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Games as Art

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I think we can all agree that games are a form of art. But what is it that makes games art? Is it the graphics, the story, the gameplay, a combination of all of it? Are some games art, or all all games qualify?

To me, art is something that makes you think about life. Your life, the lives of people around the world, the human condition, something that makes you want to act, that sort of thing. I've loved Tim Schaffer, the old Lucasarts games, and Double Fine for a long time now and I think this is a good opportunity to do something a little different. When I heard the basic idea of DFA was about a boy and a girl in two separate worlds I was thrilled.

Something like that can go a lot of different ways, hell they've been some great ideas on these forums about it. What DF can do with this, is not only make it a funny little thing, and an old school point and click, is make a truly engrossing story. They've done it before, with Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, but now they can go beyond funny and a good little story. Perhaps make something sad, or scary, or inspire a feeling of love or hate.

I hold the belief, while there are some good and a few great stories in gaming, there aren't enough. I think that given Tim's desire to make such good stories, he can be the one to help lead the next step in video game storytelling. I'm not saying he'll create a crappy story just to have one like other devs, I'm extremely confident he'll craft a good story. All I'm saying is why have a funny little thing with a happy ending, when you can have so much more?

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I think we can all agree that games are a form of art. But what is it that makes games art? Is it the graphics, the story, the gameplay, a combination of all of it? Are some games art, or all all games qualify?

There is no argument that games contain great aritstry. They contain music, storytelling, and visuals that we all universally recognize as art. What is less clear is whether or not the gameplay adds to the art or subtracts from it. If someone paused a movie every 10 minutes and made you play chess for a half hour, you wouldn't think of that as making the art better, and yet this is exactly how many games handle the balance between storytelling and gameplay. In giving over control to the player, you take it out of the hands of the artist, and thus diminish the "art," or so people like Roger Ebert argue.

I think gameplay can be used to manipulate a players emotions in ways that are very artistic, but I don't think this is always the case. In many cases, the "Gameness" and the "artness" of a thing are wholly separate. In other cases, like Rez, or Journey, interactivity and the game's ability to communicate an emotion are inextricably linked.

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Firstly I want to argue against Ebert's notion that interactivity, "gameness", diminishes "artness". The argument presumably revolves around the idea that, since the player is making their own choices which partly authors their experience, the creator does not actually have creative control over the narrative. I think it's a completely bunk argument, and I'll try to explain why.

1 - All art is interactive, in the sense that an artist cannot ever actually dictate the experience someone has with a work. A painter can put paint on a canvas, but the creative process continues with the unique perceptions, interpretations and feelings of each person who looks at the art. Each experience is also affected greatly by choice, for instance where they look on the canvas and for how long, what comparative analysis they perform, and so on. The experience of a painting is not solely the product of the painter's choices at all, but of the meeting of the work and the viewer's unique perspective, which is rooted in their unique life experiences.

2 - The idea that player choice is significantly altering the work itself is ridiculous. The creators of a game determine with absolute precision the boundaries of a player's choices. If the player has a choice available to them in the game, it is because the creators of the game specifically created the game to allow for that choice. The player can never do something that the game code does not allow. In the case of more 'open' games, there is often possibility for unexpected emergent behavior and room for player creativity, but these possibilities were painstakingly facilitated by the creators of the game, not willed into existence by the player.

Secondly, I want to discuss what a functional definition of art might be. Definitions can be slippery things, and we all have our own ideas, but I think there is something inherently wrong with definitions of art which rely on subjective evaluations of quality, how moving something is, how much something makes us think, and so on. It makes no sense at all to me to declare that something is not art because it doesn't move you personally, when you know perfectly well that there may be someone out there who is powerfully moved by it. It's my belief that we can make subjective evaluations about how "good" or "bad" (and any other subjective quality) a creative work is, but regardless of how we feel about them personally, all creative works are art!

Thirdly, I want to discuss the aspects of game creation that many people don't seem to consider art. There seems to be relatively universal agreement that game visuals are art created by an artist, that the music is art, that the writing is art, etc, because these creative fields each have countless examples of works which stand on their own and are exhibited or performed as art. So why might composing music be considered art, and programming not be? I've seen many people suggest that programming is a purely intellectual exercise, while "art" is a more intuitive, creative, 'felt' process.

Lets first take music as the example. As a musician myself, I've worked with and studied along side a wide array of different kinds of musicians, and I can absolutely tell you that there are countless musicians who operate almost entirely intellectually, essentially repeating textbook formulas that they have been taught about this or that genre, with little feeling at all. Then at the other side of the spectrum, you have people for whom the history of music is just a grounding or starting point for them to utterly branch away from as they tap into their unique creativity and, almost in some kind of meditative and non-intellectual 'channeling', freely express themselves with few, if any, layers of thought filtering their output. Almost all musicians are somewhere in between, with some combination of feeling and thought, and I can't think of a good reason or objective criteria to deem some of them artists and some of them not. Some may make art you like, and some might not, but I feel that they are all making art. Some art I love (or don't) because of what it sparks in me intellectually, and some art I love (or don't) because of how it makes me feel emotionally. Most art I love (or don't) because of both factors.

