Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Can games ever be art? Yahtzee v's Ebert


Two points of view.  Film critic v's game critic.  Guess who thinks what?  Or alternatively read their posts on the subject (Yahtzee here,  Ebert here) to find out.

To find out what I think read on.

For me lots of art can be throw away.  There's plenty of pop music churned out year after year that is lazily labelled as having been created by 'artists'.  Not all art lasts in the social consciousness forever, certainly not all art needs to.  Being throw away devalues it but doesn't stop it being art.

Ebert's piece is a critique of another article about gaming, which basically argues that gaming hasn't reached the Sistine Chapel stage yet, that it's still at the cave painting stage. Ebert says that it can never evolve beyond that point, that it can not and never will be art because gaming is about winning something.

Yahtzee has his own definition of what art is and fits his feeling about gaming into that.

The big problem that games have is not the evolution of the guys that make the games it's the evolution of the hardware that they make them for.  Every new generation of machines makes the previous generations look old and tired and by our nature we do, in general, move on from those older titles that don't shine quite as much as we want them too.  It's like saying the Sistine Chapel ceiling is more worthy than the cave painting because the surface it's painted on is a better one.

Since people started making games that we could play in arcades or at home there's been artistic design.  Sure every so often a title comes along that moves that forward or in a new direction but the best games combine three elements and one of those is art.

Look beyond the hype and over the top nature of something like Call of Duty and take a wander around a multi player map on your own.  Take in the lovingly crafted detail and the sense of scale.  Someone somewhere came up with that.  Then a team of people at Infinity Ward brought it to life, filled it with specks of dust and sound effects.  Move around a map on your own and the you get struck by how eerie it feels without anyone else there but the map still breathes, still feels alive.  In ten years time we won't care about Modern Warfare 2.  We'll probably be obsessed with 3D and some god forsaken motion controller that makes the whole thing ridiculously immersive.  And ten years after that it'll be something else.

Gaming constantly evolves.  It's already produced art.  It's just by it's nature 'throw away art'.  I agree with Yahtzee that art can be about being emotionally connected to something, being moved by a moment.  But it can also be about awe.  Just looking at something or experiencing something that genuinely makes you go 'WTF?!! How did they make that?!' or just 'WTF?!!!!!!'

Unless your involved in gaming it's hard to take it seriously.  I get that, gamers get a bad press.  Companies like Infinity Ward don't do us any favours by including ill thought out scenes at airports.  But scratch beneath the surface and there's so much creativity going on it's frightening.  Often it's not in the big titles either but rather in the cheaper downloadable content that you find the real steps forward.  What's interesting about that is the growth of older gaming models.  2D platformers continue to develop.  Look at Little Big Planet as an example.  Or Braid.  These titles don't use 3D, just great design and game play to suck you in.  And they are both gorgeous to look at.  Old style design that still has much to give, gaming has learnt that it's past is not necessarily history and this is a good thing.  The medium has started to slow down it's desperate need to throw more tech at itself and started to gibe it's self some time to grow.  I genuinely hope we do get another three years out of the PS3 and Xbox before things lurch forward again.

Can gaming ever produce 'great art' that stands the test of time?  Maybe not.  But is any of it art right now?  Sure.

If you have a PS3, get Flower.  It's the best example of how gaming can be more than anyone thought it could be and the closest the medium has got to the Sistine Chapel.*

Do we need it, as gamers, to be labelled as 'art'?  Hell no.  Enjoy it still feeling underground while you can.  The Wii generation is coming to spoil it all.

'TANGO SUCKA!!!'

*Put that in your Pope and smoke it.