Wednesday, September 7, 2016

No, Video Games Aren't Art. We're BETTER.

Do you think this should fill me with shame? Because it does not.
"When I was twenty, I worried what everything thought of me. When I turned forty, I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. And then I made it to sixty, and I realized no one was ever thinking of me."
- Bob Hope, as told by Patton Oswalt

I used to argue passionately that video games were art.

Then I stopped arguing about it, because why bother? Of COURSE video games are art.

Now I see that it's a waste of time thinking of video games as art. Why would we game designers ever aim that low?

I Don't Want Art. I Want Transportation.

I just finished playing DOOM. Like many, I was amazed by how awesome a game it turned out to be. Penny Arcade had the perfect description for it: "Playable sugar."

DOOM had three of the best boss fights I've ever seen. Punishingly tough and yet scrupulously fair. When I died, I could say, "OK. I know what I did wrong. I won't do that again." When I fought those bosses, I was utterly transported. The rest of the world vanished. When I won, I was sweaty, wrung out, and completely satisfied.

I love literature and theatre. I love great movies. Yet, I can't remember any work of art, no matter how good, that consumed and drained me as much as the Cyberdemon in DOOM.

When I beat it, I felt proud. It is dumb to feel proud about something in a video game. The feeling was real nonetheless.

Nobody considers DOOM a work of Fine Art. Nor should they. Bloggers are not grinding their gears contemplating the True Meaning of DOOM. Nor should they.

It's not art. It's simply awesome.

Why would I ever be unsatisfied with Awesome?

Put this in front of me, and I will be lost until the sun comes up. Nothing else has that power over me. Should I be ashamed of this? Because I am not.
We're Doing Fine Without You.

It always peeves me when some blogger says, "Video games are OK, I guess, to the simple-minded. But they're not enough. They are unworthy. They're [string of negative adjectives], and it is up to me, hero that I am, to FIX them at last!"

Get over yourself. Video games are fine. No, they're not fine. They’re doing GREAT, by every possible metric.

Number of titles? The market is gruesomely flooded. (Gruesomely for developers, I mean. For fans, it's an overwhelming embarrassment of riches.)

Number of fans? Video games are popular to the point of global invasion. Find me a human, and I will find a game that can addict them.

Financial success? We're a 100 BILLION USD a year industry. We're huge and getting bigger every year.

Artistic accomplishment? Creativity? Look up any Best Games list from 2014 or 2015. Video games are breaking new barriers in craftsmanship and artistic expression every year and turning profits while they do it.

Diversity? Pick any demographic group, and someone is making games to cater to them personally. It's one of the great advantages of a gruesomely flooded market. (Of course, not every game will cater to you personally, but that's not possible or desirable. Other people get stuff they like too.)

Video games are taking over the world, and they're doing it in style.

We're winning because we offer something better than art. We offer Experience.

If you don't think Pong is fun, try it with friends. It holds up.
I Understand The Last of Us On a Higher Level Than You

The Last of Us is a truly great game. Many have written about it, including me. I recommend it very highly.

But here's what bugs me. The cutscenes of The Last of Us told a very good story. Those cutscenes, all together, would make a solid B+ zombie movie. But when bloggers wrote about it, they treated the actual game part of The Last of Us as this sort of useless, irritating, vestigial limb.

Without the gameplay, the action, the battle, the fear, the dying again and again, The Last of Us is just an above-average zombie movie. The true greatness of the experience is in the sneaking and the stabbing and the shooting and the dying. (LOTS of dying.)

Here's Why.

Would You Survive the Apocalypse?

It's not a hypothetical question. I mean it. Think about it. Five seconds from now, zombies leap in through the window. Civilization is OVER. Would you make it through?

Well, here's a way to think about the question.

Imagine starting a game of The Last of Us on the highest difficulty level. (Or The Walking Dead. Or DOOM, for that matter.) Go into it blind. Try to play through the whole thing, front to back, without dying.

