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Keiji Inafune: games are not an art


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....So, basically, if I were to paint a picture of a rock with 3 sets of eyes and a leg sticking out one side rolling down a hill towards a naked woman who is standing on a mound of insects with a sad look on her face, and a beating heart in her hand....

While there isn't much meaning to it, it'd still probably be a pretty interesting thing to render, and for any viewer to look at if done correctly.

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Well, bgc, I think the issue here is the "high" or "fine" art distinction, like Leah mentioned. And Evilhead already addressed your "art" vs. "product" rant.

Anyway, I've been thinking...a lot of people have cited Ico and Okami as "art" games, and I tend to agree, but I have to ask...what exactly makes them art? Sure, they have very pretty and stylized graphics, but that's purely the visual aspect. What about the other elements? Ico's gameplay is nothing revolutionary...you solve puzzles and fight things with a stick. And Okami? If you take away the cel-shading, what's left? Would people still call it art?

It makes you wonder, is a game artistic value entirely dependent on the style and quality of its visual presentation? If you slapped cubist graphics on Super Mario Bros., would it be hailed by reviewers as avant-garde and innovative? "Boundish" for the GBA is nothing but a stylized version of "Pong" but a lot of people would call it an art game.

As for MGS2...it's an excellent game, but if it were made into an actual film, I'll bet you that not one serious moviegoer would even mention the word "art" in a review. If you ignore the fact that it's a video game, it's just another cheesy action movie with a lot of unnecessary extra twists.

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I'm just highlighting the fact that most gamers seem to cite MGS2 as a work of art due to its complicated plot and cinematic presentation, but neither of those elements are really all that extraordinary in quality outside of the world of video games.

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True story of how I learned that the term "fine art" is hollow and borderline idiotic:

My first year in college, I was pursuing an art major. However, halfway through my first semester, I learned that the art school had dropped its CG and 3D animation programs and turned them over to the drama dept. When I asked why, they replied: "Those are commercial arts. Here, we focus on the fine arts."

As I was considering those words, I wandered into the lobby of the art school's main building, where several students' works were on display. One piece in particular drew my attention. Someone had taken a bunch of raw meat and rolled it up into 8 round balls, each about the size of a softball. Then he or she had taken those balls of meat and stuffed them to the bottom of long stockings or panty-hose (I couldn't tell which). Then he or she had taken those 8 stockings and hung them in the art school lobby in a neat little row for all to see. He had also seen fit to lay some paper down beneath the display so the dripping blood from the meat wouldn't make a huge mess of the floor. This was "fine art".

I set to work changing my major the next day.

i missed this post. that's exactly what i'm referring to. and i'm sure someone probably revered that as brilliant and expressive. "Now THAT is TRUE art". lawlz.

It may by definition be art, but it's definitely no more so than any video game.

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I'd like to suggest that commercialization should itself be considered artistic. Limitation is considered an artistic technique, and it seems pretty obvious to me that working within the bounds of commercialization is a form of limitation.

In fact, I'd like to start a broader movement which overtly embraces and expresses pride in commercialized consumer culture.

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The definition of art is fairly broad. Fine art, on the other hand, gets into all sorts of levels of debate. One thing that has been lacking from most of the discussions of games as art that I've seen is the power of critics. In some circles of academia, film still isn't considered a fine art. A few critics of today have weighed in on the debate one way or the other, but there still isn't an established base of critics in the videogame community. Oh sure, there are reviewers and journalists galore, but the thrust of their discussions is almost always centered around games as games first and art maybe a distant second. Once the medium becomes more established, some of this will shift towards critical analysis of the work as artistic expression, lending more and more credibility to the acceptance of games as art.
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Interesting, creator of the thought provoking and intensely stylized killer7 "Suda 51" disagrees with the "games are not art" statement in a very big way:

IGN Wii: Do you consider games an art form?

Suda: I assure you that videogames are an extension of an art form. In my opinion, the highest form of art is the existence of videogames.

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FYI people, don't ever quote a dictionary definition (and an online dictionary no less) and expect it to have any place in an debate about a philosophical issue. It might have worked in your jr high term paper, but not in a serious discussion. (Looking at you BGC)

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I think this is the 20th time this thread has been made here, and the discussion is always the same. Anyway, my thought is that when you start calling anything art, art loses all of it's meaning. Art is an expression for expression's sake. The problem begins when the sake of creating the piece becomes less and less a pure expression and more a desire for monetary gain. It loses it's soul. Which is why I don't consider some dude's dolphin's pictures he's hawking down on the beach art. Not just because they are ugly, but he's painting them to sell. They are a product. Now there are plenty of REAL artists who choose to or are forced to sell their paintings. This does not negate the quality or substance of their art. It was not the goal in mind when the piece was created.

