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Games inferior as art?


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#1 theoddone33

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Posted 04 December 2005 - 12:10 AM

Link here, down at the bottom: Link

This is something that's interesting to me because I work in the video game industry and I have recently been wanting to turn my A&F blog into an occasional commentary on the artistic merits of various video games.

Ebert's answer is simple... games are inherently inferior art because they require player choices rather than authorial control. My disagreement with Ebert's position is simple: it's false. Games do not give up authorial control just because they allow player choices. In fact, many games are as linear as a book or movie, but hide that fact with varying degrees of success.

However, given the potential that interactive storytelling has an artistic medium, I think games have a long way to go. Ebert is right when he says that few video games can be compared with great works of art in other field. But the potential is there, and the interactivity inherent in video games at least in theory allows for works surpassing those of other fields, I believe.

#2 opus

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Posted 04 December 2005 - 12:21 AM

I'm with you on this one, oddone. I definitely think that games have tremendous potential, both for gamers to experience incredible stories in a very unique way, and for creators to tell incredible stories in a very unique way. Unfortunately, the reality is something of a catch-22. The games that strive for this ideal are often ignored by the public, and the video game industry isn't exactly the paragon of artistic excellence and creativity.

QUOTE
...I have recently been wanting to turn my A&F blog into an occasional commentary on the artistic merits of various video games.

That sounds like a fantastic idea. I'm not a huge gamer personally - my Xbox doesn't see too much action these days - but videogames as a medium, and the gaming industry overall, fascinate me.

#3 Sara

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Posted 04 December 2005 - 01:02 PM

I probably should not chime in here, but I will anyway.

I love games for the PC. And I love Rembrandt and Paul Klee.

That said, I think some PC games offer a special kind of beauty for those who love them. The beauty is in the game play and in the art one sees on your monitor.

Take for example the first Age of Empires. Later games in the series may have bigger buildings and a lot of high tech stuff, but the beauty and magic in this first Age of Empires is hard to describe.

Like when you build a dock, and a fishing boat, and see the little boat going out in the water and casting its net, then returning with its catch to the dock to add to your food. (Sometimes I just want to watch it - rather than realize I must keep going, otherwise the "enemy" may get ahead.)

Or like watching your two priests go off into the desert and try to convert others and then build their own place.

If you have not played this, Age of Empires - Rise of Rome, you are in for a treat.

I know they now have Age of Mythology and Age of Empires 3, but going with that first game (and the music) is wonderful.

Did you know, you can still download the demo from Microsoft? Both AoE and RoR.

Just build those first little huts, a granary, a dock, and .... well, I am getting carried away.

It is not like those role playing games.

Anyway.

Sara

#4 Anders

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Posted 04 December 2005 - 04:01 PM

The big problem with Ebert's statement (and I do love his film reviews) has more to do with that tricky "authorial intent" thing. Ebert's claim that is problematic, not only for video games but literature, film, etc. How important is authorial intent? Where does the reader come in? Where is the "text" created? These are all questions one has to ask. Also, does narrativity equal art?

#5 David Smedberg

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Posted 04 December 2005 - 05:31 PM

The "authorial intent" comment is key, yes, and I think I agree with him. Notice that he wasn't explicitly saying that video games are intrinsically less beautiful or less valid a form of creation - just that they are less "artistic". I understand his comment to mean that since interactive fiction lessens the creative role of the "artist", and increases the role of the perceiver in creating, therefore they are fundamentally less of an artistic communication through a medium.

Then again, it may well be that the perception of art as a one-way street from artist to audience never was that great in the first place, and that a broader understanding is needed. I just don't think I see it that way.

#6 kebbie

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 10:20 AM

Can anyone point to some other resources on this topic? (Articles, extensive discussion elsewhere, et cetera...) After years of focusing on movies and music, my department at Calvin is beginning to expand its scope to examine and interact with other popular culture expressions. First up: gaming. My first task is to compile a "reader" of articles that address issues exactly like the one being raised here. So if anyone has links that might be helpful, on both sides of this issue, I'd appreciate it...

#7 opus

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 10:45 AM

QUOTE(kebbie @ Dec 5 2005, 09:20 AM)
Can anyone point to some other resources on this topic? (Articles, extensive discussion elsewhere, et cetera...) After years of focusing on movies and music, my department at Calvin is beginning to expand its scope to examine and interact with other popular culture expressions. First up: gaming. My first task is to compile a "reader" of articles that address issues exactly like the one being raised here. So if anyone has links that might be helpful, on both sides of this issue, I'd appreciate it...

