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Video Games Can Never Be Art

posted by Rather Dashing on - last edited - Viewed by 3.6K users
A lot of websites in the gaming sphere have been discussing Roger Ebert's claim that Video Games Can Never Be Art, generally without reading the post or even really thinking about the point. A lot of gamers strive for games to be given the "Art" label to give the industry a sense of legitimacy, importance, and purpose, and react powerfully and negatively to the assertion that games can be anything else.

I agree with Roger Ebert, for the most part. Now, considering many people may just read the TITLE of his blog post and go into a rant, I'll at least try and get someone to read some of it by quoting a relevant section here:
Roger Ebert" said:
One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.
Note games, especially those often considered "Art". Consider Ebert's role in the film industry. He is a critic. A film critic's job is to take in everything in a scene, understand the message shown, to gauge the value of something with an understanding of its basic mechanical workings. Think of the mechanical workings of a game, stripped down to the barest elements to keep its definition.

Okami is pretty. But at the very base level, Okami is a set of rules and objectives. It has nice graphics, and those might be considered "art". A game with an amazing story is still that: a game with an amazing story. The mechanical workings of the game are still a set of rules and objectives that should be met. If you then go ahead and claim that no it's not, that's covered above. Because those aren't "games" anymore, they're interactive art pieces.

Think of adventure games. Now, many people may argue that these are art pieces. After all, they're heavily story-focused, generally rely heavily on writing, and until recently a lot of them even used hand-painted backdrops. But then you go into what an adventure game IS? It is a series of puzzles that must be solved to win. These are puzzles that are heavily supplemented by writing, graphic design, and other artistic elements, but however thickly these things are draped over the core mechanics, the point remains that the mechanical workings of a game are sets of objectives and rules that should be completed and followed. A game is meant to be won, or possibly lost.

I am arguing that video games as we know them are not art, though various aspects of them can be considered art. You may say that the graphic design of a board game, the picture made by a jigsaw puzzle, or painted game pieces are "art", but would the actual puzzle be art? Would the actual board game be art? No, they're games, supplemented by artistic elements.

There is only one game I know of that even begin to consider "art", and that is Lose/Lose. Is it a GOOD game, is it GOOD art? I don't know. But its very mechanical workings are set to make you reconsider what you value, and whether or not that message happens to be conveyed well or not, the point is that it is a game by definition, and I think it's likely art by definition.

tl;dr version: I hate video games and the entire gaming industry. This isn't art, these "video games" are GARBAGE. Also, I slept with your mother. By the way, she should know that she should get herself checked.
235 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • Rather Dashing;293113 said:
    I think the difference in our viewpoints here is pretty clear to map out: You're putting the "rules and objectives" as just an equal aspect of the game, whereas I'm using it as the definition(correct me if I'm wrong here).
    I actually see that it's the definition, but I feel that some acknowledged types of art have such definitions. A sculpture is also made with stuff that isn't art, for instance.

    I also think you're not very consistent. You defined clouds as "not a game, but interactive art". However, you seem to think movies are art, and adventure games are definitely interactive movies. So how aren't they "interactive art", too?
    It just seems that if a game starts fitting your definition of art, you just take it out the "game" category. Which doesn't seem fair.

    Adventure games aren't "won" or "lost" as much as they are completed, in the same way you finish a book or movie. It's a way of telling a story, using game as a medium rather than a book, film or graphic novel (or something else).

    I'm not saying I'm 100% sure whether games can be considered art or not, I simply disagree with your reason why they can't.

    I might have misinterpreted what you said though. Feel free to correct me.
  • Rather Dashing;293128 said:
    I'm sorry, but installing drywall is an art. Look in the dictionary if you don't believe me, after all. The installed drywall is a work of art. I can't insult the integrity of the word "art" when drywall fits nicely in the given definition.
    It was the way you said it I was referring to and you damn well know it, sir. It was that snarky sarcastic tone which you're continuing to use now.
    I'm pretty sure we weren't talking about that definition of "art". I'm pretty sure we were talking about whether or not skilled people happen to make games with techniques, because that's the context that you said I was ignoring, that's the context you've been attempting to shoehorn into the conversation, despite its irrelevance.

    No, I don't think that games mean more than drywall. The other art forms applied to games can and do, certainly, but there's nothing special about the actual games.
    It's a context which is completely relevant no matter how much you want to ignore it because it invalidates your points and you know it, and insulting the point and my addition to the topic isn't going to change its relevancy no matter how much you damn well say it does, sir. You're right. Without every single component that makes up the games, they aren't anything special. Mostly because they don't exist without those components, but what am I doing here. Silly me, always trying to be RELEVANT. Oh ho ho ho, what a bastard I am. Oh ho ho ho. How dare I. OH HO HO HO. HILARIOUS OF ME. What a card I am with my "shoehorning things" and whatnot. Oh ho ho ho.
  • Secret Fawful;293111 said:
    A dot has to be drawn.
    Actually that can be generated by a computer too. Since I've claimed (possibly erroneously, I'll leave that for programmers to ponder) that programming is a science, not an art, the use of placeholder graphics does eliminate the impact of a game's story but doesn't change the gameplay.

