Video Game Debate
April 21st, 2010
Published on April 21st, 2010 @ 03:53:31 pm , using 1174 words, 311 views
Rarely do I weigh in on current talking points. Firstly, because I feel they are manipulated and forced into the light by its fanatics and also because people are entitled to their opinions but not necessarily their facts. The one catching my attention recently deals with the dialogue over whether or not video games are art. The extremes of this conversation appear to be defined by Roger Ebert at one extend and the operators of Penny Arcade (Gabe and Tycho as they are publically known) at the other. The reason I am discussing this is because I'm a huge fan of both of them and regularly frequent their respective sites. I value Roger's opinion as well as Tycho's (the more vocal of the pair). So where do I place myself?
Flat squarely in the middle. I sincerely believe both parties are sitting too far in their respective camps. I've played computer games from the early days of Pong. It comes down to expression, which I believe is Roger's point. If someone is expressing something passionately through a work, it is artistic. Someone can even make the claim that true art is long, frustrating, and ultimately unrewarding in its process. Roger's point stems from the format of games. Since a game is user defined and user influenced, and forces a purpose and an objective, it removes the capacity of total expression and is against the purpose of art...to have no purpose. Games must make concessions on multiple levels for the purpose of gameplay.
A work must be rated on its total expression--meaning music in a game or art in a game does not render the game artistic--it is the totality of the work. Just because a game has art or music does not translate to it being anymore artistic as is an oil painting on canvas being considered more artistic than a graphite expression on paper. In this way, Roger is absolutely correct; nearly every game you can think of is not art. Not Pong or Wing Commander, not Sims or God of War or Gran Turismo. They have no artistic merit. It is unfortunate that these works include music and art and writing, which, when separated, become art, but amalgamated into an interactive game, it loses that expression. However, some other people claim art is any medium which does not produce or serve a function. If you create something which does not create something else and does not serve a purpose (other than entertainment) and is only there to exist, it is an artistic expression. Then, anything can be art.
In the end, art is subjective and a matter of opinion. For either side to declare their opinions as absolute and fact I believe shows a weakness in both their arguments. There are so many examples of artistic expressions some critics would claim as art and others they would not. Consider these: War miniatures, automobiles, role playing games. Are they artistic? If you buy a warhammer miniature, is it art? Is your painting of that miniature art and if it is...yours or the original sculptures? It's important to know that I never look at aspects of my life and world around it as artistic or not artistic. I don't sit in a theatre contemplating if Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen is art and if Michael Bay considers himself an artist. If we claim Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain is artistic, then Transformers 2 must also be considered art as well, just art I particularly despise. I never liked Jackson Pollock's work but I acknowledge that many people considered him a master. I look at Nick Greenwood, my primary artist for Amethyst and I do indeed declare him as one...an artist. Am I? I have never stood on a soapbox and declared my writing as artistic, but some writing is.
Going back to Roger and PA, they both make extreme points of yes and no. I've explained Roger's argument. PA counters by declaring my previous point, that nearly anything is art if it's an expression of one or several people's opinion. I can see and understand that as well. However, I think PA missed a hat trick by reducing their talking points to personal attacks against Mr. Ebert. It threatens their opinion as being the knee-jerk reactions of the extreme opposite.
Tycho makes a point that games like Braid and Flower can be considered art. Roger makes a point that they are not because they have an objective--a purpose to be completed--and thus cannot be considered artistic. I think both sides are right. However, I disagree with Tycho where he says "If a hundred artists create art for five years, how could the result not be art?" Well, a million monkeys typing at typewriters will eventually create Shakespeare but it is not art despite the fact it looks like Shakespeare. I was also upset by Tycho's dismissing of Roger's opinion, further degraded with remarks like "I can't for the life of me figure out why we give a shit what that creature says." It's unnecessary, especially since Roger effectively says something similar ("Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?")
Mr. Ebert 's fallacy stems from his lack of experience. He refuses to indulge the possibility that he is wrong, nor is he willing to sit down and play these games people have been suggesting. Braid is a good example, so is Flower, two games I have played and would very much claim is art. Yes. I would say that. Braid and Flower have artistic merit. I would go further than that and also claim that Okami, Ico, and Shadow of the Colossus are also artistic. But I have experienced these games directly. But this is my opinion. It is not a declaration to be considered as fact. There are people out there that think Pong has artistic merit. Some people feel Okami and Ico are horrible games and not worth your time. They may not call it art.
So this is my opinion, which it always was. I think Roger is on shaky ground because he is not willing to expand his definition of art nor is he open to seeing if these games have artistic value by actually playing them. I also think Penny Arcade is wrong by declaring, without concession, that Roger Ebert is "on the wrong side of history" discrediting him as an old man who just doesn't get it. I'm sorry Tycho. We can lay that argument against O'Reilly or Glenn Beck, but don't aim your crosshairs to Roger Ebert in questioning his comprehension of artwork. Remember, this is the guy that stood on a soapbox and declared Dark City as the best film of the year. It is wrong to dismiss him and to drop him in the wastebasket as an obsolete voice of an almost forgotten age.
Am I an artist? You can call me one...but if someone asked me, I would say no. I'm a storyteller. This is what I do...