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theoddone33

Games inferior as art?

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Are games art? In my view, absolutely not. They are merely pastimes; disposable commodities that last for as long as the technology lasts (which these days is about ten minutes). I can't define art exactly, but I do know that it should be about much, much more than hand-to-eye coordination.

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Planescape: Torment was absolutely a work of art. And no hand-eye coordination was required. Invisible Man, you do realize there are more games out there than first-person shooters, right?

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I can't define art exactly, but I do know that it should be about much, much more than hand-to-eye coordination.

So if I'm playing System Shock 2, moving around the abandoned spaceship and reading all of the well-written and heart-breaking journals that the former occupants wrote to loved ones, and feeling more than a little bit sad as I recall their dreams and hopes as I find one of their bodies only feet away from an escape pod several floors up, I should just instantly forget about it because it's just a frivolous, time-wasting reflex exercise.

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While I was at home over Christmas, I played through the recently released Xbox 360 game Gears of War. Anyone who supports Ebert's original reasons for stating that games are not art needs only to play this game to realize that his reasoning is flawed. Many games have done it, but Gears was the best I've seen in a while... giving a wholly satisfying gaming experience while advancing an entirely controlled plot. That is... there was no lack of authorial control in the telling of this story, and there was no lack of actual gameplay either.

Many have referred to Gears as cinematic... and this is accurate. The game is literally an interactive movie. If making a movie interactive somehow removes it's art-ness then it's certainly fair to ask whether movies are art in the first place.

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What are the uses to which video games are put? What kinds of desires do they satisfy? Of course there will be notable exceptions to almost any answer to these questions. But I think it is possible to make the following observations.

It is a truism that a major selling point of many games is power. They create the illusion of control. Many games, such as the Civilization series, put the gamer in a god-like position, controlling whole societies. In others they experience the world as ants. Within the virtual environment, gamers effect change in many ways. They change their surroundings, they inflict violence upon other players, they save the world. Moreover, games also allow players to control time. They die over and over until they achieve their goals.

It is also evident that many people are seeking out community in video games.

The desire for control is understandable, and that for community is a basic human desire.

However, it seems to me that there are more important things in life than exercising control, and that the form of community offered by many video games is inferior because it is often anonymous (or pseudonymous). Thus, they exact very little from users.

As far as the experience video games offer of, well, experience, here is my question: does not great literature also provide something experiential? It seems to me that the price people pay in seeking out virtual environments is something like a shriveling of the imagination. This is an awful price, since it is through the exercise of the imagination that we can learn to love each other as we love ourselves. The paradigm of power and control which dominates most games (again, there are of course exceptions) disinclines us to inquire after the other, to accept what is unlike ourselves, to submit ourselves to the mystery of creation, to be attuned to the life of the spirit and to seek the knowledge of God. And what about the use of reason? While it goes without saying that much great art works through non-rational means, it seems to me that video games provide insufficient means for judging the worlds in which they place us. They are meant to be experienced on a purely visceral, emotional level. The problem with this is that reason is the good gift of God. We should not settle for any art which affirms anything other than the goodness of ALL creation, including rationality. The interactive aspect of games is nothing new; who can say that The Divine Comedy is not interactive? What is new about video games is that they offer emotive interaction instead of the rational-imaginative experience of literature.

If someone finds beauty and meaning in video games, by no means do I wish to belittle their experience. But I would like to say that my experience with great works of literature (and art in general) has been that they are highly demanding. They exact sacrifice. The rewards of art are proportional to their demands.

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Seemed like this was the best thread for this: "Gore Is Less: Videogames Make Better Horror Than Hollywood".

Yet here's the thing: For several years now, I've found that my favorite horror experiences aren't coming from movies any more. They're coming from games.

Why? Partly it's because films have become much less artistically interesting. With a choice few exceptions -- like the superb The Ring -- I've found that modern horror movies have been offering less and less suspense, and more and more gore. Maybe it's due to the rampaging success of Saw, which gave birth to the current trend toward torture-chic and metric tonnage of blood in scary movies.

In contrast, the best scary-game designers have quietly perfected the interplay of tension and release that makes for a truly cardiac horror experience. They have, in a sense, become even more faithful interpreters of the horror tradition movies than Hollywood directors.

