Video games are play, play is art. There for Video games are art. Let me elaborate.
After seeing the ted talk by Kellee Santiago and then reading Roger Eberts response I posed the question to the rest of the Big Stack Group. It was a good discussion but it leaned towards the idea that games are art. It was agreed though that very few could be considered great art.
It’s a typical discussion, the old school wants to tell the new school that their medium is not art. This always happens, even to painters who have to spend their time justifying their paintings or movie makers who struggle with commercial viability or movies for movies sake.
I think Kellee Santiago could have used much better examples to explain why games are art. It looks like Bit Mob said it better than me (I recommend you read the article because they make some seriously good points). The ones she picked are hard even for me as a game maker to understand.
Requiring validation from critics made it feel dirty as I really think that if the the artist/gamemaker needs validation from critics or needs to make a statement to have justify the game as art then they miss the point of the craft in general.
I really felt that she weakened her arguments by showing the business model of game making. Overall I don’t feel she represented games as art very well at all. This also makes sense as artists generally have a hard time justifying there work. Kellee is an artist and her studio and games prove it.
I think Mr. Ebert may not be able to see it yet.
I think the Mr.Ebert’s points are much stronger even if I don’t totally agree with all he has to say. As a professional critic though with many years of justifying his opinions he is going to be a much stronger voice in the argument.
In his article he gives a lot of opinions about what art is. I can only write this post by sharing my own ideas about what art is.
It fits with the idea of “Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions,” and for me it has always gone one step further. To me the best art has always been based on the perfect arrangement of elements that cause us to use our instincts for survival.
Yes I know it’s strange but to me it’s survival that holds the key to great art. I need to explain this further.
The human eye can see a wider range of green then any other color. This is obviously due to the need to see in nature. We can also only here a certain range of sound. Most likely the sounds required to here a predator or find prey. We imitate each other and nature through acting and storytelling and this all causes us too learn. All these survival senses are practiced and enticed and manipulated through art.
So if all the forms art previously mentioned do in fact make us more evolved, then how can games not fit into the same category?
Games are set up for our eyes to respond. Sometimes with simple graphics and sometimes with complicated ones. If you have played “Farcry” you get the opportunity to see the different levels of green in action. Mixed with the aesthetically pleasing set up, and the need to respond to that set up you get art.
“Shadow of the Colossus” takes a series of emotional events and questions. You considered the morals of your actions and the story begs you to question various cultural ideas. And so we learn through the animation/acting and the storytelling. Finally the countless sounds in video games show just how we respond to sound. It’s no different from the movies and I have learned that movie makers are starting to take ideas from the big studios like EA. Just listen to a race car in and EA game and if your heart doesn’t start to race a little, when you hear the manipulated animal noises that make a car start then I’m sorry your dead.
It’s true that we have never called the game of chess art but are we making a mistake? Maybe Chess is art. The arrangement of the pieces creates a response in both the players. Perhaps it is an example of performance art. There is a story. There is a response. There is the use of the eyes and language to engage us.
I understand that there might need to be a clear definition of what art is to keep the curators and collectors happy. Video games evolve and incorporate every current “art” medium. They then add one that is possibly and overlooked art-form. Play.
Game makers are obsessed with improving the experience. Reward is second to play. Play is the art. When a painter paints he plays with vision. When an actor acts it’s called a play. A musician plays an instrument. Dancing is playing in movement.
Maybe Old school art needs to add a new form to it’s definition.
The art of play.
I agree that Video games are artistically infant. The level of obvious play makes it comparible to something as simple as a walk in the park (which for definitions sake should probable not be considered art). But as more experimental game styles evolve and the need of reward for play other than more play continues to grow we will see it strengthen it’s artistic merit.
Mr. Ebert says that art starts out from one individual and that collaboration makes it less so. I think he needs to be in a studio. Often there is one choreographer of the design and many people in the group help to make the game “dance.” Many painters, even contemporary ones have other artists make the brush strokes. It does not make the art less valid. And honestly Mr. Ebert if collaborative works are not art then shouldn’t we stop considering movies so. I think that if he hung around any studio that he would find the conversations about human engagement quite enlightening.
Mr. Ebert says that a game requires an outcome and art is limited to the experience. This in my mind is his strongest argument the one that game makers, when claiming that their work is art, need to consider the most. There are games that exist now that the experience is more important than the goal, there will be more.
As for the commerce of art. This medium is the major entertainment medium of our times. There is commerce involved and I see it no differently to the commerce of Michelangelo’s time or any of the great masters. There will always be art and money intermingled and questioning it’s validity. But rich artist’s don’t seem to be bothered by the issue of money while poor ones cling to the idea of art’s for art’s sake.
