Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Games as Art

There seems to be a common impression that games are on the cusp of being great art, like we're about to have "our Citizen Kane"...

We aren't. We haven't even really hit talkies.

While games look very advanced, that's deceptive: the advanced part is the stuff we've stolen from film, like film originally stole from theater.

The potential of games - as a media - is not something we've even begun to grasp, even by people aiming for that specifically.


Chris DeLeon said...

What bothers me - and this isn't picking a fight, merely a pattern I feel surrounded by - is the presumption that film is somehow the father of videogames, and it's therefore important for videogames to "grow" and fill those shoes.

That's jut one narrow aesthetic in a field of infinite possibility.

Or sometimes, our work gets thought of as comic books (I attribute this to Will Wright openly recommending McCloud's Understanding Comics...). But most of the time, there's a looming presumption that our success is to be measured by how film-like our creations become.

We're not film, and at best, by chasing after film I fear that we're only going to wind up as a second-rate imitation to this other medium. I'm content to let film be film, and figure out how to make videogames be videogames.

There's a strong semantic barrier before us, since "videogames" is a heavily loaded word (like how many of us equate "TV" to "garbage"), it's a tricky foundation to build upon.

Can we not learn things from emulating poetry? Literature? Music? Architecture, dance, or maybe dancing about architecture?

Jonathan Blow's Design Reboot presents his angle on what (I hope) is an increasingly Zeitgeist rant. I recently talked to a 16-year-old kid on an airplane that thought it was really important "for videogames to have a purpose." We're not alone in our concerns, and consequently I'm eager to see what will become of so many eager minds going after this problem.

I think that copying off of film has been good for sales, good for visibility, and destructive to how we think and talk about games.

What is a book that will hold an adult's attention? It certainly isn't simply a children's book, albeit with bigger, shinier pictures. It's a novel, or maybe a scientific, philosophical, self-help, business, cultural, or historical text. Few if any pictures, words and concepts that escape a child's ability to understand, and more so "interesting" than "fun".

I'm generally of the opinion that games for older audiences are still being conceived of as bigger, better children's books. Little more than children's books, made "adult" by inclusion of things children aren't allowed to see (nudity and blood).

But yes, amen, we're not "there" yet. We're far from it, and have a great deal of exciting, but largely fruitless, work ahead of us...

Sorry for the length of this comment. It's fair to say that your post struck a nerve.

Craig Perko said...

I agree, and would never suggest being more like film is our pinnacle here.

Yehuda said...

I couldn't disagree more. Go is art, and was created thousands of years ago.

It was a collaborative effort, true, but it engages on many different levels, contains beauty and reality, and challenges and changes any one who engages with it.

You can't discuss Games as Art without discussing both games and art, of course.

My own article on the subject in on my sidebar.


Craig Perko said...

I consider go to be art, I consider playing go to be an art, but I don't consider it to be "our Citizen Kane". Go does change the way we think, but it's very rare for it to change the way we feel.

Craig Perko said...

Hrm, to clarify:

I think that go is art, but I didn't claim that games weren't art yet. I claim that we haven't touched what games are capable of yet.

Jason O said...

It's just a little too rare that the people in the industry creative enough to make anything that could be considered "art" also have the resources to make a game that fits their vision.

Games are seen as products, and there is no prestige for creating "arthouse" games. Yes, I know I just made a comparison to cinema, but the comparison is easy. Movies are the closest analogy where you can create something for arts sake while still being very expensive.

You can create a painting that is a product for about the same that you can make one that is art. Can a product be art? Certainly, but not all products are art.

Unfortunately, when you do get game developers with the resources to make their vision you end up with Daikatana or Battlecruiser. The other problem with games is that while they are entertainment, they are also software. Speaking as a software developer, if you don't apply good rules of design, if you don't ask "what is this application supposed to do?" you end up with a royal mess. I think Daikatana had an interesting vision, but it lacked purpose. It was a game made for its own sake.

The game industry has had opportunities to make art before, but they continue to pass. Companies like EA, which pander to a specific formula, are never going to create art without also transforming their approach to delivering products.

Regardless, I think we're close. I think we're on the cusp. I think our "Citizen Kane" or "Mona Lisa" is just around the corner. We just need to get that right blend of vision, resources, and design.

Craig Perko said...

I know you think we're on the cusp.

But we aren't. We don't know enough about computer games as a medium to create a game that encapsulates the potential of games.

We will certainly produce works of art. Hell, Mass Effect was a work of art. But it wasn't the game part that was a work of art.

And it's going to take a lot more wrong, misguided crap before we figure out enough to be "groundbreaking" in this way.

Of course, Citizen Kane was widely hailed as wrong, misguided crap when it came out, and other movies of the same era, now long forgotten, were seen as much more important...

David said...

But did Citizen Kane define and encompass cinema, or did it exist because the knowledge of the totality (basically) of cinema already existed? If it's the latter, then you think we won't see our Citizen Kane until we truly understand the fundamental capabilities of VGs? If it's the former, what do we not understand about the fundamental artistic capabilities of agency? : D Just kidding on that last question.

Jason O said...

What is lacking that is keeping us so far away from finding a game that can be considered art? Some would argue we've already achieved it. If we set the goal so high that no one will ever attain it, then that is just pretension.

I believe we can attain art at anytime, but the market that is videogames is not quite ready. They are still too focused on the product.

Also, this conversation worries me that we end up making games that are art that are ultimately not entertaining. One of my greatest frustrations with movies is that often in the name of art the end result is just dull or pretentious. Indeed, a lot of what has been done as "art" lately has had a message about as subtle as being bludgeoned and about as entertaining as well.

Craig Perko said...

I'm not saying that we're not making games that are art! We ARE making games that are art!

But they're not (art game), they're (art) + (game). The art is imported from movies or some other medium.

Citizen Kane combined film-specific techniques (both technical and script-related) that were pioneered in tiny fragments by accident.

Citizen Kane led us to understand things like focus, camera control, changing time and place fluidly, special effects to aid immersion, the film version of "stage makeup", montages...

Both large and small, Wells combined them into one place and created a movie.