291: Almost Art

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People often use the term "art" to mean anything done well but for this discussion we need to use language with a bit more precision.
There are 4 common domains in the field of visual literacy.


Each of these domains has exemplars and iconic masters - excellence and high quality can be found in all 4 domains - it is not a hierarchy. Like photography and film, video games will eventually have exemplars in all 4 domains even though they started as forms of (3) visual culture created by designers (2).


Most people who argue that video games are art don't understand what art is. Art=\=good.

The original title of the article, by the way, was "Games, dare to be art!"

That's cool and everything but if don't learn to respect arcade games, for example, as much as you respect art then you will never show enough nerve to make really great games, art or not.


I realize that some of the things I say in the article, are predicated on my own personal vision of art for the future. And this vision is not exactly aligned with the achievements of the modernist movement in fine art from the previous century. In fact, I make games largely because I refuse to be involved with that movement. I'll try to explain my vision on art in a future article.

This is absolutely hilarious as "the path" uses modernism nonstop, both musically, visually and conceptually.

You "refuse" to be involved with something you're actually doing yourself, or should I take it that you're JUST referring to Duchamp and people similar to that? Schoenberg, Ligeti, Picasso, Warhol, are all OK then? Or what?

I'm pretty sure you aren't aware how VARIED "fine art" ends up being, including interactive electronic art too and all sorts of things. The 20th century is precisely the moment where something being in a museum or not doesn't matter for it to be considered by anyone art or not, or even what kind of thing is or isn't art.

But w/e, it's not like art matters.

I think japanese games are way ahead of the game when it comes to art,,GT5s portrayal of cars,MetalGearSolids story,that rivals any movie,& the upcoming Cathrine,which looks to be very interesting indeed.
Not that it is limited to japanese games as seen in david cages(french dude)heavy Rain,which moral choices impact the story so much that you feel serious shit when you withness the outcome of your actions.
& ill leave this post by saying take a look at Dead Island trailer & tell me it doesnt move you like any good Movie would.
Peace out

I'm a page in and already I disagree on several key points. First off, to claim that films and artwork are not 'rigid systems' is ridiculous. We accept the systems of cinema, literature, artwork because they've been around longer so we forget that when they were first introduced people said exactly the same thing about them.

Also, Art Is About Something. Games Are Not. Really, so films aren't largely commercial enterprises where big name producers and developers churn out crap every summer in order to pacify the masses because I think James Cameron, Michael Bay and the entirety of Hollywood would like a word with you. Some developers turn out 'artsy' games just for the 'deep' crowd with no thought of recompense, just like some indie film developers turn out 'artsy' films just for the 'deep' crowd etc. Don't judge gaming by its big blockbusters because that would be like judging the entire history of film based on the Transformers movies.

'Today, game developers don't need to be concerned with the message that their game is sending to its audience.' See above regarding film makers, who I'm sure are always concerned about the messages of every film being released to the general public.

'explore certain themes or to convey messages that cannot be said in any other way.' And you know what, I can't think of a single developer who's trying this. I mean, it's not like anyone is using the entire interactive nature of videogames to make a statement which can't be made anywhere else. [/sarcasm]

'There simply is no place for art in such a tight schedule.' Yes there is, some of the greatest classics of literature were developed under extraordinarily short time constraints. Similarly for some films, and pieces of artwork.

Your article is confusing, mixed in its message and downright wrong in several places.

I turn to the words of Tycho Brahe...

'If a hundred artists create art for five years, how can the result not be art?'

"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.

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."

I know this is beside the point, but the trend of art has not always been to strive towards photorealistic representation- if you look at the latter part of the Roman empire, this society known for their fairly realistic representations of the human form in sculpture moved from idealized realism to more abstracted imagery. The Four Tetrarchs are an excellent example of this.
And oil was not the reason painting went from the more abstract to the photorealistic. It was a change in style from the look of Byzantine art to a more lifelike one because of Italy's growing cultural influence on Western culture. Its the Italians who latched onto the idea of seeking realism over a graphic style, and the rest of the West followed suit.
This general increase in the verisimilitude of work continued from there, primarily with tempra for years, and oil just happened to come along and make it easier for artists to create photorealism.
(OK, so that was pretty much just a rant to get to use "Verisimilitude" outside of an art history class. Damn, I love that word.
Still, no one seems to remember that early medieval art looks like it does because of style, rather than due to some sort of regression out of the fall of the ancient Roman Empire.)

Still, you omit the introduction of the camera. Being to recreate exactly what you saw without any technical skill at all put the art world, who had spent the past thousand years striving to do what a camera could do in an instant turned the art world on its head.
I would love for someone to address this in the context of gaming- what sort of thing could change the video game world so entirely, as photography did painting? What would its functions be? What would the new goals of developers in creating video games?
Would it be available to the layperson, and what would they do with this seemingly magical piece of technology?

RPS has linked this on one of their Sunday Papers articles, and here's a comment about this article that's really good, in my opinion. If the author wanted to start out buy saying video games are not art but *can* be art, he's done a very bad job of showing that. Quote from RPS comment thread follows:

I can't help but think Samyn raises discussion because he's deliberately out to provoke people. He makes some fair points but he also overstates his case, fully I believe, aware of the ire this will cause.