If you make it, you survive the apocalypse. If you're one of the 99.9999% of people who don't make it, you die. You help make up one of the mountains of skulls that serve as DOOM background.

Try it. It's an amusing exercise. It took me five tries to get through the tutorial of The Last of Us, so I know where I stand.

I had a much older relative once who thought she was immune to video games. Then this infected her. Eventually, she shook free, but she never again dismissed the power of our craft.
Of Course, This Isn't Literal Truth.

Obviously, the skills to win a video game are different from the skills needed to literally survive the End of Days. I know this.

The Last of Us, the actual game part of it, is trying to do something impossible. Like, literally impossible. It is trying to give us a glimmer of a portion of a sensation of understanding the experience of the end of the world. It doesn't succeed, of course. It can't.

But it does come closer to putting us INSIDE that experience than anyone else. We're not watching, we're doing. We are, in an indirect way, mediated through joysticks, living an experience. We are taking part in a compelling demonstration of how fragile our lives are. How utterly inadequate we are to the challenge.

The Last of Us can trick our brains, for a moment, into thinking we're struggling for survival. Similarly, Minecraft can trick us into feeling like we're building something glorious out of nothing. Cookie Clicker creates a powerful sensation of growth and progress, abstract but compelling.

When I write a game, I try to make you feel like you have power. Then I try to make you feel the awesome, terrifying responsibility of having power. When I force you to make a tough decision, for a brief moment, I can reprogram your brain and take your thoughts somewhere they've never been before. This is amazing.

That is, at heart, what the games we make are. They are tools we creators use to compel and rewrite your brains. We haven't begun to come to terms with the power we've unleashed with these toys, these addiction machines.

This is an integral part of childhood now. It will only stop being thus when it is replaced by something even more powerful.
SimCity Isn't Art.

Nor is Civilization. Or Halo. Or Space Invaders. Or Castle Crashers. Or DOOM. Or Super Meat Boy. Or Hearthstone. Or League of Legends. Or Clash of Clans. Or Minecraft. Or Pac-Man. Or Solitaire. Or Pong. Not art. Why would they aim that low?

They provide consuming experiences. They are compulsions.  I'm not going to argue that they're High Art. They aren't. They're SuperArt. They take over your brain and let you get lost in them.

I can see why Artists look down on what we do. They have no choice. They certainly can't compete with us. What we do is irresistible. Authors and playwrights are dinosaurs, and we're throwing the asteroids. We'll let Film and TV survive. For now.

Atari Adventure doesn't look like much. Yet I've seen this silly thing compel people, young and old, for a whole evening. Not an evening many years ago. An evening NOW.
"But What About Games That Do Try To Be Art, Smart Guy?"

They're great. I am a huge fan of video games borrowing storytelling techniques from obsolete art forms. Beginner's Guide. Gone Home. Her Story. Firewatch. All worthy titles that fused game elements with more mundane art forms to create things that felt new and fresh.

A lot of indie games now are movies that you stroll through with the WASD keys. You can make a neat game this way. I’ll probably buy it. Just don't think it makes your work inherently superior to more gamey games. If you're just telling a story at me, well, a lot of media can do that. When I play Overwatch or Dark Souls or Civilization, I am transported in a unique way only video games can provide.

This is my game. It doesn't look like much. Yet, for 20 years, I've gotten fan mail telling me how addiction to my work threatened relationships and livelihoods. Good.
I Am Done Apologizing For My Craft.

I have been obsessed with video games for as long as they have existed. These strange, shaggy, crude, profane, elegant, lovely creations are my life's work. I love them.

However, video games have a crippling self-esteem problem. We are desperate for validation, and this makes us targets for any shyster who wants to take advantage of us.

Roger Ebert says he doesn't think we make art, and we lose our minds. Some people seriously claim games don't deserve the journalism due any industry of our massive size, even while ripoffs and shoddy goods are an epidemic. Academics and print journalism write about us in terms that are condescending, uninformed, and occasionally slanderous, and we cravenly respond,  "A newspaper cares about us! Please act like we're worth something! Please!!!" When you are sufficiently desperate for validation, even abuse can feel like love.

