Aesthetic Addiction
March 22, 2010 12:36 AM   Subscribe

Tom Bissell recounts how he was addicted to video games and cocaine and how beautiful he finds computer games. Tom Bissell, who was profiled by Poets & Writers three years ago when his writing career seemed like it could only go up, has written books and articles for such magazines as The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, The Believer, among others. For the last three years he's spent his writing time on Grand Theft Auto IV and other games. The Observer convened a number of games journalists and industry folk to converse about video games in connection to Bissell's essay. Earthworm Jim designer Dave Perry gave a TED talk a few years ago about the increasing aesthetic value of games which included a video by a college student Michael Highland called As Real as Your Life, which presents his thoughts about what it's like to have grown up on computer games. [Tom Bissell previously on MeFi]
posted by Kattullus (166 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Iain Banks is another writer who's been addicted to computer games, in his case Civilization.
posted by Kattullus at 12:38 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for cocaine, it has been a long time since I last did it, but not as long as I would like.

hehehehe. Betcha we're talking days, if not hours. Love the article, very descriptive of the coke high. And with the video games? Guys like Bissell power the global economy.
posted by telstar at 1:25 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Snorting coke off video game controllers somehow pales in comparison to the proverbial snorting it off hookers'/groupies' asses.

But, you know, maybe that's just me.
posted by orthogonality at 1:39 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


great article, thanks.

I still have an occasional thought about Niko. When I last left him he was trying to find all the super jump cheats hidden around Liberty City, which is a strange thing for a wanted fugitive to be doing.

that made me chuckle deeply. a pretty great observation of the problem (or not, depending on how you see it) of trying to embed a real, powerful, narrative into a video game.
posted by 256 at 1:46 AM on March 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hopefully Bissell's account will merge with the other links provided and inform people of the broad reach and scope of videogames. People often react as if videogames are terrible vices full of forbidden charms that will destroy peoples' lives given half a chance. Bissell provides an account that sounds like it follows this path but actually gives a much better description: videogames are a channel through which people experience their own personalities ("...I learned that maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough").

It's no surprise that other entertainment mediums do the same thing, which is why everyone takes something different from a book, movie, or television show they've all watched. Everyone in the Observer interview implicitly accepted the idea that games are more than a quick diversion from work- they talked about moving stories and unspoken communication. In contrast, the Perry TED talk felt as dated as it is- it's unfortunate that people are still surprised by the idea that games tell stories in ways beyond spewing text or speech at you. The videogame medium has been emotionally involving for a long time, but only now is the general public realizing it.

It'd be wonderful if people acknowledged and respected the positive and negative effects videogames can have on people, just like how we keep children from reading certain books but let adults read them anyway. Maybe then we could actually address the concerns we should have about videogame addiction in a mature manner. However, I'm betting various concerned citizens will treat the Bissell article as another example of "how video games destroy peoples' lives" and use it to go around banning expression again. It's easier to deal with that way.
posted by Maxson at 2:13 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I recently reviewed a book ("The Warcraft Civilization" by William Sims Bainbridge) which made a case for World of Warcraft becoming a permanent part of our culture. It treated WoW as a gesamtkunstwerk, and I think there's a lot of merit in that. We're beginning to see games getting the respect they deserve, alongside movies, opera and television but distinctive in their own right. They still need a serious push to head off the censors and cultural reactionaries.
posted by WPW at 3:28 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


PS the Bissell article was great.
posted by WPW at 3:29 AM on March 22, 2010


think of us grils..
posted by infini at 3:42 AM on March 22, 2010


"how video games destroy peoples' lives"

I look forward to the day when games become so pervasive and absorbing as to constitute a social bucket, like "the criminal justice system" or "the military" where we can more or less dump useless males -- a kind of shadow class of round, pulpy eunuchs, non-players in the mating market (expending their sexual energy on porn), serious, preoccupied, outside of all time and effectuality -- eating and shitting and playing and letting women run the world. Unless some aggressive male figures out a way to mold a viral religion or ideology out of gaming. Then the killing will begin for real.
posted by Faze at 3:54 AM on March 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


You mean like how some women do nothing but watch soaps and Oprah? Or some men do nothing but watch sports and paint themselves in team colors? That sort of "social bucket"?

You know, if people were to talk about this sensibly before the videogame industry becomes too big to overcome lobbyists, society might manage it properly instead of constantly losing people to addiction- like we have with all other media.

We could also get over the ridiculous belief that only men play videogames (which was even addressed in the TED talk!).
posted by Maxson at 4:16 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're beginning to see games getting the respect they deserve, alongside movies, opera and television but distinctive in their own right.