The main culprit in this article (emphasis his) being:

"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."

As Bullwinkle succinctly put it in the first comment "No it doesn't." It certainly would be nice if it did. If it was striving to be art then yes it should be making some sort of statement. But as a piece of entertainment, it certainly doesn't. It's obvious from the rest of the article that Samyn feels that games should be being more than entertainment; but describing this as a "need" is massively overstating his case. Entertainment and art can happily coexist side by side; you can have your Tom Clancy's sharing the same shelf as your Sebastian Faulks' and both of them have their own merits. Well I have respect for Samyn's desire for greater artistry in games, I can't help but feel he's out to cause a ruckus.

I also think there are a few contradictions to be found in the piece. For example Samyn suggests that "commercial considerations" are not a valid reason for the non persual of artistic merit in games then later goes on to say,

"It takes an enormous amount of effort to produce the spectacle we know from blockbuster videogames. This effort requires heaps of time and money and above all an extremely tight production plan.

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."

Now stop me if I'm wildly missing the point, but that sounds like a commercial consideraton right there. It doesn't seem like a "mask to hide behind" at all. Even assuming a more artistic product would open up the mass market there's no way a mid to large size studio could survive for long enough financially to realise whatever artistic vision they may have. Such an endeavour seems doomed to failure. Unless you had somebody charismatic who could somehow manage to continually acquire investment despite end product being ages away (think 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Forever), which seems unlikely at best.

Moving on, I also have issues with the following point:

"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. [...] 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."

I don't buy that communicating the essence of a work of art is entirely impossible. I may be looking at this in a naive and simplistic manner but it seems to me that when an artist must work as part of a team to complete their endeavour then they have a responsibilty to be able to communicate what their art is about. If they don't manage to achieve this, then failure to convey what the artist wanted is entirely the artist's fault and they need to work on their communication skills. Yes, I agree, you wont get the full sense of the piece untill it is complete but I don't buy that you can't convey some of what you are trying to do with descriptions, be they words or images. Look at something like architecture. It's a massive collaborative effort, which would be a shambles without solid lines of communication between the architect and those in charge of construction.

I think Samyn's right in that there has to be a willingness in members of the team and those involved int he more technical aspects to trust in the artist's creative vision even if they don't really understand it. I think this does need to happen more in the game's industry. But I think there's also onus on the artist to at least try and explain to someone whose putting in the hard graft what all of their work is trying to achieve. And of course the person putting in the hard graft needs to get paid, and as covered above this could be a problem.

So yeah, I think Samyn is going about things the right way if he wants to create art. He's got a small team of like minded people with creative and technical skills and they are trying to create something unique and worthwhile. More power to them, I'm glad they are willing to try and I wish them every success. But I can't help but feel that he expects too much of the rest of the game's industry in pursuing similar goals and I also can't help but find his insinuation that art and entertainment can't happily coexist if the medium is to move forward as an overstatement of his case at best and absolutely baffling pig headed stubborness at worst.

Michael Samyn:
Yet in terms of cultural relevance, social importance and aesthetic impact, masturbators still play second fiddle to cinema, literature or music, because underneath their superficial artistic appearance, masturbators are bland, unforgiving, meaningless, cold-blooded, rigid. These systems offer a context for goal-oriented, rules-based experiences that already have a place in society: next to other masturbators. Since nothing new is happening here, society is not affected.

Masturbators clearly have potential; they just have not accepted their role as an art form yet. Masturbation is king to most masturbators. To play them is to compete in a sort of digital sport. Graphics and sound have been added as polish and pretty packaging. Masturbators are simply not created as works of art.

Masturbation Is About Something. Art Is Not.

Umm, just one question, why? Why would doing anything you just said accomplish anything?

Surely If the developers set out with the intention of making a game built around a mechanic with as good a story and setting and characters as possible would accomplish the exact same thing.

and guess what, we're doing that right now.


It doesn't really have anything to do with the "objects" we call games. I'm sure many can be experienced as art. My criticism is of the way in which most games are made. Which is simply not an artistic process. My article is intended to encourage developers to approach game creation with a more artistic attitude. The original title of the article, by the way, was "Games, dare to be art!"

I just re-read your article with this in mind, and I have decided that I tend to agree with your thoughts on what games can be, but think you're over-generalizing when it comes to what they are. The thing is, there certainly are some games that deserve the criticisms you gave here (hell, most of them do; Sturgeon's Law is in effect here as much as it is everywhere else), but there are a few that don't, and--as far as I could tell--you ignored them entirely. It could be that you don't think any of them are art, in which case I would be interested to see your thoughts on BioShock, Shadow of the Colossus, Silent Hill 2, Planescape: Torment, etc.--all games that have had the "art" label thrown on them a lot in these debates.

The biggest problem with any "is it art?" debate is that we lack a widely-accepted definition of "art." Your saying that they have to be "about something" seems to be pretty good, but then surely there are plenty of games that are "about things"? And while your Hollywood comparison is quite fitting (I say this as somebody who is increasingly fed up with Hollywood), there are a fair number of films that either manage to sneak some intelligence through the Hollywood system, or don't come from Hollywood at all.

