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Aristotlol

Philosophy of Videogames Podcast - Can Videogames Be Art etc.

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Hi folks. I originally posted this in the private forums, where it was suggested that this would be a good place for the message, so here it is...

Myself and two philosopher friends of mine have decided to have a go at doing a podcast on the philosophy of videogames. In case that’s the sort of thing you might be interested in, I provide a link below. Feedback is very welcome - positively encouraged, indeed, since we’re just common folk blundering our way through the process.

There’s only one episode thus far, uploaded last night, and its topic is “Can Video Games Be Art?”. The second will follow over the next two months (we all have a lot of teaching / research to do, and the holidays are coming), and will be about morality and videogames.

We’re a good mix - Al, the English one, does philosophy of mind and emotion, Brock, the American, does ontology, and I, the Irish (more or less) one, do ethics. I already have my PhD, and they’re both well on the way to getting theirs, so you can rest assured we’re competent at the very least.

Anyway, here’s the link: http://pong.podomatic.com/entry/2013-11-26T17_11_32-08_00

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Cool. I may listen to this later. Not a bad crew for a podcast. I think people might feel like the games/art question is a dead horse being beaten at this point, but still a good place to start. Good luck, all of you.

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Yeah, we figured it would make sense to start with a familiar topic at least, the question is of greater interest to the other guys, particularly Brock. I think we do a good job of getting to the core of the debate, but that might be a degree of progress visible only to the sufficiently [del]pedantic[/del] philosophical.

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I believe video games are art. My questions, though, are this:

1. How do I convince someone who thinks video games are not art to change their opinion, or at least understand where I'm coming from?

2. If the person who believes video games are not art has never played a video game before, how do I convince them to at least try one out?

3. Do I have to start with a video game that already exists, or do I have to make one myself? If so, what should that game contain?

I'll make sure to listen to the podcast, though, I'm interested to hear your take on this.

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When I think of Videogames as art I see it from two perspectives. (I mean I'm no professional or anything. Just a long-time gamer and Business Student)

The first is design. World design, character design, and story design, and not just visual, but also written or even audibly (the way the game uses music and sound). Indeed its these elements that create an OVERALL experience to be considered as art. Key examples from JRPGs alone being the Mother series, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Ni No Kuni, Lost Odyssey.

The second is in function. I would consider games like Dark Souls and Monster Hunter, X-Com, Pokemon, Fallout (both New and Old) and even some games like Megaman X to be works of art within themselves not just because of design, but of the mechanical elements. The level design, the way the game scales challenge, the control mechanisms, the extra content beyond the basic objectives.

Of course if you have a game that has both elements in synchronization then I consider it to be a masterpiece.

You want masterpiece games then stuff like Braid, Rayman Origins/Legends, Portal, and Tearaway are good popular examples. (And of course there are several more)

I argue that any game can be seen as art, but I personally think that a game has to have VISION (or at the very least "Direction") behind it to be truly special, to have a uniqueness to it.

If it feels "believable" to a gamer, or well "organic" in context, then I'd consider it to be art, even if it lacks a particular driving motivation behind it.

(Like the original Star Wars Trilogy in a way. Its nothing unique in itself, but the combination of various elements make it art in my opinion)

EDIT: Again, many people argue that art is not art if its commercial or made simply to entertain, but I argue that not to be the case, after all even artists need money. I think it to be fair for an exchange to exist. I mean I'd be ok paying to go seeing an art exhibit as much as I would for a game or a film or a theatrical production. Costs have to be covered in some way.

(I mean if I decided to become a game designer, I would want that barrier to entry to be as low as possible, I would want to make my games cheap, maybe even to start as a hobby, I'd release stuff for free to test, but I mean eventually, I'd like some reward for giving value back, so consumers coughing up a little dosh for me would just be fair as long as I'm giving them good value back)

EDIT: In the end of the day, there's consumer exploitation (e.g. activision and EA with their yearly shooty games service) and fair trade, (indie devs like the Edmund McMillen with Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac)

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I believe video games are art.

