“Are video games art?”

The always inquisitive and never dull Well-Red Mage recently bestowed the community with another “Big Question.” The first “Big Question,” you may recall, was “What have you learned since you started blogging?” Twas an interesting question to answer, on that provoked plenty of inner dialogue.

When I noticed the second question, my heart lurched a little.

Asking Big Questions #002: “Are video games art?”

Ahh, that old chestnut, is it? Honestly, I’m not even sure of how to best approach answering this for myself. Having read the responses to the Mage’s original post, as well as other responses from the community, a large part of me agrees with most folks.

Q. Are video games art?

A. Yes. They are a form of creative expression as valid as any other. Game developers are no less passionate and emotional about their resulting works as painters, actors, dancers, and so on. Art is meant to convey ideas, which is the point of video games – to convey messages – from the trivial (maze-driven fun as a yellow circle) to the profound (we are everything).  Art isn’t a fancy, snobbish, behind-glass affair, though it can be. Video games aren’t fancy, snobbish, behind-glass affairs either, though they certainty can be. Truly there’s nothing not “art” about games.

But…

Eons ago, I went to grad school for museum studies, and the question “what is art?” inevitably came up during a class discussion. At the time, we also learned that a local art center had a video game exhibition planned. As such, the discussion eventually veered into not necessarily a critique of video games as art, but rather a question whether or not we needed to evolve our thinking. After all, “what is art?” means different things at different times; we choose whether or not to see “art” as something classical and fixed or something more transient.

Anyway, at one point someone in the room asked a resounding question that’s stuck with me ever since:

“Is MS-DOS art?”

(Why DOS and not Windows XP, ME, or T&A? I’ve no clue.)

This brought the discussion to a brief halt, followed by an almost universal “NO!” from the crowd. (And it wasn’t as if we had come to a resolution over “are video games art?” either.) It was a moment that was forever burned into my brain because it actually made me question, for possibly the first time ever, “what are video games?”

I really don’t want things here to get to esoteric (but I fear they will…a warning), but what is a game but carefully constructed code? Is not the same true of an operating system, a word processing program, or that nonsense you use to file your taxes online? I daresay that no one would call Microsoft Word “art” (“fart” maybe…hahahahaha…sorry); it’s a utility, a tool. A bunch of well-placed lines of code that result in a useful product.

Isn’t that kind of what video games are too? It’s a device meant to carry out a particular function. Though…okay…splitting hairs, yes, this is more a description of consoles or computers as the tool we use to play games, but a video game cartridge, disc, computer code is a uni-tasker. It doesn’t do anything else except give one access to a game. That’s not really art…is it?

I guess this is somewhat akin to arguing that pigment is art, or marble is art, or spray cans are art, which renders whatever point I was trying to make rather moot. So computer code isn’t art, but the way that someone utilizes it is? Couldn’t it be that some of these folks are simply better at applying various systems to the code than others? That’s not really art…it’s more like science in my book.

Man, I knew things were going to get a bit abstruse.

Understand that I’m not outright arguing that video games aren’t art; this more an attempt to rectify my internal conflict. Because, see, someone recently mentioned to my work-self that there must be an “art” to archiving. I thought about that for a moment and said, “not really. There’s more science and less art to what archivists do.” I apply proven (and not-so-proven) systems to groups of records in order to make them accessible. There’s nothing about an archived collection of papers that says “art” to me. The end result is useful, but it isn’t creatively or emotionally expressive.

If I choose to see video games as data that’s functionally composed in order to produce a specific result, then I don’t see how I could call that “art.”

Once again, if you think I’m here bickering with myself, you’re not wrong.

Here’s the thing, I feel as strongly in supporting games as art as I do games as science. Because the video games can be both technically brilliant and emotionally powerful. Considering it further, they actually need to be both to resonate with us. Games that have sound code with little feeling fall flat, like with Agents of Mayhem. (Played well but lacked heart.) Games that are emotionally heavy with messy underpinnings are often initially lauded but later left lifeless, like with The Stanley Parable. (Possessed an in-the-moment brilliance that withered away.)


Well, now that I’ve essentially corned myself into a meaningless war over semantics (it’s possible that I’ve had a little too much coffee this evening…or perhaps, not enough), that still leaves the question “are video games art?”

[stares at blinking cursor for what feels like an age]

Yes, mostly. Sometimes not, but…yeah, sure?

[bangs head on keyboard; drifts off into darkness…]

Unpacking Shadow of the Colossus [Part 1 of 2]

The time I spent with Shadow of the Colossus a few months back can be summed up in one word: conflicted. Most other words escape me now, so here’s part one of my experience with the game, which you’ll find over on Virtual Bastion.