However, he does go onto admit some of the limitations of video games that may not be conducive to a true "horror" experience:

Still, there are some interesting limitations on the form. I find that scary games almost always lose their scariness after about three hours. This is due to the inherent repetitiveness of games: After you've fought your 200th "splicer" in BioShock, you're pretty accustomed to their gurgly ramblings, their patterns of attack, the boo-yah outta-nowhere teleportations. I was still tense, but no longer, you know, wetting myself.

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I have nothing to add to this threads content... I just came across this and thought, We've come a long way!

And yes, that is Mr. Spock.

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I think the original argument shows a real lack of understanding as to the process of creating a game. I can think of a very few games that actually allow you to do anything, and even then the possibilities are only those that have been programmed into the game. An argument based on their lack of narrative shows that you have not played a game since the Super Nintendo era. The ceding of control is not the purpose of the creator, that would result in absolute meaninglessness. Even in an incredibly open game, like the Elder Scrolls series mentioned earlier, there is still a huge amount of narrative control, you can't choose to kill everyone in the town and still hope to win the game. It is doable, but you have to restart. The narrative control is still there, the storyline is still there, and sometimes it is as good and as meaningful as a novel. It also does no good to say that it destroys the imaginative impulse in man, and it certainly doesn't do to link our imaginations to our ability to love our neighbors. We aren't called to love our neighbors as we can imagine them, but as they are, and that is not an act of imagination, but of God. It was said that great art demands something from you, if you have played through some recent games, they make very serious demands of you, you are not only confronted with the reality of a situation, you are also forced to choose how to respond to that. The artful execution of this may be rare, but then again it is rare in literature, as well. All I'm trying to say is that there is no reason to say that just because Pac Man isn't a tool for communicating a point, don't write off the whole video gaming industry as commercial hacks with no depth. A game like Fallout or Mass Effect or even something like Company of Heros (I literally had a sinking feeling in my stomach anytime one of my soldiers would die because of how well the voice acting was done) just immerses you and gives you a sense of story and really does communicate to the player.

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I remember something that Tarkovsky, I think it was, once said: film, as a baby medium, should draw from the deep wells of other art mediums for its bearings. I think that's one reason why video games come across in general as shallow things. They often as not have no roots or aspirations outside of a very immediate and visceral entertainment value.

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That's interesting--especially since one of my favorite video games from 2007 was based off of a Tarkovsky movie (and the novel that inspired it).

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That's interesting--especially since one of my favorite video games from 2007 was based off of a Tarkovsky movie (and the novel that inspired it).

Really?? What is it?

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Its interesting that a film man feels gaming is an inferior art. I don't think its inferior, or superior, to film as an art form. Its its own genre now. Film and computer games have much in common these days. It takes a team of people to produce a 'blockbuster'. Writers, programmers, concept artists, digital painters, 3D sculptors, and editors that do the same jobs as film editors. Obviously, this requires a new approach to critiquing it...

I enjoy great art in some of these games. Telltale Games has some great 'adventure games' that are almost a computerized graphic novel/movie. "Sam and Max' Season 1 is an episodic work with 6 parts. They are making a game based on the graphic novel "Bone" (a fantastic read, especially for young readers...) and 'Wallace and Grommet'. What is enjoyable about them is the ability to soak in the background without having to worry too much about failing or getting attacked (like in Age of Empires...). Film, sequential art, and gaming, combined! Beautiful!

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I'm not really sure this belongs here, but at the same time, I could really justify starting a brand new thread for it, so here it is.

Remembering the Orphan: Final Fantasy VIII:

Is there any videogame out there that’s more in need of a critical reevaluation than Final Fantasy VIII? Despite strong sales when it first released in 1999, the game is considered only a minor entry on both sides of the Pacific. Most reviews in the US were only mildly positive and bemoaned that the iconic characters of Final Fantasy VII had been replaced with a group of sensitive teenagers, while a 2006 poll in Japanese gaming bible Famitsu revealed that Final Fantasy VIII was only the sixth most popular installment of the series. More grudgingly liked than truly loved, it’s the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. And that’s a shame, because upon closer inspection, the game is an excellent work of entertainment that occasionally aspires to becoming art.

[...]