Or maybe we're seeing movies, opera and television lose the respect they didn't deserve, alongside video games but distinctive in their own right.
posted by DU at 4:17 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the core of Bissell's article (to me, at least) is this line:

When you stopped playing Vice City, its leash-snapped world somehow seemed to go on without you.

The best games, books and films I have ever experienced seem to have a life outside themselves. When you put the book or controller down there is a profound sense of melancholy of leaving a living and (more) compelling world behind. In videogames, unlike books or films, this world can be literally endless and you can always return and experience something different. This is excarbated by the fact that these worlds are built on being immediately satisfying and compelling enough to take up anything from 20 to 60 hours of your time. Some games like Animal Crossing, Fable, Farmville and World of Warcraft to an extent all do go on after you 'leave'. It's only a matter of time before this starts getting integrated into open world games like GTA or they take the plunge into persistent online status. The 'paused' state of most games when you quit is a blessing: you are literally not missing anything when the game is not running. Once this barrier is removed and the virtual world moves on without you the addiction is only going to get worse.

Really interesting and well written article.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:42 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jesus, "video games are too an art form" is one of the most tired and self-deluded arguments to get trotted out on the internet. I'd much rather talk about how "important" graphic novels are, and I'd rather scratch my eyes out than do that.

If they were so self-evidently great, video games wouldn't need all that defending. And if one's example of importance is Grand Theft Auto, then Abe Ferrara should get an Oscar.
posted by OmieWise at 4:47 AM on March 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Once upon a time" refers to relatively recent years (2001-2006), during which I wrote several books and published more than 50 pieces of magazine journalism and criticism – a total output of, give or take, 4,500 manuscript pages. I rarely felt very disciplined during this half decade, though I realise this admission invites accusations of disingenuousness. Obviously I was disciplined.

I buy this. There is something about blowing through an eight-ball all by yourself that makes you feel undisciplined and productive at the same time.
posted by three blind mice at 4:53 AM on March 22, 2010


I will make the same remark here I made at kuro5hin: This article is proof that the Singularity has already occurred. That is all.
posted by localroger at 5:05 AM on March 22, 2010


If they were so self-evidently great, video games wouldn't need all that defending.

A brilliantly circular, self-supporting fallacy. Show me a new art form or movement that was instantly accepted and hailed as great by everyone. There are one or two, but most experience bitter, uncomprehending, prejudiced opposition in their early years, sometimes for decades. Very few are as popular as video games.
posted by WPW at 5:28 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they were so self-evidently great, video games wouldn't need all that defending.

This argument is so self-evidently fallacious that it doesn't need challenging.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:31 AM on March 22, 2010 [16 favorites]


It was an interesting piece. I'm in two minds about the video games are an art form debate. On the one hand I think the argument is gaining some currency. But on the other I often think that the art-form that video games are closest to is the Hollywood blockbuster and those, while very popular (like videogames), don't usually have that much artistic value.
posted by rhymer at 5:42 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


For any form of expression X, there is a large and vocal group A who like X, and another large and vocal group B, at least as large as if not larger than A, who think X is terribad and must be wiped off the face of the Earth.

The most rational and effective solution is for A to devise a way to practice X without bothering B, for instance by playing video games only in their spare time and talking about them only in forums dedicated to gaming. This is already how most of A behave, because it's also the most effective way to socialize about X. The exceptions are gamers for whom their spare time is not truly private, e.g. children, and people with little comprehension of social boundaries. These exceptions should be shooed back into their native environs; they're annoying, but they don't really threaten anyone.

B claims that X is bad for you somehow; e.g. that immersive video games warp your perception of reality in ways that are undesirable. They may be right, and/or hysterical and misinformed. Regardless, dealing with those risks is A's responsibility, not B's. But members of B with little comprehension of social boundaries invade A and try to enforce B's idea of proper risk management. This is generally ineffective, because members of A are only inclined to listen to other members of A when it comes to a discussion about X: video gamers did not take Roger Ebert seriously when he defined art as non-interactive and thence dismissed games as art.

Thus, debates about the merits and risks of X in public fora are unproductive and distracting. If you want to have a serious discussion about X, join A first. In this case it's not hard; play some video games and talk about them.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:58 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Seems like a waste to me.
posted by cogneuro at 6:02 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus, "video games are too an art form" is one of the most tired and self-deluded arguments to get trotted out on the internet. I'd much rather talk about how "important" graphic novels are, and I'd rather scratch my eyes out than do that.

Then avoid the gaming threads.
posted by edbles at 6:31 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man bearing the name of a vacuum-cleaner hoovers coke is the best part of this story.

This article is proof that the Singularity has already occurred.

