155: The Game Design of Art

Jason Rohrer

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The Game Design of Art

"Let's face it: Games, in general, suck. Most are repetitive and shallow. Most eat up precious moments of our lives without giving us anything more than idle entertainment in return. The really good games, the ones that we would only be half-embarrassed to show Roger Ebert as art samples, are few and far between - maybe one game per console generation, if that. This is hardly what we would recognize as an "art-full" medium. Yes, games pass the zero-utility test, but that's not enough to stand them up proudly next to a Kandinsky painting."

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MannPower

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I'd have to say that the first title that came to my mind when you ran off the 'art' criteria was Deus Ex.
 

Juan Regular

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I think establishing a way of making games playable by non-gamers and challenging enough for gamers is close to impossible. Games have always and will always have a learning courve. A film, a book or picture just require you to look or to read and of course to think. You don't have to interact.

As for the games that use gameplay to communicate I'd say Shadow of the Colossus takes a big step to the right direction in almost every aspect. And Silent Hill 2 maybe.
 

alzheimers

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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.
 

Da_Vane

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Learning how to read and figuring how to use the DVD player can be considered the 'learning curve' of reading a book or watching a movie. These are the main points of access to these mediums and their artistic payloads.

The difficulty with games is that more often than not, the interaction is not as intuitive or fundamental as these other mediums. Once you know how to read a given language, you can access all the titles of that language. Once you know one DVD player, you know them all. However, more often than not, each game requires individual learning of the controls to experience the significant effect.

Games tend to be overly complex and laden with options and interactivity. In many ways, this can form a barrier that seems purposely designed to seperate gamers from other users, in much the same way that literacy differentiates those who can read from those who just look at the words without understanding. Such is the clarion call of 'challenging enough for gamers'.
 

anachron

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*shudders*

And it all collapsed with the conclusion that our "high art" is only "high art" to us.

Art need not be art to everyone.

Don't work from a starting point of objectivity; that is in complete antonymy with art as a concept.

Do over.
 

ToenailCar

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This resounds with pretty much everything I think about the "games as art" thing that goes on.
Sure, games can be art.
But they aren't, yet.
Or at least not real art.
Think of the difference between a rendering of some anime giant fighting robot compared to the Mona Lisa for example, see the difference?

The thing that separates them is that gameplay is almost exclusively an end result, not a means of achieving something more.
Meaning games are usually more akin to sports than anything else.

Yes yes, this is re-iteration, I know. Have pity on me for you beat me to it.

Anyway, I always think of The Residents: A Bad Day at the Midway, when people start talking about art-ish games.

Though there are a few Indie games that try for something more. I would suppose the lack of high-art in games, more than anything else is because real artists and just generally the artistic community, haven't exactly embraced the medium.
I guess that in this generation and the ones after, there is a much greater chance this will happen given how much gaming is becoming a part of everyday life for more and more children these days.
 

wadark

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Excellent read. I dont quite remember if it was mentioned directly. But there seems to be a fundamental disconnect that keeps games from being art: the connection between story (or artistic expression) and gameplay.

A game is made from one or the other and which ever one it isn't is thrown in at the end. BioShock was an excellent example of artistic style lost under gameplay.

On the other side of the coin I could mention one of my own favorite games: Shenmue. Shenmue is a game designed heavily around its story and artistic nature. The problem is that it plays simply like a drama movie in which you must push the analog stick in one direction to make it play. There isn't much action, what there is is rather short, and you basically end up running the main character from place to place to talk to NPCs X, Y, and Z until the end of the game.
 

ToenailCar

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The other point being that while most story driven games present a narrative that's fine for your target audience of teenagers, they just can't compare to good books or anything beyond an action movie (And yes, I'd stipulate that they aren't art either).
 

Anton P. Nym

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Accessability has never been part of the definition of "art". Heck, look at the tangled, self-referential soup of concepts pureed into many abstract paintings; I'd argue that it takes a lot longer to learn the conventions (and bucking-thereof) in the field of painting in order to appreciate a Pollack as art (as opposed to really-expensive wallpaper) than it does to play though any video game on the market today. Poetry too often relies on convention and reference, sometimes deliberately so; film, too. (Especially that sunnavabeech Felini.)