Enough. Developers and gamers are working in a symbiotic relationship to create something entirely new, a craft unlike anything in human existence thus far. We are exploring a new realm of possibility, and I count myself truly blessed that I get to take part in it from its infancy.

I just finished a game called Avadon 3: The Warborn. It's pretty cool. It has a lot of neat scenarios, choices, characters, battles, and just plain good stuff. I made a little world for you to try on for size. I hope you like the little toy I made. I've already started building two more.

Video games are so powerful that they can even disrupt the Magic of Friendship.
We've Only Taken the First Few Steps of an Epic Journey!

Want to pitch in? If you have ideas, suggestions, or feedback, we designers need to hear them.

Don't get me wrong. While our craft is awesome, it's still young. We still have so many ways we can improve. There are so many sorts of things we can and should do (design, technical, storywise) that we aren't yet. We need everyone's feedback to make a great thing better.

But I personally do require one thing: That your criticism be delivered with respect and love for the craft. If you don't like video games, don't play them. Fine. It’s your time. But we're already pretty terrific, and we're getting better. Fast. With or without you.

Stop using the word 'art'. Erase it from your dictionary. It's too weak a word. I want nothing less than to compel you. I am coming to consume all your thoughts, all your attention. I want to absorb you to the point where it threatens your marriage and your livelihood.

Video games should not interest or impress you. We should scare you. Video games are taking over the world. You haven't even seen a fraction of what we can do.

69 comments:

  1. GOD DAMN. THIS WAS AMAZING. Thank you for this.

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  2. Summary: "Avadon 3: The Warborn" is available September 14. Sell your blood and grab a copy.

    I know I will.

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  3. Thank you, Jeff for your great work. I've been working through Avadon in anticipation of Avadon 3 and it does transport you.

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  4. I think Star Trek: The Next Generation, with it's "Holodeck", proved that in time we will all spend our leisure time LARPing in virtual reality video games.

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  5. I've been playing your games since Exile 2 blew my mind when I was 12 on a Mac Performa in rural France. I didn't even speak English at the time and Hell knows how I found this game in these dark ages. I didn't understand how to pay to unlock the full game (I think now I was supposed to mail you some money, but again rural France) so I just played the big free part again and again. Anyway thanks for all these experiences and this article that help give them a better understanding. Love from France

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  6. The closest form of "art" that I have encountered is opera.

    I don't know how you feel about opera, but it is the most engrossing and engaging form of art, besides video games. While video games are a sort of very active engagement, opera requires a more passive, "accepting" sort of engagement. You must accept the rules of the genre. I don't believe story, character actions, etc stand up to criticism. And yet, the music. The music.

    Music is what makes the art form transformative, though. For me, operatic singing is very close to "pure emotion".

    The reason your post reminded me of this is that I have long felt a connection between video games and opera in terms that I have a hard time articulating. Additionally, opera is another form of art that has had to defend itself as "art". For example, leo tolstoy extensively criticized opera in his day as being "inauthentic", and interestingly many of the same arguments he makes about what is wrong with opera could be applied directly to video games, today.

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  7. That is a really interesting comparison!

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  8. Fucking awesome. Thanks for making me a proud game developer.

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  10. The first course for most degrees on the study of art asks: What is art? You would have failed.
    You make the basic mistake of not trying to define either art or games before launching into your argument.
    And you think so highly of the progress and superiority of gaming (effectively a form of Futurism), that you essentially make it a high art in itself, while trying to deny it as art at the same time. Try blurring the lines a little.

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    1. If that is the case, then every art student in all of history has utterly failed that basic lesson. Do you really think you can define art?

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    2. One of the blessings of being well into middle age is you stop caring what colleges say about anything.

      - Jeff Vogel

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  11. Great article!

