11-15-09 - New York Times Magazine

The New York Times Magazine this week has an article on video games as "art" (See the article here ). It mainly focuses on Jason Rohrer and his game "Passage" (see it here ).

I came here to write an angry rant about how retarded the article is and how Passage is absolutely the worst kind of attempt at "art" and the worst kind of "game" (in that it's not a game at all - it's a "toy" or an "experience" ; at the Indie Game Jam we always tried to have a rule that we didn't just make "toys" or "experiences" because they're easy and uninteresting).

But then I realized that actually the article and Passage are both actually brilliant on a meta level. The article is by someone who totally doesn't understand games or art, but is trying to seem intelligent and writes a lot of pretentious nonsense. Rohrer is either an idiot or is intentionally spouting bullshit to make Passage and games seem more significant than they really are. The article is aimed at out-of-touch old people who will nod and go "hmm interesting" and then share what they read at some cocktail party and everyone will pretend to agree in order to seem smart. That's art! It's exactly like the traditional art world ! How brilliant, by being retards they have shown that games are art.

(I realized this while walking around the SAM looking at the Calder mobiles and being amazed by how "artists" can create this amazing mass delusion to make critics talk about all the powerful themes in their work that don't really exist).

This article was part of yet another weekly new low for the NYTM. This week the main articles are on Megan Fox and Octomom. It's literally a tabloid now, but even worse than a tabloid because the gossip and tawdry condescenion is cloaked in a language of detached observation and pretentiousness. It's like "oh we're way too smart to actually care about Megan Fox and Octomom so we will write about the phenomenon of other people being interested in them".

Of course that's all people really want. People don't want to actually be intellectually challenged. They just want confirmation of their existing beliefs. They want opinion without facts. They want sex and gossip and soap operas. If they're sophisticated, they like to get their trash cloaked in a veil of higher culture (see, eg. Mad Men, 2666, etc.).

.. also Passage does indeed invoke powerful emotions. It doesn't make you think about mortality or futility unless you're a fucking moron. But it does make you feel frustration, disgust, disbelief, anger, and finally sadness that you wasted your time on this pile of turd and that our cultural critics fall for this nonsense so easily.


Aaron said...

Some of those old Orisinal games still feel like art to me. Not much out there gives you the sense of wonder that a really amazing piece of artwork does. That said, most of us making games don't have any sort of slavish dedication to detail that would be required to make our games into something super artistic. We're struggling just to make it fun, chasing all these hardware upgrades/console cycles etc etc. If we ever plateau out in hardware though maybe we'll have enough time to really get to know an engine and think about the deep symbolism of the placement of every decorator. For now I'd be happy if the artists can figure out how to make the ground not have big gaping holes in it.

cbloom said...

I should say that my personal feeling on the "is a video game art" issue is basically :

1. It's a fucking retarded discussion to even have at all. Is anything art? What is art? Where's the line between pornography and art nudes? Are we all just a dream that someone else is having? Shut the fuck up.

2. The power of the medium of video games comes from the *interactivity*. Any claim that a game is "art" because of its visuals or sound or experience or anything like that is stupid. Games that are just a framework to present traditional media to you are just bad versions of traditional media.

The most exciting thing about video games to me is the way it can make you feel things through your own personal choices and involvement in what's happening. Also in real games that have goals and advancement and such, they can be very compelling emotionally in a way that traditional media aren't because you become so invested in your character and the world.

Aaron said...

Hm... Maybe I should have added a 'to me' at the end of all my sentence (though that's bad form of course). Of course the 'is it art' question is retarded. It's a definition that varies widely between people.

It's fun to me (hah) to leave the definition a little loose and undefined though and just enjoy toying around with whether it seems like an object (Game, car, whatever) rises to the level of art for me. Kinda fun to try to figure out if the maker is getting across a message or (to use your example) giving you that ability to interact in a particularly interesting way. Ultimately it's a personal decision how/whether you want to measure it. I think that's part of the frustration with art critics. What is the sense in having someone else tell you what your personal feeling on something should be, or assigning it worth when their opinion means nothing?

There are objective measures of quality in games and traditional art forms that are find and sometimes useful for measuring coolness (especially for weeding out crap before you drop $60 bucks on something). Ultimately your internal gauge is (by definition) better for the final decision. Reviewers/critics should be there to help you weed out the stuff that's below your threshold of interest.

Regarding point 2: a game has to be interactive by definition, that's true. It's not just interactivity though. There's a lot of ways for someone making a game to do interesting stuff. Get across a message. Tell a story. Lead you to feeling a particular way. Let you experience a different perspective. Up to you to decide (or not) whether they succeeded (or if they were even trying). So no, a game probably can't be 'art' just because of the content because it can't even be a game if it's just content :) But the effectiveness of the 'content and the interactivity in concert' is definitely up for debate between willing participants, even if you are the only participant.

nothings said...

Have at it with this fellow!


cbloom said...

Who cares if a game is "officially" art ? Who says its art anyway? The New York Times? Roger Ebert? WTF do they know? The need for approval of our medium from the cultural "elite" is just pointless insecurity.

Also, the great thing about the Indie Game movement is that they might make interesting *games* not that they would make anything that is more or less art than the mainstream game industry.

The great thing about Braid is that the actual game play mechanic is interesting and novel, not all the story / artistic intent / blah blah blah.

The whole problem that I have with the "game is art" movement is that they just tend to make shit games, and they completely miss the point of what makes games a powerful medium.

Aaron said...

Is there some threshold where a game goes from not art to art? Probably more of any artsyness continuum. In that sense I agree. Who cares because it's the wrong question. I don't care about a threshold of 'is it' art. But I am a bit interested in how artistic a game is (to the extent that it's artsiness makes it fun anyway).

Doing something simultaneously different and fun in games is super hard as we all know. I bet most of the people with the 'make it art' motivation are not nearly qualified to be doing that. Hell, plenty of full blown studios can barely pull off making games that are just a simple rehash of existing mechanics. I'm not sure if Braid is an example of doing something better because the focus was not on making it an artistic experience, or because Blow is just way smarter and better at making games than the art movement folks, and because it was so incremental. Really it's 99% what's been done before, but with one clever different mechanic, but that difference is huge on the scale of sameness going on in most games.

Aaron said...

God I told ASmith at lunch today I was gonna shorten my posts here, but I failed yet again :)

old rants