Now coding - No doubt, there is a great deal of purely intellectual coding. Probably a higher ratio of it than there is purely intellectual music. There are no doubt many coders who see themselves purely as engineers, drawing from a library of existing techniques to simply make something 'work'. Often these people are under the direction of someone else, who has taken care of the creative choices about the project. Again, though, there are musicians and artists in other fields working under almost identical conditions, and simply drawing from their own library of pre-existing techniques.

The important thing to consider, I think, is the creative potential of programming. Just as there is basically an infinite number of different ways a painter can apply oils to a canvas, there is basically an infinite number of ways a programmer can approach a programming task. Their creation can be as inspired or uninspired, as genius or as banal, as art in any other field. A programmer is basically an artist who can make a computer come to life in any way they can imagine, just as a painter can make a canvas come to life in any way they can imagine. There are plenty of examples of programming which exists SOLELY for artistic purposes. Look at the demoscene. People using algorithms in all sorts of unconventional and creative ways, to express themselves by creating a unique audio-visual experience. Well, isn't that what game developers are doing as well?

One last point about programming, I haven't said anything about the 'felt' side of programming yet, but it's there. Surely getting player movement to feel just right is as subjective and creative a process as getting a drum feel to feel just right. Surely a creative programmer who is creating an interactive experience is testing their work (playing their prototypes etc) to find out how it makes them 'feel', just as a painter is looking at their canvas and running the same kind of test. Game development is about creating an experience in the same way that every other art-form is, just with different kinds of experiential possibilities (though there is a huge amount of overlap). Also, great programmers can tap in to that intuitive, creative 'genius' mental space just as great artists in other fields can. A coder may have a flash of inspiration about a new way to solve a problem or a new technique for creating amazing A.I., and so on. They may visualize their problem and see the solution in an entirely abstract way before they intellectualize it and transcribe it into code.

Lastly, games are generally made by a team of people. Does this mean that they are not art themselves, and that only the creative works within the game are art? Well... what about a painting that multiple people have worked on? What about a piece of music composed and performed by all the members of a band? What about orchestral music, where the musicians themselves did not make creative choices about the composition, and solely put their creativity into each individual facet of the performance? Is a symphony any less art? No, I think art created by a potentially diverse group of people in a diverse array of disciplines is very much still art. It's my belief that ALL art is collaborative anyway, as we are all borrowing from our experiences of other art, human history and so on. None of us live in an isolated bubble and so all creative works incorporate the creativity of more people than the artist\s in question, whether they are alive today or lived hundreds of years ago.

There's my rant :) . I hope I've made sense of why I believe that games are ABSOLUTELY art, and why I cannot agree with any argument I've yet seen about why they're not. I doubt you could find an artist in any field who is unable to appreciate the creative process and inspiration that goes into developing a game, when given the chance to witness the process.

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What is less clear is whether or not the gameplay adds to the art or subtracts from it. If someone paused a movie every 10 minutes and made you play chess for a half hour, you wouldn't think of that as making the art better, and yet this is exactly how many games handle the balance between storytelling and gameplay.

To respond to this more specifically, I would say that... Well, I'll take your example quite literally. Lets say we have a game that is essentially a series of long, non-interactive cutscenes (a movie), with periodical interruptions of chess. Are those interruptions not creating a very specific experience for you? Might the content of the cutscenes change the way you think and feel about the games of chess? Might playing those games of chess put you in a mindset that changes how you interpret the non-interactive scenes? You might, for instance, start thinking about how the competitive interaction between the protagonist and antagonist is like a strategic, chess-like dance, for instance.

What if the whole idea that drove the game designer to create the game was to attempt to inspire those experiences in the person playing? I think all choices about what kind of interactivity to offer the player are choices about what kind of experience to attempt to evoke, in exactly the same way a musician choosing chord changes or a painter choosing colour schemes is attempting to evoke some kind of experience.

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Of course games are art. For starters it's a form of entertainment which is the foundation of pretty much all art.

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Edit: Just need to add a quick response here at the top.

Of course games are art. For starters it's a form of entertainment which is the foundation of pretty much all art.

I'm pretty sure you're sorely mistaken. While I'm willing to agree that all entertainment is art if we use a certain definition of art, entertainment is frequently contrasted against art. http://google.ca/search?q=art+vs+entertainment

You will find articles saying that they are not actually opposites, and I agree, but I think this at least shows that your argument is not as obvious and self evident as you seem to think it is. Also, if we look at the history of art, I don't think it was original considered entertainment, though I could be wrong there.

If we use the definition of art that the original poster seems to be thinking of, I would like to provide Jackass as a counter example to the statement that all entertainment is art. You also didn't actually say all entertainment (I said that), so I'm not sure how you feel about this counter example.

End of edit.

Ooo, art. In a way, this is a discussion I want to get invovled in, and at the same time, I'm tired of it after that whole fiasco. And the discussion goes so deep that I could imagine people posting one long thing after another, new points being brought up that the other posters knew already but didn't want to say because they already said so much else. And so much of the discussion has been done already that a lot of our's would be repetition.