    And Guitars, it depends on which aspect of the design you mean. Game mechanics aren't really the arrangement of art pieces, they are completely independent of them. The more vital part of a game is the systems created to hold up the story, such as in Sam & Max 3, when you have to arrange the Your Momma insults to that Sam sets them up and Max finishes them you could remove the writing and the voice dialogue and have a system where you match numbers together and have the same system.

    In the Simon Says QTE events in games, the art can almost completely be removed and have the exact same gameplay, which is one of the reasons why it isn't considered a fun aspect of gameplay but gets used so often. It is simple to program and gives the game makers the ability to show the player the story without having to worry about the player's actions interrupting them.

    Game design doesn't require art but instead a knowledge of how to create challenges for the player to overcome. The art for a game is rarely created to first in the game's creation, instead the game is designed and prototyped to give examples of play. Both of these require some knowledge of game mechanics and no knowledge of art. Art can be left completely separate from design and programming.

    Though admittedly, when the artists aren't given any level of impact in the game's creation the game does suffer from it.
  • Roivas;293132 said:
    Actually that can be generated by a computer too. Since I've claimed (possibly erroneously, I'll leave that for programmers to ponder) that programming is a science, not an art, the use of placeholder graphics does eliminate the impact of a game's story but doesn't change the gameplay.
    That requires a person behind it though. That computer can't draw that dot without a person to tell it to draw that dot. Which is no different than a person using a pencil to draw a dot, and placing it in the game. It just skips steps.
  • Also, in that entire discussion, I am pretty sure the instagator said ALL "art" had to be removed, which would include the story.

    Then what the hell is there for the dot to do?
  • Secret Fawful;293136 said:
    That requires a person behind it though. That computer can't draw that dot without a person to tell it to draw that dot. Which is no different than a person using a pencil to draw a dot, and placing it in the game. It just skips steps.
    .
    Put that in an art gallery and make sure I get full credit for it. It is an original.

    Just because a person does something doesn't make it noteworthy. I can walk to the store, I can buy sliced meat, I can buy bread, I can buy cheese. Heck, I can even skip using a shopping cart and stack these items on top of one another, that takes some level of skill.

    Further, I can take those same objects and arrange them into a tasty object commonly called a sandwich. A completely unique piece due to the way I cut the cheese and which slices of bread I choose to put together.

    Then I can take bites out of the sandwich in a unique way to create the impression of my teeth in the bread, meat, and cheese. This cannot be reproduced by anyone else and even I would have difficulty making two bites look the same.

    Do you see the difference between a mundane action and creating art? Just because I can make the computer draw a dot, though code or by using the mouse, it doesn't mean I'm an artist. I could arrange the dots to convey a message or a picture, but if the picture doesn't mean anything it isn't art.

    Art doesn't just have to be deliberate, it has to actually mean something beyond the object itself. If you consider any skilled action art, than everyone is an artist and no particular art is worthy of note. A comedian (can't remember who) said that "If I can do it, it ain't art".

    While comedy can be considered an art, the joke really meant that the mundane isn't art. Much like walking isn't a sport, a sandwich or a dot are not art.

    Hassat: By removing the story you do rob the player of their reward for completing the puzzles, but you can substitute a reward that isn't really as good and requires no writing or art: Points. If you collect all the objects and bring them to the right locations you get points for doing so. There, same gameplay and the same mechanics but a completely different experience for the lack of art.

    Basically, the art of a game makes it engaging but the mechanics are the system by which you measure your success in the game. No other medium measures success, which is why I think games can't really be considered art.
  • Roivas;293145 said:
    .
    Put that in an art gallery and make sure I get full credit for it. It is an original.

    Just because a person does something doesn't make it noteworthy. I can walk to the store, I can buy sliced meat, I can buy bread, I can buy cheese. Heck, I can even skip using a shopping cart and stack these items on top of one another, that takes some level of skill.

    Further, I can take those same objects and arrange them into a tasty object commonly called a sandwich. A completely unique piece due to the way I cut the cheese and which slices of bread I choose to put together.

    Then I can take bites out of the sandwich in a unique way to create the impression of my teeth in the bread, meat, and cheese. This cannot be reproduced by anyone else and even I would have difficulty making two bites look the same.

    Do you see the difference between a mundane action and creating art? Just because I can make the computer draw a dot, though code or by using the mouse, it doesn't mean I'm an artist. I could arrange the dots to convey a message or a picture, but if the picture doesn't mean anything it isn't art.

    Art doesn't just have to be deliberate, it has to actually mean something beyond the object itself. If you consider any skilled action art, than everyone is an artist and no particular art is worthy of note. A comedian (can't remember who) said that "If I can do it, it ain't art".

