed with developers that cram their ideas into preconceived genres rather than construct a game appropriately, and the solution of starting with the idea and building from there is a great call to developers. But while one can see more affecting, powerful games coming out of that, they wouldn't necessarily be mind-blowingly new, as the author suggests. There are still inherent limits to developing a videogame. To quote the author, "computer technology is in fact incredibly primitive."

The constant rallying to do away with "rules-based games," sounded like the author is asking game designers to take a wrecking ball to gaming, rather than a chisel. Videogames are videogames. They will have rules, and they will have objectives. Furthermore, videogames will be refined as videogames, and they will evolve as videogames. Along the way conventions will be lost and new ones will be created. Instead of calling for a complete tear-down of central principals as the solution, creators should embrace what is unique and essential about the medium. In that way (and likely coupled with the intimate creative teams) like cinema and literature before it the videogame may come to be seen--by those that don't already see it, at leas--as art.

My honest opinion (and when I say "you", I mean the author):

Every goddamn discussion about video games as art boils down to one thing, the definition. If you define that art has to be about something, then you have as a matter of fact, excluded just about half of what is considered art. Picasso produced how many "art pieces"? 20000 or so wasn't it?
If you claim that video games can't be an art because the majority aren't good artistic-wise, then you have by the same argument claimed that Picasso wasn't an artist.

Actually, I would like to correct your statement: Art is about something, video games are about everything!

Again, it comes to the definition, are political and social critiques art? If so, then there are many artistic elements in games like Mass Effect. Political undertones and parallels to the real world are everywhere in that game. And the Metal Gear Solid series is exactly what you talked about, a game from one maker. While MGS might give sharper blows to the mind, as it is comparable to a single honed blade, while Mass Effect is a flurry of small rough blades. Which is better? To me, it's MGS, but I know of many who find it opposite, that the extreme focus that a game made by in large part 1 person can be a negative thing. But don't label either as being inferior. Both can be incredible experiences that will affect the very soul of the player. Metal Gear Solid 2 presented views similar to those of Voltaire, mixed into a modern confusing scene. The game purposely destabilizes the whole plot while it barrages the player with ideas and controversies, forcing the player to view them from his/her own point of view rather than the character's. If this isn't art to you, then you need a good foot up your arse.

And back to Mass Effect and similar games (too bad I can't think of any similar ones right now, aren't too many, that I know, but then again, aren't that many famous games all in all anyway).
A video game also has the potential to be a whirlwind of artistic expressions if the team developing it manages to give the individual developers a loose enough leash, while still keeping direction.

To summarize why I didn't like this article: You put art on a pedestal. That isn't art. Art usually loses its power when it is put on a pedestal. When you see Picasso's paintings in a museum, you know it's Picasso, you know that he painted in that style, and most importantly, you know it's supposedly good art. Through this process, the artpiece becomes more of a curiosity than art. Art is something that affects the mind when you observe it. And of course, games that are solely for the sake of simple entertainment might not spawn the biggest introspection within a mind, but that does not condemn the industry as a whole.

Video games can actually become the most powerful artform of all, because you can suck someone deep into it, and catch the mind by surprise.

The gaming industry isn't going to change any time soon. Right not they have no responsbilities to the consumer, society or even themselves. They're not going to give up that up. Why would they? It just a lot more fun to throw something out there, finished or not, broken or working, grab money and if it hits the fan, blame your neighbor and then move on to the next project. Everyone wants to be a rockstar, but no one seems to care about whether or not that music will be memorable after a month.

A short conclusion I'd like to draw from this is that I think any games made purely as artistic conceptions will need to be small/short.

More Fun To Compute:

videogames are bland, unforgiving, meaningless, cold-blooded, rigid systems

And this folks, is how to alienate your readers so much that they stop reading in frustration before they finish the first page. I think that games are great and plenty of people agree with me.

I don't know why the Escapist pays for so many anti game pieces on the front page. I really don't.

I agree, I mean basically he just said everything Extra Credit has said but in a more negative manner. Besides I can think of alot of "art" that doesn't even meet the criteria for being art. Some games I think have done exactly what was needed. Such as Pychonaghts. Also what about just games in particular, games like Minecraft or D&D that use basic rules to provide a platform of creativity and expression.

I'll be honest in saying that I think the problem with video games right now is that they are trying too hard to be artistic, rather than it being a situation where the gaming industry is holding it back. Honestly it seems like pretty much every game produced nowadays has someone trying to claim that the game is new, or putting a unique spin on things, when really it's just retreading the same regurgitated garbage spewed out by every other left wing artist. Pretty much every game out there now has to have some political, or sociological subtext added into it, almost every war game has to include some kind of anti-war propaganda, etc...