But that's okay. I'll bite.

Art is a pretty vague term, and under the right circumstances, I could consider a piece of paper with unskilled scribbling on it art and not in a joking nonserious way. I just want that out of the way, and it's all I have to say on that.

It sounds like we've decided that we're going with one of those definitions where art has to be meaningful and has to pass some degree of quality, and as much as a baby's bad art (I'm not talking about some genious baby) is still art, it's not art for the purposes of this discussion.

First, I'm personally convinced that they already plan on making art. A coming of age story sounds pretty meaningful to me, and it sounds like Tim wants to make something meaningful out of it.

I also think that the stories in some Tim Schafer related games have also been art. Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Psychonauts, and Brutal Legend are all games I'd consider art. I'd list more like Day of the Tentacle, and the Pirate games, but I am sadly not well acquainted enough with them to say something like that. Also, even though I said stories, the visual aesthetic and music and sound all get included as well.

Next, I'd like to bring up the earlier raised issue of whether making this story a game makes it better or more meaningful. Anthony Burch who you might know from Hey Ash Watcha Playin' or Rev Rants says (and I'll agree) that there are 2 general schools of thought about this. There are people who say that just the experience of playing a game and doing something interactive gets you more invested in the character and story. In the other school, they say they gameplay should not just be good and well integrated with the story; the gameplay needs to contribute to the message in a way that other mediums can't.

So if we go with the first school of thought, as long as the story's good and the gamplay (e.g. puzzles) is decent we've got some good art. I'm willing to accept that, but I do think a game satisfying the other school of thought is in some sense a better example of games as art.

With the other school of thought, the gameplay needs to somehow help communicate the message on a deeper level and do something unique to games. I figure a puzzle can be well integrated with the story in the sense that it doesn't seem strange and out of place, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it really helps make things meaningful.

Jonathan Blow who created Braid is one of the strongest advocates of this second school of thought, and he's very serious about this stuff too. He might object to all the things I'm saying and say that I'm explaining his ideas wrong. Well, I'm trying.

If we're talking about games as art, I suspect you already know of or even played Braid and know the ideas behind it, but I should probably go into it anyway. Braid was superficially about time travel and other things which was actually a metaphor for something else (I'm being intentionally vague) (though I think it was still simultaneously also just about plain old time travel). There were storybooks and the artwork and some other elements (wink wink) talking about time travel and the metaphor, but the gameplay in each world supported those ideas. The first world the player sees talks about being able to forgive mistakes as if they never happened, and introduces rewinding time.

I don't know off the top of my head how they'd do that in an adventure game. I suppose a gameplay metaphor for growing up and having more power but also more responsibility could manifest as early puzzles not giving you a lot of options but also having little punishment. Later puzzles give a vast array of choices to make but punish the player more severely by, for instance, tossing the player into a dungeon. But at the same time, in the dungeon the player learns more about the backstory and the character. I'm not saying this is a good idea. I'm not sure I want to escape from a dungeon every time I fail, but I think this is a reasonable example.

What is less clear is whether or not the gameplay adds to the art or subtracts from it. If someone paused a movie every 10 minutes and made you play chess for a half hour, you wouldn't think of that as making the art better, and yet this is exactly how many games handle the balance between storytelling and gameplay.

To respond to this more specifically, I would say that... Well, I'll take your example quite literally. Lets say we have a game that is essentially a series of long, non-interactive cutscenes (a movie), with periodical interruptions of chess. Are those interruptions not creating a very specific experience for you? Might the content of the cutscenes change the way you think and feel about the games of chess? Might playing those games of chess put you in a mindset that changes how you interpret the non-interactive scenes? You might, for instance, start thinking about how the competitive interaction between the protagonist and antagonist is like a strategic, chess-like dance, for instance.

So there's that too. Whether the developers carefully create a puzzle filled with meaning or not, players will derive meaning from it. However, we can still judge whether the meaning from the puzzle is cohesive with the message coming from the rest of the story, and whether it enhances the message.

I've also been using the term message quite liberally, and maybe that's not right. Maybe I should say themes or an even vaguer notion of ideas or feelings or something else, but I hope people still get what I mean and I'm coming across coherently.

And that's everything I have to say for now. Like I said, I have more, but this is long already and becoming less likely to be read. Maybe if someone else makes a post after me, I can make my second post.

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Interesting thoughts. I can relate to being tired of the discussion.. Back when Ebert came out with an article on the subject I definitely burned out, arguing some of these points until I was blue in the face. It feels like that was a long time ago now, though, and I also think I can present my ideas more clearly than in the past.