And I'll also point out that art can require the participation of the audience, at least in its interpretation. Installation art also can require its audience to trigger events, or even capture actions of the audience to incorporate into itself. Stage drama these days can include improvisational pieces driven by audience reaction or suggestion. And are we to relegate jazz improv to the dumpster of "not-art" because it has no unique creator?

Ebert's definition of art is artificially narrow. I doubt that tailoring a game (or any other work) to meet it would lead to any great success in convincing him, or others, that it is art.

-- Steve
 

Tabloid Believer

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I think that people have to be aware the both photography and film have been down this road. The journey of video games from pure entertainment to art is mirrored very much in the passage the film took.

Film, when it was first developed, was nothing more than a novelty. Someone might peer into a viewer at a Vaudeville sideshow and watch a dog jump through a hoop, or a lady undress. When it later became something projected upon the screen, it was still a novelty. People would watch trains roll by on tracks, or birds fly. There was no story or plot to speak of in the first films - not unlike the original Pong game, which appeared first in bars and restaurants.

Later, when silent films began to have stories, these tales were still being created by the people who ran side-shows. Thus, the first silent films that were created to have stories were created for, again, pure entertainment. It was only later that the question of art even came up.

Interestingly, enough, at that time, the critics didn't believe that film could ever be art. Obviously, they were wrong. And to be fair, even in this day and era, the question of film and cinema as art often comes up. How often to we hear that movies are nothing more than bombast, explosions, and quick-takes by the critics?

So, I think that video games will inevitably join the ranks of film and photography down this hard journey. But it will be a hard-fought one.
 

PedroSteckecilo

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I really liked this article and I felt you made an excellent point about expressing ideas and themes through gameplay as something the industry needs to tackle before Games can be art.
 

Anton P. Nym

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Tabloid Believer said:
Later, when silent films began to have stories, these tales were still being created by the people who ran side-shows. Thus, the first silent films that were created to have stories were created for, again, pure entertainment. It was only later that the question of art even came up.
I still haven't had a response from Ebert (after two years!) to my note pointing out that, and that the first film Ebert recognises as art is Griffith's Birth of a Nation, which not only came nearly forty years after movies were invented but also was a puff-piece for the KKK. And parents these days are worried about mature themes in games...

-- Steve
 

conzy

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Video Games ARE art, They ARE "high art" too whatever the hell that is...

If some famous artist can throw some paint on a canvas and sell it for millions as "art"

Then how isnt a whole 3d world with hundreds of textures (individual pieces of art ?) compelling characters and a whole story art?!
 

L.B. Jeffries

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Interesting read, that's the fourth take on re-examining the approach to creating games I've seen. Henry Jenkins suggested we think of them as architectural spaces for the player to inhabit, Ben Abraham wrote a great blog on focusing the game on reactions to the player rather than activities for the player to do, and my own little stab over at Moving Pixels of thinking of them as miniature languages.

I like the idea of starting with a philosophy or concept first, I know Steve Gaynor said the same thing over at Fullbright but he focused more on inducing emotions besides 'fun'.

Whatever the approach, I think it's great that people are slowly developing new ways to tackle games. Just so long as there is more than one, there can be growth.
 

L.B. Jeffries

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conzy said:
Video Games ARE art, They ARE "high art" too whatever the hell that is...

If some famous artist can throw some paint on a canvas and sell it for millions as "art"

Then how isnt a whole 3d world with hundreds of textures (individual pieces of art ?) compelling characters and a whole story art?!
Well, most of the paintings that do that now are mostly crap. Back in the 70's when Pollock and other people first started doing it, they were challenging the conventions of society and shaking the foundation of art. They were inspiring new ways of thinking and redefining a centuries old medium that was obsessed with the idea that a painting had to look like something.

A whole 3-D world, with the exception of a few games, generally inspires a discussion about graphics and how it compares to other games. The majority of characters in games, with the exception of a few, are kill-happy sociopaths who seem to feel almost no emotional impact to the combat and destruction they spread. And the plots themselves, with the exception of a few, tend to leave something to be desired.

