Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Computer Games and Art #2

Thanks to everybody for that very nice discussion in the last post! For the record, I agree that the "loss is required for great art" hypothesis is not tenable. Suggestions, that have been given in the last post, to replace it with "conflict" or "change" are good. But they might also be a bit too obvious.

At least we all agree that great art induces great emotions. But let me ask you a few more questions:

1) Do you think that narratives are the only way for computer games to create great emotions?

2) Do you think that the dominant emotion induced by all computer games is that of "gain" / "achievement" / "fulfillment of dreams" ?

3) Are there any computer games that, in your opinion, are equal to art in other domains?

Before you answer that last question, refresh your taste of great art here and conclude it by putting your headphones on your ears, double the volume(!), darken the room and listen to this interpretation.


  1. The Phantom of the Opera is not great art! Leroux is a hack :)

    Go with Victor Hugo instead, Hunchback or Les Mis are great works indeed.

  2. I think the WoW quest [The Worldbreaker] is art, even according to your definition.

    As I wrote at the time:

    "As well, I think that [The Worldbreaker] may quite possibly be the single finest quest in the game. The only word to describe that quest is elegance. That was immersion on so many levels. For me, it evoked the exact reaction in myself that it was intended to invoke in my character. Seriously, this was utterly brilliant, and would be extra-ordinarily hard to replicate in another medium."

  3. You are focusing on the reaction of the observer to define art.

    Art IMO is as much if not more defined by the intention of the artist. Are they "expressing" something, or merely crafting something?

    That is certainly a fine line that will likely remain intangible forever, but you can argue that anything that requires creativity to produce, and can be considered unique, to be art.

    Then comes the observer reaction, which is more a barometer of "great" art, or "viable" art. But isn't "bad" art still art?

    I do believe a video game can qualify as art, or expression. And IMO the really cool thing about an MMO as art, is that PLAYING can certainly be an artistic expression as well.

    I don't really think of WoW as great art, or myself as an artist for playing, but I do see incredible potential in the medium.

    Myst, as an example, blew me away. It was certainly an artistic smorgasbord of music and images, and of course the gameplay drew you in to become a part of, and interact with, the montage.

    Video games are now in the very early stages of just trying to duplicate how we see life. We're learning how to paint and write, and are trying to just make it look right and sound right. Designers are driven to represent it accurately and most importantly to be able to manipulate it.

    That's what art was for thousands of years; the struggle to put life in the palm of your hand and try to understand it.

    Eventually, a video game designer will go out on a limb and get a financial supporter that doesn't care about popularity or a return on their investment. They'll do something because it's amazing, and because they are driven to do it.

    And the industry will be forever changed.

  4. If you play enough League of Legends, you'll realize that games are capable of producing incredible emotions. Rage, hate, anger, fury, despair, more rage, outright loathing, and finally, a depressed, accepting fatalism regarding the hopelessness of the human race.

    I'd still argue that games aren't art. Not that they can't be; just that it's not the ideal medium to create what art should be (communication). If any game COULD be art... I'd say Sid Meier's Pirates! -- it's perfected craftmanship of the ideal sandbox, IMO.

  5. Hmm...

    (1) I wouldn't that far. Any game can evoke emotions like the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But I think characters and story at least widen the range of expression possible.

    (2) No, although those are very common.

    (3) A quick caveat: I don't think any games so far are as emotionally expressive as the best literature, but that may be because the genre hasn't been around as long. With that in mind, I think games can definitely be art. Some examples off the top of my head:

    Planescape Torment
    Grim Fandango
    The Last Express

    And I've got to go with Spinks: Victor Hugo is the man!

  6. 1 & 2) I think great emotions are impossible without narratives, and I mean that generally, not just with videogames. We see our own lives in the form of personal narratives, and seek meaning in actions which have none by default. The alternative, the "Truth," would be to embrace the absurdity of life itself, why life exists at all in an utterly unfeeling universe.

    Example: Single-player survival Minecraft. There is no story, there is no win condition, no explanation whatsoever. You start out in a randomly generated world, naked and alone. Ten hours later, I felt tremendous meaning in my completing a glass bio-dome of sorts at the top of a hollowed-out tower of stone, which also had a trans-ocean railroad for quick travel to another island with an even more impressive mountain to carve. Nothing was particularly challenging at any step of the process, no real skill was necessary other than Vision. What I had created held meaning based on the narrative I constructed myself, how I started out naked and alone, and carved a name for myself in this ephemeral world. I created a Man Versus Environment story from nothing.

    Incidentally, if you want an easy example of games as art, look no further than ICO. It boggles my mind that ten years after its release on the PS2, ICO still looks better than any other game I have played.

    P.S. You mentioned "staying calm" last post. Just wanted to mention that while my argument style is probably aggressive or acerbic, it does not actually reflect my mood or my opinion of you. That is just how I roll. :P

  7. 1) No. Anything can be art -- all it takes is creative intent from the artist together with some emotional reaction from the viewer. Complex narratives can be art, but so can a cleverly constructed npc name in one virtual world that invokes a player memory (and therefore emotion) from an earlier virtual world. Only the players that experienced the first virtual world would "get it", but its still art imo.

    (Note: you might say that the artist is then relying on an external narrative, in which case perhaps the answer is yes after all. Its actually a pretty deep philosophical question either way).

    2) No. Aeris died. Wasn't that art? Though you did say "dominant" -- so maybe yes.

    3) Ultima 4 -- to name one. And I think many computer games are equally as expressive as the greatest literature, just as I think a single sculpture or painting can achieve the same thing.