I just wanted to briefly respond to a couple of things, even though you can probably already tell what my angle will be based on my other post\s. :P

If we use the definition of art that the original poster seems to be thinking of, I would like to provide Jackass as a counter example to the statement that all entertainment is art.
I can't see why Jackass shouldn't be considered art, a kind of performance art, especially when we consider that the groundwork for that kind of thing was laid in art movements such as Dadaism. Even if we define art in a way that we require it to have meaning, I actually think Jackass (whether intentionally or not) powerfully comments on the state of western society. That said, I think there's a huge problem with defining art in that way.
It sounds like we’ve decided that we’re going with one of those definitions where art has to be meaningful and has to pass some degree of quality, and as much as a baby’s bad art (I’m not talking about some genious baby) is still art, it’s not art for the purposes of this discussion.
I think one of the most important purposes of this kind of discussion is to explore how much sense different definitions of art make, rather than limit the discussion to just one of them. I think the reason this topic sometimes really heats up is that many people carry, and are stubborn about, definitions of art which are restricted by completely arbitrary and subjective criteria, which can be very frustrating for others who have an investment in the forms of art which are being discounted. Imagine dedicating your life to being an abstract expressionist painter, only to be told that what you create is not art because it doesn't appear to convey a message, or live up to a quality threshold when measured against classical realism.

The major problem I have with defining art based on meaningfulness and quality is that regardless of what the artist intended, different art will have entirely different levels of perceived quality and meaningfulness to different people. It's not a practical definition and it would discount a huge volume of works in almost every artistic discipline, and different works depending on who you are talking to. Imagine if our definition of food required that we like it. It would not add anything useful to discussions about food, and would instead just foster dead end arguments between people with different tastes. That's exactly what this definition of art tends to do. It makes more sense to accept that there is food that we don't personally like, just as it makes more sense to accept that there is art that we don't personally like or find meaningful. There is also plenty of art that is not intended to convey any direct or literal meaning, just as there is art that revels in its lack of refinement or departure from traditional techniques and notions of quality.

Also, focusing on meaning completely eliminates games like Tetris from the discussion. I believe Tetris creates a very specific and (if you get into it) powerful experience, and its design is as much an expression of human creativity and inspiration as a novel is. The fact that it doesn't hand you literal meaning or a plot to consider in no way diminishes its ability to resonate with people, and so I would argue in no way diminishes its right to be considered art.

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To me, "Art" is something created by a person or a team that resonates or has a profound impact on a specific culture. In the vein of how an architect views a skyscraper as awe inspiring or a painter sees a piece by Picasso as a compositional masterpiece. "Art" is subjective because it is a two way street, if you were to boil "Art" down enough to a brash generalization it would simply be "communicating." Even if the message is nothing; the audience is still being communicated to.

I think what we consider "Art" ultimately is something that connects with us on a personal level, so there is nothing specific about gaming that makes it a "Art" but rather a culmination of things. All the elements come together in a big mush-pile and when the "Art" is done it has to defend itself and get scrutinized by arbitrary human logic. Somewhere along the road enough people agree something is good and then it kind of is.

There is no trick to defining "Art" nobody actually knows, so just pick what you like and if you like what the snooty smart guy likes then you probably have "good taste" but then again you shouldn't care as much as the snooty smart guy because the snooty smart guy is an asshole.

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I like the idea of boiling art down to simply being about communication. I think there is a lot of truth in that. Where creativity comes in is that we each have a unique outlook to communicate, and unique ideas about how to communicate it.

Of course games are art. For starters it's a form of entertainment which is the foundation of pretty much all art.
I think art is the foundation of entertainment, rather than the other way around. You can make art for the purpose of entertaining, or for a very different purpose such as criticizing a political position.

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Everything is art. Remove the pretense and that is the message of the post-modern era. What is more significant to you is more art to you. Video-games are one of the highest forms of art to me, because certain video-games evoke more emotion in me than films/shows/paintings do.

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Everything is art. Remove the pretense and that is the message of the post-modern era. What is more significant to you is more art to you. Video-games are one of the highest forms of art to me, because certain video-games evoke more emotion in me than films/shows/paintings do.
I agree with all of that. The reason the medium of games has appealed so much to me is because it has the most creative potential out of any artistic medium our civilization has developed. It can do everything all the other mediums can do, in isolation or all at once in combination, as well as adding new dimensions of interactivity. I also agree that everything is art, on a very fundamental level. To get a bit philosophical for a moment, I think our creativity is just another expression and extension of the creativity inherent in the universe which has allowed complexity to organize in such a way that we even exist. Reality is not just randomness and entropy, or else the constant evolutionary increase in organized complexity (which was occurring long before life, and which facilitated the appearance of complex chemistry -> simple biology -> complex biology and intelligence -> language and culture, and so on) would not even be possible. By creating art we are just further advancing and refining the level of organized complexity that can manifest in this corner of reality, so to speak.

Edit: on the "everything is art" idea, though, I do think that we can usefully differentiate between what we generally mean when we talk about art (creative works created by people) and the rest of reality. I don't usually jump to the all-inclusive view in these kinds of discussions because the 'nature of reality' in the broadest sense isn't really what the conversation was intended to be about.

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My thoughts more or less line up with Ed's here. They usually do (full disclosure, we used to compose stuff together way back, which was neat).

