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08/02/2005

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Mister Toups

Games are not a fine art. If they are an art (and, really, trying to put it in such terms is kind of stupid), they most certainly a crude art. The screaming insistent that games have "FINALLY GROWN UP" is the most damning proof that they are still stuck in a prolonged adolescence.

Grand Theft Auto sure as hell ain't art, at any rate. Commentary? Satire? Maybe. But not art.

Mr. Mechanical

Toups is right about the games as art comment, though I think they need to be treated as art if they're ever to make any real growth outside the industry. It all starts with mass acceptance and the shedding of cultural biases, and if it has to happen by defining games as an art form then I'm all for it.

Because the last thing the industry needs is it's own version of the Comics Code Authority. Comics were a crude art form back then too in the eyes of the majority, and their own cultural renassaince probably would have happened a lot sooner if the comic industry had just had the spine to tell the moral majority which foot the shoe was on.

Or not. Perhaps the best thing for the games industry that would lead to real growth is strict regulation on what can and can't be done in a game. Would comics have even had their rebirth as a true art form if it weren't for the Comics Code in the first place?

Offworlder

It really isn't a stretch to call games art. True, game designers have yet to achieve DeKooning-like levels of artistic expression, but that doesn't mean they aren't art.

To say it another way: Being bad art doesn't negate something's artyness. It just makes it bad art.

R. Edward

I've always implicitly believed that games can be as much of an art form as, say, movies. In fact, I would say that they have more potential as an art form than the movies. Potential, however, does not mean that the games being released are good art, or art at all. I'd say that the profitability of the game market is a simultaneous blessing and curse, since it rewards games that sell but are not necessarily good. My solution: NEA grants for independent game developers. I am (almost) serious.

Malkyne

Art is defined by classical philosophy as "recta ratio factibilium," or "the right making of the thing to be made." By that convention, there is no debate whether or not games are capable of being art. Of course they are. I would have to question the cultural literacy of anyone who tries to argue otherwise.

In general, art tends to be categorized as either "fine" or "applied" art. While the dividing line between fine and applied art tends to be blurred (particularly by fields such as architecture), in general, fine art tends to be that art which lacks any practical purpose, and applied art tends to be that art which serves some useful purpose, such as a vase or a chair. In general, fine artists are called "artists," and applied artists are called "designers," "artisans," and/or "craftspeople."

So, where do games fit in? That's one hell of an interesting question. While some games do serve practical purposes, most do not. You cannot argue, for the purposes of this discussion, that entertainment is a practical purpose, because many forms of fine art are entertaining. This would imply that games can, in fact, be fine art.

On the other side of the coin, games are designed by "designers," and they are subject to engineering requirements, much as architecture is. So, on some level, I'm inclined to want to call it an applied art, as well. Perhaps, like architecture, it falls somewhere in the grey zone, in between.

Finaly, I'd like to ask Mister Toupe: Why isn't GTA art? Shakespeare is full of violence, profanity, and penis jokes. I challenge you to justify your assertion, because while I am not a fan of the series, I do not find myself inclined to agree with you.

Mr. Mechanical

GTA isn't art because nothing in itself is art. Art for art's sake is stupid, it isn't something you can quantify on an objective level. Art is a process, not an object. You might be able to interpret a game like GTA as a work of art, as any game or movie or painting or whatever can be interpreted as, but it's pointless in making the assumption that Art itself can be a quantifiable construct.

Zild

Malkyne, I must disagree on one point. Your definition stated that fine art was of no practical use, whilst applied art was. Being called designers, artisans and craftspeople instead of artists is more, I would say (and you seem to say), the result of working on applied art instead of fine art, as opposed to a requirement of it. Furthermore, I would argue that all art requires engineering skills, whether it be to create the correct colours, to shape an instrument correctly, or to work precious metals into the right shape. Some artists would have had to perform these tasks themselves.

So, from your arguments, it seems that games are fine art, given their lack of purpose.


Personally, I'm not so bothered about the distinction between fine art and applied art. My concern is the difference between art and non-art. My reason for this is that art does not seem to be taxed here in the UK, whereas everything else is taxed rather heavily :(

matt

I'd hate to see something like the CCA in the games industry, as well, Mechanical. New art forms don't become preceived as such by instituting some kind of arbitrary ruleset. I'm referring, really, to elevating the discussion of games beyond the usual. While the technicalities of a game's presentation are always important, the emotional underpinnings of expression are what most people usually associate with Art-with-a-capital-A. I think that as an interactive medium, games are at least as capable of this as painting, sculpture, film, etc.

If one is to take Aristotle's view of what constitutes art--that the only true art is that which immitates flawlessly the ideal within reality--then what is more "real" than interactivity?

Granted, I don't agree with Aristotle's elitism, but it's a starting point.

