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LONG BLOG

Game "can" be artistic. They just shouldn't "have" to be.

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My last post on games and art was a thrown together rant, with the points not well put, thus leaving room for misinterpretation, as many of the replies showed. So I'm going to break the points down and and focus on them in different posts.

This post is about this notion that a lot of game developers and some people in the gaming press have, that games need to advance the notion of video games as an art form, and that any game that doesn't advance that notion is therefore bad.

This is just wrong. And it's also the same notion that has made movie critics so disconnected from audiences. Some films have been artistic, and some are just entertainment. But look at how the critics tear any film apart for being nothing more than something for people to sit down and enjoy for a few hours.

There is a similar thing with the aforementioned developers and press when it comes to video games. Anything that is just an activity with a set of rules where you win by performing well within those rules, and doesn't try in some way to make you think differently about life or has some attempt to create immersion, is therefore crap that should be spit upon at every opportunity.

Although the ideas of what makes films artistic and what makes video games artistic are different among these respective groups. While with films isn't about spending less money, with games it's about spending more money. Films praised as art are often for a "less is more" reason, while with games it's about trying to throw as much to simulate another world, ours or a fantasy world.

Now that approach to video games isn't inherently bad. The problem is insisting this is the primary way to make games into a true art for, when works in other media have varied ways they get praised as art, and that, again, it's a bad thing for games not to try to make games art.

This seems to be one reason they hate the Wii. Its lower specs make that approach impossible. So rather than try to find other ways to be artistic, or even not try to be artistic, they just avoid the system. For one thing, it shows a horrible lack of imagination and creativeness, and for anther thing, that approach actually puts style over substance. But those points are for another post.

The thing is games are pastimes to have fun. They can be art, and some have come damn close (Okami is one for me, as well as Orisinal, aka the artistic PopCap). But trying to drag the entire medium into being art is wrong. It hasn't happened with other media. Even painting was just as much about portraits as much as being art.

Yet the most important thing is that this narrow-minded view of games hasn't caused games outside these circles to be accepted as art. It's just made games more expensive.

Back to movies, I can see some looking at Avatar and thinking that's what they want. They see the film seemingly making that leap over the uncanny valley (can't be sure myself because I haven't seen it yet), and all the money it's made, and think if they just pull that off that will be the breakthrough they wanted.

What they don't realize is that James Cameron is one of few filmmakers going with that approach. If half the filmmakers were going for that, Avatar would just be lost in a flood of similar films. It wouldn't impress audiences.

We have a similar situation with games. So many try the same general approaches (even if the genres and actual graphical styles differ) that developers and the gaming press decided they should that only a few stand out anymore.

Some seem to think that if enough games follow this path than the medium will be pulled along by the tide and games will transcend beyond being just games and become just as real as movies and will be just as narrative as books. Even if that were possible, the approach is wrong. Because too many are doing that, anyone who doesn't follow gaming releases closely will just see too many similar games and go with what's proven and familiar, same with the recent burst of the "casual bubble".

BTW, I don't just mean HD games. I mean any game that tries so hard to be artistic. Even Nintendo has been guilty of this. Also, I like some of the games I'm discussing. But I know that they can't achieve what the developers and gaming press want them to achieve.

A specific example is Grand Theft Auto IV. Rockstar North spent record development costs to try to create the most immersive game ever. Critics lavished praise on it. And what did most gamers, and game detractors notice? That it was another GTA game. All that work and only the critics and developers cared.

And then Mario Kart Wii outsold it, despite being bashed for not being Gran Turismo with power ups. It clearly wasn't trying to advance games as art, but no one outside those circles cared about that either.

So what went wrong with GTA IV? Technically, nothing. What went wrong wasn't with the game itself. It was the need to make it something more than it was, and the expectation it would do so.

This in essence is the problem with the idea that games must be art, and that there is only one general path to games being art. It's an expensive pipe dream.

My personal advice to these people isn't to drop the idea that games can be art. Just drop the need for it to be so. And come at it from other, less costly, approaches. Also look at other kinds of art in the context of each piece on its own, not how you could make a game to imitate that form.
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About Lord The Night Knightone of us since 6:44 PM on 10.07.2007

I have a Wii and a DS, and my brother has a 360. I don't have anything against the PS3. We just can't afford one yet, but I do want a PSP when I can.