VIRTUAL BASTION

This post contains spoilers! If you’ve not played this game and want to, check back after you’ve done just that. Meanwhile, there’s plenty else to do…like, watch Virtual Bastion on YouTube. This is also the first half of what turned out to be a very long article, so check back next Thursday for the second half.


As Shadow of the Colossus starts to load, which takes considerably longer than anticipated, I’m a little nervous. I’d heard so many good things about this game, and I wonder/worry if I’m bringing along any preconceived notions. But, truth be told, I don’t know a thing about the game expect that it involves giant creatures. No matter what I’ve heard, it’s hard for me to draw any…

My thoughts stop mid-sentence as the opening scene begins. I’m in awe of the gorgeous scenery that brings to mind a watercolor landscape. The music is stunningly…

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Ac!d Commander: The Powerhouse – I swear it’s almost over

This is my new game project: “Ac!d Commander.” It involves Metal Gear Ac!d for the PSP. Rather than being in written form, I decided to do an actual Let’s Play, making videos and everything. I’ll be posting one to three new videos every Friday from today until the game is over. I welcome any comments and discussion. Apologies in advance for any audio hiccups, video malfunctions, or other jackassery, which will surely ensue.

Continue reading “Ac!d Commander: The Powerhouse – I swear it’s almost over”

A gaming update, updated again!

Once again, it’s time for my sorta-quarterly update on all things in my gaming circle. Happily, things haven’t been too shabby. In and among all our house projects, gaming has been a pretty important outlet these past few months. Because after you’ve spent a day wading through 50-year-old insulation, the LAST you want to do is dress up to go out and be social with other real people. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, GAMEZ! The more the better, I say, even if “more” only occurs in small bursts. Smaller is good-er, sometimes, right? Uh…yeah. Sure. Games to follow, in no particular order, as I honestly can’t remember the order. I just know that I played ’em.

Continue reading “A gaming update, updated again!”

What is an RPG without the “R” and the “P?” [Mass Effect 3]

Earlier in the year, just prior to the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I aimed to tackle the original ME trilogy in a speedy manner. At the time, I only got through the first two games. Thanks to a recent lull, I was able to complete my original endeavor by finally doing a “speed-run” through ME3! How did things turn out? Click on to Virtual Bastion to find out!

VIRTUAL BASTION

Image by Flick user mrwynd (CC BY 2.0)

Just prior to the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda in March, I chose to play through as many of the original Mass Effect games as I could. Due to limits in free time, I opted for a streamlined approach to the games in order to play each from beginning to end. I managed to make my way through Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 using the following set of rules:

  1. Play on casual to keep combat to a minimum.
  2. Choose conversation options from the right side (non-investigative) of the conversation wheel.
  3. If a high enough paragon level was attained, choose the paragon conversation options when presented.
  4. Ignore all extraneous interactions with anyone, anywhere.
  5. Ignore all sidequests.
  6. Ignore most looting opportunities.
  7. With team assembled, choose only two companions with whom to complete the game.
  8. Only upgrade Shepard and two companions.

Upon…

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Ac!d Commander: The Powerhouse – Buckling Down in the Dark

This is my new game project: “Ac!d Commander.” It involves Metal Gear Ac!d for the PSP. Rather than being in written form, I decided to do an actual Let’s Play, making videos and everything. I’ll be posting one to three new videos every Friday from today until the game is over. I welcome any comments and discussion. Apologies in advance for any audio hiccups, video malfunctions, or other jackassery, which will surely ensue.

Continue reading “Ac!d Commander: The Powerhouse – Buckling Down in the Dark”

I’m thinking about…

I sat down to write a post today, and this is what happened.

This being “nothing,” because my mind is blank.

Except, it really isn’t. In fact, it’s chock full of what I think are interesting thoughts.

But I might be biased, because it’s my mind that’s thinking after all.


I’m thinking about…

Continue reading “I’m thinking about…”

‘Idiocracy’ predictions that have not come true (and hopefully never will)

The following post originally appeared on Geek Force Network, March 14, 2014. (And goddamn if it doesn’t hit weirdly close to home in our current times.)


While I don’t mind a good, post-apocalyptic film that presents our future as bleak, gritty, and violent, I’d much rather spend time watching the comedic side of our possible future selves, like Back to the Future II (Biff takes over the world next year, right?) and Sleepers.  I recently re-watched one of my favorite entries in this genre(?), Idiocracy (2006).

Idiocracy1

If you’ve not seen this imperfect (it can be a bit too on-the-nose) yet hilarious Mike Judge movie, you simply must; and you must instead of reading this blog post. Because it has some SPOILERS. And also because you MUST see the movie. Do you see my face? That’s not a request.

 

Continue reading “‘Idiocracy’ predictions that have not come true (and hopefully never will)”