Nov 21, 2010

Games as Artistic Media (Or Not) - Introduction

Previous Chapter >>

Are video games art? - this is the question which is at the core of this thesis, and one which I hope to provide an answer to herein. A question which has confronted me from a variety of different avenues while working on this project, and one which I feel it is important to ask when undertaking any venture of this magnitude is the question of 'why this topic', and 'is it actually all that important?' The phrase “Video Games” carries with it certain connotations, and not often those of scholarly research or of high culture. For many, I'm sure, the term suggests something banal and immature – certainly not worthy of academic investigation by serious adults. This is an attitude that I feel must be addressed in some way before proceeding, as a way of addressing more general concerns about the importance of the topic, and to show that the question of whether or not games are art is a significant one.

The medium of video games is still an emerging one. The first commercially sold video game can be traced back to 1971's Computer Space, which led to the emergence of the video game industry in the mid-to-late 70s. This means that games, as a medium in the public consciousness, have been around for some 40 years. This is hardly any time when compared with mediums such as music, theatre, writing, painting and so on, which have ancient origins, and is still significantly less than film, which has been in the public imagination for a little over 100 years. Most people know something about film, but when it comes to video games, there is a very clear divide between gamers, who understand the medium, and non-gamers, who in most cases have very little idea. This may be, at least in part, a result of the difference in the amount of time the two mediums have had to develop in the public conciousness. Film has had time to mature and to find a place in our society, whereas video games are in their infancy.

 However the game industry is already huge, despite the fact that it has a more limited audience than other mediums. Many 'net sites are happy to report that the video game industry now makes more money per annum than the film industry. This is incorrect – the video game industry makes more money per annum than the film industry makes in box office takings, not in total – but it cannot be denied that video games, like film, are a huge industry.1

And the audience for games is an extremely diverse one. The Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (now the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association) reported on the 1st of May 2009 that;

  1. The average age of gamers in Australia is 30 years, and is expected to meet the national average age of 36 by 2014.

  1. 46% of gamers are female.

  1. 68% of Australians play games, and 88% of households own a gaming device.

  1. 65% of parents play games with their children and view the activity as positive way to spend time with children.2

What this is showing us is that the image of the stereotypical gamer – an adolescent male with a lot of disposable income – is becoming increasingly inaccurate. It's worth noting that this survey most likely includes very casual gamers, who only play an hour or two a week, but the fact remains that all kinds of people play video games, and, with the average age of the gamer creeping into the 30s, the idea that games are 'for kids' is, quite simply, incorrect.

The size of the industry and the diversity of people who play video games indicate that they are a substantial part of our culture, however, as mentioned earlier, games are still an emerging medium. Their place in society is still unclear, as is the question of how important they are or should be to our culture. Many people would tell you that the answer to the question “Are video games art?” is obvious, and I think you would find that a similar number of people would tell you that they are, of course, art, as would tell you that obviously they cannot be art. The sides are not as clear-cut as you might imagine. An example that springs to mind is Hideo Kojima, creator of the acclaimed Metal Gear Solid series of games, which are often hailed as being some of the most artistic games ever created. Kojima, however, does not believe that games are art at all, saying:

"I don't think they're art either, videogames. The thing is, art is something that radiates the artist, the person who creates that piece of art. If 100 people walk by and a single person is captivated by whatever that piece radiates, it's art. But videogames aren't trying to capture one person. A videogame should make sure that all 100 people that play that game should enjoy the service provided by that videogame. It's something of a service. It's not art."3

This divergence of opinion on the classification of a work between its creator and its audience is, to me, an extremely striking indication that people in general have not yet figured out what exactly to make of the medium of games and its increasingly large industry.

Alongside with this thesis, I undertook the task of creating my own game. The game that I have designed is not a video game, but rather a so-called “Pen and Paper Role-Playing Game” or PnPRPG, for short. The primary reason for this difference is that I had neither the time nor the technical know-how to develop and actual video game, however I believe that video games and PnPRPGs are similar enough to make this experience relevant. At a core mechanical level, these two types of games are not very different – both are based on a complicated rule set which describes the attributes of entities in the game and provide rules governing their interaction. This means that many of the developmental concerns are the same. How can I make combat work? How can I balance versatility and simplicity in my system? What kind of experience do I want my game to convey? These are only a few different questions a developer making either type of game might be confronted with. The primary difference between a PnP game and a video game is in the presentation – PnP games employ the imagination of the player where a video game uses a graphical presentation, and demand user input through the dictation of their actions rather than through a controller. This work has provided a valuable insight and was necessary to the project because many definitions of art are dependent on the artist's input into their work – their emotional investment, whether or not they are trying to communicate ideas or their reasons for creating the piece. Getting an inside view of what it's like to develop a game became, in many way, the focus of the practical component of the major project, which will be discussed in greater detail later in the thesis.

I'd like to conclude this introduction with an outline of each chapter of the following thesis, and how they fit together to form my investigation as a whole.

What is Art? will cover the various definitions of art, with the goal being to gain a broad understanding of what the term art might mean to a variety of different people. This understanding is vital if one wishes to categorise something as being art or not.

Game Studies will cover structures and concepts relating to what video games are or can be. This is necessary because to categorise games as art or not, one must also understand what games are. This chapter also aims to provide a framework for studying games themselves.

Fallout: A Case Study is an in-depth study of one specific game, with use of the concepts explored in the prior chapter, and reference to definitions of art. The goal is to discover whether or not Fallout is artistic, as an example of video games as a whole medium.

Writing the Game covers my experiences in creating the practical aspect of my project, with a focus on why I made the design decisions I did. The goal is to discover whether or not creating a game is a creative and artistic process.

Arguments Regarding Games as Art addresses the existing argument regarding whether or not games are art, with particular reference to what we learned about games' potential for art from our case study, and the process of creating games from my experiences with the practical, as well as reference to definitions of art and concepts and structures within games.

The thesis is concluded with a final discussion on the implications of the conclusions reached in other chapters, and finally, an answer to the question of whether or not games are art, and what potentiality for art they have in the future.

1 <>

Next Chapter >> 

No comments:

Post a Comment