4 comments on “Why videogames are not art, and are unlikely to become it anytime soon.

  1. Alright. Before I get started, first just let me tell you that I am a so-called “fanboy,” and that I am a less-so-called “under 18.” (But old enough to actually say something intelligent. Don’t worry). Congrats. You now have two reasons to completely disregard everything I am about to say.

    However, contrary to the normal “fanboy” standpoint, I only partially disagree with you. You’re right. While some games have art in them, few games nowadays can truly be considered art. The new World of Warcraft expansion is a perfect example of this. And, you’re also right. Most of the comment on Ebert’s blog (yes, I read them) had no distinction between art and “I like…”

    Where you’re wrong is in the core of your statement, taken right from the title. “Why videogames are not art, and are unlikely to become it anytime soon.” You’re applying prejudice to an entire genre, and you are completely unable to see the progress that the industry has undergone in the past year. Games that are visions of artists, not money sucking entertainment giants, are coming out left and right. Most of these games are pretty under-the-radar, mostly because the small to relatively small developers can’t afford to advertise, and someone who is out of tune with the industry (no offense), would not be completely aware of them. I love the example of Syndicate that you gave, but you seem to be completely oblivious to games like Flower, Journey, The Unfinished Swan, The Walking Dead: The Game, and the to-be-released Monaco, all of which take the example of Syndicate to the next level. You also said that video games were art only when they were a young genre. Now, you and I now both know that this is completely and totally false. While some standouts (such as your beloved Shadow of the Beast, which is admittedly fantastic) may have been early attempts at “art,” they are still inherently what they were viewed as at the time: Toys for children. Looking at this past year, it seems apparent that the reign of the triple-A game is ending.Big games won’t go away, but they will no longer drive the industry. This year, we saw the inevitable success of Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and Assassin’s Creed III, but we also saw the epic failings of Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, Steel Battalion, and Game of Thrones. Halo 4, in particular, can actually be considered a work of art. Microsoft, the entity interested in making money, handed 343 Industries the keys to their most successful franchise and all of the money they could ever want (a bold move on Microsoft’s part) and basically said “make us even richer.” 343, however, is just a relatively small company aiming to make their mark on the world with their first all-original game. And guess what? It worked. The two separate entities, Microsoft and 343, made this game both a work of art and a cash-sucking rip-off. Either way, the statement that videogames as a genre, which is what your article implied with the exception with Syndicate, are not art is false. Again, most videogames are not art, but the genre as a whole has incredible potential to be art, and many games, like those I mentioned above, are tapping into that potential. The game Slender just came out this year, and, according to your definition, is art through-and-through. It was made by only one or two guys, and was released online for free. That’s right. Millions have downloaded it, it has been known as one of the scariest games ever made, and yet the people who made it have not made a single cent of prophet (Download it if you want, and you’ll see that its simple goal and careful manipulation of human fear makes it a definite work of art).

    The reason that games aren’t complete art right now, though, is because of people like you. People like you slowed down the genre to only toy status when it just came out, and your insultingly negative writing accomplishes nothing but encourage the people who would bring videogames crashing through the floor. Yeah, the people criticizing Ebert were babies. I agree with them (mostly), but they’re still babies. Do you really think that this article criticizing them will change their minds? No! What happens when you yell at babies? They just cry even more.

    I happen to love writing reviews, both for movies and video games, and common sense says that you cannot possibly write an accurate review without watching the movie in its entirety or playing the game until the end. Yet, you are trying to heavily critique the opinions of others who support this genre not having “watched it until the end.” You stared intently at the beginning, but got bored and pressed pause when you wanted to leave. The one modern game that you mention playing, World of Warcraft, is definitely not art. But this tiny window into the gaming community and world is not enough to see the entire picture.

    VIdoegames are a potential (“potential” being the key word) art form that are just exiting their teenage years and growing into adulthood. And, especially after what happended in Connecticut, more people than ever think that they should be abolished. So, as you would say it, “fukk” off. To quote my fellow fanboys, you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. Come back in a few years and write another article when you do. I have no issue with well informed game developers claiming that games aren’t art (and there are a few), but when someone like you has nothing but negativity to say that does nothing but harm, it ends up being insulting. Why don’t you, instead of being David against Goliath and screaming away and multi-billion dollar companies like Blizzard, encourage the small developers to keep doing what they’re already doing? Pull more attention to what the industry is starting to do right, instead of constantly yapping about how it’s all wrong. You have a voice. This blog has a voice. Instead of using it to discourage the small game developers by saying that you’re twenty five years late to the party if you want to create an interactive work of art, start saying “look at what you’re fellow developers are doing! Minecraft was made by one guy! Slender was made by one or two guys! What could you create? How could you change the world with your interactive art?”