It's not going to get better if you don't start pointing out how it could be better.
 
May 17, 2007
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I think this article takes the wrong path. Roger Ebert has defined art in such a way as to exclude games by definition: art cannot be directed by the audience, games are controlled by their audience, therefore games cannot be art. I suspect Ebert reverse-engineered this definition: he felt upset by the idea that games can be art, so he thought about why they shouldn't be, and came up with the interactivity clause. After all, if you were attempting to define art while considering all media except games, why would you think to include that point at all?

Why does the author think it's necessary to argue on his terms? Sorry to use such a tired example, but it's like saying "Accepting Hitler's definition that Jews are Untermenschen, how can we demonstrate that they should still have all the same human rights as Aryans?" In this example, the argument that art is any creative human production that serves no survival purpose is like the argument that all humans are equal: just because the debaters of the other side reject the premise doesn't make it flawed.
 

birdboy

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I think the bellow You Tube video pretty much sums up what is wrong with video games when they try to be art, it's what the article said but focused on stories: a game's gameplay is thought up first, then the story or the ideas that are supposed to make you think, are cobbled on to it. No thought is given to how to make the story better with gameplay, after it has been written, only to trying to force the two together in a hope they'll click, or something.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jdG2LHair0

I do find Ebert's theory that games can't be art because they are interactive a bit preposterous though, it seems naive to assume that for something to be considered art it has to have been made by only one person. Why can't games be art because of this interactivity, which makes each play through unique to the player? That works for me.
 

Novan Leon

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Ebert must not have ever played games like Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross, Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life 2, The Legend of Zelda, Super Metroid, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Call of Duty 4 or many of the others that are simply legendary in their execution and evoke emotions of sadness, glory, honor, anger, hate, joy, fear, determination, indignation, wonder and satisfaction. I wonder how anyone who's played one of these games from beginning to end can't realize it's artistic value.
 

Senor Pantz

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I don't think we have much chance of games being considered art until the choices are made more complicated, for example, KOTOR. I play through as a good guy all the way through, till I come to a binary choice, side with Bastila or against her, nothing else mattered. I personally preferred Fallout 2, where there wasn't so much as an ending, as a list of consequences to your actions.
I also think its important that, choices should have meaningful consequences, even if its that you fail, I liked in the original Wing Commander how you could continue with the game if you failed a mission, and it was possible to lose.
I don't however believe that games have to have choices in them, we have no choice in how a movie plays out, but its this middle ground of meaningless, or predictable choices that are holding games back.
 

MannPower

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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.
But it can also be argued that no two people interpret a piece of art the same way as intended by the artist. There's a fault in logic here; I can't think of one person who can accurately figure out what an artist wanted to say in his work without the artist explaining it before, or after.

A game is played as intended by its designers, unless the player exploits a bug. The choice of a player to progress through a game is still driven by parameters set by the designer, just as how we're given the choice to start looking at the bottom right corner of a painting, instead of the top left. An artist can use emphasis to try to move our eyes through something - as intended - but it's not a sure thing, ever. This subjectivity is literally played out in video games - the player, playing that tangent subjectiveness by how he chooses to dispose of an enemy, or execute a puzzle, and when.

Who's to say that the designer's vision falls short? If you played a game and finished it, and saw an ending that was created by the designer - then where has the experience been lost? If you craft the game well enough, you can impress an intention on the player. This differs from sports; a sport is a set of rules which players must execute, themselves. There is no art, no audio, no set environments or a narrative - no story, just a contest.
 

Wolfrider

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I'm sorry, but your argument was absolute garbage.

First, how on earth can you possibly get away with claiming that video games don't make us more philosophical and then go on to say that they will never reach the artistic value of a Kandinsky painting? The Abstract Expressionism school was about shirking the idea of painting communicating anything and simply being about the painting itself. If that's your definition of art then we nailed that way back when Bushnell started hawking Pong.

