Playing the mediums.
Thus far this blog has primarily served as commentary and critiques. Reviews frighten me, as I am horrid at assigning scores (I agonize over my Goodreads list quite frequently). I’ve not really focused on the question of are videogames art because others are wont to do so, and it really does not interest me any more than the discussion I feel people should be having: what is art?
The problem with the question of whether games are art is that it always seems to assume some definition of art based on what we already know in other mediums. I see art as a constantly evolving term, much like our entire language itself. This includes what constitutes the oeuvre of art. I know that every time I seek to define it in a measurable way, someone sneaks in some example that requires acknowledgment, and it revives the whole discussion again. In other words, it’s a never-ending cycle.
No, what interests me is where art (for the sake of argument, I’m firmly in the videogames as art camp) starts being aware of itself. More specifically, where different media start learning from each other.
Recently I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s After Dark. While reading it, I could clearly see the images in my head–by no accident. Murakami wrote a novelized screenplay in many ways, even acknowledging the camera that is the reader, and what he’s allowing us to see as the author/camera. Murakami could not have written this novel with the impact he was attempting to achieve if film did not exist. In his method of delivery he was clearly framing a camera lens for us, the reader, to experience the scenes he was describing. He goes so far as to place us in the story and uses this camera as that point of entry, and as an excuse to make sure we cannot interact, as we are recording and watching.
Instead of placing a whole scene before us and continuing the narrative, he very delicately and deliberately chooses how to lead us, using this technique to focus our attention. Much like the fact that the comparison of videogames to film isn’t completely erroneous (only so far as it becomes the only focal point, and doesn’t allow acknowledgment of differences in how it interacts), this book uses techniques that have certainly been available in novel writing and storytelling for some time, but insists on using another medium’s language to inform how we see our own interaction. It bolsters its own techniques by borrowing another’s and creating something different, but with which we are familiar.
I repeat: where different media start learning from each other.
Already I’ve written of one novel that did this with videogames: Steve Beard’s Digital Leatherette. At some point in the future I wish to more closely examine Dennis Cooper’s God Jr, whose premise of a father who has lost his son and therefore gets stoned and plays said son’s videogames serves to explore how that level of interaction can bring out a new understanding of how we even interact with each other.
While it seems some are seeking legitimacy in various forms, I find it much more intriguing to note what the artists themselves are doing. There was last year’s controversy over Douglas Edric Stanley’s Invaders! at the Leipzig Games Convention. We’re already seeing postmodern sensibilities in art pay homage to videogame icons and culture, as well as become more interactive. Whatever critical and ‘honorable’ legitimacy we seek, we’re already acknowledged in many facets, and as newer artists of all media emerge, I believe we’ll start seeing more cross-polination.
This also works in the reverse, to some extent (after all, still a fairly new medium, videogames have quite a bit to explore on their own). Games, as a medium that is emerging more into the public’s scrutiny, may wish to examine more of the world around them, including its art. While I often champion for better writing in games, it is a misnomer, as I believe we need stronger storytelling in games, or at least the tools by which we can tell better stories ourselves. Not all writers are good storytellers and vice versa. Already we’re seeing this attention to storytelling being discussed more often, and that may be an issue of knowing where to look.
Not all of it is written word. Not all of it needs to be written word. The attention that Valve has paid to lighting and guiding a player’s eyes in their blog posts concerning Left 4 Dead certainly made my own eyes grow larger. Richard Terrell also has been writing quite proliferously on such topics, showing how games communicate their stories and lessons to us in very intelligent ways (or not).
After all, until a teacher decided to push me in my own writing, it never occurred to me how versatile the written word could be in conveying anything beyond the words placed in front of one’s eyes (this was before I came across poets like e.e. cummings). She then showed me an essay where she spoke about the ever-increasing speed of today’s world; as the essay progressed and offered more concrete examples, the sentences themselves complemented the points and grew shorter, more succinct, and clipped by one’s eyes in rapid succession.
As a gamer, I both feel the need to offer game designers suggestions (as you have) for making games suit our changing tastes. But another part of me, the psychologist, keeps asking how we can suit ourselves to make the games (or books) that already exist, fulfilling and meaningful?
That’s what interests me more than the question of whether or not games are acknowledged as (or even are) art.