A potential concern with this sort of stance is that it might be either too strong - we might want to deny some particular video games are art, if they're shallow for instance - or so weak (as in "diffuse) that art status might no longer be an interesting category - for instance photography is an artistic medium, but if we say that literally all photographs are art, even when in themselves they do very little to warrant the term, then it looks like saying of a thing that it is art in fact tells us quite little about it.

1. How do I convince someone who thinks video games are not art to change their opinion, or at least understand where I'm coming from?

I suppose by rational argument and appeal to examples they are most likely to find convincing. One possibility is highlighting some important things art tends to do, and illustrate how games can also do this, and perhaps in a new and interesting way - interactivity is likely to be relevant here, which is of course not to say that all interactive fiction / entertainment to date comes in the form of video games.

2. If the person who believes video games are not art has never played a video game before, how do I convince them to at least try one out?

That's hard for me to say - analytic philosophy is supposed to be about clear and rational debate between open-minded parties, so I'm not schooled in how to convince a negatively disposed "man on the street", so to speak. In general, though, I would try to think of a game that seems most likely to appeal to their character, and furthermore one which is relatively uncomplicated yet fun to start with. Games can be extremely confusing to people who have never played them, so you don't want to hit them with extra complications. Something fun like a platformer might be good, or something a little more interesting like Journey, but it really depends on what sort of vibe they'll respond to.

3. Do I have to start with a video game that already exists, or do I have to make one myself? If so, what should that game contain?

Ha ha, well I'm certainly unqualified to give advice about game design. Another possibility is that you might pick some game that they're likely to know of - tetris or something - and try to talk about how examining it critically might yield surprisingly interesting results.

World design, character design, and story design, and not just visual, but also written or even audibly (the way the game uses music and sound). Indeed its these elements that create an OVERALL experience to be considered as art.

This relates a bit to something we talk about in the podcast - it's similar to a move a lot of people arguably put too much weight on, insofar as arguing that a game (Braid, say) contains beautiful graphic art does not seem to support the conclusion that Braid as a whole is a work of art, as opposed to a (non-artwork) game that has art in it. But you do make some gesture toward the way these separate elements should tie together, and that's a good move I think.

I would consider... even some games like Megaman X to be works of art within themselves not just because of design, but of the mechanical elements. The level design, the way the game scales challenge, the control mechanisms, the extra content beyond the basic objectives.

Again this relates to something we talk about in the podcast - it seems one of the best ways to show that video games can be art is to show how in a given instance it's a thing's "videogameness" that is being used for artistic purposes. This can be tricky, insofar as it's hard to nail down exactly what we should take artistic purposes to be, but we mention some attempts at this.

EDIT: Again, many people argue that art is not art if its commercial or made simply to entertain, but I argue that not to be the case, after all even artists need money... I mean I'd be ok paying to go seeing an art exhibit as much as I would for a game or a film or a theatrical production. Costs have to be covered in some way.

I think you're absolutely right - not only that, but a lot of things people would think of as undeniably works of art, be they Renaissance paintings or what have you, were done on commission, to the costumer's specifications.

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I believe video games are art. My questions, though, are this:

1. How do I convince someone who thinks video games are not art to change their opinion, or at least understand where I'm coming from?

2. If the person who believes video games are not art has never played a video game before, how do I convince them to at least try one out?

3. Do I have to start with a video game that already exists, or do I have to make one myself? If so, what should that game contain?

I'll make sure to listen to the podcast, though, I'm interested to hear your take on this.

I wouldn't mind a crack at these. Uh, I'm not a PhD, but I did do a good philosophy degree!

So, 1) first find out what they understand to be art. But try not to go down the rabbit hole of getting into an argument about how art is defined. I'm sort of with Wittgenstein in thinking that a lot of philosophical problems are an illusory artefact of confusing how words might be defined academically to how they are generally understood. So find out how they decide whether a thing is art or not. What their answer I will inform what you can talk about in response.

2) Depends on 1), but if they simply don't believe game mechanics can be meaningful or have anything to say about the human condition then give them an example of how interaction in a game does provide meaning that isn't conveyed anywhere else. I think that Brothers has a few excellent examples of this. But you may also like to talk about a game like Papers Please and how the mechanics themselves encourage you to become complicit in corruption.

3) Again, it really depends on how the person decides what is art or not.

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