It’s telling, then, that the single best part of the storyline is purely visual and doesn’t involve any dialogue or text whatsoever. The game’s ending consists of a 15-minute computer-animated sequence that pushes its melodrama to operatic heights and blends it with an avant-garde surrealism—and it works beautifully. Final Fantasy VIII sets up this conclusion by explaining that its protagonists must travel to a dimension outside of space and time in order to confront the game’s true villain, and that the only way to return to the real world afterwards is to focus on a reassuring place from one’s memories.

For Squall this proves incredibly difficult. He wants to imagine a vast field of flowers where he promised Rinoa they would meet after the final battle, but he finds it impossible to remember what she looks like. He recalls scenes from earlier in the game, but every time her face appears blurry and indistinct. As Squall becomes increasingly desperate to remember the woman he loves, the montage of prior scenes begins moving faster and faster, the clips rushing by at a frantic pace. He finally thinks back to a moment in which Rinoa almost died, and for the first time her face is completely visible. Squall’s body fades away into the light.

What’s remarkable about this sequence is that it doesn’t bother to explain exactly what’s going on. Gamers will hopefully understand that this rapid-fire montage represents Squall’s fevered imagination and that the shock of almost losing Rinoa causes him to snap out of his delirium, but the game doesn’t spell this out in any way. If a mainstream Hollywood movie trusted its audience to handle a wordless, four-and-half minute segment like this, it would have been hailed as an extraordinary achievement. But since Final Fantasy VIII was merely a video game, nobody noticed.

FWIW, I don't necessarily agree with the author's statement that Final Fantasy VIII is the "red-headed stepchild" of the Final Fantasy franchise. It currently enjoys a score of 90 at Metacritic, was listed as the 22nd greatest game of all time by Famitsu (one of the world's foremost gaming magazines), and is still listed as the franchise's fastest-selling game. But I guess it's all in how you interpret the numbers.

That being said, this article made my very nostalgic. I loved playing Final Fantasy VIII and found it very involving, affecting, and rewarding. And while it doesn't have any moment as iconic as, say, the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII, I do love the ending video which is remarkable on both a technical level (especially considering that it's a decade old) and an emotional level.

Edited by opus

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I do remember the gaming press publishing very strong criticism when FFVIII came out, but I agree with the article, that there was some very strong storytelling in the game. I remember especially the parts of the game that were sort of playable dream sequences, where you would control Laguna and co. The way that vignette ended up integrating with the main story line was really cool I thought. The world-building was also really good. Maybe one of the earlier mainstream steampunk worlds?

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I do remember the gaming press publishing very strong criticism when FFVIII came out, but I agree with the article, that there was some very strong storytelling in the game. I remember especially the parts of the game that were sort of playable dream sequences, where you would control Laguna and co. The way that vignette ended up integrating with the main story line was really cool I thought. The world-building was also really good. Maybe one of the earlier mainstream steampunk worlds?

I think that FFVII had some stronger steampunk influences than FFVIII, though I'd hesitate to call either game truly steampunk. But that being said, I do love the worlds of the Final Fantasy games and their eclectic blends of various cultures, technology levels, etc. On paper, the discrepancies, anachronisms, and whatnot shouldn't work, but in the game, it comes off as exotic and intriguing.

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Whether or not games can qualify as art, Tycho proves here that *writing* about games can qualify. Seriously, I love this guy's writing, one of the most unique voices I've encountered on the web:

I have been emotionally ravaged by a total of two games: the first is Silent Hill 2. I've been to enough conventions and talked to enough people about it that I know I am not alone in this. There are many ways to interface psychologically with the game, but if you are a sentimental husband with a young, beautiful wife, the game is precisely calibrated to annihilate you.

The second game is Shadow of the Colossus.

The dread starts at the very beginning, simmering in your gut, and it never gets better ever - hour upon hour. You know immediately that you are engaged in something like evil, if not evil itself, but our appetites as players demand that we seek objectives and conquer them - and the game scourges us for this dereliction of conscience. The technology at work often obscured the game itself, but the emotional wavelength has resounded years after the fact. At this late hour, I can recall no camera foibles or performance valleys. All I can recall now is the black bargain, and concentric waves of anguish.