The philosophical view of art evolves with the ages, and I don't think the language has yet emerged which can adequately move gaming out of its adolescence. I'm way too fucking stupid to do it on my own, but I still think it should be done :)

Or, maybe as Malkyne points out, it does and rightly should exist in some sort of "gray area."

artsnob

Matt, the most alarming assertion made in your editorial is the suggestion that merely labeling something as "art" by default renders it immune from critical judgement regarding its content.

Were your own standards of decency compromised, perhaps your definition of what "art" is might become less elastic. Remember, not everyone thinks and believes like you do. The people out there who intelligently oppose this content and believe it is harmful to children are not made up primarily of unsophisticated illiterates.

What further agitates me is that you seem more concerned with furthering a fallacious ideal that sounds good in print, but fails to bring things such as "facts" in to play. For instance:

58% of the public surveyed believed that "the government should be able to restrict the posting of sexually explicit materials on the Internet, even though those same materials can be legally published in books and magazines." (State of the First Amendment Study, First Amendment Center, Freedom Forum, 2000) http://www.enough.org/dangers/stats

Another study states that 70% of teens have come across internet pornography by accident. Of those 70%, half reported being "upset" by the experience.
http://www.kff.org/entmedia/Press%20Release..pdf

So perhaps this sheds light on why having executable code in a game containing graphic content, viewable by ANY means at all, is unacceptable and cause for alarm. There are a great many people in this nation who disagree with you, Matt; we are hardly the oppressed nation you seem to believe we are, and are becoming. And while I don't particularly agree with HIllary Clinton's politics, your cynicism is less attractive by far.

A well executed argument by gammaleak over at his site addresses this with what I think is an articulate viewpoint. And, he's rather upset.

http://www.gammaleak.com/2005/08/02/gaming-elitists-demand-public-accept-videogame-smut/

Zild

Artsnob, 58% of 'the public surveyed' is hardly enough of a representative majority to go throwing weight around. Another small-scale survey (even of the same kind of people) could easily show in favour of the opposite opinion.

And as for the fact that '70% of teens have come across internet pornography by accident', what on earth does that have to do with the games industry? I have NEVER seen, or even heard of, any game with any form of link to pornography. One would be more likely to find porn searching for Britneym, Kylie or Madonna than Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy or Resident Evil.

It's a good thing you put 'facts' between speech marks. Alas, I would not have done it to insinuate that Matt might not know its meaning, but because of the inaccuracy and irrelevance of the 'facts' you presented.

Malkyne

Oooh, good discussion. Mr. Mechanical, Zild, Matt, thanks all of you for responding to my comments!

Mr. Mechanical answered, "Art is a process, not an object." That's the entire point of "recto ratio factbilium," so I can't argue with you. You're exactly right. Though, I do think that recognition of games as the (potential) result of an artistic process needs to happen, both because, as matt suggests, we need a more mature language of critique, and also because our constitutional protections, on some level, may depend upon it.

artsnob says:
"Were your own standards of decency compromised, perhaps your definition of what 'art' is might become less elastic."

The very best art transcends many standards of decency. There are many places where nude statuary is on display, where nudity would otherwise be inappropriate. (Unless you're the US Justice Department, which spent $8000 just to buy curtains to hide The Spirit of Justice. Now that's comedy.)

artsnob

Zild: You mistake the intent of my post.

When we are talking about something like art, the discussion must largely revolve around conceptions that have no basis in what can be *proved* via empirical evidence. And that isn't the point of my post, to prove that Matt merely needs to plug some numbers into a math formula to come up with the correct answer. However, what I have presented here is data that lends weight to opinion, in this case to the side of the discussion not represented in the original post.

The point of the first stat that I posted is to show that there are indeed people out there who disagree, vocally, on the other side of the fence. This is in response to the author's opinion that censorship of any kind is, as a rule of thumb, "nasty," and further, that all censorship is wrong.

The point of the second statistic is to refute Matt's point that children don't need to be saved from the effects of pornography, NOT that it is available in games, or that searching for gaming news would reveal porn in spades. The fact that kids who are exposed to it report being disturbed should be enough of a wakeup call to suggest that having it present in games, even in (unintentional?) unlockable form, is wrong.

And yes, I realize that statistics can be manipulated easily.

That said, I would love to see statistics, like the ones you claim may or could exist, that would refute those posted by myself.

Yes, art pushes the envelope. But let me ask you this: if rockstar had put graphically racist or sexist language and action in their game, would you be as happy about supporting it under the banner of "art?" If the game contained a scene where, as a KKK member, the player murdered an african american and scored points for it in some sort of minigame, would you as easily defend it as "art?" Of course not.

Oh, they're different you say? Well, it's all free speech, isn't it?