    I don't know why, but I've never cared about this whole 'video games' vs 'art' debate. I never really understood why someone would obsess about it. As if it would really make any difference.

    But you sum it up very nicely, I think:

    Video Games, are they art? Well, no. Why should they aim so low..

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  12. Great read and oh so gratifying. No more shame in front of anyone.

    Thanks for that. Daniel

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  14. This is asinine. So a slot machine is greater than art because it captures people's minds? Drugs are better than art, too, according to you. This is clearly written from a perpective or resentment, and is not too bright.

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    1. Alas, analogies, while cheap and easy, tend to make very poor arguments. Video games are LIKE slot machines. And they are LIKE drugs.

      Video games are LIKE a lot of things. But they are far greaters and more complex then any of them. They must be addressed as their own truly unique thing.

      Though I would kill to write a video game as compelling as a slot machine.

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. I think the point is not that "videogames aren't art and are better". But rather that the "videogames aren't art and should get better and evolve to become it" crowd are just jealous, mediocre people that want to police stuff with the excuse "it's not good enough", and one can simply treat them as if they're simply, undeniably wrong. They don't deserve anything more than what they're getting. They don't deserve any power to say what is being made and by whom.

      I think. Games are art, and people asking "it should be more like real art" are simply ignorant and don't know what art means. Of course, the "no apologies no more, fuck you" pose is kinda valid too.

      I kinda share it. Fig fetishists faux progressive fascists should be reclused to their little articles on magazines with dwindling relevance that decided to abandon the people that actually cared.

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  15. "When I fought those bosses, I was utterly transported. The rest of the world vanished. When I won, I was sweaty, wrung out, and completely satisfied."

    Sounds very much like sports to me.

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    1. Yes. Video games are LIKE sports. Very much so. Video games are LIKE a lot of things. But they are none of them. They are their own thing.

      (I know I'm repeating myself, but forgive me. It's a key point.)

      - Jeff Vogel

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  16. This post, and a semi-recent Cracked article (http://www.cracked.com/blog/4-ways-you-are-being-aged-out-by-gaming-industry/), make a really interesting contrast, showing us both sides of the same utterly wrong coin.

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    1. Oh, dear. I knew I was wrong. I had no idea I was utterly wrong. That's, like, five times worse than regular wrong. :-)

      - Jeff Vogel

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  17. This was hilarious. Especially this:
    "Pick any demographic group, and someone is making games to cater to them"
    Oh, really? Weird. Cause as a gay guy, I am still waiting for a DoA style fighting game, where boys fight in tight panties and have ballsack physics.

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    1. Alas, there is still a lot of room in the industry for quality lewd games. I am going to assume that HuniePop won't do it for you.

      Like I said, we're at the beginning of a long road. That said, I'm straight, but I would totally give the game you just described a try.

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. Check out some bara games like Fantastic Boyfriends: Legends of Midearth, Kemo Coliseum and No, Thank You!!! http://englishblgames.tumblr.com/post/137100451496/bara-game-roundup-winter-2016
      I also know of another good one being localized.

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    3. Those are kinda niche and low-budget. I really am waiting for the time, when indsustry realizes that gay people and women could be a profitable market too.

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    4. Not a new game, but Chou Aniki - Bakuretsu Rantou Hen might be what you are looking for: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNk5ZmiqKAY

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  18. I've been a fan of Spiderweb's work for a very long time, but this very manic post is a little ridiculous. It feels like over compensation for feeling inferior to other art forms. Hey, I get it, I'm also sick of the "are games art" debate; I always thought it was stupid. But, just because you personally enjoyed DOOM to the point of feeling high, just because games can literally be addictive, doesn't mean they're something superior to art. The experiences you've described regarding DOOM, et al, are experiences I've had with video games, board games, literature, and poetry. That doesn't mean poetry is something superior to art. Come on, why can't we all be adults and enjoy what we enjoy without getting into some pissing contest about which is best.

