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 have been asked to make a Graphical User Interfaces (GUI’s), buildings, landscape, characters, buttons, machines, and so this has made me a generalist in a lot of fields that many people have become experts in. Truthfully in a perfect video game making world this stuff would be handled by architects, fashion designers, industrial designers and graphic designers who are the real students of their trade. Maybe that will be done in the future but for now it’s up to young artist’s to bring their own, and perhaps naive aesthetics to each game.
Thinking about the vastness and nuance of these fields is a little scary when you have to do a whole game by yourself. But I have an old truism that helps me get started on my designs.
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION.
Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not trying to raise Video Game art out of it’s traditional Low Brow Role, but in my little company we have to make decisions very very fast. So I like philosophies that help to drive correct decisions.
People often tell me that my job is subjective because it’s based on what I like. I have to explain to them that this is simply not true. I am a problem solver. I attempt solve a myriad of Video game art problems. I also have a team who works with me who will question my ideas and conclusions hopefully tightening up any loose ends that I may have missed.
When they critique my work, and I theirs, I like to steer the conversation in along the following path.
1) Does the art function?
2) Does the way it look enhance the function?
3) Is it beautiful?
I was looking around for blog posts on this subject, specifically as it relates to video games. I found an interesting article from the New York Times for anybody who might want to continue to question these ideas.
Joking aside, the dislocation of form and function has set a new challenge for designers: how to help us to operate ever more complex digital products. In ye olden days when form did follow function, you could guess roughly how to use an object from its appearance. But our ability to work out how to download and play music on a Shuffle is largely determined by the design quality of the software that operates it — the “user interface” in geek-speak, or “U.I.” If the “U.I.” is well designed, you should be able to use the device so intuitively that you will not have to think about it. But if it is badly designed, the process will seem so confusing that you will probably blame yourself for doing something wrong.
The Author is questioning the new forms in things like the cell phone and computers in general and how they have yet to enhance their functionality. It has been left to us… The artist’s working on the (applications) games to enhance the functionality. Sounds like an interesting area of study to me.
The next phase of U.I. design will take this further. John Maeda, the software designer and president of the Rhode Island School of Design, believes that our current “awkward mechanical dance” with computers will be replaced by an intuitive approach. “It will need to be more improvisational,” he said. “There will be a need for more subtlety and grayness.
So the future of our work is going to get even more crazy as we attempt to make our games even easier to play. As the keyboard is not longer the first choice for interacting with our devices. Like the Wii. It’s more fun because of the way we interact with it.
I also like this take on it from Graphic-Design.com
That’s right it’s just like you trying to ditch your little brother at the mall there is no escape — “Form Follows Function”. This simple phrase carries nearly as much weight in graphic design as in architecture and in industrial design (and video games) – added by me. It has been the mantra of many of the greatest designers of the 20th century. Several years ago it was given a new twist by John Bielenberg who wrote “Deform Follows Disfunction” (no “dis” is not a type-o). Bielenberg’s post-modern twist seems more applicable then the original in today’s world where even the top design schools are advising their students that “form follows passion” and rather than asking yourself what is good design ask yourself “do I like it”. I think do I like it still applies, but only after you follow the first tenant.
“The function is largely the challenge of a project. Addressing the function is what makes design good or bad. If you remove the function, you remove the foundation and in all likelihood you’ll end up with a really crappy building (interface or game). Even in fine art a piece will inevitably have it’s roots in reason. Many of the great artists of our day and of days long past have spent a large portion of their careers writing and lecturing on what these reasons are. Having a reason of some kind whether psychological, mathematical or what-ever, is largely what makes art legitimate. “I like it” would make for a pretty short or shallow career for even the most technically proficient of artists.”
That’s a great summary. I’ll just apply it to my next GUI or Character.
I find that if I try to study the tenants of those who came before us then I can come to a solution must faster and I can stand by my convictions. Also when the CEO or the programmer start to argue based on preference rather than whether it’s the best solution, I can just tell them, “form follows function, but yes I will change that button again.”
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
I think that we can all agree that artists all tend to work a little differently from each other. Some sketch on a paper, some start painting right away. Some skip paper and go digitally as soon as possible. Tools are one thing… but what about how they think?
I became interested in trying to understand the differences in artist’s approach when I was noticing the sketchbooks of my colleagues. What I am talking about here is not style. While technique and approach often dictate style my real interest was how they quickly expressed a simple idea. I call these lines.
Let me introduce you to Mark Taro Holmes. My first Art Director back at Bioware. Check out his sketches. All lines. His initial reaction to a visual problem is to figure out where the lines go. He does it really really well.
Some people had really focused line work. Their first attempt at any problem was to try to place all the strokes and understand which ones were most relevant to the picture. Others had big bold shapes. Logical in their placement but the details were discovered instead of planned. I call these Blobs.
Another Colleague and Mentor Mike Sass uses the blob technique. This is a simple as it gets but man look how much info in a simple shape. Exciting stuff.
It took years but I finally realized that I work best using Blobs. In fact when I tried to use line as the opener to any art project I got very frustrated with the result and would give up very early in the project.
Once I recognized that I used shapes as signifier to express my ideas I was better prepared to make more comprehensive drawings for both my colleagues and my clients. This is because was no longer worried about bad line work I was instead thinking about best solutions.
I was speeding up, solving problems better and enjoying myself much more. I understood that the best method for showing my colleagues my intentions was based on shape and structure and I was able to take the concept to them, explain the idea as light and shape and not as lines. It also has allowed me to step back when my method of Concept development may not fit the project. This has happened a PNM a few times and I love the results of my line working friends.
Myron my animator was able to draw out the entire look of the TRZZ crib screen in a way that would have taken myself days. But when it came to coloring them and understanding the value system he had to hand it over to Luis who loves to solve that problem.
Luis never sketches a perfect line. Its a mess that creates a silhouette for him to analyse the details and lighting etc.
Knowing my initial approach has also saved me from the major pitfall where people would fall in love with a line drawing where the lines work was weak, the posing rushed, and composition almost unbearable. What I intended as a quick sketch to show intention quickly became the final solution. Arguments ensued. Or worse my colleagues get nervous about what I’m about to create because all they see is those out of wack lines.
Walk around your studio or in your sketch groups look at the various ways people sketch. Do they use blobs or lines? I think that if you understand that people solve problems differently you will be more open to learning how work out the lines or blobs in your own work. The great thing about this type of teamwork is that people learn off of each other and realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Which version are you? How do you see? How do the others in the studio sketch? Once you know you can empathize and give a better critique of their work base on their thinking process instead of yours.