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Video Games as an Art


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edit: Heh, I guess I should read the whole thread before interjecting...this subject did come up...oh well.

What do you guys think about "games" as art? Not particularly videogames, but the actual construction of a set of rules for someone to follow in order to play a game.

Examples would be....making a new game to play with a deck of cards, the game of tag kids play on the playground, modifying Halo game rules in Halo 3's Forge, etc.

Obviously videogames are a medium that is constructed with various other art forms, but are the actual interactivity and rulesets provided part of the art? This is the major new addition that the medium is bringing.

If one said the purpose of art is to elicit reactions, emotions, feelings from the 'viewer' or person experiencing the piece of art, then I think that gameplay/interactivity is possibly a legitimate art form or part of art.

How do you feel when you are winning, or losing, or you make a good move, or you are worried about a particular situation, or excited about a strategy you have cooked up. Games are engaging because of the emotional changes and ups and downs we go through as we play, and those are very much only possible because of the way the designer constructed the rules.

The designer has to consider heavily the way that humans feel when certain things happen and set up rules and environments that are conducive to creating certain feelings and eliminating others in the person experiencing the game.

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I just can't resist a video games as art thread... I'm totally a sucker for this kind of thing

forgive me if I'm rehashing anything... only had time to skim through the thread

As others have said, you can't define anything as art until you know what your definition of art is. People have been disagreeing on the nature of art for a very long time, so it's not likely to be resolved anytime soon.

My personal definition of art - the sharing of human perspective and experience. This is why certain things we do get labeled as artistic mediums, because they are effective methods of representing human perspective and experience.

To elaborate, simply telling someone in a straightforward manner what my thoughts or experiences are is not art. For instance, my post in this debate is not art. I'm simply speaking in a straightforward manner. Attempting to share perspective/experience with someone by less straightforward but more thorough means through representation is art. When you read a book and feel like you've just lived a chunk of someone else's life, you've just experienced artistic communication.

Again, this is just my opinion of what constitutes art.

Relating this back to video games, I cannot tell you how many games I have played which have effected me in this manner. Interactivity is a powerful artistic tool as it draws people further into an experience than would otherwise be possible.

The strongest recent example for me, personally, is Audiosurf. Music has always been a really deep experience for me, and I've enjoyed visualization software such as Milkdrop for a few years already. Audiosurf is like a zen for me. It not only draws me into my music visually, but actively engages my participation with it. It's as though the music I am listening to is a place with a deep sense of space, direction, momentum, and color, and I am dancing with it - weaving between the percussion, bouncing with the beats, and running with the tempo all in the midst of a surreal landscape every element of which relates to the music I'm listening to.

For me, this is art in finest form, and it wouldn't be possible without the video game element of interactivity.

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Since I'm getting a master's degree in fine art I might as well put it to use and speak from my liberal intellectual high horse:

I would simply point out that most of the arguments used to define video games as "not art" are faulty and inconsistent with art history.

1. Interactiveness: some people think relinquishing agency/control to the audience disqualifies it as art, but there is interactive art in museums all the time and it's never questioned as art (because it's in a museum, duh).

Also, think about religious iconography of the Middle Ages, we cherish it as art, but it was never intended to be the personal expression of an individual artist, rather it was commissioned by churches and designed for the masses to sit around and pray in front of; and also to "educate" (indoctrinate), in this case to teach Christians their mythology, since most people were illiterate and the Bible wasn't widely available until the printing press was invented.

- interactiveness/audience participation does not disqualify something from being art.

The argument is faulty to begin with since while the video game player has some control, he/she is still bound by the internal world, its aesthetics, parameters, characters and storyline as predetermined by the creators of the game.

2. Video games as construction or programming rather than art: this flies in the face of art history as well, since many of the masterpieces were not made by one person. Michelangelo for example did not paint the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling himself, he had a team of dedicated workers who did most of the grunt painting for him. During his time, art was considered a trade skill, it was considered work, not inspiration.

Today, Dale Chihuly (I think he's still alive) creates beautiful glass sculptures, but he doesn't make them all himself, he has a team of glassblowers. He only gets more of the credit because our society loves celebrities, so he gets the press.

- Mechanical construction does not disqualify something from being art.

3. In fact, the whole idea that an "artist" is an individual genius is a modern, Eurocentric idea (and dare I say, a pretentious one). Other cultures and value systems have broader definitions. One of the professors I studied under, Henry Drewal (http://www.henrydrewal.com/) points out that in plenty of West African cultures, art is defined as "embellishment of form", they don't separate the aesthetics from the construction process or the work's utility, whether cultural or mechanical (i.e. whether it's a religious icon to be prayed over or an embellished column supporting a roof).

Drewal applies his awareness of non-Western cultures to contemporary Western popular culture and talks about "creative people" which includes not only the pretentious, famous individuals whose overpriced work gets stuck up in museums; but also the millions of talented, hard-working people working in fields like illustration, television, film and video games who are constantly contributing to the visual culture surrounding us, but who don't get the credit they deserve because of our culture's fetish with worshiping celebrities.

Actually I used Drewal's ideas in an essay defending video games as art.

- the image of the artist as a celebrity genius expressing himself is a narrow, Eurocentric (and probably upper class) idea.

Sorry if any of this was said already I didn't read all the posts. Basically this was the gist of the essay I wrote for grad school.

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Try telling that to an installation artist. Audience interaction is the name of the game for many of them.

Well, I guess there's a difference between just interaction and taking the control. Some degree of interaction is acceptable since theres always an interaction, even if it's only at an intellectual level.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Being a person of inconsistent habits and tendencies, I didn't quite realize what had gone on in this thread until I came back and looked at it. SWEET JESUS. First and foremost, I would really like to thank everyone who contributed to this thread. I honestly feel like I'm more a informed (and therefore "better") person knowing about the whole argument and people's perspectives on video games. Seriously, thank you, everyone. I read all six pages of dialogue and I was blown away. The thoughts and opinions expressed herein are just what I was looking for. I'm happy that this being a rehashed, wordy, and possibly flame-war provoking thread didn't stop it's growth.

So yeah, just wanted to say thanks. =D!! Oh, and I sign my posts out of habit.

DJ Metal

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