Frog Summoner

"The fact that kids who are exposed to it report being disturbed should be enough of a wakeup call to suggest that having it present in games, even in (unintentional?) unlockable form, is wrong."

I'm a bit confused by this part. It sounds as if children are being forced to see the vulgarity in GTA and other garbage mainstream games. All the kids who unlocked that hidden scene in GTA didn't do it by accident.

Malkyne

artsnob says:
"Yes, art pushes the envelope. But let me ask you this: if rockstar had put graphically racist or sexist language and action in their game, would you be as happy about supporting it under the banner of 'art?'"

As I have said in another thread, I may not agree with what someone has to say, but I'll die defending his right to say it.

"Oh, they're different you say?"
Nope.

"Well, it's all free speech, isn't it?"
Yep.

Now, could you stop making unfounded assumptions about the politics of the posters? :)

Zild

artsnob, I never said I had found such results, merely that 58% was a pretty small minority to prove a point with, especially when you have given us so few details (size, demographics and method of selection) about the population of the survey.

However, looking back over your argument, it seems your 'facts' are of even less value in this discussion. Nobody here is talking about the freedom of people to post sexually explicit material on the internet. It is a discussion of sexually explicit material within games. I imagine that some people (like myself, for instance) would be more open to sexually explicit material in games than they would on the internet, just as some people might feel more comfortable with that kind of material in films than they would in games.

Rather than just throwing vageuly-related facts at us, why not actually try to find some that oppose what we are saying?

Once again, this goes back to Matt's original point. Every time the issue comes up, people try to force us to fight on their terms. We need to start fighting the battle WE want to fight, in the way WE want to fight it.


On a slight (but very important) aside, does anybody know of any good organisations devoted to furthering the aims of the industry in this kind of area? I did come across one such website yesterday, but from what I caught of it, it doesn't seem to be doing us any favours :(

captainspankypants

This argument is a bit pointless. It doesn't matter much if games are art or not, because even art in other forms is subject to regulation and censorship in certain forms, despite people's yelling of "free speech!" at every chance. Even paintings and sculptures, which no one would argue are not art, are often removed from galleries due to public outcry. There are certain subjects that just don't get mentioned, and if they do, they are quickly swept aside before anyone can notice. Just about the only time museums get in the news any more is when a curator is being fired for allowing something to be shown that shouldn't have been. I'm not saying I personally agree with this sentiment, but it does exist.

I hate to side with the conservatives and religious zealots, because they are so often closed-minded and push things to unnecessary extremes, but the games industry is in serious need of an overhaul, mostly for its own sake. Walk into any game store and start counting games. What percentage of them involve shooting or fighting? What percentage are sports titles? After removing those two groups, the titles that are left make up a miniscule slice of the pie. I've been a hardcore gamer for two decades or more, and the lack of creativity is finally starting to drive me away. I don't want to see spurting blood and tits any more, and I don't like sports titles, so there's virtually nothing left for me to play. Even the crappy licensed kids games are based on the same "run around and shoot/punch things" game engine as everything else. The ESRB is a joke, since damn near every game has the same content.

Sometimes I honestly wouldn't mind someone finally cracking down on the games industry, just so they'd make something different for once. But then I remember that I don't agree with censorship and believe that developers should be allowed to do whatever they want, and I also remember that the developers wouldn't make these games if the public didn't give them lots of money for doing so, and it just makes me depressed for the state of humanity. Fuck we're depraved.

PhilM

Broadly speaking, I agree with you. But how do we show them (and their audience) that we are an art form and not just "fun"?

By and large, the symbols and tropes of games are still pretty adolescent - magic and advanced technology providing cover for morally simplistic power fantasies. And by morally simplistic, I don't just mean "slay the bad guys"; noir "everybody betrays everyone else and those who don't die" and amoral "ain't it fun to be utterly self-centred" games are usually just as predictable and unsophisticated. Basically anywhere death and pain are trivialised into sources of entertainment, whether by glossing them over or by wallowing in them, we have a problem, because it IS reminiscent of little kids going "bang bang you're dead ha ha I killed you".

Not that I've got anything against SFX-ridden power fantasies, love 'em as much as the next geek. But we need other stuff to balance them, and we haven't even had the Watchmen-style repeat-the-cliches-more-thoughtfully works of our artform yet, let alone the King Lear, the Pride and Prejudice, the Don Quixote or Pillow Book - or for that matter a Great Dictator, Ben Hur, Life of Brian, or Koyaanisqatsi. Or if we have them, they haven't been given the accolades and public promotion they deserve.

The problem is that the gaming biz has not had the incubation in a truly amateur, experimental culture that all other artforms (bar comics, which have similar problems, hmm) have. It's grown up and been sent out to work too soon, and gotten too good at selling units to have time for the meaning of life. Cos to me, that's when something is undisputably art: when it has a bearing on real life, surprises large numbers of people in meaningful ways, changes their life even.