Games should focus on being games, and entertaining the people who play them. True art comes about on it's own, it's not something that can be forced, and right now the entire problem is people aping the current aristic community, and what's more, doing it badly. Either they will become art on their own, or they will not. Trying to be artistic is the best way to ensure it doesn't happen.

I find it kind of odd that people would say that games aren't trying to rise to the challenge of becoming art, because all of the Emo-Angst ridden garbage is done largely for that reason. That's the kind of stuff that the industy sees being taken seriously as art, so it apes it.

I'll also say that the industry as a whole has a vested interest in such recognition, which is why it's actually pushing the issue so hard. Right now there is an international pressure on games, aside from the censorship issue in the US (going before the Supreme Court) we've seen video games under attack in Australia, and even throughout Europe courtasy of nations like Germany (and some of Germany's policies are one of the reasons why the PEGI system concerns me). If games can get a universal recognition as art, that allows the laws in many of the nations doing the bellyaching to be turned back on them.

ALL games are art.

from Super Mario Bros. to Settlers of Catan to Rock, Paper, Scissors.

All in their own way.

Mouse One:
I'm a huge fan of Samyn's work, and I think a lot of his harsh (but let's be honest, spot on) words come from a frustration with the current state of the art. Yeah, there's a few games out there with fantastic storylines. The Bioware games come to mind, for example. But even so, said writing is overlayed on a fundamentally "game based" foundation. Bioshock might be a pointed satire about Objectivism and the illusion of free choice, but at the end of the day, the vast majority of the game is about the FPS mechanics. Most of the narrative is delivered in non interactive cutscenes-- which begs the question of why have a game at all. Why not just watch a movie? Even extremely narrative games like Heavy Rain are essentially short movies-- a Choose Your Own Adventure book with cutscenes in place of pages.

I agree with you on this point. I have been moved by certain parts of great games, for example, the end of Braid, or the scene that you pointed out in Bioshock. However, in both those cases, control was removed from me and put in the hands of the game designer, and that's what made the scenes beautiful and touching.
A big part of the 'games are art already' argument is that the player relates more to a character they are controlling, implying that movies and books can't do this as well as games. I have never found this to be true. A well crafted movie can draw the viewer into the perspective of the main character much more easily than a game, because the movie character always does exactly what is scripted, instead of running around looking for secret rooms or kicking chickens or anything else to distract from the constantly building tension.

Art does not exist in a particular set of rules or a particular kind of message(intellectual, ethical, moral, or otherwise). Art exists in the ability of the work to exist as a uniquely identifiable, singular whole. It is not the parts themselves or their construction which makes the art(any trained monkey can make a detailed, pretty picture); rather, it is the way the parts interact such to create a coherent, cohesive structure that satisfies consistency and continuity across the entirety of the work itself that makes art. It is the creation of a holistic experience that obtains a life, spirit, and identity of its own, unfractured and uncompromised by ad hoc influences or considerations, that lends artistry to the work. In this regard, even a game that is just for fun can be artistic because it is not the deliverance of an "artistic message" that makes it be art. It is the creation of the "artistic experience" that makes it be art.

In my opinion, the first step to consistently creating artistic games is to stop with the toddler's busy-center style design with a lot of games(lots of parts and pieces thrown together without any real coherent purpose or function) and actually make a complete, consistent, and continuous experience. This experience has to exist in total. Be careful about throwing in parts that are "cool" or "cool-looking". Everything has to actually work with the rest of the game to create a total, holistic experience, and, unfortunately, "cool" or "cool-looking" stuff has a tendency to not work well with other things(this is because coolness is the ultimate expression of unique individual identity; it does not like to be subsumed into a greater whole).

Stop trying to make the game artistic and just focus on making the game make sense with itself, get the pieces actually working together in a seamless, self-consistent whole. The artistry will follow on its own.

EDIT: Minor rephrasing in one sentence.

beefpelican:
I agree with you on this point. I have been moved by certain parts of great games, for example, the end of Braid, or the scene that you pointed out in Bioshock. However, in both those cases, control was removed from me and put in the hands of the game designer, and that's what made the scenes beautiful and touching.
.

I haven't played Braid (although you've just talked me into downloading the demo). But I think the really well thought out bit in Bioshock was that much of the narrative depended on losing control of your character in those scenes. The Path has something similar, in fact-- a scene in which you can only travel in one direction, but must hit a key to move at all.