As for the Ebert argument, I think it's a failure in 2 ways:

1) As others have pointed out, interactivity doesn't ruin creative expression. Sure, I can spin in place and jump about stupidly while a game is trying to tell me something profound, but I can also shout over a movie or skim read a book or scribble all over the pages. The only difference is that with games I'm messing with the medium in a more direct manner, but essentially, I can refuse to engage with any art form.

2) Not only does it not ruin creative expression, but there's a failure of imagination here in that interactivity can creatively express things in ways that other things cannot. To use my standard example, whatever else you think about BioShock (and yes, the ending was silly) the whole 'Would You Kindly' twist is more profound because it's in the context of an interactive experience. If I hadn't been controlling the game the whole time, would that revelation have hit in such a personal way? Not only is it a good twist, but it's an interesting meta-comment about the role of player control (a very interesting Half Life 2 mod called The Stanley Parable takes this concept and runs with it). And only in an interactive medium can a piece of art fully explore your own, personal choices (or lack of choices).

But what will definitely help people get on board with games being art is if we stopped being over-protective about what we allow to call a game. So, for example, Dear Esther? Totally a game. Limited interaction, no real challenge element and so on (I don't even know if I like it), but let's be okay with that! Just because there are games like that doesn't mean there will stop being games which are difficult, or have really complex mechanics, or loads of characters and dialogue, or puzzles. And the sooner we embrace the medium as a whole, not just the most traditional bits of it, then the sooner people will see games as an actual legitimate medium, rather than 'that thing with the shooting and jumping' picture they have in their head. But it'll still take time.

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interactivity can creatively express things in ways that other things cannot

And to you, SG, I would say this: Gaut, Berys, A Philosophy of Cinematic Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 273-6.

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interactivity can creatively express things in ways that other things cannot

And to you, SG, I would say this: Gaut, Berys, A Philosophy of Cinematic Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 273-6.

Could you summarise? I'm not against reading, but I don't think it ought to be necessary to find a book and read a passage before continuing a discussion, even if it has been about 7 or 8 years since I last studied philosophy of art.

Not sure what you're getting at without having read what you're referring to, but one point of clarity in advance: I said interactivity can creatively express things in ways that other things cannot, I don't claim that there are actual ideas that only be creatively expressed by interaction. Only that interaction is a distinct path to creative expression which, like everything else, does some things very well, others not so well.

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Aristotlol, that article was an interesting read, thanks. I have opinions on all of the mentioned definitions and arguments, but oh boy, I don't really want to inflict a comprehensive response on this thread, or invest the time in writing one. I think it's worth stating, though, that the article represents an overview of the academic debate about the definition of art, and not the totality of the subject. I don't have an example which springs to mind on this subject specifically, but unfortunately some perspectives don't even get a look in in academic discussion at times when, and in places where, it's built in to the culture of academia to filter and reject those perspectives. This is much more common than it sometimes appears, and is probably most true of science.

Anyway, apart from my point about the impracticality of defining art in a certain way, my gist was more to show how games fulfill all the criteria (and then some) of all the other things we generally agree are art, rather than to arrive at an unbreakable objective definition of it. As that article suggests, that's rather a hard thing to do without really starting to unravel the threads of language. It would make for fun conversation, though.

Also, I'm with SG in the sense that, while you're no doubt pointing us towards interesting perspectives, it's not really having a discussion to do so. No doubt there are a lot of interesting academic treatises on this and every subject, but they are hardly the last word on them. I think this is a really interesting discussion to have, and I'm more interested to hear your ideas than to start a reading list. I've got too big a backlog of reading as it is!

My thoughts more or less line up with Ed's here. They usually do (full disclosure, we used to compose stuff together way back, which was neat).
:) . It's cool and kind of inevitable that we'd both end up here following DFA, when it was through mojo and point and clicks that we started talking in the first place. Oh and.. yesterday I actually found a backup of my ICQ folders, including all the midis and other stuff you ever sent me back then. Cool stuff!

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I don't have an example which springs to mind on this subject specifically, but unfortunately some perspectives don't even get a look in in academic discussion at times when, and in places where, it's built in to the culture of academia to filter and reject those perspectives. This is much more common than it sometimes appears, and is probably most true of science.

!

Actually I think that's a little misleading. Science only works when it's open to ideas, otherwise progress can't happen. But what it is very strict about is standards of evidence and experimentation, because you can't do good science without good data. So when ideas are rejected and filtered by science, it's usually because the methodology is flawed. That said, it is common for certain ideas to be rejected very quickly, because they have been tested so much that it's extremely unlikely there's much new to add to the discussion, but even then, if someone has the data and it can be reproduced and verified repeatedly then it eventually becomes part of scientific understanding. It's by this process that science grows, and it has to be a very rigorous process to work.

Anyway, digression.

