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Will the games boom birth a new art form? - Will the games boom birth a new art form? - click opera Page 2 — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 02:49 am
Will the games boom birth a new art form?

This year, writes John Lanchester in the current London Review of Books, video games will earn more money in the UK than CD and DVD sales combined (£4.64 billion for games, £4.46 billion for all CD and DVD sales.) This was reflected in our flat this week; I bought a video game (for the Wii console I gave Hisae for Christmas) but certainly didn't buy any CDs or DVDs. I've learned how to find the music and films I'm interested in free online now, but I know that you can't fileshare playable Wii games. This is probably one good reason Nintendo are, per employee, the world's most profitable company. But it might also be a sign that video games are about to become an important art form in their own right.

This is Lanchester's theme: his article about games is entitled Is It Art? "It seems clear to me that by the time my children are adults," he writes, "video gaming will be a medium whose importance and cultural ubiquity are at least as great as that of film or television. Whether it will be an artistic medium of equivalent importance is less clear... The next decade or so is going to see the world of video games convulsed by battles between the moneymen and the artists; if the good guys win, or win enough of the time, we’re going to have a whole new art form."



Now, this fits into this week's Click Opera themes rather neatly: Wednesday's brief history of moral panics measured the vitality of media by how much they were getting blamed for corrupting youth, and concluded that the kind of censorship debates happening in other media at their peaks in past decades are happening in computer games now, making the medium "hot and dangerous".

The thing I brought back from my 1993 Japan trip that most influenced my future work wasn't a record or a film but a video game, a CD-ROM by artist Kuniyoshi Kaneko called Alice. It was basically just a house that you walked around, featuring paintings by Kaneko, Nino Rota-esque music, and puzzles you had to complete to shrink or grow, but I found the atmosphere fascinating. I especially liked the attic room, an interactive replica of Kaneko's studio, where you could leaf through 1940s copies of Vogue. Later, I'd become immersed in games like Parappa, Myst, Doom, Bugdom, Animal Crossing (over Hisae's shoulder). Our Wii will basically be for tennis and keeping fit until the February Euro-release of Fatal Frame 4.

Fatal Frame (also known as Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen, and subtitled for this fourth edition Mask of the Lunar Eclipse) is an atmospheric horror game in which you have to photograph ghosts in a haunted mansion on Rougetsu Island. Anne Laplantine and Xavier used to play the PlayStation version when I was round at their place, and I loved the Ringu-like atmosphere of the dark house. The Japanese website is pretty compelling stuff in its own right -- clicking around randomly in a foreign language only adds to the pleasurable disorientation, and the music sounds like Sakamoto's collaborations with Carsten Nicolai.



I find it wonderful that Fatal Frame is a game about taking photographs in beautiful, atmospheric surroundings, rather than shooting stuff or driving a car, but so far it's the exception rather than the rule. John Lanchester hits the nail on the head in his LRB piece when he raises what he calls "the c-word" -- creativity. It's creativity that will turn computer games into a real art form. Too many are still tasks-oriented rat-runs (press the button, get the reward) or Darwinian struggles in which the options are to kill or be killed. Personally, I'd like to see interesting purposelessness define games more in the future: liberation from the Pavlovian task-reward-level-up structure. Are computer games already an art form? I don't think so. Do they need to be? I think they do.

While we wait for the games themselves to get more creative, we can inject our own creativity into them. When my nephew Robbie was staying in Berlin this autumn -- and Robbie would rather make games at Rockstar than be a rock star -- he introduced me to the genre of machinima, "a sort of machine cinema made by sticking new dialogue over computer game scenarios". Lanchester cites the increasing capital costs of making new games as a barrier to their becoming artworks, but machinima is a cheap open architecture for creative content, a back door to user input. For now it's a hack, but it needn't always be.

Games are also meshing with social networking software, becoming more like places, or communities like Second Life. But a community isn't a work of art: for art you need the tightly-controlled vision of one or two highly original, driven independent producers. Now that computer games are bringing in more income than films and music combined, there's sure to be a rush of talented, ambitious and original people into the medium (along with the moral panics that help make their names). Full art status for games may be lurking just around the next cobwebbed corner.

50CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)

Will the games boom birth a new art form?

No.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)

i think it makes more sense to look at it the other way round. games , whatever they look like at a particular time (chess: duchamp, seventh seal, glass bead game, whatever ..) have always been a big influence on art.

and the idea of looking at computer games as potentially becomming art by virtue of being a new medium etc doesn't lead anywhere. movies, for example have never been art ( not even art movies!!) -- on the other hand when stuff gets burried deep enough in history the line between art and plain culture gets blurred so anything an ancient greek or edo time japanese scribbled becames art(like)// sure the same will happen to hollywood movies and computer games in their forgotten formats


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)

i think we're still not quite sure if there is such a thing as 'computer art' to start with


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)

Will the games boom birth a new art form?

Yes,when a macrame piece sells for more than a Picasso


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)

Did you ever stumble across Marathon, considering that you're a Mac-user after all?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC)

No. I used to play Wolfenstein sometimes, though. Endless rooms in a mountain fortress, alsation dogs and finally a huge robot Hitler with machine-guns for hands. I remember the pathetic whimper the dogs made as you shot them.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 07:16 pm (UTC)

I meant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon_Trilogy
I, uh, eh.... oh, wipe the files.


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC)

I think this is pretty similar to the "there's nothing good coming out" complaint with music and movies. There are plenty of interesting, innovative games out there; you just need to know where to look. And as it is with music and movies, the most innovative games are being developed by independents. The game consoles companies limit what can be done, charge license fees for SDKs, and because of what is perceived to be what their audience wants, a huge team and lots of money is required to make anything. Nintendo's platforms seem to have the more innovative games as far as I can see it, but that's because they are much more invested in Japan and Asia for their audience, and gaming just seems to be more accepted there as a medium for new ideas. PCs seem to have the most interesting independent games because the Mac is still limited in its audience; Windows and Linux are more independent-friendly platforms. Eventually, as more and more innovative games come out through independent means, and the paradigm for what makes a good game develops, we'll see some of the ideas adopted by other major console manufacturers like Sony.

Some interesting games I can think of that came out this year: World of Goo, I Wish I Were the Moon, Passage-- all done by independent developers.

Read these blogs: Kotaku (a sub of Gawker), DS Fanboy, Play This Thing, Grand Text Auto... you'll get a much broader perspective of what's out there and what's already happened to counter the usual SHMUPs.


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)

I should also say I like both the shooty-type games and the more cerebral, peaceful ones. Innovation can appear in a lot of different contexts.


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Sun, Dec. 28th, 2008 01:00 am (UTC)

Also, sorry if I'm a bit off-topic considering you were discussing the artistic value, rather than quality of games, but take what you will from it.


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rurritable.wordpress.com
rurritable.wordpress.com
Sun, Dec. 28th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
Selling insurance as I Lay Dying

I used to have a repeating nightmare about being an insurance adjuster. I'm driving an unreliable 70's wagon through a distressed rural area of the Southeastern US during a 100 year drought. The insurance group wants regular updates on my progress, but nobody has a damned phone. There's also some shadowy person conspiring to begin a class action lawsuit against the company, so there's another layer of silence. The car keeps failing.
The silence is being engineered by a two hundred year old woman (a kind of voodoo Cardinal Polataou).She mostly appears as an elderly Gullah woman, but is occasionally a young white prostitute named Daisy, with a furtive homicidal streak.
I don't know how much of a Pavlovian reward a game based on this scenario would offer.It would probably resemble exchanging emails with an elder care center in Alabama more than anything else.


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krskrft
krskrft
Sun, Dec. 28th, 2008 12:51 am (UTC)

Well, there was always Disgaea, a wickedly funny Japanese strategy/RPG about a demon-child-king who has awakened from a long sleep, only to find that he must reacquire his venerable position in hell. If I remember correctly, the vibe is actually much like a Momus song. Are Momus songs art? If so, what does that say about this video game?


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 28th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)

My favorite game lately has been "Okami".
In it you play a wolf that travels around a demon ravaged Japan, bringing it back to life using a paintbrush.

Jamie


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 31st, 2008 03:44 am (UTC)
games

Shenmue on the Dreamcast had wonderful atmosphere.


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