Friday, October 5, 2007

Video Games as an Art form

I don't believe I've ever claimed that this blog would be ALL game reviews, but I will post my opinions involving the game industry here for discussion if the readers feel so inclined!~

There has been some open debate about the validity of video games as an art form and I was hearing about something Robert Ebert said in regards to the art. Here is a link to the article quoting Ebert's criticisms. Through further discussion with peers of mine, we realized how ridiculous it is to think about a critic of a seperate art genre judges a topic that they have no expertise in.

Ebert came in and said,
"There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control. "

But how can you really define "Art?" You can't. There are millions upon millions of different types of art, from a little girl making crayon drawings to beautiful photographs of trees to gorgeous songs.

Ebert also states,
"I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic. "

Regardless of these comments being two years old, they are still relevant to touch upon as it is blatantly obvious that the luddites of the old age of "classic art" cannot accept video games as a valid art form. What do you honestly accomplish by looking at a piece of art? You get more cultured? Are video games not a part of today's culture? Would playing them not allow you to be more cultured!? His logic fails me.

Video games have to be a form of art. It may be easier for me to define interactive media as art because I have had more exposure to it than most. Society has had media delivered to them in passive manners through books, music, movies, television, radio, etc. etc. etc. Video games take those art forms, and combine many of them, while allowing the user to have an interactive take on the art form that has presented to them.

Video games have visual art forms in them, being presented in backgrounds, landscapes, character creation, and all characters in general. The visual aspect has required tons of art to be used.

At the same time as the visuals, you have the sound. The music adds a mood/feel to the game as well as the certain sounds that present themselves if the player does certain things within the game.

As a third part of the art aspect for video games, the gameplay plays a large part. The way you use whatever character or object that has been presented to you is an art form in itself. Take the Halo games for instance. They're accessible to all ages and the control scheme is done well, but some people have more skill than most at it. Compare that to some Asian form of sword fighting where certain people have more skill than others and it considered a martial art. It is an art form. So why wouldn't the way you play a video game be an art form?

To everyone out there that claims that video games are not a valid art form, I dare you to open your closed mind and mature your way of thinking one iota.

Interested in watching a little clip about art in video games? Check out The Art of the Game.

3 comments:

Schmaefe said...

I think you make a lot of good points there. There's simply no question that video games are a form of art. The staggering amount of artistry that goes into them, and furthermore the end product of a beautiful virtual world both directly validify the artistry of the video game genre.

I think that most of Mr. Ebert's comments can be chalked up to total inexperience in the field of video gaming. However, that being said, he seemingly did strike at video games in one crucial way when he said "no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers."

On initial inspection, that comment appears to hold some water. When I think of great art, I think of something that subtly passes a great truth onto me. After reading a Tolstoy book, for instance, I am left with a changed outlook on life. I am left seeing the world differently, understanding some universal truth better. Appreciating life more, or perhaps even less. The point remains, great art is moving. Great art will change how you perceive the world, and will teach you something new.

Ebert is really challenging us to cite such "great art". Playing Halo 3 was a lot of fun, and the story was interesting, entertaining, and even had a bit of drama in it. But at the end of the day, it didn't move me. I looked out the window and saw nothing new. I hadn't learned anything about humanity or life or the universe.

But then I thought deeper, about the best games I've ever played, and I came to Half Life 2. Set in a grim, totalitarian future, there was something inexplicably human and true about looking into the face of a citizen of that world. The game developers managed to capture the absolute hopelessness of the people losing their freedom and being oppressed and confined, being watched and monitored by big brother. I had read Orson Wells Nineteen Eighty-Four, but after playing Half Life 2, I had lived a day in it, met the people there, understood the small human pains and the melancholy apathy of a totalitarian society.

That experience to me can be considered "great art". While it certainly didn't move me more then Tolstoy or Beethoven have, it did change the way I thought about the world, even if just in a small way. That's a lot more then I can say for a Kevin Federline album or the last Rob Schneider film, which I'm sure Mr. Ebert would consider to art.

That all being said, I think video games inherently fall into the category of "art". However, very few of them have crossed into the realm of "great art", where greater meaning and truth is passed on to the player. It's crucial here to keep in mind that this genre is hardly a decade or two old. Most art forms take a long time to develop and grow into something truly great, sometimes even taking hundreds or thousands of years. It seems then totally unfair to even compare the art of video games to something like literature, which has been refined and expanded upon over the last 3000 years or so. With that in mind, and the fact that a select few games like Half Life 2 have started to scratch the surface of "great art" in only 20 years, it seems that video games have a very real potential as a "great art" medium.

Mister M said...

Ebert obviously hasn't played a game like bioshock. I say put him in a dark room, at night, with a surround sound system and really good tv and turn on bioshock.

Most of the time when I'm playing games I am just messing around, spending my time, but there are many games that just appeal to all of my senses much like your typical art would, but most importantly it also does this with providing feedback from my own input. This feedback is what I think makes the experiences so unique.

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