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


Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 12:40 pm (UTC)

Well, I would imagine that "swerve left" stands as a valid counterpoint to the art/not-art dichotomy that the question implies. And that's all I'm proposing we might do. Instead of asking the question that's consistently posed for every relatively young medium (movies, pop music, etc), why not ask if video games can, say, go somewhere else, become something other than supposedly low-brow commercial trash or "art"? Why shouldn't they be able to?

And I'm talking about art-in-quotes, here. When I hear people speculating about whether games can be art, I take it as art-in-quotes. This means, to me, something that is intentionally high-brow, something designed from the ground up to demonstrate just how seriously its been taken, and also how seriously it takes itself. After all, if the "art" question were merely limited to the work providing a "transport of joy" or engaging the onlooker "in understanding or appreciating the way the world works," or hell, even just creating excitement about aesthetic possibilities, the medium could already be argued to have accomplished these feats. Maybe not by people you'd agree with, but that's where my "respectable, worldly, intelligent people" comment comes in. Video games may not do these things to do, but they've already done them to many people (who aren't you) already: gaming enthusiasts. Why should video games be made to convince you of their importance when they are already important to so many others?

ReplyThread Parent
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)

Well, "something that is intentionally high-brow, something designed from the ground up to demonstrate just how seriously its been taken, and also how seriously it takes itself" might describe a lot of modernism, it might also describe how a lot of people now view the arts in aspic areas of culture, like classical or rock music, publicly funded art galleries, BFI or Sundance financed cinema, etc, but probably doesn't describe most of the literature, music or visual art that I most appreciate - or accord with the experience I get from products that I'd label with my rather ramshackle definition of art (with quotes or otherwise). Given your definition of what "art" means I'd probably agree with you.

ReplyThread Parent
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)

The reason why I use this definition is because I think it's the definition that those who wage this debate are going for. Again, video games have already "transported" people and given them a "greater appreciation of the world" or piqued/enhanced their aesthetic sensibilities. In that sense, there is no question that video games fit your definition of art, for a pretty large number of people. When the video game critics ask the question, I really think they're aiming toward speculation of whether video game criticism can approach literature or visual art criticism, whether it can become the focus of "serious" scholarship, and things of that nature. In other words, I don't think they're asking if video games can become art, but rather if video games can come to be considered art by the usual suspects (high-brow critics, professors, etc).

ReplyThread Parent
Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)

But whatever happens computer gaming will become the focus of "serious" scholarship. As I pointed out in my first comment, much of this will simply be a generational thing. The "snobs", and by your definition that seems to be what we're talking about, will lose, eventually. There will be serious academic discourse about the virtues of Grand Theft Auto against those of Prince of Persia, or whatever - no matter what the worth of the subject or the medium. When gamers grow up the argument will be won by whatever the new generation decides, its values become the dominant values, they win.

Are things really as polarised as you describe? After all there are already plenty of high-brow critics who've made a virtue of their appreciation of "low-brow commercial trash", acres of academic print have been spent on it, and it doesn't make them right or the subject of their interest any good.

I confessed right at the beginning that I'm quite happy in my world of, mostly, European, and occasionally Oriental, "high" culture, it gives me what I need - and don't really search out or require exposure to new mediums or even new art in its broadest sense. As I said, creative aspiration is a concern for those producing it - or for those who are concerned about being at the cutting edge - but for most consumers it should be more about what floats their boat than the date of production. But that doesn't mean that I'm blind to the virtues of the current - show me something in computer gaming that piques my interest and I'll follow where it leads. I haven't found it (or particularly looked for it) yet. I'm therefore unconvinced by personal experience of gaming's virtues, but willing to suspend my scepticism.

Perhaps the new games described on the comments to this post will move more towards something interesting - away from the "game" aspect of the medium which, I think, limits it? That element certainly kills it for me as a satisfactory aesthetic vehicle and it just, like sport, strikes me as a terrible waste of my time ... but then I don't like sport either.

But thanks for the discussion - it's opened my eyes up to some things I wouldn't have considered before.

ReplyThread Parent
Sun, Dec. 28th, 2008 12:39 am (UTC)

I don't think you understand. Not only am I imagining a world where criticism and scholarship about video games emerges from universities, but where potential developers go to universities to learn the supposed "craft" of video game creation. The latter portion is what troubles me most. Universities don't mesh well with creative pursuits. They normalize such pursuits, and because it all has to appear to be "academic" in nature, craft-based systems inevitably emerge, and actually end up stunting innovation. If video games become art-in-quotes, this is the fate of the medium ... a bunch of normalized muck. I'd much rather see video games normalized by the conditions of its own industry because those conditions can change and develop rather robustly with new developments in technology. If video games become "art," then the task of training the artists to make them will certainly be farmed out to universities, as has been the case with every other major form of "art" in recent decades ("Creative Writing" being the most prominent example).

I think the distinction I would make is between games, as they are, being taken seriously, and games being created expressly to be taken seriously. Again, I don't think there's any question that video games constitute art for many individuals. The question, then, is: will video games become art for those who traditionally decide what the term means? I don't see any problem with high-brow critics finding some ironic, post-modern value to video games, but when games are created expressly for those people, that's going to be a sad day indeed.

ReplyThread Parent
Sun, Dec. 28th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)

I'm afraid I don't see any alternative and think it likely that you are doomed to disappointment. What you are describing is what happened to cinema and what has happened with "creative writing" courses in university, which goes right back to my original point, which I think you missed, about money and institutional patrons. Here in Brighton we even have a college to teach pop music - but 'serious' pop music, safe and bundled-up-into-a-package pop music, not the frothy or messy stuff, you understand. I don't really see any reason why your games will be any different.

If you are lucky, there will likely be a period where finance, creativity and freedom coincide to produce your golden age - after that it'll be time to move on to something else and leave it to the people who prefer their culture safely ratified and referenced. Whether I see it or not doesn't really matter - I probably won't - but you and the people who care about it will.

Of course there is always seeking out interesting stuff on the margins, that is usually worth some effort for a while...

I think we've quite possibly come full circle and agreed with each other to some extent, even if my predictions aren't to your liking.

ReplyThread Parent
Sun, Dec. 28th, 2008 01:24 am (UTC)

Your prediction assumes that all conditions are the same for the video games industry. Care to make some actual connections, rather than just relying on received wisdom from other artistic modes?

ReplyThread Parent