But Bissel's story isn't much different than Jerry Stahl's account of his heroin addiction in Permanent Midnight or Billy Burroughs account of his amphetamine addiction in Speed. If addiction stories are interesting at all, it's only because they are all stories of "all that effort just to feel empty."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:31 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank heavens video games and cocaine are not yet compulsory.
posted by Mr.S at 6:39 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jane Yolen's history of chess Birth of the Chess Queen documents that the adoption of that game into Western Europe was met, first with laws and prohibitions rising out of fear of violence and gambling, then with adoption of chess as a literary metaphor in sermons, and finally, the publications of books on chess theory possibly commissioned by some of the most powerful women in Europe.

(It's also an interesting book because she admits to finding little evidence for her initial thesis, that the Queen was linked to the rise of Mary as a religious figure, instead suggesting that the Queen in Western European chess was flattery of extremely powerful noble women who may have played chess as a pastime.)

Which is to say that none of these issues are new or unique to games developed after the invention of QuickTime and 3-D acceleration. Gaming obsession has been grist for rock opera albums and hit Broadway shows.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:40 AM on March 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


It is 2010 and we are still having a non-ironic discussion about whether a thing is or is not art?
posted by b1tr0t at 6:41 AM on March 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


What's next, arguing over whether or not rap is music? It's the 21st century, people, get with the program!
posted by jtron at 6:44 AM on March 22, 2010


Jeesh, Marylin Yalom, not Jane Yolen. That's what I get for trying to rely on memory in the morning.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:44 AM on March 22, 2010


Gah, that article makes my hair stand on end.
The guy is losing years of his life to a terrible addiction. Two of them. I'm a little puzzled by the atmosphere of tender reflection or amusement both in the article and in some the comments here.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:05 AM on March 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


And soon I realised what video games have in common with cocaine: video games, you see, have no edge. You have to appreciate them. They do not come to you.
Some do. Some don't.

Me, I refuse to play the long games any more. Huge worlds can get their hooks in my addictive behavior loops and suck me in the way this article describes. And the worst part is that I'm not necessarily having a good time - often the gameplay is largely a sort of low-level, mindless manipulation of the controls, simply roaming through the world in pursuit of one mission or another, and feeling vaguely worried about what spending my time in this sprawling, realistic world whose only allowable interactions are "hurt" is doing to my soul. This is punctuated by occasional Really Hard bits, which result in me swearing and stressing out right up to the edge of throwing the controller at the TV as I beat my head against them again and again. Open-world games are the worst, because instead of getting up when I've had enough of a hard bit, I can just…. wander away and do some other bit of the game for another five hours. And I will.

A friend left their 360 at our house for a while, including GTAIV. I didn't want to play it. I knew what it'd do to me. But I watched one of my boyfriends playing it intermittently, and got sucked in. Soon I was piloting Nico through his sad, destined story for most of my waking hours. And not really enjoying it. Not liking a single character I was spending time with, not liking the world I was spending time in, and definitely not liking the way I'd helplessly sit myself down in front of the TV first thing in the morning, booting up my addiction. After a while I deleted my saves and told my boyfriends not to let me play the damn thing any more.

This shit comes to me. Oh, it comes to me. I don't want it to but there's a part of my brain that considers this stuff to be sweet, sweet candy and wants to drag me down into it for all of eternity, if it can. I dole out occasional hits to that part of my brain, mostly garishly unreal indy titles - anything Jeff Minter writes, especially. I don't regret the time I spent gazing into his world of happy exploding rainbow pixels anywhere near the way I regret the time sunk into fighting the atrocious camera of the last Soul Reaver game or swallowing the toothrot of the 3D GTAs.


My mother has expressed concern about the fact that I enjoy a glass of alcoholic beverage on occasion - my grandfather was a total alcoholic, and she's worried I'll fall into that pit too. That stuff, I've got well under control. Same with the other brain-altering chemicals I've dabbled in so far. But video games… video games can eat my fucking head if I let them, turn me into a twitching, muttering junkie who can't think about anything else.

I know, deep down, that I must never touch a MMORPG. Because at least a single-player game has an endpoint; it'll let me go after one to two weeks have elapsed and I've burnt through the whole narrative and done whatever bonus collectible bits are actually kinda fun to do (Crash Bandicoot cured me of the need to get 150% Total Completion). Online RPGS don't. They just keep on intermittently doling out rewards, and by the time you get to the current Highest Level, they've come out with a new expansion. I count myself really, really lucky that my sticking to Amigas, then moving to Macs, meant my exposure to that shit was forcibly third-hand for long enough to read stories about what it did to people whose brains are susceptible to them the way mine are. And that the release of WoW on both Windows and Mac was while I was living with someone who had been completely hollowed out by her MMORPG addiction.