As for taste. It’s a week argument no matter which way we look at it. Low brow art has seen it’s validation over the past 20 years. It was called low brow and overlooked until those with matching tastes considered it valid. We will see it again and again as cultural tastes change.
As a game maker who has practiced his craft for many years and sees the evolution of the craft I’m going to take the position that games are in fact art. Just like comic books, movies, low brow painting and Rock music. When the relevance is made clear and the conversations between critics and Game makers takes a cultural turn this discussion will be mute. Instead we will ask. What games are masterpieces and which ones are not worth collecting? Oh wait some of us already do that.
I just got asked to make a 2D platform game level. There are six different bad guys. There is a main character who can jump, run, slide, bounce on a bad guy’s head, climb stairs, and dodge bullets. The level is in a multi-screen world with the ultimate objective of trying to save a princess who is trapped in a castle.
They want clouds in the background and bushes on the ground. Sometimes the player can travel through pipes and sometimes the floor is replaced by lava. You’re only allowed to use 2 MB of texture memory for this whole level. There needs to be a GUI where the player will be able to see how many lives they have left, as well as a timer. We need this in a couple of weeks. Oh and it’s got to be beautiful.
Now when you see this list, there are two reactions from artists that I commonly see:
- No problem – They read the description and imagine a picture that they might draw and think, “Oh there is nothing to that.” They are forgetting that everything on the screen moves independently of each other and requires interaction with the environment.
- Holy Shit – They see all the requirements and immediately get overwhelmed by all the details and start to imagine a perfect world where everything fits just like in real life.
To me both these reactions are extreme and fail to consider “What is a video game”. For me as an artist, a video game is not the complete reconstruction of the real world. Nor is it completely abstract. Instead, it is a collection of symbols required to convey a message to the player that enhances his or her experience.
Remember, game-play is more important than art. If you understand this you will be free to breakdown the requirements into a practical solution.
The description I made at the beginning of the article is something that could have been used for Mario. Mario is a brilliant example of moving symbols that enhance game-play. He is made up of only three colors. Mario’s animation, while beautifully rendered, is very simple. The enemies are even simpler with often only their legs moving. Doors are pipes allow the artist to only use a squat animation instead of a fully framed opening a door sequence.
Now all of these art solutions were done based on the limitations of the system at the time. What is interesting is the iPhone and Flash platforms have similar limitations.
As an artist the question you need to ask is:
What is the easiest but most effective solution that will enhance the game-play for the player? You need to solve the game designer’s problem by being a visual designer.
Is it important for a game to look good? Absolutely! But you need to solve the visual game-play problem first. If the player is confused by what he or she sees then the game is failing.
So when asked to make a complicated game screen the first question I ask myself is “What is the symbolism of this game?”. Board games are great example of the successful use of symbols.
I’m going to assume most people are familiar with Monopoly. Green Houses and Red Hotels. They instantly tell all the players who land on that space what they can expect to pay the land owner. It’s an elegant solution.
As the graphics requirements continue to grow in games and the art gets more complicated, try to remember that your job is to create a visually stunning symbolic system of references. The question of how real it looks is secondary to how well it communicates.
Mike Grills, Director of Operations
Calgary, Alberta Canada. Estimated population: 1,230,248.
Number of game development companies: 2-3 (depending upon how you define “game”).
With a world renowned computer science department at the UofC as well as the Alberta College of Art and Design, how is this possible? It’s a question I struggle with every single day of my life. With a myriad of companies in Vancouver and Montreal, Bioware up in Edmonton and a spattering of devs across Ontario and even a few notable companies in the Maritimes, how is it possible that one of Canada’s larges cities is almost completely void of game developers?
There have been a few over the years that I’m aware of. I was even an employee at one of them. The problem is they always bite off more than they can chew, and when the going gets tough, good people move on. Some of us however don’t want to move on. Some of us have decided to root ourselves and our families here in Calgary and we’re not going anywhere.
After a couple years at Orbital Media followed by close to five years at GamesCafe, I now find myself at BigStack Studios. We’re making iPhone / iPod Touch games. The internal development side of BigStack is currently very, very small and is made up completely of people who are rooted in Calgary.
I feel an incredible amount of pressure to make BigStack a place that is associated with Calgary. I also feel like it’s certainly in part up to me to make BigStack a fantastic place at which talented people want to work at.
Are there any other people out there living and working in Little Big Cities? I’d love to hear from you.
Are there any other rooted Calgarians out there that want to or are struggling to make games? I’d love to hear from you as well.
Daniel Kratt, Senior Designer