Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Videogames as Art

I recently became aware that the famous movie critic Roger Ebert wrote,"videogames can never be art". I find it puzzling that he could make such a statement, since what attracts me to videogames, as an artist, is the unlimited potential for art. The cinematics are one of the many aspects that get my creative juice flowing.

While building the cinematics, I've been forced to constantly use my imagination to solve creative and technical problems while remaining on target for our milestones. It has been challenging and exhilarating at the same time. One of the thing that Joe and I agreed upon right off the bat was to keep them short and sweet - focus on quality rather than quantity. I'll take two great minutes of animation over twenty minutes of average any time. We want the cinematics to feel like rewards, not something you want to fast-forward through.

The next challenge will be to make the transition between cinematics and game play completely seemless. I look forward to that!


George said...

If you start drawing parallels with movies, then you will see that most of movies done recently was made for money, and have less "art" in itself than commercials.

But again, there are so called "arthouse" movies. May be what we see here - is a birth of new trend: "arthouse video game"

Eran Cantrell said...

I think one of the hazards of participating in an emergent medium is that most of society will only see its potential for utility. It takes a more creative mind to appreciate its capacity for art. In Ebert's case, he has since apologized for his poorly-chosen words. Apparently the closest he's ever come to a videogame is his free copy of Solitaire, so he had no frame of reference for the experience.

random9q said...

I'd seen that comment when it originally hit the fan.

I've had some time to digest it since.

There's a kernel of truth to it, and that is that games -- of which video games are only a part -- exist on a continuum of more than a few dimensions. There's the "play" part, the "story art" part, the "visual art" part, the "music art" part, the "foley art" part, and you can keep on going and even subdivide and microcategorize and not even do that as a way to break it apart but to appreciate the nooks and crannies in which you might find different kinds of beauty. Many, many video games focus on the "play" part -- because for many consumers of video games that is primary. There's a reason that aspect tends to take first position -- it's the easiest way to keep most video game consumers at a certain level of attentiveness and engagement. It also tends to obscure the other components as it competes for their attention -- it is hard to be an effective player if you're distracted by "appreciating" everything else that's there.

There's also the way in which games are able to take a form which requires the participant to push it and actively make it progress. All art isn't as static as many people -- even many artists -- conceive of it. You don't arrive to art as an objective viewer, you never do. Part of your perception is there because you the viewer bring yourself to it and engage with it. That fact is less avoidable with video games. There's also participatory theater, which gets similar critiques claiming it isn't art because it isn't arranged and can't be static and so can never be said to be a fixed form. I think such criticism results from a pretty common misconception of basic human perception -- that we can perceive objectively. (Yes, there are ways to be _less_ subjective, it isn't "all relative", and critical thinking is a good skill to have... but that doesn't mean you've freed yourself to a magical land of objectivity either.)

But I'll stop there. That's about as far as I can take that kernel of truth. The comment itself was fairly pre-judicial and about as imperceptive as it was provocative. There's a lot of other art forms where one aspect of what's there to appreciate get in the way of other things. It's like a gourmet restaurant critic who has the gene for an soap-tasting aversion to cilantro damning all dishes with cilantro as inherently devoid of any taste worth having.

Saying his perception or simply stubbornly refuses to get it is off is a bit too simple, to me. From his vantage it might all never be appreciable, he has the aversion and he's not going to see it -- it is what it is to him. But for him to assert that it just isn't there was more than a bit arrogant. It's the fallacy of "N=1", that -- again -- one's perception _can_ be completely objective and your observation suffices for a total world view.

Anyhow, something from someone who was highly offended by it, but took a little while to turn it over. I wanted to understand why I was offended by it as much as understand where the remark might've come from.

Unknown said...

I apologize for going off-topic, but can you give an update on the state of the game? I know it's impolite to pester developers with "Are we there yet?" questions, but the ITSP is one of the most interesting projects I'm really looking forward to.