Dec 3, 2010

Games as Artistic Media (Or Not) - What is Art? (Part 4)

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In On Experience, David Malouf suggests that one of the functions of art might be to transmit experience to its audience. He says “isn't that precisely what we read for? Or go to the theatre or the opera or the movies for? This experience of being both there and not there. There in our real body, but more powerfully as well in some other more mysterious entity; a disembodied mind or consciousness that is free to move beyond itself into new and finer, or more dangerous or painful situations, from which we emerge not only unscathed, but re-energised, enlivened.” This suggests that an immersive characteristic of art in a variety of mediums is one of the key qualities of art, and at least a part of what gives it its value – or more specifically, what the value comes from what that immersive characteristic allows art to give us – according to Malouf, “. . . a regenerative and healing quality . . . that makes of such an experience something more than entertainment or simply a way of passing the time. . .”1

There is an obvious question here. There is no doubt that a game can provide an immersive experience, and obviously a primary function of games is to provide entertainment. But do they possess the restorative power which Malouf (in my view, correctly) identifies as being possessed by the reading of art?

I'd like to conclude this chapter by providing a summary of the definitions of what art might be, and the ideas of what might make some art better than other art, that have been covered in the above text. This is by no means a comprehensive listing of all possible ways of defining art, but does, I think, cover a good portion of the most common ways of thinking about art, and provides a good background against which to discuss the artistic merit or lack thereof of video games.

Art can be:

  1. An artist’s interpretation of reality expressed through a medium.
  2. An expression of human feeling or emotion through a medium.
  3. An expression of thoughts or ideas presented through a medium.
  4. Something created specifically for the purpose of being experienced aesthetically.
  5. Any creative (meaning imaginative and original) work.
  6. An expression of 'the ideal'.

Good art might:

  1. Contain an originality of idea or expression.
  2. Be produced with a high level of technical skill.
  3. Be of high cultural value and relevance.
  4. Transmit clearly either an emotion or an idea to its audience.
  5. Provide a pleasurable aesthetic experience to the audience.
  6. Be entertaining.
  7. Result in a contemplative “static” experience, as opposed to a sentimental or reflexive one.
  8. Revitalise or in some way restore its audience.
  9. Encourage an ethical life.

The next chapter will address games themselves, with the goal of gaining an understanding of video games as a medium. With some understanding of both what art is and what games are, it should become possible to examine games themselves with the goal of determining whether or not they can be considered art or considered to contain art, and where this art might lie.

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1 On Experience, 16-19.

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