There are games that have had moments, but no game has ever made me ache with melancholy, grappled with grief and loss, or reawoken me to the deep joy of life. I've had that from books, movies, poetry, drama, music, even TV once or twice, but never from a game. As a result, very few games have made me feel that I'm seriously engaging with a complex moral universe, one where actions have long-term consequences on other lives which can in turn rebound on you, and where you can't always get your way no matter how much you save and load. Some of the stuff I've read about the mid-Ultimas sounds promising but I've never played them; Molyneux's works are also interesting in this respect. But neither makes major selling points of whatever complexity they have; and both, again, resort visibly to "I don't like you so I hit you with my mighty powers".

If we're going to fight this stuff, we need the games and the cultural context (stuff like here at GGA) that shows that games aren't just cheap fun - not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's insufficient by itself for these purposes - but can also have moral depth.

We need to give the busybodies a game that will break their hearts. Or at least a game that has broken enough other hearts that they can't dismiss the entire artform as "childish power-fantasy fun for quick bucks".

EA? You listening to me? We need a Beaches tie-in. Get on it, will you?

Zild

captainspankypants, you are worth agreeing with for your name alone...

But oddly enough, the reason I would like to see gaming treated as an art form is precisely so that we can start producing more diverse titles.

As far as I'm aware, there's arts funding for pretty much every media out there except gaming. Obviously this is more/less true in different countries, but it generally seems to fit the bill in both the US (the big market) and the UK (my home market).

Games developers face very high costs due to the nature of games, I would argue higher than any other medium currently in use, and yet we seem to have no access to this kind of funding. Where are the grants for new genres, or for games exploring things like cultural diversity?

Worse still, the right kind of games could do a world of good for youngsters, given their ability to attract young gamers and their interactive nature that would aid learning.

If you still need convincing, games draw together more forms of art than almost all of the other arts: visual art (backgrounds, characters, box art), audio (music, voices), writing (scripts, storyline) and design (from architecture to vehicle design and beyond). The only other media I can think of which come close are TV and movies.

Games draw on more forms of art than other media, and yet are still not counted as art. The games industry needs investment if it is to move away from its current (and unfortunately well-deserved) violent, sexist and sexually explicit stereotypes.

Even if you can argue that games aren't art, we need the same kind of funding that art gets.

Mister Toups

Well. I've already said that arguing whether or not a certain medium or particular game is "art" is stupid.

My point is that justifying something like the Hot Coffee scenes (or whatever other objectionable content) in GTA by saying it's "art" is wrong. The reason is that, as content, it's trash, the trashiest of all trashy trash. Both the rendering and the writing are crude and witless. The game's "satirical humor" is maybe on a 6th grade level. I don't think I've ever played such an immature game that still gets the "mature" rating.

If you are to start looking at what makes a game "artistic" you really need to look at how the content relates to your interaction with the game. In a game like GTA, much of the truly objectionable content is in the cutscenes, which happen the same way regardless of how you go about completing missions. The most memorable thing that GTA does otherwise is allow you to have awesome car chases and sleep with hookers and then kill them. So... We're maybe on the same level as Starsky and Hutch, here. With a little bit of SNL-level comedy (at best) thrown in.

GTA is an extremely juvenile fantasy. There's not much that's artistic about it. No point is trying to be made when you're allowed to kill a hooker -- and no point is made. There's nothing being communicated save a raw, idiotic appreciation for the unsavory. Grand Theft Auto is a sandbox-style toy with a criminal skin painted on top of it. Nothing more.

San Andreas, in The Los Santos chapter, is something of an exception, although it seems to go out of its way to sabotage itself. But the series taken as a whole doesn't have much to redeem itself artistically.

Mind you, I like the games a lot. But they are just mindless entertainment. People who claim that it's social satire are desperately grasping at straws to find something socially redeeming about the game.

Malkyne

captainspankypants said:
"Sometimes I honestly wouldn't mind someone finally cracking down on the games industry, just so they'd make something different for once."

Yeah, that really helped the Comic Book Industry.

PhilM

Well, this isn't exactly Beaches, for which we can all give thanks, but it's along those lines. I have no idea about its quality, but it's evidently starting to accumulate a bit of buzz, and it's perfectly timed to throw in the face of the "obscenity in games is bad cos games are for kids" crew.

I'm downloading it (over dialup, erk) and checking it out. I'd love to hear a GGA contributor's perspective on it.

Yaka

Not exactly new stuff, but it shows we've been banging our heads against that kind of issue for a while (with little progress, alas):
From old discussions on Skotos

Cheers,
Yaka.

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