Furthermore, as far as you not being able to recall games that encourage philosophical reflection then clearly you're either being deliberately forgetful or your gaming background is razor thin. How is Silent Hill something that doesn't encourage philosophical reflection? Hell, if you consider George Romero as an "artist" then what is the difference between his films and the more high brow horror games like Clock Tower or SH? Also, you seem to be making a fundamental attribution error of sorts in your expectations of film verses games. First, you deride the gaming medium for producing nothing but idle entertainment, but then ignore when film does the very same thing. If "film" as a medium is automatically art, then what does that say about movies like Scary Movie or XXX?

Not to mention that I think most Europeans reading this are going to want to slap you. Have you even looked at the adventure genre back there? Games like Overclocked do not encourage philosophical reflection? What about older/indie adventure games like "I Want to Die" and the game adaptation of "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream"?

Your argument that we should be making games that value gameplay over narrative is problematic at best. Yes, you can communicate through gameplay but if the user is in incapable of understanding how gameplay works that is the fault of the user and in no way makes the game less "artistic". Is Joyce less of an artist because most people have no idea how to approach Ulysses? As he says, "It took me 13 years to write, it should take you 13 years to read." The ability of the user to engage with the product has no bearing on the artistic integrity of the project. In fact, most of the time, art requires the viewer to speak a common language. That's why most people don't "get" abstract art. But, does it make it less artistic? Of course not.

Another thing, I can't stand this "gameplay is fundamental" issue in the games are art debate. Who says? Do the issues raised in MGS have less of an impact because they're introduced through a film-like medium? If they do, then why would games be considered less artistic than film?

There's a problem in this entire debate and that focuses on what the argument is. There's a difference between "Games are not art" - a transitional time specific comment and what Ebert says, "Games CAN NOT be art." A permanent comment on the medium itself. Something that has been said about expressionism, film, comic books, jazz, punk, and at one time (GASP) even prose. It's a stupid statement and one so fundamentally flawed that it's not even worth discussing. It's bred of ignorance of the medium and should be left at that. The fact that Ebert does not see the connection between the history of film (and frankly every artistic medium) and video games is his problem, not ours.

We have our artistic games. September 12th, Tale of Tales "The Graveyard", Braid, Earthbound, Ico (for god sakes Ico), Shadow of the Colossus and on and on and on. If Ebert can't understand why it constitutes art then... well... who cares? His opinion carries no more water than someone who has no background in classical music listening to Cosi fan Tutte and reviewing it by saying, "This is gay."
 

Quiche

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We don't need to impress Roger Ebert. He's an overrated popular press critic. We should really be trying to convince those in academia, who are the ones that, de facto, control what the definition of art is. That's one small part of the reason why I'm specializing in media theory in college right now.

Ebert does raise good points, but he shouldn't set any sort of gold standard. Also, a game's gameplay doesn't have to resonate with the narrative to be artistic. That just shows a subservience to the idea that narrative in itself makes something culturally valuable when it otherwise wouldn't be (and earlier in the article you were warning against games copying other media). What's important is an experience that enriches or complicates our ways of thinking; this can be achieved through aesthetic choices, narrative, interactive scenarios, and the dialectic between those elements. My point is that a gameplay system or style could seem to oppose the narrative, but as long as that opposition is meaningful or has some intentionality behind it, then it's all good. Even then, games don't need narrative to be powerful, the same way abstract paintings don't need them. It often seems like what games do best is sharing experiences in an abstract way, regardless of the story.
 

Smokescreen

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I'm just wondering why games have to be art.

Why can't they just be games? I don't see a lot of people insisting that Monopoly or Chess be considered in some kind of artistic pantheon.
 

Tabloid Believer

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Smokescreen said:
I'm just wondering why games have to be art.

Why can't they just be games? I don't see a lot of people insisting that Monopoly or Chess be considered in some kind of artistic pantheon.
Well, I think they can be both. Just like a film can be pure entertainment, but it can also be art. Some films can be both entertaining and art. Some films can just be entertaining.

I think there is a strong drive from the gaming community for games to be art, because I think gamers and creators want to be taken seriously. And there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I think that people are starting to take games very seriously simply as a matter of economics. When Grand Theft Auto IV outdoes Iron Man in its opening weekend, people sit up and take notice.
 

laikenf

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I don't understand, why should games be art in the first place? A game can be artistic, but why should it be an art medium as a whole?
 

