The Unbearable Awesomeness Of Being

Monday, June 04, 2007

Videogames & Art - Canto I

I've been trying to coalesce my ideas into a single article, but it's not working. I'll spit what I have here then come back for it later.

"[There is] no conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech. The court finds that video games have more in common with board games and sports than they do with motion pictures." -- U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr.

Are videogames art? Game players may think the question is stupid, as well as their mothers - for entirely opposite reasons. The answer is probably different for every person, not just of videogames but of pretty much every item of art or non-art ever made.

The real matter is - why videogames are not recognized as possible artistic endeavours? One of the reasons, of course, is because most of them are pretty crappy artistic endeavours.

Scott McCloud posits in Understanding Comics that there are six layers to an artistic endeavor:
  • Surface - The layer of first efforts and fan games where SUPER MARIO FIGHTS SONIC OMG. It's OK, we all started here.
  • Craft - The level of making the trees look good: For example, your levels and enemies look nice individually, but they don't glom into a full view.
  • Structure - Where you start noticing the forest and making it a cohesive whole. Your features aren't just good in themselves, but they connect and follow in a meaningful way.
  • Idiom - The layer where you find your own style and firm it across the whole of your work.
  • Form - One of the two 'inner' layers. Having all other layers mastered, you can use them to rework the limits of your craft.
  • Idea/Purpose - The other 'inner' layer. All other layers are a tool to convey what you -really- have to say.
There are few gamemakers that really work from the bottom two layers. Shigeru Miyamoto certainly is a Form fellow: the very controllers of Nintendo consoles change and reform to his will. The only Idea gamemaker I can think of at the moment is Fumito Ueda (ICO, Shadow of the Colossus), though Hideo Kojima seems to be trying really hard to get to this.

I'm trying really hard to put Half-Life 1 or 2 or 2.1 on this, but frankly, it seems like they're less of an art effort and more of a new graphic/physics engine with attached movie. Granted, it's a very pretty movie. Something to think about.

So, some of the points to be ponderous upon:
  • The relatively young age of the videogame industry
  • How important is tech glitter
  • Group production vs. single person production
  • Mass culture phenomenon, sequels and trequels
  • Interactive and non-interactive content and how they connect
  • Whether board games and puzzles are art
I'll expound on those as they occur to me.


  • Great start, I look forward to the follow-up piece. Did you mean 'prequels' or is trequel a term I just don't know?

    By Blogger Jeff Rients, at 6/05/2007 5:55 AM  

  • 'trequel' is, obviously, the sequel to a sequel. It's the same logic used for 'treply' and 'tritto'.

    By Blogger Zaratustra, at 6/05/2007 7:13 AM  

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