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Author Topic: Are video games artistic?  (Read 7369 times)
SweetSassyMolassy
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Are video games artistic?
« on: July 31, 2008, 02:45:47 am »

I saw this article:
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051130-5657.html

in which Roger Ebert says that the "authorial control" of movies and literature give them their artistic quality, and that video games will never reach that medium. Firstly, who gives two shits about what Roger Ebert thinks about art? But it's still an interesting question. Are video games are on the same artistic level as literature, film or music?  And will they ever be?

I don't like the idea that authorial control versus "player choices" makes something artistic. So does that mean that a writer can't think of their own book as art? In the same respect as literature or actual artwork, a video game can still be made to convey a message and place the audience in the creator's mind. I think Ebert is playing politics on this one, but what do you guys think?
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2008, 05:35:19 am »

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Firstly, who gives two shits about what Roger Ebert thinks about art?

I do. He's not an absolute authority, but he's qualified enough to weigh in on the subject.

He's saying games have artistic qualities, but they're not pure art like a novel, film or painting. I don't find his opinion repugnant, but I do disagree. My rationale is this: Games should be considered art because conventional wisdom states that architecture is art. What is architecture's main purpose, above all? To create shelter. Even though artistic merit is rarely the most paramount concern with architecture, it is always a factor. Games are the same way. A game's foremost purpose is interactive entertainment, but that does not disqualify it from being art.

So we can conclude that Ebert is biased against video games. Can't say I blame him. If my only exposure to games was from watching Uwe Boll movies, I would hate the ever-loving shit out of them too.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2008, 05:40:04 am by Shiver » Logged
Amiga_Nut
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2008, 07:54:37 am »

Great topic! Here’s my two cents:

Analog VS Digital


    Back in the early 90’s I remember having a heated discussion with several friends regarding this exact subject. It all started when one afternoon, we were taking turns playing Earthworm Jim2. Although dated at this point, the game was filled with imaginative graphics and really good music. We had just reached the level where Jim becomes a blind cave salamander. In this part of the game the surrounding walls are covered with slimy tentacles. Much to my delight the background music was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It fit so perfectly. I remember saying: “This game is a work of art!” My friend Steve, (A talented artist himself) was insulted by the idea. The argument soon spread amongst the whole group, the basic gist of the discussion being about the difference between analog and digital. At the time, graphic technology was still fairly limited. The 24bit (256 levels of RGB) game didn’t exist yet. Steve’s contention was that pictures made by or with computers could never be art because they lacked the infinite definition of the analog. A painting for example, could have an infinite number of colors, whereas digital works were limited with a finite fidelity. Immediately I began arguing the question.”How many colors and pixels do you need before a digital picture can become art?!” I vehemently argued that at the 24bit level, one could barely tell the difference between blue 231 and blue 232. Randomized dithering could further negate the distinction. Resolution is another matter altogether. Is it possible to create a work of art tiling a bathroom? Is the arcade game Pac-Man a work of art?

Webster’s online dictionary: (Art – Noun)
1.   The products of human creativity; works of art collectively; "an art exhibition"; "a fine collection of art".
2.   The creation of beautiful or significant things; "a good example of modern art": "I was never any good at art".
3.   A superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation; "the art of conversation"; "it's quite an art".
4.   Photographs or other visual representations in a printed publication; "the publisher was responsible for all the artwork in the book".

Medium and Mechanism

    There’s no rational argument describing a limitation to medium regarding art. Paint, stone, glass, ice, wood, pottery, metal, paper, clay, plastic, noodles, pixels and perhaps hundreds more if one thinks about it. The art of storytelling, music composition, photography, film and dance and perhaps a thousand more in reference to the performance of “Art”. Closer to the main subject of the article is mechanism. (The process by which art is appreciated.) Ebert’s position that art requires “authorial control” is a strong argument. Art does require a beholder. Does that mean that the design of the interaction can’t be an art form also? In further tacking down mechanism; think about the simple fact that art is not always visual. Perception of music is of course auditory, and there’s no contention that sculpture is not a form of art. How then would a blind person appreciate it? Touch! Then there’s yet another mechanism! “Tactile perception” This is interesting because it requires interaction. What part of the sculpture will our blind person feel first? The paradox continues when thinking about appreciating a photograph, sculpture or painting. The interaction comes in the form of where our eyes look first and last. Can a book be a work of art? If photography can be claimed as an art form, then why not literature? Or is it? What about non-fiction versus a poem? What about a which-way book?

    I fear the rabbit-hole has no bottom on the subject. I think that Ebert is proven wrong by entry number 3. -“A superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation.” In reference to the art of game creation: So then the process, as well as the product, can be defined as… ART.