The thing is, in a book or movie, these scenes wouldn't work as well. The audience/reader has never had control, so there's no way to lose it or limit it. But that loss of control is huge in those particular games. Contrast this with the typical cut scene which is really just "okay, now watch a short movie". The difference is that the first examples *use* the game mechanics to make a point and impact the player emotionally.

I think as videogames mature, we're going to see more ideas like that. But there is no getting around the fact that often the game can detract from the narrative-- as in your example about RPG characters who really really need to get on with the mission but instead wander around looting barrels and running errands for locals. Pacing? Wot's dat? (Dragon Age, I love ya, but I'm looking at you here).

I realize that arguing with this article is asinine. This article does nothing to actually say why games aren't art. I'm going to work backwards because that's the precise descending order of the validity of these arguments, and also to show that the arguments don't necessarily follow.

He ends discussing game development and talks about giving creative control back to a single author or a small team. Agreed. This can be a great idea. Prior to that he states that art is made on purpose. I disagree. One doesn't create art simply by setting out to make art. Art has a way of arising without considering its creator's intent. But in this section he states that gaming should start with an idea and construct the game from scratch around the idea. Also a great idea. Prior to that, though, he essentially says games aren't art because they don't act like other art. They have a responsibility to be art because they can do things similar to art forms like cinema and painting. That's just not the case. There were things unique to cinema and unique to painting, as well as poetry and novels, and any other art form. So, too, are there things unique to videogames that must be embraced for videogames to refine themselves as a unique art form. He says games only exist for fun. For a number of years cinema only existed to record moving life, with no higher purpose. It wasn't until decades later, new technique after new technique, that cinema was accepted as an artistic form of expression beyond straight recording or narrative cinema. If anything many would say gaming is developing much faster. This first part of the argument contains that controversial "art is about something," statement commenters keep coming back to. I, and many others I imagine, have understood art to be not just about something, but about us. If we walk away from a work understanding something about humans or ourselves, congratulations Jasper Johns, you just did art. This is as much a blanket statement as "art is about something," but with the focus on the creators and the observers. I can walk away from Silent Hill 2 with a new view on grief and regret and how people deal with it. Someone else might walk away from Fallout 3 thinking about man's ability to persevere. Someone else might even put down God of War with a new understanding of myth and oral tradition. If this is the case then these works have managed to express ideas in a way that effectively communicates with and profoundly affects the observer. But this article ignores the observer and puts the task of creating its poorly-defined art in the hands of the developers. That serves something of a purpose for the end of the article, when development is discussed, but nothing is done to argue much why games aren't art beyond those vague statements. The very beginning even says games have no cultural significance. One will rarely find cultural significance in a single work. It's found between works, comparing works and seeing what traits, themes, and styles consistently appear, and comparing works between cultures. Compare Western RPGs to eachother, then compare an exemplary Western RPG to an exemplary JRPG, I guarantee any reader here could fill a list with the cultural significance of each.

As a call for change in the mechanical and business aspects of development this article makes good points. But it fails utterly at addressing the art issue beyond a few statements too vague to hold any merit and seem to exist only for that later call-for-change. Now I feel more like an English teacher than a commenter. Bad form, Jack.

I'm a bit confused, what was the author's criteria for art anyway?
Film, media, theater, painting, music, books and sculpture all these art forms have the primary goal to be consumed and enjoyed by their respective audiences. In fact my mother who is an accomplished painter, potter and otherwise active artist believes (or told me she believes once) that art that you cant sell to others for enjoyment isn't art it is simply self indolence. And with the notable exception of Van Goff's work I agree with her (well you can sell it now but you couldn't when he was alive).

My point is I think stating games are not art because they focus on game play and do not follow the rules of other art forms misses the point. Like saying poems are not art because they paint pictures without brush strokes, or theater is not art because its just people pretending.

I've played games that make me question what it is to be human, that contained breath taking beauty and even made me question my own belief system, in fact I would argue any one who has played games for more than a few years has.
My point is if games are not art then what is?
By the same rules painting and photos are just images, books and poems are just text, plays, opera and film are just people pretending to amuse us the audience.

I have learned two things from this article:
1) I will never waste my money on anything from Tale of Tales
2) If the future of games become what this guy wants, I am done forever with them

The definition of "Art" is dependent on the perception of the viewer.

Therefore, this article is simply one of billions of outright opposing or perhaps only slightly differing opinions on the overarching subject of what constitutes "Art".

Therefore, arguing over it is a little less than useless, as you're not at all very likely to change the minds of anyone involved in the discussion.

Therefore, take it with a grain of salt. I know I am.

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