Aethonic

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Gameplay is the differentiating factor between games and movies. It seems like the only hurdle is making gameplay artistic; everything else has established means of getting there.

Games don't have 'survival utility', and so they must have some *other* utility. I'm willing to bet it is catharsis by means of aesthetics - which includes gameplay for my purposes. I guess what we're looking for, then, is more emotion (we can relate to) in our games.

But while gameplay is the only wholly unique element to games, there are many unique expectations on other elements of the game that do not seem to be considered as much as they should be.

But really, games serve a different purpose. They don't need to be art, so all the efforts you get are going to be fringe.
 

Novan Leon

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To me, game play IS artistic. Each of the games I mentioned earlier I consider works of art precisely because they blend together all the different facets of music, art design, character development, story, gameplay and presentation in a way that's very near flawless, and very difficult for others to replicate.

If anything, video games present the opportunity to be MORE artistic than movies precisely because they attempt to combine all of the traditional arts such as music, art design, character development and story ALONG WITH good gameplay (ie. appealing human interaction), which is a much more difficult task in my opinion.
 

GregoriusH

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Oh, this absurd argument again. Games can't be high art? Stroll over to Killer7. As someone who studies literature that game impressed me a hell of a lot more than any novel or film I've seen released in the last ten years. Dripping in post-modern excess, Killer7 has the power to make you question; "Perhaps.... I'm the one going insane...". And it's gameplay is essential toward this end, needed to make you a part of the world which it presents.

I think there's this sense that in order for video games to be good art they need to be good narrative art. And that's what Ebert does, he attacks the narrative structure of video games. However, I don't that's the criteria on which we should judge them, or it is at most only a small part of the criteria. Video games are so much more than a narrative art, unique to video games is an ability to make you feel as though you represent a moral agent existing within a world - not just an outsider looking in, condemned to observe the comings and goings of others.

The art of video games isn't about narrative, it's about the architecture of worlds and the systems which make them run. For example, Silent Hill. Think of how the world is designed (locked doors, dead ends, fog, darkness) to inspire a feeling of oppression for those who would exist in it. Think of how the systems of game play (radio, clumsy movement, awkward weapons) further that feeling. That is what makes Silent Hill art, even before we consider the visual design and narrative constructs.

Whenever someone whines at me about video games not being art because of a lack of good narrative, I whine back at them that Beethoven's Ninth is pretty shitty for the same reason.
 

Smokescreen

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Tabloid Believer said:
Smokescreen said:
I'm just wondering why games have to be art.

Why can't they just be games? I don't see a lot of people insisting that Monopoly or Chess be considered in some kind of artistic pantheon.
Well, I think they can be both. Just like a film can be pure entertainment, but it can also be art. Some films can be both entertaining and art. Some films can just be entertaining.

I think there is a strong drive from the gaming community for games to be art, because I think gamers and creators want to be taken seriously. And there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I think that people are starting to take games very seriously simply as a matter of economics. When Grand Theft Auto IV outdoes Iron Man in its opening weekend, people sit up and take notice.
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.
 

Hurray Forums

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I think that Roger Ebert is a joke and the fact that people care about proving anything to him an even bigger joke. I've already found games that changed me as a human being for the better and I'm sure 99% of people could find a game that spoke to them as a person if they gave gaming a chance instead of branding it immature time wasters with no game knowledge what so ever. That is THEIR loss though, not ours. I don't need some critic to share my opinion before I can take myself and my hobbies seriously. The experiences I have had with gaming is all the proof I need that games can be incredible art even if the majority are not.
 

