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Anonymous wrote:Are videogame art...because I'm sure you're dieing to found out.
Everyone has their own opinion on what art is - it could be put forth that art cannot have any strict definitions: art is what we make of it. On the subject of videogames being art, it’s not as straight forward as classing a novel, piece of music or a film as art, because videogames are, at their heart, a toy. They have more in common with a Rubix Cube or the game Chess, and as far as I know, neither is considered art. Not that it matters - games are a lot of fun and this isn't another attempt to validate their enjoyment. This is more of a championing of the same predictable selection of games you've encountered whenever the word 'art' is brought into contention. Games like Ico...and...Rez...and...actually, Manhunt and in fact...not God of War.
Despite being an expertly-made videogame, it's disqualified because it's too comfortable sat in the genre it steals all its ideas from - and as a result is riddled with videogame clichés. If art is one thing, it's something independently-minded, something that exists within the rules it creates for itself. Something driven only by purest intention, sometimes confounding expectations, other times breaking genre conventions, and the best examples of art do both. Clichés like the double jump, enemies that repeatedly respawn in front of your eyes, and electricity-enabled magic powers disable God of War from feeling fresh and vital. I understand that these weren't just imagined for no reason and do actually serve a purpose; for instance, the double jump exists to aid the player in case he doesn't make that vital gap.
But Super Mario Sunshine thought up an alternative and named it Fludd. And it's ironic that despite God of War's realistic, or perhaps 'grown-up' aesthetic - yes it's inspired by Greek mythology, but at the same time wants to interpret the ridiculous and make it believable - here's Mario, existing in his primary-coloured, yet far more consistent world. It’s the matter of realistic visuals vs a sense of realism. Using Zelda as an example: a visually 'realistic' Link that's as lively as a mannequin vs a cel-shaded Link whose face responds with expressive quality to every nuance of the surrounding environment. To quote the creator of Animal Crossing; 'we didn't want it to look real, but feel real'.
There is a moment in Ico when you're standing on the edge of a cliff witnessing the sheer enormity of the game world's scale: you can see waves crashing against some rocks by an ocean, an almost never-ending rock face and a castle barely visible at the top. But it is unlike other 3-D adventure games where for instance the area you’re occupying is the modelled and textured environment and the background is a pretty but ultimately unreachable flat, painted-on backdrop (that appears to be far far away). In Ico there is no noticeable separation or jarring disparity between the environment you’re occupying and the backdrop. It’s seamless. Either the background is a 3-D structure or it’s a clever illusion, because it seems real; it seems reachable. That the camera tilts in the direction of this awe-inspiring sight tells you the game is as much about what you take in visually as what you do via the gameplay. Essentially, there is no ‘play’ area and ‘backdrop’ in Ico, each beautiful location is intended in order to create a greater whole; there are no ‘levels’, only one all-encompassing, engrossing castle.
In having you care for and protect Yorda, it does give the gameplay a sense of purpose that other games lack, as when you’re separated from her - solving puzzles for the sake of solving puzzles, platforming for the sake of platforming - the gameplay feels somewhat hollow and pointless. You feel lonely wandering this castle without her. The faintest tickle of the dual shock rumble as you tug at Yorda’s hand elevates the connection felt in the game to something more physical, more tangible; more real.
Another necessary aspect of art is that through experiencing it, it should allow you to learn something about yourself. The hundreds of choices we make each and every day tell us everything about ourselves: our likes and dislikes; our stance on what’s right and what’s wrong.
Manhunt only touches on videogame’s potential to appropriate a set of choices and real consequences in the context of a game’s story and its characters. Its approach is rather simplistic in fact, but still relevant. In the game, while stalking an enemy, holding off the kill will mean your character will perform a more graphically violent execution. Really, the game’s choices range from: shall I maim this bounty hunter or viciously stab in the places that will cause him great discomfort. But, still, the game teases you with the promise of more violence and does challenge either your queasiness or innate thirst for blood, whether you find it distasteful or not. That there is a disconnection from the act and a 2 second time-delay from you pressing just one button and watching this complex assault means you’re as much the author of this action as the director is of your situation. And that you’re not really ‘performing’ the execution, only initializing it. It’s just interesting that for a game that’s all about being controlled and manipulated, you’re presented these options that are meant to free and liberate you. Slowly walking behind a bounty hunter, it feels like you’ve got a life in your hands and all the time in the world to decide his miserable fate. Well, Manhunt might fall short of being a profound piece of art, but I personally learned that I’m too curious to resist the temptation of finding out what happens when you’ve got a hammer in your hand and 5 seconds to realise how to use it to its full devastating potential.
