155: The Game Design of Art

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I can completely disprove Ebert's allegations. The reality is he has attempted, perhaps accidentally to misdirect the debate.

First off let me explain this from a game artists perspective. I feel as if the programs I use are merely digital versions of a rock, hammer, chisel, paint brush and canvas. So as a creator of content I am no different to the Sculptor or Painter except that I use more technologically advanced methods.

Secondly the end result I produce is no different to a sculpture and the constraints which allow you to view the sculpture are no different then the constraints of the real world on a human viewing a real sculpture.

What I am saying is that directing your attention to the storyline of a game and away from the ART is as much a misdirection as saying that the art gallery contains no art because it allows you to choose your path through it instead of forcing you to view its contents in the way the artist intended you to.

Sure ... I only go so far as to prove that games are art because they are made of art. But this means it is only up to the game to be a true work of high art. Unfortunately however we live in a world filled with detractors who seem to think that unless they can hang it on their wall and have their friends applaud them that it doesn't qualify. But as per usual in the history of art, they will merely be looked back on as another generation of conservative idiots who couldn't accept the changes in medium and theme.

Yeah but if you had a director of the gallery constantly shoving you backwards and telling you you weren't skilled enough to see the rest, that experience as a whole doesn't quite count as art. There's something to the argument that a game can CONTAIN art without being art in and of itself.
I do agree that a lot of Ebert's arguments just serve to misdirect the debate. I like the man's way of thinking and his reviews are usually pretty insightful, but whenever you see him in interviews and things like you this you just get the feeling he's probably an asshole.

It almost makes me wonder if what we consider genuine "art" these days is nothing more than a collection of material objects that the self-absorbed academia selects arbitrarily and proclaims as "art". Those who disagree with the academia are simply discounted for "not understanding it's artistic value" while those who choose to agree with the academics receive the much valued label of being "cultured" or "deep" while only half of those who receive that label probably even think the object is art-worthy.

This is just the inner skeptic in me speaking. In the end I could really care less whether anyone considers video games as art or not. All I know is I have a great appreciation for the hard work by artists, composers, writers, production designers and programmers that all goes into each game, sometimes coming together in a way that is entirely beautiful and presenting the player with an experience unlike any other in the entertainment world.

Tabloid Believer:


See, I think that's just egotistical bulllshit. Not you, just that position that for something taken seriously it either has to be 1) a moneymaker or 2) artistic. All that it needs is for people to take it seriously, and we have always taken our fun seriously.

Human beings have been playing games for thousands of years. It's part of who we are. It engages our psyche in interesting ways, helps us learn, but if it isn't fun, we don't give a fuck about it real fast.

The demand that games must be art is a facetious one to me, putting an onus upon them that doesn't have to be there for the game to be an excellent one.

Go will probably never be 'art', but it's lasted longer than most art has.

I think that gamers want to be taken seriously and they want their passion to be taken seriously. Period.

But I agree that to be taken seriously, something does not necessarily have to be art, or even moneymaking.

All that aside, I think that games as art has either happened or will happen very soon. It's simply inevitable. And not just because there's a push for video games to be taken seriously. It's because it's the next logical step in the evolution of games. It happened with photography and it happened with film.

Now I think we're talking about 2 different but related subjects.

First, there's the desire for gamers and the audience of gamers (developers, QA people, etc, etc) to be taken seriously.

Second, there's the idea that because we are taken seriously we can be art, or perhaps is the other way around; because art is serious we should granted some kind of respect.

Hm. I'm not getting those ideas as clearly separate as I'd like. But I guess what I'm saying is that there's a flawed assumption that games are or should or even need to be art. The tools of the artist may be involved (anything from painting to writing to...well, that's about the extent of it-but you want to use your imagination to expand what writing/painting tools there are) but the tools of the artist just that; tools, and they can be used for anything.

As to the 3rd point, that eventually games will be art, I truly wonder. We've been playing games for so long, it's not like they haven't had their chance to become art. What makes videogames special from cribbage, chess, go, D&D, Boggle or Magic the Gathering?

What I'm talking about, in a way, is a reevaluation of the mindset that games need to be something more, when it seems that people need games as part of who we are. I can't think of a single culture that hasn't had some kind of game that they play/teach (for a variety of reasons) so obviously play and fun have some kind of integral element to us. Why do we need them to be judged by some other person's standard. Fuck that.

