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Games as Art

Oh God, I think I’m going to crash the Internet with all these links.  And that’s just from searching for “Ebert” in my Google Reader.  You should probably read this one too.  All of those are worth clicking on and reading.  The comments also.  I think I even made a comment or two in there somewhere.  On the subject at hand, I’m not certain I’m decided.  Though if pressed, I might have to say that games are not art, or at the very least that the majority of games are not art.

One of the nice things about most forms of traditional art is that they don’t change.  The Mona Lisa is The Mona Lisa still.  Casablanca is Casablanca.  The text of Hamlet remains.  That last example begins to get to my line of thinking.  No one would argue that Hamlet is a work of literary art, but individual productions of Hamlet will be heavily debated.  In fact, in the artistic world, a production of Hamlet would be considered performance art, not simply art.

When you go to a museum and look at a painting on the wall, that painting will be exactly the same every time you go to see it.  What changes from viewing to viewing is YOU.  The same can be said for books and films and most of the traditional art forms.  If I were to load up World of Warcraft or Crysis or even a game like Flower (which many people consider to be art) and just watch it, it might be art but it wouldn’t be a game.  If I go to YouTube and watch videos of people playing games, it might be art, the video, and it might be a game for the person who made it, but for me it wouldn’t be a game.

A game is like Schrödinger’s cat, it is a collection of potentials that are, in actual terms, useless until we open the box and see if the cat is alive or dead.  A game isn’t a game until we play it.  To me, it seems that video games are more like sports than they are like paintings or books or movies.  A baseball player might have a beautiful swing, and there may be many artful things in a game of baseball, but I don’t believe that anyone would call a baseball game “art”.  Unlike most art, not only do you change between visits to a game, but the game changes too.  Sure, some games are so simple that they don’t change much at all, but those aren’t usually the games people claim are art.  Saying a video game is a single piece of art is like saying that all the productions of Hamlet are a single piece of art.  A game is ephemeral.  Unless someone video tapes it, you can’t return to the game exactly as it was before, and if you do it through video the subsequent times you return they are movies, which might be art but aren’t games.

As I said, a game isn’t a game until we play it, so the gamer is part of the game since we can’t have one without the other.  Many people bristle at the idea of video games being a sport.  Face it, many people who play video games do so to get away from sports.  (I kid, I kid!) (Not really.)  So perhaps we should stray back towards plays.  From the audience, a play is performance art, a performance of art.  But what is a play for the performers?  Is the act of acting “art” from the perspective of the actor?  Or is the performer the artist? A painting, completed, is art, but is the act of creating the painting art?  I don’t believe it is.  From that view, game developers aren’t creating art, they are creating paints and brushes and easels, production notes and outlines, tools from which art can be created by the gamer.  A game, completed, might be art, but again if you are experiencing a completed game you are probably watching a movie, not playing a game.

All of this talking around in circles leads me to believe that since I find it so hard to define a game as being art there are only two options.  Either the words and terms and methods to define a game as art don’t yet exist or at least are not known to me, or that games are not art but might just be a medium through which art can be created.  In the end, I’m liking that second option better because if games are art that make me an art consumer (or connoisseur if I’m fluffing my ego), but if games are a medium then I am an artist.

Appearances can be Deceiving

I read on the bus to work every morning. This week I’ve been reading ‘Lamb’ by Christopher Moore, an excellent book thus far (about half way through) and its looking like it will get a very good recommendation out of me. The book happens to be a semi-satirical look at the life of Jesus Christ, Joshua, through the eyes of his never-mentioned-in-the-Bible best friend Levi, who is called Biff. Anyhow, as I’m riding the bus, I notice the guy sitting next to me. He looks ‘normal’, and I mean that in the “We never suspected anything because he was just a normal guy” sort of way. He wore typical business casual clothes, khaki slacks, a polo shirt, and nice shoes. His hair was an average short but not too short guy hair cut. He wore glasses, had a watch on (a nice gold colored one that may or may not have been actual gold) and a wedding ring. As he sat, he was flipping through some papers and highlighting as he went.

A brief aside here… If curiosity kills the cat, then I’m glad I’m not a cat. I have an insatiable appetite for looking at things that I shouldn’t. As a child, one of my favorite pastimes was sneaking into my father’s closet to take a gander at the Playboy magazines that he kept hidden there. I was like eight years old. Eight year old boys don’t really understand looking at naked women, but I did understand that I wasn’t supposed to look at naked women, so that’s why I did it. At jobs, I’ve always poked around the networks to find files I shouldn’t see, also because I believe that if you really want to keep something secret you should take the proper precautions to ensure that it can’t be seen. So back to where I left off, a guy sitting next to me highlighting papers.

I’m pretty good at misdirection and that sort of thing, so I’m pretending to read my book and stealing glances with my eyes only over to his work. This ‘normal’ guy is reading through and highlight passages in satanic texts. He’s flipping through pages of books by Crowley and others, making special note of referenced texts. Of course, you might be wondering, “How do you know what satanic texts look like?” And I might answer, “Umm… because I’ve read most of them myself.” but you might think less of me, so instead I’ll say, “Because all the pages were printed from a website, and when you print from a website the URL appears at the bottom (unless you disable that in Internet Explorer) and it has ‘satanic texts’ written in it!” But even if you choose to believe the former, at least I have my head shaved and sport a goatee, and have had a number of people tell me I look evil (when I’m not, I’m really a nice guy), while this man looks like the poster boy for Suburban Living Monthly (which, ironically, is the same look and acronym for Sociopathic Lunatic Monthly, both of which I’m pretty sure you can pick up at your local Kroger). I can only hope that he was doing research for something he’s writing, like a novel or a screenplay, which, I assure you, is what I was doing when I read the same books, and not researching quotes for his manifesto swearing his faith to the one true lord which he’ll have on him as he sacrifices teenage girls and he’ll include copies of with the video tapes he sends to the authorities of his deeds.

Some days I wonder if my imagination is too active, or if I actually see things that other people don’t… Time will tell I suppose.