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    1. I knew when I hit the "Publish" button that I would seem really hyped. But I'm not just hyped. I'm SUPER-hyped. Why wouldn't I be? I'm the luckiest guy in the world! I write video games for a living!

      They haven't even invented a sensor that can measure my levels of hype! The club can't even handle me right now!!!

      And yet, all my manic enthusiasm is unable to convey how freakin' cool video games are.

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. I enjoyed the post. Jeff has a right to be a little manic now that Avadon 3 has just been released, and I'm delighted to hear he has some new ideas on the boil! And the point awbout games vs art, or at least games vs "fine art" is perfectly valid.

      And I don't think he minds to much if he has disturbed some autumnal wasps' nests, as it appears...

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    3. The point about games vs. art is completely invalid. Also illogical, nonsensical, and, in parts, divorced from reality.

      However, I also don't think he minds.

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  19. "Pick any demographic group, and someone is making games to cater to them"

    Where's my hot ripped dudes in women's lingerie and high heels beating the shit out of each other with sexy fighting styles involving tiddy slaps, spanking and bdsm? Games cannot be art until then.

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    1. Sounds fantastic! I want that design doc on my desk by 0900 Monday morning, soldier!

      - Jeff Vogel

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  20. The vast majority of art as I see it isn't art as probably most the world sees it. That is, I don't think most art is art at all.

    That sounds incredibly stupid so I'll try to explain. I think real art is something that is mostly by accident or incidental. Most "art" is art that was designed to be art. It was things mostly contrived for the sake of achieving art. But sometimes something is created with zero attention of it ever being art. The person creating it just needed to make something. Art wasn't even on their mind. And then lo and behold, after the fact, they may have just created art.

    I think as it goes in a movie, some people might just be really desperate to tell a story. They think, "I must tell this story the best way possible because I think it needs to be told." Others who might make a movie are like, "I'm going to create the greatest movie ever." The former is more likely to produce art as I see it. The latter is someone who sets out to make art (or money, I suppose) and wants everyone to recognize what they've done as art. They created art for the sake of art, not for the sake of their vision.

    Another example would be poetry. Think of the millions upon millions of people who have fancied themselves poets and sat down writing poetry. In my opinion, these people were never poets. But have you watched the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan? Yes, Sagan had a script that was co-written with two others, but much of what Sagan says in Cosmos, if it came from anyone else I'd be suspicious but Sagan truly...had the soul of a poet. The way he talked about the cosmos, that was how he NEEDED to talk about it because it was futile anyway to try to put the cosmos into words. Yet he gracefully and poetically attempts it and not for the sake of being a good writer or poet, but just because the cosmos was the story he needed to tell, and he was doing it for that reason, that people needed to hear that story. And incidentally it became art.

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    1. "Art" is a marketing label.

      #enigmatic

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. Greil Marcus suggests that "artists who only give fans what they want are only able to confirm, not create"

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  21. "Art" is indeed an insufficient adjective to describe games. Using it in this discussion is like trying to define a rainbow by only referencing the colour "green". Excellent post!

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  22. Video Games are doing TERRIBLE, metal gear is a zombie survival game, mario is an iphone runner, final fantasy a sandbox action game with QTE, most of your favourite dev bought out or simply retired

    this year e3 had NOTHING exciting, nothing, nintendo is literaly coming with no game until next year, sony is telling you to buy their console again even though i can't even see the difference, i can't even remember the last time someone came with an original idea, they tell me that they are resurrecting crash bandicoot and i'm supposed to get excited for it just because they shown me an ugly as fuck skylander model, and let's not even start with all the lies and bullshit that lies in project like no man sky or crowdfunded game such as mighty no 9

    like imagine if this was the movie industry, james bond is now a romantic comedy, star wars a cartoon for children without any darth vader,stormtrooper or lightsaber, every single director worth a damn decided to retire, and people happily pay that star wars kid from the youtube to make a star wars spiritual sequel only he runs away with all the money

    videogames were art, nowadays they are turning into consumerism, watch the streamers, buy the doritos, preorder the game and get the DLC

    i honestly have no idea how anyone who lived through the 5th or 6th generation of console says that videogame are doing "great"

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    1. Video games are great, but it is sometimes necessary to step back and take a break for a while. Your pessimism seems a little ... excessive.