Which leads me to my final point; I think that we're looking to the wrong place for validation. People like to play games. They don't need to be anything more (and sometimes shouldn't be anything more) than fun. The requirements that they meet some kind of artistic standard takes away from the whole point of games to exist; for us to have fun.

That doesn't mean that games will never be art, but I'm currently of the thinking that they don't need to be, and shouldn't aspire to be. They should aspire to be awesome games.


His point is this: the player influences the outcome of the game, therefore the game can never be an accurate expression of the artist's (Game designer's) vision. Without that expression, there's no meaning to the game, and hence no art.

The idea that for art to be both art and high art, it must be the expression of an artist, is highly disputed! Since the 60's and before, with the rise of theorists like Barthes and Derrida, the subjectivity of literature and art has been pretty much established(...objectively? hmm, anyway). That's why it's both interesting to look at ancient literature and contextualise, and also look at it from new perspectives - feminist, Marxist etc. We can find things being said that the writer never wanted to be said. A painting makes each of us think different things, all the time, and the painter probably didn't even think about what he was trying to say, a lot of the time. Da vinci certainly didn't, he just drew beauty.

Ebert is grasping at an old theory about art, and we shouldn't stick rigidly to that. However, your answer as to what games must become to be art I actually agree on - to a point.

As for the article, it's one of the best I've read on The Escapist.

I believe that Ebert's claims about interactivity is wrong.

There already are artists who rely on phenomena completely out of their control to convey their messages: i.e. drawings in sand, audience participation in theaters etc. etc. etc. If Ebert's complaint is that the player is unpredictable and thus will not always go according to artistic vision, he misses the point that the artist has the MOST control over what will influence in game events.

The designer is God in the video game world. A god that depends on favorable reviews and high revenue but a god for the world nonetheless. You can choose to try and kill the invincible boss but the limitations of the game will prevent it, unlike the actors who could have their play destroyed by a completely unpredictable volunteer or the sand drawer who never has his drawing destroyed due to an incredibly convoluted and incredible alignment of the planets!

Anyway, with that, I will just hug my slobber encrusted copy of Ever17 and silently chuckle that despite all of its shortcomings, the narrative contained in the game can never be duplicated in any other medium.

BioShock presents a perfect example of this kind of dissonance. Through its non-gameplay elements (set design, audio diaries and linear story), the game successfully explores the shortcomings of an extreme Randian philosophy. The gameplay, on the other hand, involves upgrade-heavy first-person shooting.

Just make it an "upgrade-heavy first-person painting" and you're done.

Ebert's whole point about games NOT being art is that by their very nature they're interactive. See http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070721/COMMENTARY/70721001

"How do I know this? How many games have I played? I know it by the definition of the vast majority of games...player control of the outcome. I don't think these attributes have much to do with art; they have more in common with sports."

His point is this: the player influences the outcome of the game, therefore the game can never be an accurate expression of the artist's (Game designer's) vision. Without that expression, there's no meaning to the game, and hence no art.

Technically this is untrue, as the only outcome is you win or lose. A video game is, no matter what, limited to what is programmed in there.

Now, as stated early in this, Ebert claims games can never be "high art", and as you said, due to the interactivity, you can't get a designer's message. I find this to be incredibly narrow minded.

Earthbound? Art. I can't even begin to explain how and why, but it is.

Bioshock conveys the author's message just fine despite the interaction. Sure, everyone can spot that Levine was influenced by Ayn Rand, but think about it for a moment. The whole of Rapture is dedicated to the failure of Objectivism. It's not merely influenced by literature, it is a counter-argument to a piece of literature. Doesn't this itself make it literature, putting it on the level of art? Doesn't this convey that Levine himself does not believe Objectivism can or even should work? Aren't various characters representing different styles of humanity? The game can be looked into just as deeply as any film or novel. It can be studied in Universities. People just have a tunnel vision that makes them say "oh, it's just a video game with a good story instead of average" instead of actually paying attention to what's truly in there.

Final Fantasy Tactics (the original) is another fantastic example. The game's story is complex and actually tells two different but intertwined epics about two different but related heroes. It's also a pretty accurate portrayal and commentary of the Medieval Catholic Church. In the end, FFTactics itself is art.

Let's look at it more simply: Cliffy B. got the idea for Gears of War's cover system after playing a game of paintball, right? He's even stated that his thought process was along the lines of feeling modern shooting games weren't doing a good job of capturing the feel of combat, and so he made Gears. Doesn't the change of gameplay style convey this message of the designer's? Aren't we getting his impression of how combat should play out in a simulation? It seems to me that whenever I put a game in my system, I'm playing what someone else things makes up a good game, and therefore am getting their ideas and thoughts in a deliverable format.