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Not sure what you're getting at without having read what you're referring to

Don't worry, I'm not trying to disagree with you or anything, I'm just mentioning something I think you'd find interesting. I didn't summarise because I don't want to take part in this particular debate, yet thought I should add something since it relates to my professional area of expertise, so to speak. In the past I've found the Internet to have a .pdf of the book without having to search very hard for it, but I'm not sure if this is still the case. If you were to find it, it's only a four-page citation (the pages are not too densely packed). Basically it's about interactive and 'audience-generated' fiction's capacity to illicit a wider variety of emotions than other, non-internactive or merely 'audience-involving' fictions.

I mention the Stanford piece, which lamentably is not very well-written, simply as a source in case anyone is interested in following up on more rigorous discussion on this topic.

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Not sure what you're getting at without having read what you're referring to

Don't worry, I'm not trying to disagree with you or anything, I'm just mentioning something I think you'd find interesting. I didn't summarise because I don't want to take part in this particular debate, yet thought I should add something since it relates to my professional area of expertise, so to speak. In the past I've found the Internet to have a .pdf of the book without having to search very hard for it, but I'm not sure if this is still the case. If you were to find it, it's only a four-page citation (the pages are not too densely packed). Basically it's about interactive and 'audience-generated' fiction's capacity to illicit a wider variety of emotions than other, non-internactive or merely 'audience-involving' fictions.

I mention the Stanford piece, which lamentably is not very well-written, simply as a source in case anyone is interested in following up on more rigorous discussion on this topic.

Not worried, I just realised when I read over what I said before that my point not have been very clear. As for the way you describe the passage, I don't know. I think that any method of expression could probably convey most emotions or ideas if they are applied in the right way, but some make it easier than others. For example, I suspect that interactive things are probably capable of exploring concepts of personal choice more successfully than any other medium, but books and films can absolutely explore those things too.

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Actually I think that’s a little misleading. ...
Fair point, but I have seen it happen, and mostly it has to do with which avenues of research are nurtured and which are ridiculed. Once you have published enough hard evidence, yes, science will generally open up the discussion in that direction, but sometimes when an idea is in the hypothesis or young-theory stage, it will be crushed before it can receive widespread attention or consideration because it threatens existing paradigms. Some potentially promising avenues of study require more time and resources before experimentation can yield significant empirical evidence, but are never given that opportunity unless someone can fund their own research independently. I've witnessed some disproportionate hostility towards certain ideas over the years, and sometimes fledgling technologies seem to be suppressed for political, economic or "security" (military advantage) reasons. Anyway. you're right that this is a digression, maybe if we land on this subject some time in the future I'll try to dig up examples.

Edit: Oh, and I probably shouldn't have mentioned science and brought this off-track, because I only meant to point out that, while things are more open now than they have ever been, historically speaking academia in different times and places has been sensitive towards a variety of perspectives for a variety of reasons. I was only reminded of that because I was reading that article, which gave an overview of academic perspectives on art throughout history, but certainly didn't cover the whole gamut of perspectives on art. Some entire cultures have been suppressed throughout history who have their own particular views on art.

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some make it easier than others

Quite. The more specific point being made is that only interactive fiction can evoke rational self-directed emotions. You mention personal choice, which I suppose is an extension of this (by the way, Gaut also mentions Bioshock). So the idea is something like this: in reading a novel, though it can inspire you to have self-directed emotions in relation to your own life (1), only fictions in which you have power over what happens can you (rationally) have self-directed emotions about what happens fictively (2).*

(1) An example being a perpetually jealous husband feeling shame when watching Othello, or a nationalist reading a story about his country's military exploits.

(2) An example being someone feeling shame for having slept with and subsequently murdered a prostitute in GTA, or pride at finishing a difficult level of Megaman.

*edit: or rather what you do in making something fictionally the case.

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The major problem I have with defining art based on meaningfulness and quality is that regardless of what the artist intended, different art will have entirely different levels of perceived quality and meaningfulness to different people. It's not a practical definition and it would discount a huge volume of works in almost every artistic discipline, and different works depending on who you are talking to. Imagine if our definition of food required that we like it. It would not add anything useful to discussions about food, and would instead just foster dead end arguments between people with different tastes. That's exactly what this definition of art tends to do. It makes more sense to accept that there is food that we don't personally like, just as it makes more sense to accept that there is art that we don't personally like or find meaningful. There is also plenty of art that is not intended to convey any direct or literal meaning, just as there is art that revels in its lack of refinement or departure from traditional techniques and notions of quality.

I quote part of you, but pretend that I have quoted it all. I think it's important to quote for the purposes of getting someone's attention and establishing some context anyway.

The reason I chose to discuss art using a definition based on meaningfulness and quality is because I believe that this is the definition or similar enough to the definition that the original poster is using. I think the original poster's verbatim definition which talks about the human condition suggests that something meaningful was intended. The point about quality is a little harder to find, and maybe it's not justified. I brought that up because the original poster talks about art that makes you think or makes you want to act. That suggests that the art has a degree of effectiveness in doing this; I would call that quality. The poster also talked about the lack of good stories in games, but perhaps that should not be part of the definition.

I think whether art needs to be meaningful is the more controversial point. If we don't want to talk about quality, then talking about "good art" would allow us to talk about quality again. I think it's worth discussing good art; it's a more worthwhile endeavour that simply making sure a game just barely passes the criteria for what art is.

