Thursday, December 2, 2010

If Games Are Like Movies, And Movies Are Art, Then I Still Hate You

The folks over at Extra Credits today kept hammering home a point I find myself strangely hostile towards; games as art. Mostly because, on my end, it went something like:

Extra Credits: "Games are art! Games are art! Games are art!"
Me: "BOOM HEADSHOT! I'm sorry, you were saying something?"

If games are art, I'd consider them something like movies. Except RPGs, those are more like novels. Except Final Fantasy, those are more like shitty mangas. Anyway, I consider film to be an artistic medium. At the same time I love things like Die Hard (except Die Hard 2) and I even have a soft spot for the craptacular Starship Troopers movie. If I wanted to draw parallels (and I love doing that), then Dragon Age is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Okami is Millenium Actress, Modern Warfare is Live Free Or Die Hard, and StarCraft is what Starship Troopers SHOULD HAVE BEEN (I wanted to compare something to Schindler's List, but that ain't happening in gaming anytime soon).

You'd think the parallels would make it easy for me to side with the games-as-art crowd, especially since I'm a gamer. So why my hostility? I don't really know. Maybe it stems from my feeling that some of us are taking a hobby way too seriously. I also build Gundam models but I'm never going to take the time, money, and effort to paint them and build custom stands for them. I suspect, though, that my issue is that I feel art should be more academic and less visceral. When I'm watching a Let's Play, I can take the games-as-art argument more seriously because I'm more detached. I can see artistry or lack thereof is level design because I'm not trying to navigate it. If I'm navigating the level, I'm not concerned with artistry as I am with functionality. Fuck elegance in design, I'm lost and the camera seems more concerned with ceiling patterns than helping me out. But then, I always judged architecture more on its usefulness than it's artistic merits (unless you want to argue pragmatism as artistry, but I'd have to punch you at the moment). It's like an argument I once had regarding pornographic "art"; if I'm masturbating to it, it's not art. If I'm appreciating the human body, it is art. Pretty much what I'm asking is whether or not the "artist" is actively trying to give me an erection. Masturbation was probably the worst analogy to use, but the idea of the visceral reaction is the same. I can appreciate the art in an action sequence where the hero skillfully headshots his enemies. When I'm playing as the hero, that artistry got jettisoned out the window the moment I took some level of pleasure and/or pride from my skillful takedowns. When I'm personally and viscerally involved, it's not about art but about my in-game accomplishments. Accomplishments the designers obviously facilitated, but I, the player, am the one stepping up to the challenge. Video games are games, and while we can praise a players abilities or the fact that football is infinitely more pleasurable and interesting than baseball (proven fact), nobody talks about the artistry in football's rules. Because we're focused on the player and whether or not the game is fun.

That's my piece, and if anyone cares I'm willing to elaborate, but I think I have all of one reader anyway. Maybe one day our children will talk about video games the same way I talk about movies and books. Maybe one day video games will have televised industry award shows that aren't sponsored by Mountain Dew. Or maybe on day competitive gaming will have the same broad appeal as professional sports, complete with televised matches, leagues, and championships. And I said "or" there because I consider these things mutually exclusive.

1 comment:

Matoushin said...

There are arguments that can be made for games being art, but I don't particularly care to make them. This isn't because I agree that games can't be art, but because I agree that the "Games are art!" mantra is becoming annoying.

Call me cynical, but I'm of the opinion that nothing we do is going to convince everyone over 40 that video games can be art. You can convince individual people one at a time through grueling effort, or you can just shrug your shoulders and enjoy your video games because their opinions aren't relevant to your ability to do so. They'll all be dead eventually anyway and the biggest threat to video games as art are the video game developers themselves.

I enjoy a good debate, but writing about how games are art on a video game website is pointless.