Can computer games be art?

Diggedy Derek

Stray Dog
Played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas last night, which is amazingly fun (much more so than the bloated, stoopid Vice City). Set in Straight Outta Compton era LA, it's extraordinarily rich in observation- one of the characters (Ryder) is clearly Eazy-E, perpetually blunted, hunched up behind shades, nasty and spiky. The music is fantastic, one radio station seems to play nothing but James Brown and his funky people (Think, I'm Coming etc.), and you get Cypress Hill's How I Could Just Kill A Man too.

But <adopting BBC Late Review demeanor> is it art? Many have pointed to the satirical or ironic qualities of the GTA games- a humorous shake-down of unrestrained capitalism. While this is true to a degree, it doesn't seem to really address their essence as games rather than fictions. Games only attain a real cultural importance after they are released, when the audience responds to it. I think if the mileu they create is consistent and provocative enough, it gives a chance to revisit, to reinvent cultural histories. For instance, and this is only a small reinvention, but a G-funk re-lick of The Message suddenly sounded impassioned and vital rather than just a lazy retread, when I was driving around (ahem) my 'hood.

So computer games are inherently non-auteuristic, but this gives a consequet problem that they keep on pandering to the same violent, macho thrills. How can computer games break out of this comodifying cycle, I wonder?
 

Diaz

New member
Not to jump the gun on this (since this is my first foray into this entire subverse) or anything, but that question's pretty much over :)

yep. they totally are. one of the big questions (still antinomial if you ask me but no one does) is whether they're more interesting in virtue of the narratives they have and that you participate in, or whether the mechanics of the game (the interactions, the engines, the nature of the genre and all) are more interesting. S'a big whole debate in video game academia, the narratologists versus the "ludologists" (ludo = game, apparently. don't know latin here, i'll stick to greek thank you very much).

matteo bittanti (http://mbf.blogs.com/mbf/) is one dope foolio on the subject, the folks at www.insertcredit.com are also fairly visionary in their approach to these gems. much younger set than some of the blogosphere's greatest, and it shows, but damn if they hearts aren't in the right places.


incidentally, katamari damashii (aka katamari damacy) is a wonderful video game that is very artistic. it's absurd, funny, gorgeously designed, very simple and absolutely entertaining. you're a tiny little spaceman pushing a ball trying to gather up material for your father to re-make the stars with. oh man it's great.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Of course, <em>Out Run</em> was High Art. Particualrly in the arcades, on the machines that swerved like <em>a real car</em>.
 
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be.jazz

Guest
I retain a fondness for the insanely difficult (at least, for me as a kid) "Night Stalker" on Intellivision II. At the end, you faced an *invisible* robot.

As for the thread's question, it seems fairly obvious to me that they can be works of art. There are the cinematic aspects (graphics, design, sound) but also the more purely gaming ones (gameplay) which allows games like "Tetris" or "Pac Man" to be great works of art, in a way.
 

luka

Moderator
my mates got that new gta. we were up till 5 last night playing it. i dunno if its art but its definitely fun.
 

Diggedy Derek

Stray Dog
There was a really funny quote once from Utah Saints which was quite similar- "I don't know if computer games are killing music, but they certainly delayed the release of our last single".
 

Woebot

Administrator
Staff member
i picked up black and white a couple of years back under the assumption that it was "art", saw some really self-conciously rough-edged polygonal models theyd used and was sold on the look, first game i'd picked up in ages, and i was really bloody disappointed. actually no i was just bored to sobs.

much more prepared to swallow the idea that GTA might be art, but when people say art in relevance to computer games, they tend to mean the same thing when they talk about 'art' movies. thats to say ponderous, bourgeois, 'sensitive', 'rich' 'full of meaning' blah blah blah you know what i'm on about etc.
 

nick.K

gabba survivor
yes, i'd say computer games are art. but you have to do the work. I love exploring finding desolate places in games, or just wandering. I loathe killing, or being killed, but i can be completely transported by a game. I get lost, i forget about myself, I become the chatacter. take from it what you want, there is potential for art in games. damn, I'd rather spend saturday afternoon driving around San Andreas than walking from room to room in a gallery I've already seen.
 

Diaz

New member
the games with the best possibility for being 'art' right now (lord knows this should change) are ones in which the way you play has a meaning that, unfortunately, is only consciously seen by fans of the style: i.e., metal gear solid's narrative and mechanics playing with everything from the the typical storyline of spy thrillers to the actual guidelines required by sony for playstation games (forcing the player to remove a controller triggers an error message in the game, but that is required to get through one particularly bizarre scene), or ikaruga, a space fighter shoot-em-up which seems just insanely difficult but pretty to me, but to fans of the genre, is more or less a beautiful poem about balancing a game for just the right amount of mental and physical torture and reward.
 