    This year was a sign. Though the apocalypse isn’t coming for us, it is coming for the cash-eating giants. This industry is approaching its metaphorical eighteenth birthday, and instead of slamming it in juvie, send it off to college.

    The Ignorant Fanboy

    • First of all, phew. This is a long one, and I appreciate the time that you have taken in order to compose this. No sarcasm or snideness at all.

      Now, having said that, I am not going to disagree you on the basis of being a fan of videogames or of a younger age group. Those are both poor basii (is that the word for it? :\) to disagree with or dismiss another person. When I was around fifteen years old, I was subjected on a constant basis to the “wisdom” of others regarding my situation both within and without. I had smelled a rat even then, and did not mind saying so. But since the people in question had 20+ years on me (amongst other things), I was basically told I am automatically wrong, they are automatically right, end of. It may amuse you to hear me reflect that often when I write articles like that, the mean and foul-tempered voice in which I sound out the content within my “mind’s eye” resembles that which they used to speak to me around that time.

      There is, sadly, a conundrum in the world of art that has a way of expanding and contracting according to the economic policies prevalent in the time. When composers like Mozart were making the symphonies they are now remembered for, they were likely surrounded by dozens, hundreds, even thousands of hacks that were to them what the like of N-Sync are to My DyING BRIDE today. The early-mid 1980s film Amadeus has one plot point where the Emperor starts to play a song he composed to those who hang around him the most. In flash-forward, the narrator tells us that the man had “no ear at all”. Essentially, what I am getting at is that in times where there is little or no regulation and the producers can just flood the market with crap, the ratio of genuine art in the market diminishes. Neither the software or videogame industries have ever really been regulated to prevent monopolisation or oligopolisation at all. The ratio of genuine art in both reflects this. But in the era of videogame that I hold up as an example of when they might have had more art than commerce driving them, there were in fact a couple of natural market phenon acting as regulation by proxy. One, the markets for the product were small enough that the programmers had to carefully think about how much time and money they could afford to spend on their product, what their likely return on investment would be, and prioritise accordingly. That in itself does not necessarily mean more art, but it does mean that the conditions which produce genuine art are more abundant. Two, instead of just shoving out the code sort of as-is and expecting the customer to buy/upgrade hardware to suit, the programmers had to work within the limitations of platforms. Saying “oh, just by a new processor” would not cut it when Moonstone or The Last Ninja were made because doing so was not an option no matter how rich the customer might be.

      There are also two reasons why I chose the original Syndicate as an example. It was near to one of the last genuine examples of art (how I see it, anyway) in videogames, for one. For another, the “franchise” that it is part of, so far with one sequel and an FPS variant, provides an example of what happens when art gets chucked in favour of a focus on commerce. Electronic Arts wanted Syndicate Wars out the door and making them money at a certain time, regardless of all other concerns. Now, whilst Bullfrog put in a lot of art, the result basically was a game that not only clearly failed to care about the player’s enjoyment a lot of the time (this being the highest criteria to be art in my mind, and an example of why videogames need to go a long way in a different direction to be art), but was also demonstrably broken in a lot of ways. Whilst I am sure there was some enthusiast out there that completed the game without cheating, I would not bet money on it. Would you refer to a game that makes you feel like it is poking you in the eye and trying to force you to react in a very specific and rigid manner as art? I would not.

      I will be brief about the whole “you must give your product away for nothing or yer teh ebil” movement, aka open source. I hate it. Its people have fundamental non-understandings of reality, especially that sad one about how creative artists have gotta eat regularly just like the wage slaves. But that is an argument for another time.

      Now, I am going to tell you something that might be difficult to grok since you were not there for it, and that is not meant as a put-down. The era during which videogames were beginning to be commercialised is the one that saw the most ardent and concerted effort on the part of interested consumers in keeping the new medium alive. Whilst games like Pac-Man were rightly looked upon as nothing more than “elegant” time-wasters, the reality is that the time in which the first home computers saw more effort to convince (as opposed to bully into believing) the rest of the world that the microprocessor has great potential to change our lifestyles than has been the case in the two decades and change since. Videogames like Impossible Mission or Cave Of The Word Wizard demonstrated that the computer itself (and, to a lesser extent, the console) could really raise Humanity’s intellectual ceiling. The amount of bullying from teachers when I was an eight year old, trying to convince me I was baad for preferring to spend time with my computer and actually nourish my brain as opposed to stuff shit in it demonstrated to me that with the right programmer, even the dinky old Commodore 64 I was glued to could be a better teacher than (almost) anything Human. In a time when for every computer game purchased, at least a dozen illegal copies were made, those born ten to fifteen years before me rallied, and rallied hard, to make those in power see the computer as more than just a toy for semi-rich white children. The videogame market you so love today would exist in a very different form (and not a better one, more on this anon), if at all, if not for such efforts.