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I can't think of any articles off the top of my head. However, you might want to try contact some of the gaming websites, such as IGN, GameSpot, etc., to see if they've published any articles of the sort.

If I think of any, or stumble across some, I'll pass them along.

#8 Anders

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 12:50 PM

I just finished a seminar on Digital Humanities, and part of the course was asking the question "Can games be literature?" As you can guess, this sparked some serious discussion.

If I have some time later I'll dig up some of the articles and point you guys toward some more scholarly work on the subject.

#9 opus

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 01:43 PM

My church is just starting up a men's study group, and interestingly enough, one of the topics we'll be discussing is video games. It's not for a few months yet, so I don't know too many specifics, or what angle they'll be approaching it from, but I found it interesting and even encouraging that video games are even part of the curriculum.

#10 opus

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 03:29 PM

Why Ebert Was Right

QUOTE
...there can never be a strong storytelling game because games lack authorial control. Itís a reasonable observation to make, though I would argue that the issue is based more on the structure of game creation and the overarching belief in genre Ė that stories currently told in games are not being told for the sake of telling them, and are instead simple tropes that exist as one required piece of an established genre.

Itís important to note that most games, as a result of not actually existing to tell a story, give up some authorial control to the player. This is not structural; this is a choice on the part of the creators to, say, emphasize visceral thrills or strategic thinking. Many movies do this too, though the nature of film forces a greater amount of story upon them.

Do games have to give up this authorial control? Of course not. Most games donít really give the player many options to change their stories beyond disrupting their pacing - I will admit this is a huge concession, but games donít even have to give up that. The trick, I think, is to give the player the illusion of choice.

Edited by opus, 05 December 2005 - 03:30 PM.


#11 Andrew

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 05:41 PM

I agree with you, Alan - my kids and I are enjoying the 2 Katamari Damacy games (on PS2) presently. The narrative is rather goofy, but the visuals, music, and humor are quirky and terrific.

Yesterday's NYT 'Arts and Entertainment' section had an article on video games as art, BTW...

#12 Anders

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 07:32 PM

QUOTE(Alan Thomas @ Dec 5 2005, 12:42 PM)
So art has to be narrative?

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Thanks for repeating my question Alan. Basically I just don't see how giving up authorial control makes something "less" artistic, as the notion of authorial intent has taken a pretty solid thrashing in the last 20 years of critical theory anyway. Of course us film people have always loved clinging to autuer theory (myself included).

#13 theoddone33

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 07:54 PM

QUOTE(opus @ Dec 5 2005, 12:29 PM)
QUOTE
...there can never be a strong storytelling game because games lack authorial control. Itís a reasonable observation to make, though I would argue that the issue is based more on the structure of game creation and the overarching belief in genre Ė that stories currently told in games are not being told for the sake of telling them, and are instead simple tropes that exist as one required piece of an established genre.

View Post



This is a great point, and perhaps it's indicative of one of the main problems with games as art. There does not exist a strong and serious independent game movement of the same calibur as the ones that exist in film and music. Therefore choices tend to be driven by profit margins and deadlines rather than the artistic merit of the game.

But I'd still suggest that the interactivity inherent in games gives them greater artistic potential than less-interactive mediums, despite the fact that it has been largely untapped and may remain this way for some time. It's certainly remiss to say that games are inherently inferior as artistic works, given that there are games that effectively are movies in form and function.

#14 David Smedberg

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 03:39 PM

QUOTE(Anders @ Dec 5 2005, 08:32 PM)
QUOTE(Alan Thomas @ Dec 5 2005, 12:42 PM)
So art has to be narrative?

View Post



Thanks for repeating my question Alan. Basically I just don't see how giving up authorial control makes something "less" artistic, as the notion of authorial intent has taken a pretty solid thrashing in the last 20 years of critical theory anyway. Of course us film people have always loved clinging to autuer theory (myself included).

View Post


Well, FWIW, we would probably have to define "narrative" to figure out if art is it.

Edited by GreetingsEarthling, 06 December 2005 - 03:40 PM.


#15 Denny Wayman

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Posted 07 December 2005 - 02:34 AM

I only glanced through the various comments so if someone already said this, then AHEM me - but I like this thread - it makes me think of creation itself as God's work of art - yet clearly a work that gives us choices while having a linear direction from the alpha point to the omega point.

