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What is Video Game (?) Part 2: High Art

(In our world, most adults view videogames as serving one purpose, a nerd's substitute for a real life. The 40 year old virgin's center piece in his home. The hobby of repressed psychopaths like the Columbine Killers. But if this were true, why would the gaming industry be the largest growing entertainment movement today? That's right kids, video games aren't just for nerds and psychos. They are many things to many people. This series of essays will explore just exactly what that statement means.)

The "Are video games art?" debate is ongoing, and retarded. I personally feel amused, confused, amazed and disgusted by the fact that I even live in a time that this question is even seriously asked. I feel like I understand what it was like to live in a time not that long ago when the question "Do black people deserve to eat where white people eat?" was seriously pondered on a daily basis, with many good people unable to see the obvious answer (which is "yes", by the way). I understand that a question of racial segregation is actually a serious and important one, where the "Video Games = Art?" question is pretty much meaningless, but all the same, they are both equally dumb quesions with obvious anwsers.

I do imagine I'll live to see the day where I'll tell my grandchildren "Yes sir-ree kiddies, when I was just a young man, they weren't even sure if the Video Game should count as real art like movies or music do" to which my half cyborg, half alien, half shark/alligator, half man grand kids will respond "What's a movie?", as they strap their VR WiiPlayStation's to their alien/cyborg faces.

My future grand kids scare me.

But I digress.

So, back to that question. Yes dummy, video games are art. They potentially require the creative work of sound designers, musical composers, character designers, fashion designers, archatectual designers, fight correographers, narritive writers, non-narritive writers, voice actors, motion capture artists, etc, and etc. Each of these creative mediums are in themselves considered an art forms, so obviously video games being the collected efforts of these multiple artists are an art form by proxy. And there are also the many aspects of video game creation completely unique to the medium, such as level design, game control design, game structure design, etc etc. They too are art forms. Put them all together, and of course you get something that qualifies as art.

And not only are video games art, they are often "High Art" as well.

What is "High Art" anyway? Well, if I have to tell you, then you still wont know after I'm done. But what the hell, I'll try anyway.

"High Art" is any form of expression that meets the three following criterea...

1) An expressed idea that can be interprated on multiple levels of analysis, including symbolisim, analogy, metaphor, positive and negative space, psycho-analytic theory, and/or any other "high concept" methods of convieving the external and internal worlds around us

2) The initial expression of the idea must have little to no precident for ever being financially or otherwise "successful" when expressed in that paticular way.

3) The artist must (for the most part) be making the art because he or she loves to make art, and for no other reason. (Hint: Two and three are closely related, but not mutually inclusive)

So, the first pioneer "Hip Hop Rappers" in the 1970's could be considered "High artists" to many, because no one had ever made money off that before, they claimed they were rapping for no other reason than that they loved to rap, and people have gone on to interprate their music on multiple levels. The same could actually be said of Blues music, Rock and Roll, Techno, and visual art movements such as Expressionism, Cubisim, Dadaisim, and of course, Gymkata-ism.

So where do video games fit into all this? Well, just about everywhere. The original Pac-Man. The original Super Mario Bros. Katamari Damacy. Loco Roco. The original Pokemon. None of these games had any sort of precident for making money before they existed. These games were all reportedly made by artists extremely passionate about their work, who only considered profiting form their work to the point nessisary to help assure their ability to continue to make art. And these games are all are definitely interprable on multiple levels.

Some say Pac-Man is the ultimate parody of the futility of human life. All we do is eat and die. Every once and a while, we get the fruit. But beyond that, we just make out way through an endless maze, trying not to dies, never winning anything other than the most temporary of victories before the inevitable death.

Mad Magazine even made him "Man of the Year".

And some others see the world of Super Mario Bros as more bizarre than any containd in the paintings of Salvidor Dali or other surrealists. A plumber uppercutting floating brick walls in the hopes that mushrooms will grow from them instantaniously, which if eaten make the plumber grow to huge sizes. This size increase not only gives him the strength to break walls, but also survive a touch from a giant walking mushrooms and turtles, which unlike the previously described "good mushroom", usually cause instant death via sending the plumber soaring straight down into the planets surface? 100 Coins = Extra Life? What the hell does that mean? Why are those coins so big, and why are they floating and spinning in mid air? How does the plumber seem to effortlessly absorb them into his body? The surrealism and symbolisim is nearly endless.

Just looking at that pic tells me that if Dali were alive today, he'd be playing Mario Bros and saying "Why didn't I think of that?"

So in short, video games are art. They are infact capable of being "High Art", no matter what talented video game artist and in some regards "total moron" Hideo Kojima tells you.

And yes Mr Hideo, Museum curators consider their jobs an art as well.

The real question is, why don't most people respect video games ar art? Well, that's a whole other fish to fry.

In the mean time, why not read about super flat? It's as close to video games have gotten to being respected as "High Art". And it's pretty neat regardless.

Wiki page

Artnet page (yes, that is super jisim)

Japanator article

Thanks for reading!
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About Tron Knottsone of us since 6:19 PM on 04.02.2007

I'm an ex-reality show cast memeber, now social worker in a mental hospital, old enough to be your older brother, and in love with the video game.
Mii code:5172 0317 4298 8270


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