      Right now, I have far more great games in my to-play list than I will ever have time to play in this lifetime. If that's ever not true, I might say you have a point. But there's just too much neat stuff out there to be this angry.

      - Jeff Vogel

      PS The 5th or 6th console generation? You must be young. I still have strong opinions about consoles that came out before the FIRST console generation.

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    4. i'm 30, i used to own a c64 and even an amiga when i was a kid, what i meant is that the best console generations were easily snes,psx and ps2 which is why i said 5th or 6th console generation, they were the last truly memorable one

      well i guess the wii was pretty good too despite it's reputation as "the console with the waggling minigames"

      *i deleted the previous comment because of a mispelling error

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  23. Actually this year has been pretty good.

    Doom
    Deus Ex Mankind Divided
    Uncharted 4
    Dark Souls 3
    Hitman

    And later this year:

    Shadow Warrior 2
    Titanfall 2
    Dishonored 2

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    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk

      - Jeff Vogel

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  25. I can't get over how negative people's comments are on this. This really encapsulates the entire internet, possibly humanity:

    1. Do something.
    2. Watch hundreds of people swarm in to say how it's the worst thing since World War 2.

    Jeff finally wrote an article that didn't make the reader want to kill themselves after reading. I was happy about that. Then I scrolled down.

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    1. This is 2016. You are allowed to say anything about video games except that you love them. Of course, you're not allowed to say you love anything else either. #ironicdetachment

      But please don't worry about me. I am a happy warrior. If you want some good stuff, I'm having a blast over in my Gamasutra thread ...

      http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JeffVogel/20160908/280861/No_Video_Games_Arent_Art_Were_BETTER.php

      - Jeff "Bringin' the Bantz" Vogel

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  26. "Diversity? Pick any demographic group, and someone is making games to cater to them personally."

    I will test with semi-hypothetic cases:
    1.) I believe there is a lack of first person single player PC games with short cut-scenes that are compatible with adult lifestyle (meaning does not require ridiculous time investment to be played).

    2.) Imagine I am women over 35 years old and looking for game that targets women like me - meaning emphasis on adult. While Bejewelled is played by women it does not target women personally.

    I might be interested in playing something that does not look like being for kids and has actually adult topics/relationships/behavior (which may or may not include sexuality or violence).

    I do not mean "smarter" or "important", I mean something adults are interested in and is not for kids. You can have a look at top 100 amazon romance books or content of average vampire book to get idea what I am looking for narrative wise. (Most games for "women" look like something for kids and supposed games for "adults" are boringly artistic.) Alternatively it could be something that deals with adult women things - parenthood that is not sweet and perfect or work problems.

    The game should be compatible with adult women lifestyle (job + kids). It should not be visual novel, hidden object or RPG (dislike those).

    My point here is that while there are some games targeting women, as far as I know they are far away from the kind of entertainment many adult women predominantly consume in other mediums (books/movies). Games attempts to target women seem to focus on being ultra safe ending up pretty much for kids and caring only about one kind of women - "respectable" one.

    But, I would like to be proven wrong and find a game for that demographic. I do not mean to say now that games industry is sexist nor anything like that. Just that not everyone is targeted and if those groups are targeted by some games, those games are hard to find.

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    1. You are correct. That is something I could have done a better job of phrasing. Although I like these blog posts to have an informal quality, I tend to rewrite them many times. Yet, sometimes a bad sentence slips through.

      In the sentence you quote, I am making the mistake of speaking to the intentions of people who write games. I can't do this. I can describe what they do and what they make, but I can't say what is going on in their head. My bad.