I think a game will always have that sense to it - that we can play it well and get to the end where we "beat the game." Our whole family jumped up and cheered when my 10 year-old, 16 years ago, beat MARIO BROTHERS - Nintendo.

In the same way we can "do well and prosper" in the game of life, which is called the Deuteronomic Principle, and "end well" by understanding how the Author created the world and learning how to master this life from our Master Ė who, thankfully, has written some documentation for us to follow.

So, my answer is - absolutely a game can be creative art - just as this whole existence is creative art.

Denny

Edited by Denny Wayman, 07 December 2005 - 02:36 AM.


#16 Anders

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Posted 09 December 2005 - 12:25 AM

Ok, you guys. I've been thinking about it and I'm going to make this thread into the topic of my short essay paper for that Literary Computing seminar.

#17 Michael Todd

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Posted 09 December 2005 - 01:46 AM

Denny composed an excellent post, but I do have some contention with video games being considered "high" art.

Starving video game designers who are unappreciated geniuses will never exist. It is a commercial venture, first and foremost. Its not like anyone is finding a copy of an obscure Sega Genesis game to get out the old console and cartridge for appreciative play. Due to the very necessity of a console, any given game limits its life to a year and a half, at best.



#18 Denny Wayman

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Posted 11 December 2005 - 12:41 AM

Michael,

I'm really ignorant of what you mean by "high art."

Are you saying that short-term art - like "performance art" is "low art" - or is there some distinction made by artists that says it has to last more than a year and a half?

Denny

#19 David Smedberg

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Posted 12 December 2005 - 12:35 AM

QUOTE(Michael Todd @ Dec 9 2005, 01:46 AM) View Post

Denny composed an excellent post, but I do have some contention with video games being considered "high" art.

Starving video game designers who are unappreciated geniuses will never exist. It is a commercial venture, first and foremost. Its not like anyone is finding a copy of an obscure Sega Genesis game to get out the old console and cartridge for appreciative play. Due to the very necessity of a console, any given game limits its life to a year and a half, at best.


First of all, have you ever heard of an emulator? That extends the life of a game considerably. The main limiting quality at this point is that early graphics are just plain-old out of date, which is why game makers are starting to re-release great older games ported to new engines, like Half-Life to the Source Engine on the PC or the rumors of Final Fantasy VII to the PS3. There are also games which have undergone practically no significant gameplay innovations in years - the Madden series comes to mind - but are merely released with graphical updates every 15 months or so. Seen from one perspective, they're still the same game.

Secondly, as for "there are no starving video game artists", I'm sorry, that's just wrong. To cite just one (former) example, try Knut Mueller, who single-handedly designed the game Rhem, using Bryce 3D and Quicktime. It's an absolutely stunning achievement also, perhaps the most complex puzzle/exploration game ever released. Minimal story or personal interaction, just a giant, minutely-designed world of gears, levers, pipes and obscure clues to puzzle through. It made it into mainstream retail after people started to realize the sheer scope of the thing. Since, he's released a (IMHO inferior) sequel.

Edited by GreetingsEarthling, 12 December 2005 - 12:38 AM.


#20 derringdo

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 12:32 PM

The Elder Scrolls franchise is kind of an interesting specimen in this debate: a fantasy rpg series where the emphasis is on making the game world feel lived in and allowing the player to choose the kind of role they want, while making the "main story" stay more or less the same and resonate in different ways depending on what the player perceives their alter ego as.

http://www.elderscro...tenth_anniv.htm

I was playing one of the Morrowind addons the other day, running errands for a treacherous king whom I had no particular loyalty to, just biding my time to get to the bottom of certain mysteries, and his lieutenant rewarded me with "the same sword the Royal Guard uses, deadly and true in the hands of a good man, but burning the hands of the disloyal." Well, it has a "cast fire damage on self when strikes" feature, making it inherently dangerous for the player to handle. To a player with a "good" character who's faithfully carried out all the King's missions, that's a symbol of his treachery. To me, who, when sent after the people who were plotting against him, slew the scheming nobleman involved but spared and allowed to escape the bookish idealist and the hired sword involved in the same plot, and spared the publisher of subversive pamphlets, the weapon carries a different signficance: neither I nor the King trust each other any further than we can throw each other.

Food for thought, anyway.