A Few Approaches to 'Games as Art'

Illustration for article titled A Few Approaches to Games as Art

'Matthew Wasteland' of Magical Wasteland has a thought provoking essay up over at GameSetWatch on how we think of games as art — and why it may not work, or what our current limitations are. His opinion is the more we think about this stuff, the more we can work on overcoming current problems — certainly not an unreasonable point of view. My favorite section was on the problem of 'systems as art' (his example is a little gem called The Marriage, which is lacking in context to say the least) — a pretty nice critique of some of the intentionally 'artistic' games that seek to 'rise above' the entertaining masses:

Distancing the work from the “entertainment” of popular games is fine, but even the most artsy, obscure and difficult works must connect with an audience somehow. I am not sure a system of rules by itself is the best method to achieve that. If rules are art, could not one just as easily publish a rulebook, and leave it at that? None of this is to say that a system of rules cannot be of artful construction. I have no doubt that, if we wished it and worked for it, we could at some point have departments at forward-thinking arts colleges devoted to the creation of not-very-representational rule systems as art. This might make some of us feel better about ourselves— that there is a recognized, serious side to our medium. But I can’t help but think something like that would be a Pyrrhic victory, with “art games” sharing space in an airless pantheon next to twelve-tone music or hypertext novellas while the rest of the world goes on listening to primordial melodies and timeworn stories reinvented in the style of the day.

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Zing! I think there are definitely 'arty' games out there that are compelling, but there's plenty of crap masquerading under the guise of 'art' as well ('Oh, heaven forbid we should be entertaining!'). I'm a bit tired of the 'games of art' debate, but this is a different tack on the issue — there are already a couple of good comments, too, and I'm hoping to see more of those. I have my own suspicions on what future historians of the game industry will have to say about the 'art' status debate, decades down the line, but we'll have to wait a while for that. Tell Me What Art Is, and I’ll Tell You What Games Are [GameSetWatch]

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DISCUSSION

The art aspect of games comes more from the feeling they give the player as a result of their interaction with the game "system". It's not so much the system in itself that would make a game artful, but what is built up around that system that affects the player. Really, any game with a narrative has the same potential as a film to be artful, but it's the interaction with that narrative and the experiences on a personal level that works so well. Sometimes forcing the player into making choices is effective, other times giving them pure freedom is.

Each medium has its defining quality that makes it stand out and is the root of the artistic capabilities of that medium. Music is all aural and thrives on the feeling one receives from listening. Literature is all narrative and thrives on the imagination of the audience as they interpret the text. Paintings, photography, and any Still Art thrive on what can be created to impact people in a single vision. Film brought movement to the visual arts and created fluid environments and dynamic perspectives that added a new feel to what one viewed. Also, the conjunction of audio with film wasn't universally praised, as some thought that it was diluting the basic purpose and experience that defined the medium.

Interactive entertainment, a category under which videogames fall, thrives on interactivity with other artistic mediums; it is this interactivity which creates a unique artistic experience that wholly differentiates this medium from any other. Text-based adventures can be seen as analogue to adding interactivity to literature. Musically based games such as Rez, though also using visuals, may be seen as analogue to interacting with music. Although rare, it is possible to make two-dimensional games without significant movement that could be close parallels to Still Art, but a vast majority of all videogames could be seen as adding interactivity to video.

Interactive entertainment in itself brings up some interesting challenges relating to artistry, such as how if one is merely a spectator to a form of interactive entertainment, the entertainment then reverts back to its original form; watching someone play through a level of their favorite videogame is really about the same as watching a kind of experimental film - one must participate in the interactivity or they are experiencing a different medium. The same, though, could be applied to something like video - if one person is not in the same room as the viewer and is only able to hear the audio from a movie, then they are not experiencing a film, they are experiencing type of audio.

Hmmm… I guess I got a bit off topic there…