      Happily, your quandary seems easier to address. Indie games these days specialize in experiences that are shorter, more mature, and lend themselves to faster play sessions.

      I would point toward two games I referred to in the piece: Her Story and Firewatch. For more gamey games, World of Goo, Darkest Dungeon, This War of Mine, and Papers, Please! are mature, lend themselves to shorter playing sessions, and are generally excellent.

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. Thank you for taking time to answer. For the record and other readers, Osmos, Nihilumbra, Star Realms and Clash Royale fullfill quite a few of my requirements too. Not targeted demographic I mentioned specifically, but doing the right things anyway.

      I will definitely have a look at the Firewatch and Darkest Dungeon, I havent heard about them before. I will try also Papers, Please!. Thank you again.

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  27. This thing is full of undefined words being tossed about to make fundamentally subjective points. Which is okay, I suppose, because it's just a blog - as long as that's all it is intended to be. I enjoyed some parts of it.

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  28. By stating that video games are greater than art you are placing an arbitrary limit on what art is - good art ( like good science ) will always be questioning it's received wisdoms, it's boundaries, the validity of it's conventions. Of course there will be those who look down upon the experimenters and dismiss them (usually by some elitist criteria) but of course the history of art is full of examples of artists unrecognised in their own lifetimes but hailed as greats by future generations.So despite what the art establishment might think of course a video game can be art and I don't really see any need to place them outside or beyond other art forms. Regarding your point about the experiential nature of video games, there are plenty of examples of art which gives you agency inside an experience with a narrative - for example the work of punchdrunk theatre.

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  29. Really enjoyed this. I've been a gamer since my Dad brought home an Atari that plugged into the TV when I was a wee lad and I was immediately hooked on playing pong tennis and shooting a white square with a light gun.

    I get what you're saying. Gaming is something unique and special, yet I've spent much of my life feeling like I have to defend the fact that I'm a gamer. Even now, my wife looks down on gaming as some kind of inferior, time-wasting hobby. It's infuriating. However, one thing I've learned as I've matured is that there are two ways to acquire self-esteem. One is to tear down others so that they're close to your own level. The other is to build yourself up. Clearly, the first one never works long term and just turns you into an angry person.

    Anyway, I guess the point I'm trying to make is that you don't need to belittle art or the work of authors or film-makers in order to feel better about games. Yes, people like Roger Ebert miss the point entirely (although I believe he changed his mind before his death), but that's no reason to tear down what they like.

    For me, games aren't just art, they're Transcendent. For a brief moment, I'm a pirate assassin sailing into a Caribbean sunset, a superhuman parkour survivor in a dusty, zombie-filled shanty town or the leader of a party trying to save the world from evil monsters with hot magic and cold steel. That's what gaming is. It's Transcendent.

    Books and films are transcendent too, because they are human stories. They transport us away from the mundane into different worlds and lives, much like games. They're different because they lack agency, but your brain feels much the same thing. We know that people have a neurological response to spectating: watch Olympic cycling and the "cycling" areas of your brain fire up, just as if you were doing it yourself. That's why great TV and film can be so immersive.

    Now I'm not a big fan of galleries and traditional "art" as you might define it, or even opera, but people who love those things love them for similar reasons. They find them Transcendent. BUT they also admire the craft that went into them, and I think that's crucial. When you look at the Sistine Chapel roof, you are not only transported by the scene, but also by the craft that went into it. It's easy to grasp how it was made (some guy with a brush) and easy to grasp how much beyond our own skill it is. We've all, at one point, picked up a paintbrush.

    With games, people can't really grasp how they were made - or what makes them great - just by looking at them; the appreciation of craft is confined to people who play videogames. My wife may appreciate the environmental beauty of Witcher III, for instance, but without playing it herself she won't appreciate the story-telling, world-building, characterisation and everything else that went into making the Witcher III what it is. That's why people outside of videogames have a hard time thinking of videogames as art, because they judge purely on aesthetics. It's like expecting people to understand the worth of Bladerunner or Ferris Bueller's Day Off without actually watching them.