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be.jazz

Guest
Yes, I really liked the first MGS. Also, the lesser-known Bushido Blade, a samurai fighting game in which one blow could kill and you limped if you got hit in the leg, etc. GTA is somewhat similar. That said, my favourite games are football games. The ISS series in particular.
 

rob_giri

New member
Isn't this question as simple as to say that by the very nature of a game being a creation by humans with the multi-media design of light, colour, sound, texture etc etc - the very fact that it is ARTificial - it is constituted as art? Even if there was a game that paid little attention to sensory, textural detail it would still be classified as art.

Art doesn't have to be a medium with certain prerequisites of a given context, ie as Matt says with typical 'artistic' sensibilities. Don't we know from the entire history of 20th century culture that anything is basically art? I know you all are probably aware of this but i think it is enough to render this question ridiculous.

With the question of GTA, of course its friggin' art. Its created by visual design, the creators no doubt had to have some sort of artistic training in order for them to create it etc etc. The definition of 'Art' (notice the uppercase 'A') isn't a merely creation infused with bourgeois sensitivity, it's anything created by humans.The intension behind its creation - be it mind-numbing entertainment (video games) or thought-provoking richness in my opinion is completely irrelevant to its classification.
 

seahorsegenius

It's just me.
Art is expressing something. Not neccesarily an emotion but at least a feel, a theme. Entertainment and art are two completly different things.
 

rob_giri

New member
I don't believe art has to be expressing something. The only example i can think off the top of my head now is Toshimaru Nakamura saying that he doesn't want to express anything. Would you thereby classify his music and indeed all of Jap improv as 'not art'?. I agree there are differences between art and entertainment, of course there are differences between the latest action blockbuster and an arthouse film, obviously the latter is expressive, richer and sensitive (ie 'artier') than the former. If one is made for financial gain is it constituted as 'not art'? An indeed, if one brings that into question, isn't most art nowadays made for consumption to at least some degree?

I guess what i'm saying is is that nowadays Art with a big A has come to mean a certain type of art with a small A, a type like Matt suggested. Because we can make this differentiation, isn't questioning whether or not something is Art seem a bit silly because it there is (surprise surprise) basically no dichotomy between the supposed difference between Art and non-Art art. There will always be argument between people about this topic usually over petty things like whether or not something actually LIKES the work. For instance, Person A says GTA is Art because he likes the game and generally calling something art gives it credit, but person B says its not Art because they don't like computer games. Its never-ending, and i think its rather silly, but nevertheless feel the need everytime it is raised to explain that if you question whether or not something is art, it generally always will be.
 

rob_giri

New member
Sorry for that rather ridiculous rant. Will make sure next time not to collapse into such a stupid, boring and passe argument. Hah
 

Diggedy Derek

Stray Dog
Been meaning to get back to this thread for quite a while now. Certainly agree computer games can be art, but the more I think about it, I don't know how it happens. As Woebot says, computer games with an arty twist tend to be atrocious, and I'd venture to add that it's some of the most blood thirsty, mindless ones (GTA, Quake, Resident Evil) that actually have the most cultural resonance.

But noone, let alone the computer games manufactures seem to be able to figure out how it happens.

Agree that "expressing" isn't what computer games do. Let's take another tack- perhaps computer games, like films, synthesize various cultural viewpoints together, they subconsciously provide solutions, dream up utopias to perceived problems with real society. Thus just as saving a bunch of children in movies often suggest fantasies of a better tommorow, the many rescue missions in computer games suggest a similar viewpoint. Except how does this explain that these days, all arcades are full of House Of The Dead and racing games (whatever happened to good arcade games?).

Dunno where I'm going with this. Cultural studies probably.
 
Back when i was at college i was paid to debug playstation games for two consecutive summers. This was for SQUARE, and the games were stuff like FINAL FANTASY. i have real difficulty appreciating 95% of computer games. But the other 5% provide the kind of immersive experiences that cannot be found in non-interactive media, and i think these experiences stay with you on some level. certainly as profound as any stagnant gallery experience, or so called 'visual art' encounter. i would strongly recommend the recent release UPLINK, where the gamer takes the character of a hacker. You need to hack the game itself in order to progress. ace idea.

presenting an open system to someone seems far more exciting than presenting the resolution of a single artist's particular discursive contrivances.
 

MolexRoots

switch!
Games are becoming more and more like showcases for art/music. Two types of games: The epic adventures like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy always come with a great score, perfectly suited to the situation. Then there's the adrenaline rush games like GTA and Need for Speed: Underground, with modern, "trendy" music like hip-hop or house as a soundtrack.

Music is becoming more and more of an integral part in the gaming industry; and the industry knows about. When I'm interested in purchasing a game (moreso with role playing games), I try to get as much info about the soundtrack as I can (even before I read the specifications ;) ). I've got pure game soundtracks on my mp3 player and listen to 'em whenever cuz it's damn good.

Gaming is possibly one of the -if not The most- most popular forms of art for the youth of today (youth being pre-16).
 
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