Sorry if some of my thinking fizzles out there at the end. I'm tired of writing so I'll stop here.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2008, 07:57:36 am by Amiga_Nut » Logged

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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2008, 12:29:29 pm »

Is the script of a play not a work of art, because it leaves choices to the performers?

Over the last week, I've been working on a storyline-heavy Battle for Wesnoth[1] campaign. My agenda is to tell a particular story, and I don't give the player any choice to disagree with the story. Whether the player puts a different colour on it by fighting the battles in a different way is none of my business. Like any script, I try to control everything that is necessary for me to control while leaving everything else up to the next guy down the line.

That isn't so say a game with much more freedom of choice for the player can't be art, either. I'm quite sure Ebert hasn't played I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream (which I haven't played, but know by rumor - and I've read the short story it's based on.) A big weakness of video-games right now is that people don't think of them as art, so the 'industry' doesn't attract many artists.


[1] www.wesnoth.org (although the server is down at the time of this writing.)
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SweetSassyMolassy
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2008, 01:42:11 pm »

Great topic! Here’s my two cents:

Analog VS Digital


The argument soon spread amongst the whole group, the basic gist of the discussion being about the difference between analog and digital. At the time, graphic technology was still fairly limited. The 24bit (256 levels of RGB) game didn’t exist yet. Steve’s contention was that pictures made by or with computers could never be art because they lacked the infinite definition of the analog. A painting for example, could have an infinite number of colors, whereas digital works were limited with a finite fidelity. Immediately I began arguing the question.”How many colors and pixels do you need before a digital picture can become art?!” I vehemently argued that at the 24bit level, one could barely tell the difference between blue 231 and blue 232. Randomized dithering could further negate the distinction. Resolution is another matter altogether. Is it possible to create a work of art tiling a bathroom? Is the arcade game Pac-Man a work of art?


I don't understand what your friend Steve means by saying that. A painting cannot have an infinite number of colors. Paintings have a pretty finite resolution also (and especially film). This is pretty much falls into the same argument as medium vs. mechanism.

Quote
I do. He's not an absolute authority, but he's qualified enough to weigh in on the subject.

Aside from being a total sell-out, Roger Ebert in general has poor taste. The more movies he sees, the worse it gets too. I'm sure movie creators pay so much for Ebert's acclaim that no matter what he really thinks he always releases the same washed-down, neutral response to every single movie he sees.
"Roller coaster ride of a movie!"    "Bring your dog to this movie!!"..etc
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2008, 03:57:09 pm »

Are video games are on the same artistic level as literature, film or music?  And will they ever be?

I will play devil's advocate here and agree with Ebert.

Video games will never be considered art in the same sense that paintings, music, literature, etc are. Why? Time. Hundreds of years from now, I seriously doubt that games like Starflight or Star Control 2 (or what ever other classic you want to consider 'art') will be marveled at by the masses in the same way that we admire Michelangelo's David or Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.


I'll take an older game I played for the first time only a year or so ago: Planescape Torment. Look up any old review of the game and it'll tell you it has one of the best stories out there.
But, to appreciate the awesome story, you first have to get past the dated graphics, which admittedly took quite a bit of will power at first. And this is a game that's only nine years old. Do your real think people 10, 50, or 100 years from now are going to have the patience to play an ancient game just to appreciate its story? As it is, only a small percentage of the general populace appreciates classic video games and only the geekiest of historians will remember such games.


That being said, there certainly is a good deal of artistic talent going into making good games. It's just the perception will never quite be the same.


*** As an aside, I recently went down to a local art gallery for an opening. Some of the stuff there was quite good, but a lot of it I couldn't believe was being passed off as 'art' (with a steep asking price too  Tongue ).
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2008, 04:26:05 pm »

So literature would stop being art when there are no longer people around who can read the language?
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2008, 04:48:42 pm »

Not at all. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a fine example.

Language isn't really the problem. The problem lies with perception and one's willingness to subject themselves to an ancient game with outdated graphics and archaic gameplay/mechanics.

Stories, paintings, and music stand the test of time well. Video games do not.
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2008, 05:14:39 pm »

What about film? I imagine it takes some serious willpower for many people to try and watch a black & white, silent film. Does that make it any less valid as art? What about film in a language you don't understand? Or film that looks like it was taken (or perhaps actually was taken) with an old recorder or handicam? By your argument, these are disqualifying film as an art form as well.
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SweetSassyMolassy
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2008, 06:01:08 pm »



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Ebert’s position that art requires “authorial control” is a strong argument. Art does require a beholder. Does that mean that the design of the interaction can’t be an art form also?

Of course not, but that doesn't really matter to Ebert. He just thinks that video games will never be as comparably artistic as movies, art or literature.
For one thing, there is a pretty large amount of authorial control in video games, from the perspective of the creator to the audience, especially in new age video games.  Each new scene is a work of art in its own way.