    As well as being an ardent gamer, I'm also a storyteller. My chosen medium is video (I make things like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBQ-IoHfimQ and this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kg8-2k6AnXo). It's my job to create videos that make people forget they're just watching a video. In other words, I try to make things that are Transcendent, just like you.

    This is largely a Monday-morning stream of consciousness, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that we're right about videogames and they're wrong. And we resent them for it. But let's learn from that and not tear other mediums down as we pass them on the way up the evolutionary ladder.

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  30. "remember that time you killed the boss in [video game]? remember how it took more effort on your part than watching a movie or looking at a painting? that means video games are better than every other form of artistic expression" -you, the author, who somehow still cares about roger ebert's opinion of video games years after his death

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  31. Videogames are boring and dumb and haven't ever managed to recapture the high point of the Zelda CD-i games

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  32. Video games are not a replacement for books, plays, movies and TV shows, or vice versa. The world is not a zero sum game where only one artform is allowed to exist (you may have noticed that books and plays are still with us despite a hundred years of cinema, which is more similar to them than video games are). What is wrong with you?

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  33. The great thing about this post is it makes me more comfortable to think outside the box on the games as art thing. Instead of being LIKE a movie, LIKE a book or not art, yeah, there's no reason our thinking shouldn't just go sideways on it.

    I'm thinking games give us a script, props and set and invite us to perform the rest of the story. Maybe that isn't a proper work of art, but it can be an effective communication and just a cool experience.

    And why waste our time thinking how to make games more like other mediums just to get that art badge? I can think of so many things people do at their D&D tables, tweaking statistics, making handouts, changing rules, etc. to make it a more evocative experience just through the game mechanics.

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  34. Thank you for creating and articulating what many of us have felt but haven't been able to put into words. The pretentious hipsters who infect gaming media, and much of the indie scene these days are pissed off at this, and that to me says you are saying the truth. You have pointed out how all their hollow insults, all their petty cries are just the tantrum of a child who has been told they aren't special for the first time in their lives. Keep telling the truth and creating, it makes them even more cranky.

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    1. Phrases like "pretentious hipsters who infect gaming media" make me sad. I know a lot of those "pretentious hipsters" in real life. They are cool people. You'd probably like them if you actually met them. And they're creating a lot of games I truly love.

      Despite the clickbaity title, I tried to come to this piece from a place of joy and enthusiasm, of looking at the good we have instead of fixating on flaws. I want to EXPAND the ways we appreciate video games.

      Some kind, gentle soul, a few posts above, asked me, in a friendly and entirely non-confrontational way, "What is wrong with you?" The answer is that I am infected by human empathy.

      - Jeff Vogel

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  38. Some part of this argument has to deal with the evolving definition of "art", I think. At one point, art was something that found Truth and usually did so through Beauty. More recently, art has been redefined as something that doesn't necessarily seek Truth or Beauty, but rather dissolves boundaries and redefines all the things. (Whether that's a good or bad thing is a whole nother conversation.)

    Take Dwarf Fortress, for example. People are always surprised when they discover it was featured in an exhibition at the NYC Museum of Modern Art. But, it makes sense that it was included, given both of the definitions of art given above. One can argue that Truth is found in that game, largely because of the fact that it's creator is a math genius, and so the absolute truth of math does end up coming through in that game. Conversely, given the second meaning of art I've used, DF pushes boundaries and redefines gaming in it's own unique ways. There's one third, more contemporary meaning of art that I've forgotten to mention, that art should be a clear representation of the artist in one way or another. Again, DF hits that metric, I think, because the game is a distillation of the Adams brothers unique genius.

    All that being said, you probably are correct in that a new way of labeling or terming games when it comes to art should probably be found. Like Phil Fish once famously said, video games are essentially the combination of all previous forms of art, with interactivity to boot. Pretty effin cool, when you get right down to it.

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