teknoarcanist

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This notion of 'difficulty' irritates me. GAME OVER IS ARCHAIC. DYING IS IMMERSION-BREAKING. The notion of a dead-end loss, or that by failing to do a specific task you are forced to go back and do it again until you get it right, is one of the major hurdles we need to jump. When a hero is beat by a group of random thugs in, for example, a comic, does he die? No. He is taken prisoner, he escapes, he whips out some new secret, etc. The idea that an artistic experience can ONLY be experienced by those who are skillful within the confines of its own esoteric community is pretty self-defeating. Literature is often panned, and rightly so, when it is written in such a way that it's only accessible or appealing to other writers. That said, when a book is accessible to the mainstream, but offers deeper philosophical insights to those trained to spot them, it takes a step in the right direction. Imagine if a book were written in english up until chapter 3, and then suddenly became klingon; anybody who doesn't speak klingon doesn't get to keep reading. Defending this piece as art would prove rather difficult.
Why then, have games refused to embrace more creative approaches? Laziness, mostly. Don't get me wrong, developers work hard, but I think a great deal of modern game design focuses on building an engine and designing the world and experience around that, rather than the other way around. You die if the goons kill you because the developers were too lazy -- or challenged for space, budget, or time -- to produce an alternative.
Which brings me to my next point, in that the video game INDUSTRY itself is an extremely crippling enemy to the medium. Think of the greatest literary works of all time. Do you think Dostoyevsky would have been able to effectively portray the angst of a dualistic class society in Notes From the Underground if he had a publisher breathing down his neck and asking for rough play-tests and bullet-point feature lists the whole time? Of course not.
This carries to film as well; to say nothing of commercial popularity, the most artistically and culturally relevant films have generally been produced by new or outcast directors or indie studios, been widely panned by their peers at the time, and achieved little success at the box office. They go on to find cult followings years later, as in the case of Fight Club, or are later recognized as having been ahead of their time, as in Citizen Kane.
From that, too, I think there is something to Ebert's argument that most games lack a singular vision, ie, a director. The specific pieces we gamers call masterpieces almost always have a master's name attached to them: Kojima, Miyamoto, Wright, etc. Some counter that even artistic films are produced by teams numbering in the hundreds, and this is true, but they all begin and hedge back to the root idea of a single person, be he a writer seeking to create a film that showcases the themes of human nature, or a director looking to do a new take on a specific genre.
By contrast, videogames are decided by the market. "First-person shooters are popular. Let's get on that. Kids like Space Marines, right?"
Yes, gaming can be, and will eventually become, an art form. But only when it is crafted lovingly by artists, and not chained down by an industry concerned primarily with money.
Of course, I am speaking in broad terms of gaming as a median and a whole. There have of course been flashes of brilliance. Hearing the music swell as I seize hold of a Colossus and the camera shoots outward to a dramatic pan. Seeing a secondary camera view of a police officer walking towards the bathroom as I stumble to clean up a body. Pathetically crawling away from a mushroom cloud and dying in the dirt.
Books may grip you from start to finish. Many films have been praised as having not one scene of excess; every frame is relevant and beautiful. Cite me ONE example in which the above moments of brilliance are extended into an entire game without lapse, and I will show you the poster-child for gaming as its own medium of noteworthy artistic expression.
 

Tabloid Believer

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Smokescreen said:
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.
 

Tabloid Believer

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Anton P. Nym said:
Tabloid Believer said:
Later, when silent films began to have stories, these tales were still being created by the people who ran side-shows. Thus, the first silent films that were created to have stories were created for, again, pure entertainment. It was only later that the question of art even came up.
I still haven't had a response from Ebert (after two years!) to my note pointing out that, and that the first film Ebert recognises as art is Griffith's Birth of a Nation, which not only came nearly forty years after movies were invented but also was a puff-piece for the KKK. And parents these days are worried about mature themes in games...

-- Steve
It would be curious to see, given the parallels of film and video games, what Ebert would have to say about that.
 

senor pepper

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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.
 

teknoarcanist

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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.
 

Novan Leon

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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.
 

Smokescreen

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Tabloid Believer said:
Smokescreen said:
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.
 

OurGloriousLeader

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alzheimers said:
001



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.
 

meisnewbie

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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.
 

Arbre

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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.
 

ccesarano

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alzheimers said:
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.
 

Noneedforname

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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 ***** about something like this? it's like creating an article about why newspaperarticles aren't usually considered art!
 

Jason Rohrer

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

Sewblon

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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?
 

boholikeu

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"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...
 

Uncompetative

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alzheimers said:
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:

 

Ericb

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

Rythe

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

http://www.ludomancy.com/blog/2009/05/06/today-i-die-released/

That is all.