Feb 292008
So, now that we’ve had a little fun with serious science, let’s have a little serious discussion about fun. Gamasutra has two excellent features up about the relationship between games and art, and I think both of them have merit. EA producer Jim Preston’s feature, “The Arty Party” prompted an impassioned response from E. Daniel Arey about “The Art of Games”. Jim Preston has a really good comment on Arey’s piece, and of course Arey’s is a really good response to some of the limitations of Preston’s article. Both pieces have merit, and I highly recommend reading both of them if you have the time.

Preston’s article is primarily an indictment of arguments over whether games are art or not. He points out that often what defines art for people is context: the best violinist in the world playing the best violin music ever written may not be taken for an artist if he is pursuing this activity in a subway station. In this regard, the real criterion by which one can judge whether some object is art is whether people believe it is art. Consequently, Preston doesn’t believe that engaging people like Ebert in a debate over whether games are art is worthwhile. This speaks to my own prejudices; as I have mentioned before, I think the best way for enthusiasts to regard this question is to treat the debate as won and start talking about and judging games as works of art. The earnest and articulate belief in games as art will do more than toppling a dozen Eberts in what Preston terms “essentialist debates”.

Arey’s piece is a response to what he perceives as a sort of self-satisfaction in Preston’s article. He feels that Preston’s attitude reflects a willingness to let games stand still, as it were, with respect to their artistic form. Arey, on the other hand, thinks that developers and publishers should be actively pushing the artistic boundaries of the medium. I’m in agreement on this point as well. While Arey believes there should be some push on the supply side, I’ve already argued that there should be pull on the demand side as well. Arey believes that, regardless of context, the idea of art still matters, and that people in the bright centers of publishing should do all they can to encourage innovation and growth in the artform.

As Preston notes in his comment, these views aren’t really at odds with each other. Gamers ought to treat the debate as won, but both developers and gamers should want to win more, and win better. Talking past the essentialist debate is all well and good, but we shouldn’t be content with that. Even if we’ve won or avoided the fight over whether games are art, we should still strive to bring to market something that can show up an Ebert and expose the argument that games “can never be art” for the vacuous nonsense that it is.

In keeping with my own prescriptions (and Preston’s) I am going to try to finish some in-depth studies of games I’ve been meaning to post (similar to my post on Silent Hill 2). I hope I’ll be able to have the first of these up by Sunday evening. Others will have to wait for refresher play and by the same token, for loaned-out games to return to me.

  2 Responses to “The Arty Party of Games”

  1. Others will have to wait for refresher play and by the same token, for loaned-out games to return to me.
    *whistles nonchalantly and won't make eye contact*

  2. Hear, hear. This reminds me of a movie recommendation pour vous: Yi-Yi is a Taiwanese movie by the recently deceased Ed Yang (it is available on da' flix). It could be called a "philosophical family drama". A minor character that turns out to be crucial to the movie's theme is a Japanese game designer reportedly based on Miyamoto-san. Through a couple of throw-away scenes, this part of the movie makes a most elegant and moving case for games as art.

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