Not everyone seems to respond to videogames. You (might) be told by those who don’t play videogames that whenever they do occasionally play the odd game, it leaves them cold. That they can’t identify with the muscular bald protagonist and his plight to rid the world of man-eating green goblins. And the modern videogame’s solution to this is for the player to view the world through the eyes of someone relatively normal - in videogame terms, anyway. Heavy Rain is a good example. Perhaps the protagonist is just a good person who does a bad thing, as the trailer of a woman in a tearful state threatening to end her life with a pistol certainly suggested. This poses too many problems: for one, there’s the issue of Uncanny Valley; the more eerily realistic an animated human’s face looks, the more unusual it appears to our eyes used to viewing natural facial movement in humans. In the instance of Heavy Rain, a player might emotionally respond to the desperation in the actresses’ voice. But only if you close your eyes is it fully effective.
On this particular subject of videogames chasing film, the director of the videogame BAFTA awards astutely said; ‘Videogames will go in this direction, and I’ll tell why; they’ll go in this direction because that’s where the leading developers in the world will take them.’ He’d see how misguided his opinion is if he was forced, A Clockwork Orange-style eyes-wide and restrained, to sit through the photorealistic but very dull CGI Final Fantasy movie.
Videogames don’t need to evolve in this area; they don’t need photorealism in order to inspire emotions in the player. Indeed, it always cuts me up inside whenever my Pikmin are killed off in one fell swoop and I have to admit I failed them by underestimating that giant bird. Videogames can essentially stay the same and yet at the same time become so much more. Everyone would agree that as videogames both Rez and Space Harrier are largely similar: both are on-rails shooters where you aim a reticule at enemies that speed towards you firing projectiles; both require you to shoot said enemies, accumulate points, reach the end of the level and finally, fiddle around to input your initials before the timer reaches zero and the game resets itself. But, equally, everyone would agree they’re not all that comparable, despite the gameplay mechanics being almost identical. You get the feeling when playing Space Harrier that shooting enemies is a means to an end, or rather, a means to prevent death. Whereas with Rez the game is about creating an experience whereby you feel like you’re inside the videogame; creating and affecting the visuals and the audio that in turn induces you into a hypnotic state of consciousness. You begin to shoot enemies in time with the gentle rumble that accompanies the beat.
The final point being that videogames will always be like highly sophisticated toys dictated by rules and restrictions; it’s what makes them challenging and fun. But if they can transcend being just fun and be more about making players feel rather than just making them tick, then maybe we’ll see more games like the ones above.
All comments and feedback welcome. Thank you.
Last edited by A.I. on Sat Sep 13, 2008 1:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Was the title written by a different person or something?
Brushing that aside for a moment, I really, really like this. 'Games as art' has been done to death, but the descriptions of the games involved are generally excellent, with one or two quite inspiring passages. There's the odd bit where sentences don't quite flow as they should, and there's no real link to the Rez bit (the rest of the structure works, but the transition to that section feels jarring). The bit which leads into the discussion of Ico's consistency of environment - while a good point - is clumsy, too. The point's there, it's just not expressed that well (though the following para definitely is).
It's strange - it's as if it's been written by two people this, or it's a first draft of a truly excellent piece from someone who's hurried the sections he/she wasn't as interested in. The passion comes through strongly in the rest of the piece though, and I'd say this is in the top 2 articles so far, if not in pole position.
Nice article. This is one of two interesting takes on the "video games as art" idea in this competition. Both are valid and interesting, but I think this takes it in terms of grammatical accuracy. This also doesn't resort to insulting me, which is nice.