Monday, April 19, 2010

Videogames As Art

Once again this has become a popular debate amongst my fellow nerds. What follows is a comment I posted on The Auteurs:

For the most part, Hollywood films are products created with the intention of pleasing as many people as possible, so that they can make that much money through ticket sales. Videogames are even more of a product than Hollywood films — if the gameplay is not enjoyable, the game is considered unplayable. To add to this, the most ambitious game developers aim to create experiences as close as possible to Hollywood films, which — again, for the most part — are really just crowd-pleasing entertainment, like going to a small circus or amusement park. The most well-liked contemporary videogame at the moment is possibly Uncharted 2, which comes across as even more empty and impersonal than the brand of film it attempts to emulate.

Gamers don’t want to be challenged (and I do mean in a different way than level difficulty) by videogames in the same way that the casual moviegoing public do not want to be challenged by art films. They paid their money and want to be entertained. They do not want their dollars to be challenged by someone’s singular artistic vision — they want to be engrossed in an experience made by a company to appeal to not only them but those enjoying the game with them. One of the only instances of artistic alienation in videogames was masterminded by Hideo Kojima with the midway point and ending of Metal Gear Solid 2, a postmodern game that comments on the gamer as much as it comments on its own in-game events. Because of this it was met with a huge backlash from fans. Hideo Kojima learned his lesson. He would not make games that alienated his audience, because gamers do not want their games to be art. They merely want their games to be considered art so that they are no longer questioned with why they spend so much time and money on their hobby.

Why is there so rarely a narrative game that does not involve killing? Why does ‘videogame’ seem to automatically mean shooting someone in the head? There is some wonderful and intelligent dialogue in the film Yi Yi about this. There is no wonderful and intelligent dialogue in a game that comments on either itself or any other medium. It is a closed-off world of meaningless rules, relentless depictions of murder and hackneyed attempts at emotion which rarely reach beyond melodrama or sentiment. There are games that are artistic but there are no games that are honest. One day this may change, but until then we are left with nothing but charming vessels of instant gratification.

My five favourite games:

1. Landstalker
2. Shenmue
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Super Mario Galaxy
5. Jet Set Radio Future


  1. I think maybe the majority of gamers but that is the same with the majority of movie goers.

    there are a ton of games which have massive artistic merrit like the ones you listed also games like Ico and shadow of the colossus? don't these games prompt you to create significant emotional attachment to the characters I feel the attachment I have had to characters in game is greater than characters in films or novels as your relationship isn't passive, your the character. I think its more the person who creates emotional attachment to the game particularly if the interactivity causes you to have to care for something like in ico when you have to care for the princess and fight unbeatable black spirits.

    These narrative elements make you think of relationships out of the virtual world. I think possibly your mind can make in game characters avatars for people who are siginificant in your life, this is one reason I think it is possible to play games for so long as your getting a form of social interaction of sorts.

    I really think of ico as art its also still an enjoyable game.

    it is true there is alot of room for artistic improvement but its not fair on games to say they are nothing but charming vessels of instant gratification.


    you know how you feel about mario.

  2. Ico is an incredible fairy tale -- and I consider its ending, that final sequence on the pure white beach, to be one of the few truly moving moments in videogames. I agree with a lot of your points. One of my main problems with 'videogames as art' is that videogames still haven't reached the point where there are true auteurs. I personally can't think of any games that are autobiographical or semi-autobiographical. I can't think of a game that serves as a portrait of a truly personal and human experience. I'm not finding in videogames what I find in your art, in the films of directors like Godard or in the literature of authors like James Joyce.

    Unlike Roger Ebert, the man who always starts this conversation amongst gamers, I've been playing and loving videogames since before I even made it to kindergarten. I fully acknowledge the artistic traits of games like Ico. I think the issue is that game developers *need* to make games that are liked by everybody, while artists, writers and directors have a lot more freedom to fulfill a singular vision.

    I want to see a narrative game based on a meaningful moment in the developer's life. A narrative game that does not involve killing or hitting someone. A game where the character does not even pick up a weapon. I want to see a narrative game where the player is controlling a character who can freely acknowledge and discuss the world. We'll never see a game made by one company where a character freely and directly comments on and critiques a game made by another company. I want a game that isn't afraid to have inconsequential moments where nothing happens. There are so many wonderful and unexplored options here but we keep saying the same types of games over and over and over again.

    Again, I agree with you, but I don't think I'll be able to consider games as art until I can pick up an autobiographical Hideo Kojima game that costs 60$ and is on the same shelf as Gears of War 7. I know indie developers give this kind of a thing a shot with flash but I want to see a full-blown project backed by a publisher.

  3. 'I want a game that isn't afraid to have inconsequential moments where nothing happens.'

    Well, that's one of the many reasons I love Shenmue.

  4. I agree there is a lot of room for improvement, and alot that games could do and havent explored.

    I think playability is something that games need to have and there will probably never be a game which is completely art specific. I imagine that the types of games your talking about could occur online, I think an autobiographical game could be really interesting.

    Similar to a novel, but would it be similar to a dating game?

    I really like Hideo Kjimas ideas about games particularly the one where if you die the disc stops working so you have to go and buy a new game he's super innovative.

    Its difficult to say I always wanted to make a game about really mundane house chores, that was at the same time really really intense.

    I think alot of the stuff we are talking about is similar to things like secondlife which i think is really progressive as its free to an extent and with scripting knowledge you can make games inside it so its cool like that.

    but yeah a game like Finigans wake would be pretty cool, if it perpetually kept repeating itself in a never ending circle.

  5. Again, you bring up some terrific points, and I think your comment is the closest to a beautiful agreement we'll have. It helps that the more I think about it, the more I realise I'm being a bit stuck-up.

  6. haha no i wasn't trying to put it down, I just wanted to know more its interesting. Your point is totally valid!

    p.s. what do you think about tv static?