In many respects, how is a video game different from a piece of literature? Especially if the literature isn't told omniciently. The reader must make their own decisions about how the character is thinking, or how to interpret a given situation. Both literature and video games also share a common quality in that their stories have a direction, unless Bethesda or Maxis creates the game, and that many parts of the story are left uncertain, and are thus given a large amount of authorial control by the writers of the game or book.

And how is Ebert going to put film, literature and art on the same plateau anyway? As Elvish pointed out, the script of a play lacks a great deal of authorial control. A movie script probably more so because of the flexibility of the actors.

There really isn't a definite  "control" in any of these media.  The interpretation of the audience is the only thing they depend on. Sometimes books have almost no control over how the audience interact with the characters based on how they share their thoughts.
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #10 on: July 31, 2008, 06:14:07 pm »

I don't understand what your friend Steve means by saying that. A painting cannot have an infinite number of colors. Paintings have a pretty finite resolution also (and especially film). This is pretty much falls into the same argument as medium vs. mechanism.

You're not considering the fidelity of contour and shade. A painting can have an infinite number of colors even if the painter used only a few since you’re dealing with an analog medium. There is no rasterization either. The detail does not reduce to blocks when you zoom in. It’s all in how the paint is used. Keep in mind that while I understood my friends point, I didn’t agree. Art is still art even when reduced to a spectrum of dialectic scale.

That was medium and mechanism btw. Certainly a different subject from the whole analog VS digital argument. I'm sorry you didn't understand my point entirely.
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2008, 10:11:30 pm »

There has to be a point where you can isolate an individual color within some distance inside the painting, even if it's on a molecular scale. I agree that an infinite number of colors exist, but a painting can't contain all of them unless it was an infinite sized painting. There comes a point where shading becomes pixelated, and what's the difference between that and a theoretical computer-generated image that has a resolution near a molecular distance?
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #12 on: August 01, 2008, 02:03:04 am »

I see your point. But using that logic you can quantify the entire sensory input of our brains.
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #13 on: August 01, 2008, 02:18:24 am »

This question seems a no-brainer to me...

Music, pictures and movies are all considered a form of art just as video games are in my opinion. All art forms have one or more of these criteria: entertainment, amusement, asthetic appeal, or a combination thereof.
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Re: Are video games artistic?
« Reply #14 on: August 01, 2008, 02:55:40 am »

The analogue vs digital argument doesn't make sense to me if it's about how a work is stored. I think everyone can agree that a song is a work of art (or at least that at least one song exists that is a work of art). The song is recorded on compact cassette and compact disc. Now, according to Amiga_Nut's artist friend, the tape version is art and the CD version isn't. As the CD version is a less distorted reproduction of art than the tape, I'd argue it's more art than the tape (which has a large helping of noise). For film, substitute VHS and DVD.

Going back to Webster's definitions, number 4 (printed visual representations) is obviously a different concept, and I'd say number 3 is also something else (skill). Definitions 1 and 2, however, refer to the creation and result of an artistic process, but are way too vague; for example, technology could be described as "products of human creativity" and "significant".

I'd define art as intentional communication (from artist to a recipient) of creative (i.e. not strictly factual) content intended to affect the thoughts and/or emotions of the recipient (e.g. aesthetic appeal or repulsion) without utility. This rules out e.g. engineering (factual, has utility), lies and propaganda (have utility, at least to their creator) and pure mathematics ("the set of useless theorems", but factual). As a work can contain some aspects that are art by the above and some that aren't, the definition gets a bit fuzzy in practice. For example, a song or book becomes less art the more it is intended to achieve a practical goal (e.g. change election results).

Out of these criteria, the one I'm least sure about is the lack of utility; it seems many allow art to be useful. Another question is whether entertainment is a form of utility; I find it hard to pin down how "entertainment" meaningfully differs from the other mental effects of art.

Clearly, digital vs analogue is irrelevant to this definition of art. Also, rules of a game (expressed, for example, as program code) are, by this definition, art (they are typically made up for fun and useless outside the game); Ebert's definition of art seems to explicitly require the communication to be of a fixed form (i.e. it does not react to the recipient; the recipient can only choose how he senses it). You could bend Ebert's definition to encompass videogames by considering the computer to be part of or a sensing tool of the viewer (the code being an unchanging work), much like a reader can choose which parts of a book he reads (is a gamebook interactive?), but that's really stretching things.

Getting back to the original post, it seems that Ebert is explicitly ruling out a form of art, interactivity, instead of determining what constitutes art by its intents and effects. Unless I specifically rule out interactivity, I find that video games are art, not just for their graphical, auditory and fictional content, but for being games.
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