A question I’m sure that was once asked about film, photography and novels but not anymore. Have we now arrived at a point where we can accept video games as a new artistic medium?
As the industry has grown, along with the rise of an independent scene, much similar to independent short films and indie music, are there games being made for purely aesthetic purposes? Or is it still too early to tell?
As this is a very large topic, I will do my best to dive into the subject and extract a relevant answer in such a short article. But feel free at the end to add your opinions and continue where I left off.
To begin with I feel it would be best to define and understand art itself.
The dictionary describes art as:
- The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
According to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, the definition of art can have many different meanings and they describe them as:
- Art is a visual form for aesthetical or communicative purposes, expressing ideas, emotions or worldviews.
- Entities intentionally endowed by their makers with a significant degree of aesthetic interest.
- Such entities and traditions in human culture might exist in other possible worlds.
- Some entities have ceremonial, religious or propagandistic functions.
- Traditionally endowed by their makers with properties, perceptual a significant degree of aesthetic interest, surpassing that of everyday objects.
- Art has a complicated history, new genres, art forms develop. Standards of taste change/evolve. Understandings of aesthetic properties and experiences change.
According to Plato, he describes art as:
- Artworks present only an appearance of an appearance of what is real.
- Artwork engages an unstable lower part of the soul.
- Art should be subservient to moral realities, which along with truth, are more metaphysically fundamental and hence more humanly important than beauty.
According to Kant, he describes art to be:
- A kind of representation that is purposive in itself and though without an end, neverless promotes the cultivation of the mental powers for sociable communication.
Art can have many definitions and the meaning can vary from person to person, so I have chosen these definitions that I feel best describes art for myself. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
In the 20th century there were nine principle arts considered: Architecture, Dance, Sculpture, Music, Painting, Literature (including theatre), Film, Photography and Comics. The last three being the latest additions to the list and were once debated over their relevance.
But as time has gone by they have been embraced and accepted. As mentioned in the Stanford Encyclopaedia new art forms are developed. New technologies are invented and humanity finds ways in which to be creative with them.
So Can Video Games Be Art?
Is it time to embrace them as well?
Scott Miller, CEO of 3D Realms and co-creator of Max Payne wrote in 2004;
‘It’s time game designers grasp the power of creating games with emotional depth, meaningful characters and dialogue, and themes that reach players’ hearts and really – I mean REALLY – make them care about their game’s story’
For many, games have been criticized for not having the same amount of emotional depth and connection with the characters and story that film and literature can offer, which have made some to criticize video games potential to be considered an aesthetic medium. This is a fair point, it can be hard to connect with some games, but is this the case for all?
There are good examples that have come from game designer and director Fumito Ueda creator of ICO, who has attempted to create emotional depth. A game he purposely tried to distance from conventional video games and set about creating a simpler adventure that evoked an emotional experience of trust, loyalty and the frailty of this bond between the two characters.
This game was followed up by Shadow of The Colossus. A game in which you see lengthy cut scenes and long stretches of riding. This allowed the player to feel immersed and isolated within a desolate world, giving plenty of time to reflect on your quest. One of few games that could be considered a masterpiece according to film director Guillermo del Toro.
The Last Guardian is the next game to come from Fumito Ueda, which looks to explore the bond between a boy and a dog/bird creature called Trico. Hopefully this game will continue to and expand on the development of an emotional connection between the player and the characters from the game.
The rise of the industry and the emergence of games mentioned above have caught the attention of many artists from different mediums to express their creativity in new ways. Games have been attracting Novelists, illustrators, film directors, actors and musicians who all want to get involved in the industry. Video games have become a collection of different artistic voices. This can be seen in the game Enslaved, which was written by novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, who based the story on the Chinese classic novel, Journey To The West. Actor Andy Serkis was also involved with voice work and motion capture, along with composer Nitin Sawhney who has worked on various television and film projects.
Guillermo Del Toro has also admitted to be working on several game titles with THQ including a horror trilogy.
The influence and rise of the independent video game industry thanks to the internet, I-phone and android app stores and console networks, have also contributed to the diversity of the current video game industry. It has helped to free up new voices to create and experiment. New generations of young artistic people who have grown up with video games, are now getting more opportunities to express themselves and create with plenty of platforms of exposure available to them.
The diversity and creativity in the industry has never been so rich, with talent pushing the boundaries and opening up the medium.
But have they been opening up the industry enough for more potential examples of video games becoming a visual form of aesthetical purpose?
One Single Life
One Single Life is a very short game available for free on the I-phone app store. You play as a free runner who jumps from one building to another. There are ten levels each one being a new jump. The game plays with mortality and how realistically we only have one chance in life, if our life is at stake, do we jump across a life-threatening gap? How does this make you feel before the jump? The Creator of the game Anthony O’Dempsey talks about his creation on his website;
‘In late 2009, I found myself pondering why I rarely felt genuine emotions like fear or anxiety in games. Then it struck me. That got me thinking… What if there was a game with literally only one life? Where every action was meaningful and the consequences real? A game where the real skill was not in learning the controls but in being able to overcome one’s own fears and doubts when the moment of truth arrived. Do I have what it takes when it matters most?’
After downloading and playing the game and first I should mention once you die, you cannot play the game again. You have one life one chance and that is it.
Could this game be considered art?
Well the game certainly played with my emotions. I died on level four, not great, but the tension, nerves and self doubt kicked in when thinking ‘if I fall that’s it, I can’t play this again!’ you are given a practise jump before each level, which I made every time but when it came to the real leap, being constantly reminded that if I die it’s the end, it completely changed the dynamic of the experience.
So could this game be art?
Well from the definitions discussed from above, the game:
- Evokes and expresses genuine emotion tension, fear, apprehension, nervousness.
- Expresses and represents how fragile how real human life is. We only have one shot at it.
- Intentionally endowed by its maker to evoke emotion within the game, of aesthetic interest.
- Such entities of human culture, the fragility of life exists in another world, one chance, one life.
- Its significant aesthetic interests surpass it beyond its everyday object of being a portable downloadable game; especially considering it can only be played once.
- A communicative piece attempting to express emotion within a video game.
- It offers an appearance of an appearance of what is real.
- The moral reality of death is an everyday truth fundamentally important to humanity.
I admit that this article is quite concise on a topic, which has a lot of depth, but from what I have seen so far there is a strong case for video games to become an artistic medium. The talent is there, the freedom, experimentation and exposure are all now available in the industry to fully express itself and start knocking on the door.
In fact in America the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, considers video games eligible for artistic funding, which apparently legally recognises them as an art form.
But what is your opinion? Keep the debate open. There are games that I may have missed out?
Has anybody played and downloaded One Single Life? What are your opinions on the game? Is it art?
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This article was first posted on August 7, 2011