Your thoughts on what games can be make sense, but the definition of art that you give seems to admit a few already-made games, while your article (as far as I could tell) says that no game yet made is art.

If art is not a team sport, movies can't be art either.
There are hundreds of people working in every big budget movie no matter what the subject matter, not to mention that the initial screen-play writers work might have been rewritten a dozen times before it's handed off to a director.

Best article on Escapist. If you are down with games becoming an evolution of songs, books, movies, etc. Couldn't have said it better myself.

In all honesty, I find this article insulting and I kindly tell the maker of it to $%&* off because they don't know a damn thing about what they're talking about.

Okay, I'm going to philibuster this crap right now as I'm sick of people talking about depth in games as if they understand anything when instead they're just sweeping a wide brush before even looking. Expect a long post after I look through my collection for every game I have that has emotional elements to it.

Prepare for spoilers for many games people.

The Zero Escape series: A game series dealing with concepts such as Morphic Fields and multiple universe theories. Also has some very emotional moments over its characters (I challenge you to play Virtue's Last Reward and not feel some kind of emotion over Luna).

OkamiDen: Talks about fate and being who you should be in spite of what you were created to be, has a moment where a character that is a clone of another and that was experiencing a crisis over this fact ends up dying peacefully with friends around him, content with believing himself to be his own person.

Radiant Historia: Deals with issues such as political strife and whether the sacrifice of one person is worth the saving of an entire world.

Megaman Zero series: Deals with a dystopian world where humans are mostly holed up in a single city due to most of the rest of the world being a wasteland while they let robots do most of the work for them. Deals with prejudice against robots due to a lack of resources and so it involves ideas that can be compared to discrimination in the real world.

Silent Hill 2: Deals with the psychological problems of one man ranging from sexual frustration and his guilt over murdering his wife.

Phoenix Write Justice For All: Deals with a defense attorney dealing with the moral question of defending someone he knows to be guilty and what is the right thing for him to do, especially when the tension is high due to an assassin threatening the life of friend of his if he doesn't defend this person.

Ar Tonelico series: Has a message that if a man wishes to trully "win" the heart of the woman he loves then the way to do it is to understand their personality and accept them for who they are.

Megaman Starforce series: Deals with the strength of personal bonds and how having a connection with people makes you stronger and lifts you out of the dark times in your life.

Persona 4: Deals with the repressed side of our psyche and accepting yourself for who you are.

Odin Sphere: A game with many themes, there's the story of a daughter trying to become her own person and not merely be subject to the desires of her father, there's the story of a princess having to take over her kingdom when he mother dies and actually become the leader her people need, and others like that. All of this is told through a narrative that draws elements of Victorian era plays.

Bioshock: Deals with the ideologies of Ayn Rand and actually uses the mechanics to give a surprising twist.

Fragile Dreams: Takes place after the world has ended and most of what is left are people dying and memories of those that are dead.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Deals with patriotism and what lengths a person can go to follow their ideals. How does history remember the people that fight and die for their countries?

Shadow of the Colossus: Deals with the lengths one man will go for the person he loves in spite of what it may cost him and other people.

Okage: Specifically uses a world that seems to be a caricature of the old "hero fights the evil king" cliche and pokes fun at those ideas and even has the characters themselves be questioned over what their roles actually mean.

Nier: A miserable, miserable story of sadness.

Catherine: Deals with the issues of men cheating on women and has a message of that being bad.

I honestly could bring up more but these are the ones that have what some term "socially relevant" issues or things that can at least make most people feel something I think.

This is not to say that there aren't games that fall into what the writer of this article said, but I dismissing all of the hard work that's already been done is a slap in the face.

Specter Von Baren:
In all honesty, I find this article insulting and I kindly tell the maker of it to $%&* off because they don't know a damn thing about what they're talking about.

Okay, I'm going to philibuster this crap right now as I'm sick of people talking about depth in games as if they understand anything when instead they're just sweeping a wide brush before even looking. Expect a long post after I look through my collection for every game I have that has emotional elements to it.

Filibuster. That clearly isn't what the article is about. You have books with no depth, movies with no depth, the article is about whether or not some games can at some point be a continuation of the progression from song, to book, to movie, to game.

It's layering on. In song you have sound and feeling, communication. In book you have a screenplay. In movie you have the melding of the two with visualization. In someways a song or books highest calling is to become a movie. In the same way, why should some games not continue in this tradition, instead of being relegated to the likes of boardgames, and sports?

That's what the article is about. And if you think that has already happened, well if so, only on an infinitesimally small scale. Games are only a pale shadow of these mediums. To feel otherwise is too be too close to the wall to see anything around you.

TLDR: It's asking, how can we take the game out of video game, so that the interface is merely complementary. My only criticism of the article, is I don't think you need to work backwards from the experience to the interface. I think there should just be standard interfaces, just like songs, books, and movies, all have standard interfaces. It only detracts from the experience if you must learn how to interface with the thing as a barrier to entry.

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