The experiences they create are groundbreaking, incredible. They arrive on some alien schedule, like comets, governed by whimsy or an inconceivably complicated schema which is indistinguishable from randomness. The end result is that we are given the opportunity to ache for them: two teams are not toiling in parallel to ensure that each holiday deposits an appropriate manifestation in this industry's pagan observance of the Winter Solstice. It is actually possible to miss their work, to long for it.

Edited by Cunningham

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Seth Schiesel - Supreme Court has Ruled; Now Games Have a Duty - The New York Times -

It is now the law of the United States that video games are art. It is now the law of the United States that video games are a creative, intellectual, emotional form of expression and engagement, as fundamentally human as any other.

“Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world),” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Supreme Court on Monday, in a case that arose from a California effort to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. “That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

... Yet the real importance of Monday’s decision does not rest in practicalities. Laws both reflect and shape the societies that create them. This decision reflects society in that video games have already become the most vibrant new form of media entertainment in decades.

The real question is how this decision now shapes society. The video game industry has long reveled in its adolescent gripe that “they just don’t understand us.” That has led game makers, like sulky teenagers, to act out in some ways, promoting, for instance, some antisocial games with zero redeeming value.

Now that the industry has finally gotten what it’s asked for, it can no longer play the aggrieved, misunderstood victim. It is time to grow up and show the world what you can do with your newfound respectability. Will you use it as cover to pump out schlock or will you rise to the opportunity and respectability that has been afforded you?

The court has ruled that games are art. Now it is up to designers, programmers, artists, writers and executives to show us what art they can produce.

James Bowman - Decline and Fall - The New Criterion -

Among those protected books, plays and movies, we know, are a number of artefacts, including many of the viler forms of pornography, that most people would hesitate to classify as "art" in any but the most descriptive sense. Most people use the word in a normative way in order to exclude dull, incompetent, inferior, kitschy and offensive works from classification as "art" alongside the kind which they admire. I think we can still use it in this way to exclude video games without running afoul of the law and the Constitution. Yet if Mr Schiesel is as usual eager to claim too much on behalf of video games, it has to be admitted that Justice Scalia himself does provide some warrant for his opinion.

Certainly (he writes) the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers "till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy." . . . Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.

There is more in the same vein — Homer, Virgil, Dante, William Golding — but we get the point. We can also see at once that there are certain differences between Hansel and Gretel and Grand Theft Auto, among them the fact that it is the malefactor who is killed in the former but the one who is doing the killing in the latter. Also, the reader is encouraged to identify himself with the endangered children in Hansel and Gretel, and to rejoice in their escape; the player of Grand Theft Auto, by contrast, is encouraged to identify himself with the killer and to glory in his slaughter. The same differences apply to all the other works cited by Justice Scalia.

Devin Monaghan -

With the Supreme Court striking down a California law prohibiting the sale of mature video games to people younger than 18, controversy has again been aimed at video game violence and its impact on youth. But those decrying violent shooter games are off target with their concern. Video games haven't turned our nation's youth into serial killers. Rather, video games have transformed much of our nation's youth into zombies.

One example of electronic obsession is "Call Of Duty: Black Ops," a game played mostly by 18- to 24-year-olds, an age group I belong to and look forward to exiting. According to Activision (the game's publisher), "Black Ops" earned $360 million on the first day of its release, and it took less than a month and a half for sales to hit the $1 billion mark. Within that month and a half, nearly 70,000 man-years of time, or 600 million man-hours, had been spent playing "Black Ops" online. It's been nearly eight months since "Black Ops" was released.

This is time spent playing just one game, let alone "World of Warcraft," or games on hand-held devices. What begins as a youthful hobby (remember Pokémon?) develops into full-blown addiction. Much like delayed contact with drugs lessens the likelihood of addiction, early exposure to video games assures a lifetime of screen time.

... Mine is a generation that levels up in video games but stagnates in real life. While competing in virtual worlds, they become less competitive in the workforce. Many say our schools fail to prepare children for the reality of a global economy. But what can a teacher do when students spend more time with game controllers in their hands than they do with books?

... History has taught that change must come from personal choice, not government directive. Let's acknowledge that parents are enablers, since many make the counterintuitive decision to reward academic performance with devices that hinder it. This is like rewarding good health with junk food. Too often as a society, we focus on knee-jerk reactions and sweeping changes, but forget that the big picture is composed of individuals, and thus, social progress originates from parents, not Big Brother or Uncle Sam.

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