I also don't think good art disqualified abstract art. I saw a painting in an art gallery which was just a blank canvas with several stripes of off white on it. I'm not sure if what's what you mean when you say abstract art, but I think it could be considered good art, and it was somewhat meaningful to me.

As I said earlier, I have many different definitions of art, and I certainly do think Tetris is art. I'm not sure whether Tetris should be considered art under the definition I'm using here. If we accept Tetris is art, I believe chess should also be accepted as art, and I'm willing to do that, but I don't think it fits what the original poster considers art.

And the original poster did also want to discuss the nature of what art is and video games as art in general, but I personally find it more useful to discuss how to create meaningful games and good meaningful games. I think that is more useful because I already consider ALL games art. I think the number of good meaningful games is a smaller subset of games that are art which is worth expanding.

I've made a lot of assumptions about what the original poster would like to discuss, so perhaps at some point he/she would like to disagree with me or clarify some points.

There was also a point about this being a subjective and not a useful or practical definition of art. I would argue that the subjectivity does not make it any less useful. I think that it remains very useful, because it means we can determine whether something is art by getting people's opinions, and we can also say that a work is art to one person but not to another.

To me, a more objective and more permissive definition of art is any work created though some means by a conscious being. I personally do not like that definition all that much, and prefer a version which adds that the work was created with the intent of communicating something. That something might not be a specific message which can be put into words. It might simply be to evoke a certain emotion, or make somebody think, "This is pretty," but I think the intent matters. If somebody throws a bowl of soup at a wall, I would not call the resulting stain art. If somebody throws a bowl of soup at a wall with some intent of it meaning something, I could call that art. I just don't think something so permissive is worth discussing right now though.

I figure I ought to say something about your definition of art now after discussing mine so much, but I looked back and realized that while you started talking about definitions, you did not give one, and said that definitions are slippery things.

I think that it would be wrong to create an overall definition of art to use at all times, because I think such a definition doesn't exist anymore. When the word originated, I think it meant something specific, and eventually became vague.

However, I think that it's useful to create a definition for the purpose of a discussion. For a single discussion, it becomes too hard to communicate when the people you're talking to aren't even using the same words as you; the words sound the same and looks the same but mean completely different things. I think it's worth choosing a definition that is useful for the purpose of that discussion and conceding that it does not necessarily apply in general to the rest of the world.

Part of this discussion is already about the definition of art itself though. So I guess it will remain undefined for this thread overall, but I will say that my own post earlier was not necessarily about art in general, but good meaningful works.

I suppose I should also see Plato's thoughts on art, which I've come across several times. I think that while it might provide some insight, but also that the definition of art has changed since Plato's time. He was a great philosopher though, so his thoughts probably have the advantage of resonating with a lot of people, and if he has a definition, it is probably also better defined and carefully thought out.

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Have any of you played a game called Passage? Its a five minute indie game with no cutscenes, exposition, dialogue, or anything that sets up a story or narrative. But what it does, all within gameplay it should be noted, is it makes you feel every emotion in life imaginable. Anthony Burch talked about it to, can't find the specific article atm but its on Descructoid or one of his Rev Rants.

Anyway, what Passage does is truly unique. Without any kind of story or cutscenes, and all within gameplay it tells a story of life and death and makes you think and feel in ways most AAA games have never even come close to. Not Portal, not MGS, not even Lucasarts or Double Fine games imo. That's not a shot at anyone don't get me wrong, but what they managed to do is simply astonishing. When I think of art, that is the first game that comes to mind.

I would absolutely love to see DF do something like that here. A coming of age story with two different kids in two different worlds is a great start, but its what comes after that'll set up an even greater story. You don't need cutscenes, or even in game cutscenes to tell a story and to make people feel an emotion. I think that's something Tim, Ron, and the rest of DF can learn from Passage. If they're interested in making this type of deep artistic game, then its something I think they can really look into. I do hope they look over this thread.

Thats not to say you can't have cutscenes though. Of course you can still evoke those kinds of feelings and stories within cutscenes, I'm just pointing out another way of doing it, something DF might not have thought of, and something I think everyone can learn from. Go play Passage if you haven't, its a great little game.

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@Ritchie.Thai , thanks for your reply. I think we agree on many things, and if there is any division it is merely my tendency to seek a universally applicable definition, and your tendency to not consider that so important. You've made good points about why. To attempt a quick definition, without giving it too much thought, I would probably define art as simply the product of conscious creativity, which aligns closely with the 'permissive' definition you gave, and I think your extra condition, that it is created with the intent of communicating something, is implicit in that definition. I believe all conscious creativity communicates something. Even if the last man on earth produced something we would normally consider art, I think the purpose would be so that he could reflect on it and have it communicate something to him about himself. I'm certainly willing to re-evaluate my definition, though, as I haven't spent a lot of time scrutinizing it.