I don't think the problem is to consider the entirety of games as art. It's whether they COULD be considered to be such if we choose to do so in fleeting, critical glimpse. I can agree that some purely capitalistic forms of art or entertainment can cheapen the art in some ways, but I doubt it'll make much impact overall as there'll always be the art forms that goes purely for the expression in itself. Some games can do that too, and again, I think sometimes they can gain prominence as an art when we look back on how they influenced our lives or vision many years from now. I think that retrospect is crucial in considering the artistic nature of a lot of games as well as look at the various inspirations and pick bone with the artistic goals of a game on top of their money making aspects. It doesn't mean we can't look at the modern games and their artistic qualities too. It's just that if we're to look at such in terms of artistic qualities, we sometimes might have to go beyond just the visuals. It could have to do with the music like in Uematsu composed games, or the narrative like in Earthbound or the experiences various games aim to offer. In that popular culture sense, there's the artistic merit upon criticism. Not because the games exude artistic sensibilities by itself.

But what was the intention of the game designers? Was it really to create a work of art, or to make a game that sold well? Was I supposed to walk away from FFXII with a new outlook on life, or even a new perspective on something I had never thought about? Or was it just a pretty game with a fun battle system in an interesting world? Where do you draw the line? The problem is, that line is extremely hard to draw, and the same things applies to movies, music, literature, and a lot of other things. On one hand, money destroys art. But on the other, without the motivation for that money, some games/movies/music with plenty of artistic merit would never have been created. So it's a bit of a win-lose situation.

I have to disagree with that one. I think it's a very romantic thing to say that money destroys everything, but that's only the means to an end, especially with something that dedicates a lot of time and effort. Ultimately, people usually will look at the end result no matter what their intentions may have been. Looking at the token sequels like Madden games, the end result is that it's just like all the other games we've seen like it. Even taking out the intent, we can see the results right there.

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We're responding to an interview in which a question was very likely given in English, then translated into Japanese, then the answer was given in Japanese, then translated into English, for all of us to respond to.

Or, if the question was indeed given in Japanese, we're still listening to it in English.

And the Rockman Zero and Rockman ZX titles are very good releases. Inafune hasn't completely sucked, nor is he irrelevant, regardless of whether you liked his games or not. He's still working, and hasn't been buried under a mountain of insignificance.

Anyway, when I read that article, I don't think he was talking about "art" the way were talking about it. He was merely discussing the process of video games as a business. From his estimation, Clover was a developer that sold their video games like a piece of artwork. The problem is, artwork can be sold, depending on demand, for hundreds of dollars. And then replicas can be sold for less, but still significantly more (major art, stuff that people are willing to buy and spend dough on).

The problem is, video games don't sell like that, no matter how much the public likes it. No one is auctioning off a copy of the newest Zelda for thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, there is no "sole artist" to the creation of a video game, so you can't even get the public wankery of a personality behind the painting. "Ooh, so and so painted this picture, and he went to the London School of Self-Applause Artistry... wow, I'll spend thousands on this piece."

And that's it. That's what I got out of Inafune's comment. He lauded the directors for their games. He thought they were cool. But the way Clover sold the product was poor. Video games don't sell like art. They sell like video games.

Hence, in the business world, video games are not art.

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The whole idea behind the word art is so vague and flexible that really, no one can truly say they know what is art without looking a little pretentious. Its one of the world's truly subjective topics.

To me it sounds like Inafune's opinion of it goes along the lines of the "Art is intentionally useless" perspective. The belief that the only way something can become art is for it to become purely free expression with little to no actual use.

I guess he's open to his opinion, but I'm of the opinion that its sort of an irresponsible mindset thats heavy breeding ground for mediocrity for a person in his position. Yes, it is a product...and its not totally free expression. But its still a process, and there's a difference between a journeyman who turns his or her craft into an art, and those who just let whatever slide because "its business". Its also somewhat inadvertently condescending to anyone who wants to get into it as a career in the future.

Personally though, I think he's just venting out his own frustration. You know half these game designers can say they don't consider what they do art, but you know deep down they do. Its just that that clashes with the harsh realities one has to face in a business like this. But that doesn't automatically mean its not an art.

We are also talking about the Mega Man creator here. I mean, why would he feel the need to "blast" Clover over a topic such as "games are not art"? You have to wonder how much of whats said here is just disguised frustration with his own career.

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