This is nothing to say of the difficulty of developing a game that appeals to a wide audience, or even create new and interesting experiences. I look at simply designing a game to be fun as an art because it's challenging. It isn't an easy task.

Of course, there's also the fact that it is game design. Design being a word used in tandem with art. Level design can easily portray how someone looks at a world, even.

Interactivity is a poor excuse for a game being art and only shows narrow vision of what a game truly is.

article is a joke. games as a whole product hardly qualify as art since they hardly ever are ment to be so. same could be said about microwave food. makes perfectly eadeble food, but in most cases, not so good art. games are ment to entertain. if a gamedeveloper was trying to create art, they would most likley succeed, but the gameplay would probably suck and the game would have other losses. its like saying a painting cant fucking be used for digging a well, of course it cant, but nobody complains about it? just because a game doesnt qualify as art, doesnt mean it fails to furfill its purpose... article is a joke.

edit: what i'm trying to say is: why bitch about something like this? it's like creating an article about why newspaperarticles aren't usually considered art!

a videogame should be considered art, it takes the same amount of skill as painting a painting or skulpting a skulpture...

Killer7 did what you are talking about to a certain extent. I interpreted it as being about the futility and inevitability of war and conflict between cultures in general. You mentioned linear stories as being something we will have to abandon. I disagree, for a story to function it needs a clear beginning, middle, and end. What is wrong with that?

"Yes, we've already produced games that strike the high-art chord with game-savvy folks, but that's not enough. In order to make games that everyone might appreciate as high art, we first need to figure out how to make games that are playable - start-to-finish - by everyone."

Actually I think a few of Rohrer's own games fit this bill quite nicely. Perhaps Ebert would be able to appreciate them...

This article is very enlightening as to why Gamers are losing the argument over games being Art.

Ebert's whole point about games NOT being art is that by their very nature they're interactive. See http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070721/COMMENTARY/70721001

"How do I know this? How many games have I played? I know it by the definition of the vast majority of games...player control of the outcome. I don't think these attributes have much to do with art; they have more in common with sports."

His point is this: the player influences the outcome of the game, therefore the game can never be an accurate expression of the artist's (Game designer's) vision. Without that expression, there's no meaning to the game, and hence no art.

Some will argue games that are story driven, such as the Final Fantasy series, can artifically limit choice to a series of progressions that ultimately tell the same tale. However, no two games will ever be the same, and thus the designer's vision will ultimately always fall short and thus the nuance of the craft are lost.

Gamers want to redefine art in the method of Andy Warhol -- anything can be art. But that's never going to fly, or else we must redefine EVERYTHING as art, utilitarian or not. Ebert himself, has perhaps unintentionally given us the direction that this argument must flow towards.

What gamers fail to realize is that for Games to be considered art, we have to change the definition of what a GAME is. If designers and players alike only realize that games at their core are 2nd Person Narratives, we can better frame this argument as a style we can defend. The aesthetics of the game, the mood and feel, are only details, not the art itself. The art is in the expression, the performance.

Unlike sports, where there is a set of rules players have to follow, video games are about the experience the player has while playing within the bounds of those rules. The RULES ARE NOT THE GAME. The emergent gameplay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergent_gameplay) is what makes the game art. It's the player's creativity in response to the game design that makes a game art.

I challenge you that games are NOT sport. They are the tools by which the Performers (which we call players) express themselves through improvisation within the bounds defined by the Directors and Producers. We are all artists, our controllers are our paint, our consoles the canvas, the Television the gallery. And through the internet, the world becomes our audience.

I agree with everything you have said, but if you can accept that Satire is an artform, then this may be art ;-)

On the whole though, I have long felt that games need to have stories (in a contextually generative sense, with consistent theme and cathartic closure), rather than how many of them are now where the Story is the main thing and what little game there is has to fit within its linear narrative constraints - e.g. Metal Gear Solid is more of an interactive movie, and the upcoming Heavy Rain has more in common with the laserdisc adventure Dragon's Lair:

Gameplay as the main channel of expression instead of cutscenes, that is the very first essential step.

Today I Die by Daniel Benmergui. It has everything you asked for in order to satisfy Ebert.


That is all.

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