Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Games as Art - Roger Ebert is the biggest douche ever

 The recent debate of the integrity of video games as an art form has sparked outbursts of rage across all spheres of nerd-dom resulting in mass flame wars, the likes the internet has never seen. It has long been the art critic’s ass-backward ways to demarcate video games as a hobby, a pastime, an irrelevant audio visual spectacle amounting to nothing more than a form of entertainment equivalent to interactive debauchery.

The legendary film critic Roger Ebert never went as far as my descriptive wording, oh he did something far worse and made the internet very angry (Hulk angry). From the depths of the web emerged resentment of the largest order. Ebert in a recent blog entry claimed that videogames hold no artistic value and should be assessed in terms of a codified scoring system. Essentially, basing a game’s value from certain criteria it fulfils. His claim about videogames stems from the fact that games involve objectives, scores and ultimately achieving an outcome. Ebert feels that art doesn’t require choices and leaves interpretation up to the viewer of the artwork. This argument is two-fold whilst I agree that art is able to influence and have an impact on the individual, with the advent of modern gaming games have surpassed the banal description Ebert provides.  The reality is that modern videogames lack clear cut choices, and blur the lines between art and the videogames of old. Ebert’s critical perspective of videogames and whether they warrant the label of ‘art’ is questionable, when he refuses to experience the evolution of videogames firsthand. He is for all intents and purposes viewing videogames as being of similar artistic merit to Pong, Pac Man or Space Invaders. Even, though it can be disputed whether to consider early videogames artworks. I feel they do deserve a second glance as critics have claimed that the simplest and at times most random of designs such as Bushmen paintings and the art of Jackson Pollock (one of the pioneers of the Abstract Expressionist movement) to be the epitome of art. So, why not Pong or Pac-Man? A videogame is simply not about how exceptionally realistic the graphics are or how new and intuitive the gameplay may be. It is the experience of a videogame which reveals its artistic value.

Videogames for me and many others is art in motion, an experience that builds up momentum as the player immerses themselves in the world of the game releasing them from the trappings of the physical (World of Warcraft players are a prime example). This can occur even when the sole experience of game is gameplay. It is the interactive experience of videogames that leads the player down their own individual garden path and to a deeper connection between both the player and the videogame. No two people will experience a videogame the same way and essentially narrative may be more complex than other works of fiction. By Ebert’s standards some of the great novels he considers art, like Charles Dickens’s works are structured and follow a set narrative comparable to videogames. The same can be said of movies which offer a linear plane of experience more limited than that of a videogame. Yet, interpretation is key to defining what is and isn’t art. Games nowadays cater for a full-on experience crossing the barriers established by different media. A game like Bioshock is about the experience of engrossing the player in an underwater hellhole stuck in the 1950s, and fighting your way through the dangers that lie ahead. The game plays like a novel with the added bonus of self-tailoring your own unique journey in Bioshock’s dystopian setting. It is peppered with dark and somewhat amusing characters and gameplay, while adding an interactive dimension and moral implications to your actions (in harvesting or rescuing the Little Sisters). These have consequence later on in the storyline.

Films and novels fail in the regard of interaction between the medium and player, lacking the level of interaction that videogames encompass. Many games also operate on the artistic level that traditional fine art dominates, but games too welcome creative innovation that fine art so desperately seeks. An example of a game which bares an artistic dimension is the game Okami which incorporates the beauty of Japanese water block painting and merges it with the gameplay mechanic of a paintbrush. This allows the player to execute maneuvers based on paintbrush strokes, and forms a distinctive approach to battling the demonic forces that plague the landscape of Okami. Another game which embraces artistic innovation and imaginative thinking is Scribblenauts, a game for the Nintendo DS. It offers limitless possibilities of overcoming platforming obstacles with your character, by merely writing a word on the touch screen of the DS. The large variety of word play available to the player allows for imaginative approaches to problem solving, and doesn’t lock the player into a predefined way of completing tasks. The point of art is to not confine a person to one interpretation of the artwork, and by the same token videogames achieve this.

In the end this is where the current state of games as an art form lie, in the development of interactivity through creative outlets.  Meaning the player could have a more flexible understanding of the game world, whilst simultaneously permitting the player free reign in their interpretation of the game. Even, games which still forego artistic value for the sake of entertainment can be viewed as artistic. Games are fun and aren’t necessarily thought provoking works of art, in the traditional sense. However no one said art couldn’t be fun, and videogames are evolving further and further beyond preconceptions. All you need to remember is art is art, it all depends on your perspective. Also, Roger Ebert is the biggest 'douche' ever. 


Anonymous said...

The Game

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