      Having said that, what went wrong can basically be summed up in the clash between Origin, Inc. and Electronic “Arts”. Namely, the “we want money, so print that crap up” crowd, using their power in a virtually unregulated market, crushed the “we want to push the boundaries even harder than the norm” crowd. Having played numerous Origin games that were shipped on floppy disks, I saw exactly what happened in the videogame market to those who were trying to make art. It is much the same thing as was happening in the film industry. Smaller, more people-focused folk were being squeezed out to support the cartels’ agenda. Do people who work chained to kiosks for twelve hours a day have a chance to produce actual art? Sure, but given the circumstances, I would not bet on it.

      When you add this up, I guess what I am getting at here is that the great beam of hope you end by trying to project, that open sauce nasties will cure all the videogame industry’s evils by giving everything away for free, comes across as somewhat delusional. If we lived in a world where resources were unlimited and there were no transaction costs, that might be feasible. Unfortunately, our world is showing a diminishing of resources that threatens a mass extinction the like of which no Human has ever seen up close, and even changing owners of a few bits or pieces involves a cost. Unfortunately (again), the open source movement seems delusionally stuck in a worldview that the first of these two scenarios is the case, and anyone who thinks otherwise has to be bullied into believing it is the case. Open source operating systems are a brilliant example of this. As Maddox says, it is only free if your time is not valuable. When I was twelve years old, I would have pissed time if I could. When I was eighteen, a wasted six hours here and there did not matter so much. But now that I am above thirty, I can tell you that time is one of the most under-valued commodities a sentient creature can possess. And people who do things for a hobby or professionally even incorporate this knowledge into their strategy. Even Bill Gates‘ delusion open letter to hobbyists betrays this fact by harping on and on about all the processor time (an expensive commodity at that time) he spent coding products like BASIC, but neglecting to mention where he got that processor time or who really paid for it.

      There are plenty of films, pieces of music, and novels that are also not art. Anything Michael Bay, the RIAA, or people like SchMeyer churn out, respectively, comes under this heading. But the ratio of art within these media is much higher than is the case with videogames for one reason. Specifically, the rest of the people in the respective industries hold themselves to higher standards. Paul Verhoeven makes art like RoboCop, Therion is pretty self-explanatory, and Gustav Hasford made intelligent Americans really look at themselves and ask what their folks have done. Videogames effectively reverse this ratio, and then some. Not only that, but they are far more prone to ignoring the wishes of the consumer (or even outright giving consumers the finger). When a non-essential industry demonstrably does not care that it causes some consumers (and not just ones like me) real physical pain to attempt to use their product, that is a sign that they have a lot of corrective steps to take before they can be accused of producing art.

      I have rambled a bit more than I thought I was going to, but I want to share one more thing about the whole “art versus shovelware” thing that all entertainment industries must battle with. In the early to mid 1990s, when great pieces like Moonstone were produced, the complete lack of regulation in the industry allowed cheap and nasty operators to make “games” revolving entirely around digitised footage of actors doing stupid things, often with no challenge to the mental faculties of the “player” or anything remotely resembling what a game should consist of. These operators stole the phrase “interactive movie” from a company that made real art in videogames, and ruined it. Said company even once said in an interview that they were dropping the term because of its ruination. The problem in today’s market is that most of the people who produce the games really resemble those cheap and nasty nickel and dime operators, not CinemaWare. If CinemaWare could rise from the dead and make a PS3 version of something like Defender Of The Crown (only with more between-event cohesion, of course), then the rest of the industry would hang its head in shame at how slack they look by comparison. I do not hate videogames as a medium, a fact that should be demonstrated by how I wish such an event (a CinemaWare-like phoenix coming and kicking some ass in the industry) would occur tomorrow.

      The real point I had in mind when I wrote this article is that I hate what almost the entire industry has chosen to do with the medium.

      • Wow. I didn’t get this reply until now. It’s been, what, around 3 years? I guess that shows you just how little I know about WordPress.

        Re-reading my original comment, I am terribly embarrassed about how rude, crass, and yes, delusional and naive. I am also completely unsurprised that this is something that 13 year-old me would say.

        So, from 17 year-old me on behalf of 13-year old me, I apologize. Only a few years too late.

        At the same time, I wildly respect your ability to write a long, thoughtful response to an accusatory comment. To no submit to anger and frustration as I did takes a lot of self-control, self-control that I have, by this point, both learned and learned to admire in others.

        Send me a reply if you’d like to strike up another conversation on this subject, of bio defames as art. My opinions have most definitely changed since then, as have my sensibilities and self-control. It might be strange reading a reply for a comment you posted years ago, but I hope I come across as a little less of a, well, spoiled brat now than I did back then.

        Happy 2016!

Chuck shit at me here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s