Mostly I have just been compelled to argue against definitions of art which I see as problematic. While it's not easy to arrive at a universal definition, I think it's easy to spot definitions which are obviously not universal (and I think that doing so, and consequently refining your definition, gradually leads you in the general direction of a universal one). I think that carrying limiting definitions of art can potentially, depending on someone's perspective, cut them off from appreciating or being open to a wide range of experience. Perhaps I am more personally invested in this because, as well as having dedicated much of my life to art, I have on rare occasions been told that something I created, which I poured my creativity into, was not art. For instance, I have at times experimented with fairly abstract music, and sometimes that kind of thing is foreign to someone's concepts of what music and art can be. I fully expected that many people would not like it, but I admit to, at one time, being offended by someone's assertion that it was "just noise", rather than music, and "not art". I observed that, for the person in question, maintaining their arbitrarily limited definition of art was not only causing them to dismiss the possibility that the work contained any meaning or creativity, but to feel objectively correct in that position. I knew first hand that their belief that the piece was simply "random" was objectively wrong, because I had made purposeful musical choices when making it, and so I couldn't help but feel there may be something objectively problematic with their definition of music, and by extension, art.

I certainly admit that my own definition and outlook on art was more closed and limiting the further back in time we go, but as I have grown and gradually broadened my definition and understanding towards a more inclusive and universally applicable one, whole worlds of art have opened up to me which have immeasurably enriched and benefited my life. I have grown to recognize and appreciate the creativity of artists I may have once rejected, and I could never stand by a declaration that those people are not artists. I therefore compulsively try to share the reasoning behind a broader definition with others so that they might open their own outlook up and potentially experience and enjoy some of the same benefit.

You're probably right, though, that this discussion might be more interesting moving towards discussing the artistic qualities of games, rather than merely the criteria for whether or not they qualify as art. :)

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Just played Passage. It's lovely. Thanks for recommending it!

Grim Fandango: art

Mindlessly, Repeatedly Shooting People In The Eyes 5: garbage

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I think the biggest problem that anyone faces trying to define something as "art" or "not art" is you first have to define "art".

I think we generally accept that "art" is the creative use of a medium to accomplish a goal, but that goal is the problematic part of the definition:

Is "art" the evocation of an emotional response?

Is it the communication of an idea?

Is it a challenge of expectations?

An appeal to aesthetics?

Video games are\aren't and can\can't be art based on an individual's perspective on video games and art.

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Well, I think we can really cut to the chase of what the question "are games art" is really getting at by making a conditional statement like "If films are art, then games are art", and then backing it up with some kind of explanation about how a the medium of games is capable of everything the medium of film is capable of, but with even more depth and variety of possibility. Freely interchange "films" with "paintings", "pieces of music", "novels", etc, and you can make equally strong arguments. You could also interchange "are" with "can be" depending on your view on art, and still be basically demonstrating the same point.

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Edit: Just need to add a quick response here at the top.

I'm pretty sure you're sorely mistaken. While I'm willing to agree that all entertainment is art if we use a certain definition of art, entertainment is frequently contrasted against art. http://google.ca/search?q=art+vs+entertainment

You will find articles saying that they are not actually opposites, and I agree, but I think this at least shows that your argument is not as obvious and self evident as you seem to think it is. Also, if we look at the history of art, I don't think it was original considered entertainment, though I could be wrong there.

If we use the definition of art that the original poster seems to be thinking of, I would like to provide Jackass as a counter example to the statement that all entertainment is art. You also didn't actually say all entertainment (I said that), so I'm not sure how you feel about this counter example.

I disagree -- entertainment and art are practically synonymous. Art in its most basic form is just something that humans do for no reason other than to do it. It doesn't keep us alive but it enriches the time that we spend being alive. Jackass is definitely art, the guys doing it are being creative and passionate, even if they're also being extremely stupid. I think the point where entertainment starts to feud with art isn't so much in dumb stuff like Jackass as it is in soulless stuff like manufactured films or music. The "artists" behind them aren't expressing themselves in any way, they're just going through the motions in an attempt to make money.

As far as games go, I think the real issue isn't whether or not games are art it's whether or not they're good art. Generally speaking even the best games rarely get above the level of something like Die Hard -- fun, well structured, memorable but definitely not life-changing. There's a few I can think of that go further but they're very hard to come by. I think the main problem is that games started life as a product rather than an activity. They've always had a target audience while every other kind of art has enough variety to appeal to all sorts of people. That restriction means there's fewer types of people interested in creating games and so the art form as a whole isn't very thoroughly developed. It's a bit like if all the painters ever had all just painted loads of portraits.

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Everyone has their own definition of art I suppose. But for my mind, art is about the experience. Is the Mona Lisa a mere collection of oil based paints arranged on a canvas, or is it an enigmatic smile of a character. What makes it special? The experience of the person viewing it is what makes it special.

Games are art to me in the same way. It's not about the artistry of the creators as much as it's about the act of experiencing the games narrative, art design, plot, whatever.

Without the experience of the viewer to appreciate it, nothing is art. So games qualify just as much as any film and any painting and any song. They are art and as the medium continues to move forward it will become a more well accepted version of art among the masses.

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