    While comedy can be considered an art, the joke really meant that the mundane isn't art. Much like walking isn't a sport, a sandwich or a dot are not art.
    Oh, I wasn't passing off a dot as art. Although, who is to say a dot isn't a work of art? Not me. However, I was continuing on avistew's point that without all of the works of art within the game that comprise it, the game can not function. And now I'm tired, and it's 6 AM, and I've said my peace, and I'm afraid it's just come down to picking apart one another's posts, which is never good wholesome discussion (I'm looking at you Rather Dashing, and now I'm not looking at you because doing that before bed is the most unwise course of action I've ever heard [just kidding]), and nobody is going to be able to do jack to change my mind because I'm 100% sure of what I'm saying being correct.

    Thanks for the interesting points though, guys, I was actually pretty interested in this discussion and what you all were saying, oh silly me, that is until I found out I was shoehorning my way in. Oh ho ho ho silly me. Oh ho ho ho what a bastard I am.

    [whistle]
    Oh...
    And I've kept yelling since I first commenced it,
    I'm against it!
  • avistew;293129 said:
    I actually see that it's the definition, but I feel that some acknowledged types of art have such definitions. A sculpture is also made with stuff that isn't art, for instance.
    We're going in semantic circles with this one, I think we need to find another way to explain our ideas.
    I also think you're not very consistent. You defined clouds as "not a game, but interactive art". However, you seem to think movies are art, and adventure games are definitely interactive movies. So how aren't they "interactive art", too?
    It just seems that if a game starts fitting your definition of art, you just take it out the "game" category. Which doesn't seem fair.p/quote]
    Not at all.

    I'm guessing you never played "Cloud", but it's essentially a software toy mechanics-wise. You just sort of float around messing with clouds. There is no objective or goal, so it's not a game. And down to the basic mechanical workings of the thing, it is an art piece.



    [quote]Adventure games aren't "won" or "lost" as much as they are completed
    Well, LucasArts and Telltale games, anyway. Sierra and Infocom(for example) had points and death screens.
    in the same way you finish a book or movie. It's a way of telling a story, using game as a medium rather than a book, film or graphic novel (or something else).

    ...

    I might have misinterpreted what you said though. Feel free to correct me.
    I don't see a game as being distinctly different from an art perspective, though. How is a story told where you also solve puzzles different from a film where you do not do this thing? The puzzle is a challenge to the player, but it's not a work of art, is it? Because the puzzles are what change it from being a film done in sprite art to being a game, and it is by the merits of a game that it should be judged as "art", shouldn't it?

    For example, if I set a steady film camera at the back of a play or musical, and let it record the musical as though you were a person sitting in the audience, would that be a separate piece of art from the musical? Now, if you inherently USED the camera, with cinematography and editing and special effects, THEN it is a different, separate, valid form of art that spawns the cinema.
    Secret Fawful;293131 said:
    It's a context which is completely relevant no matter how much you want to ignore it because it invalidates your points and you know it, and insulting the point and my addition to the topic isn't going to change its relevancy no matter how much you damn well say it does, sir.
    In your profile, you say you have "been an artist since you were five". That is a very vague thing to say, Fawful. Since an artist is a person that does something with skill and technique, you could be doing just about anything.

    When someone says "games are not art", they are not saying "games are not things that are made by skilled people". It's obvious from the context. You can go ahead and say that games are the Work of an Art under the definition you posit, but it doesn't carry any weight to it because you're saying that an art is every single profession from the guy behind the fast food counter to your accountant.
    You're right. Without every single component that makes up the games, they aren't anything special. Mostly because they don't exist without those components, but what am I doing here. Silly me, always trying to be RELEVANT. Oh ho ho ho, what a bastard I am. Oh ho ho ho. How dare I. OH HO HO HO. HILARIOUS OF ME. What a card I am with my "shoehorning things" and whatnot. Oh ho ho ho.
    You know, for a person that is against a sarcastic tone, you're not very good at avoiding it yourself. But okay. I'll play ball.

    Is Pong art? I really doubt that it is. It is just two rectangles and a square. These rectangles and squares operate under certain rules. This is the "game".

    Now, let's say I added graphics. Okay, graphic design is an art. Let's say I add a story. Okay, writing is an art. Lets say I add a sweeping orchestral soundtrack, changing camera angles, and maybe even deep and emotional themes.

    Is there creative work there? Yes. But nothing about it is specific to games, it's just kind of dropped on top of Pong. There's nothing special about it creatively that can't be done in another medium.

    Please excuse my use of the word "art" in an apparently unacceptable way.
  • On the topic of programming being art. Yes, I think so. Not because I know a lot about programming but because it seems very obvious.

    Compare rockstar's physics engine to valve's source engine and see if they are not different in the way they are programmed.
  • I'm not thinking about it too deeply (that would make my head hurt), but I think the imagination and creation behind a game is an art, therefore making the game art too.
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