Once, I compared the experience of reading Burroughs (WSB, not ERB) to nailing one foot to the floor and walking in circles, while convincing yourself you were getting somewhere. These days I'd say that huge games are like that, even more so.
posted by egypturnash at 7:09 AM on March 22, 2010 [19 favorites]


And, fuck, just thinking about that game-playing space is making that obsessive part of my brain want to start something up and sink into it all day long instead of getting off my ass and standing in front of the drawing board….
posted by egypturnash at 7:17 AM on March 22, 2010


The guy is losing years of his life to a terrible addiction. Two of them. I'm a little puzzled by the atmosphere of tender reflection or amusement both in the article and in some the comments here.

Actually, he seems to have managed to write an entire book based on that period of his life, so it sounds like he's made it back okay. I think that essay's an excerpt from Extra Credit, coming out in June.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 7:20 AM on March 22, 2010


Alright then. Abe Ferrera should win an Oscar.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:23 AM on March 22, 2010


Actually, he seems to have managed to write an entire book based on that period of his life, so it sounds like he's made it back okay. I think that essay's an excerpt from Extra Credit, coming out in June.

Heh. I'm inordinately relieved by that, thanks. :)
posted by Omnomnom at 7:23 AM on March 22, 2010


From TFA:
What have games given me? Experiences. Not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories. Once I wanted games to show me things I could not see in any other medium. Then I wanted games to tell me a story in a way no other medium can. Then I wanted games to redeem something absent in myself. Then I wanted a game experience that pointed not toward but at something. Playing GTA IV on coke for weeks and then months at a time, I learned that maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough.
This is a very remarkable quote. It still makes perfect sense if you replace every instance of the word "game" with "life." Yet Bissell is talking about an artificial alternate life which even he understands is a dead end, but which he indulges because it is more fulfilling to him than real life. This is especially remarkable since Bissell's previous real life would appear to have been quite productive and fulfilling; it's not like he is using the game to escape a sorry miserable horrible reality. I don't think you will find too many heroin addicts or chess fanatics who will express a sentiment quite like that.
posted by localroger at 7:28 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gah, that article makes my hair stand on end.
The guy is losing years of his life to a terrible addiction. Two of them. I'm a little puzzled by the atmosphere of tender reflection or amusement both in the article and in some the comments here.


Tender reflection is the warm side of bitterness.
posted by grobstein at 7:43 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


localroger: I'm not so certain about that. I've heard the exact same statement made regarding a wide variety of obsessive pursuits, from writing, knitting, and art to extreme sports and sex. In fact, "I started off looking for __, but ended up learning more about myself," is becoming something of a literary cliche.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:45 AM on March 22, 2010


Despite being a fan of video games since childhood, I’d long been undecided on the are-they-art debate. Sure, games have made me feel emotions, but rarely anything more complex than frustration or satisfaction. I’ve also been impacted by the stories in some games, and the way the characters were affected-- Final Fantasy VIII made me cry-- but in hindsight it was simplistic and manipulative, like watching a tearjerker movie. I reasoned that if I were to consider video games an art form, I’d need to experience a moment in which the interactive nature of games made an emotional impact on me that was unique and apart from any other medium.

Then a friend of mine, who’s made a side career out of finding and reselling rare video games, gave me a copy of Psychonauts for the PS2.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Like most games, Psychonauts has a tutorial level, where you learn the basics of the game’s controls and get the hang of things before setting out on your own. Since the game is set in a training camp for psychic children capable of entering and exploring other people’s minds, the tutorial level here takes place inside the mind of Milla Vodello, a cheerful and fun-loving counselor who loves nothing more than dancing the night away. The interior of her mind, therefore, resembles a psychedelic disco, full of upbeat music and colorful lights.

So there I was, learning the controls and exploring the disco, following Milla’s instructions, when I noticed a ledge off to one side. Aha, said my gamer brain, that must be a secret place, and it’s always good to go in secret places! After several attempts, I made it up onto the ledge and started following a hidden corridor. I started hearing voices: “Milla, help us! Milla, why didn’t you save us?” No longer in the happy, welcoming region of Milla’s mind, I found myself in a room filled with flames and eerie silhouettes. There was a chest there, representing her memories, and I opened it. I learned that Milla used to run an orphanage. She loved the children and they loved her, and everyone was happy. But one day, while she was out shopping for supplies, the orphanage caught fire and burned down. Everyone was killed.

I felt guilty. I had followed the usual rules of video games, and instead of being rewarded, I was punished, and I felt like I deserved it. My snooping had brought me knowledge that I wished I hadn’t learned. If I could have apologized to this fictional character for violating her mind, I would have. Let me reiterate: the choices I made while playing a video game led me to feel remorse as genuine as any I’ve felt in real life, despite the fact that nobody was really hurt in any way.

At that moment I learned that video games can be art, and that they can be a unique art, and that anyone who doesn’t see this truth probably needs to experience their own epiphany just as I did.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:52 AM on March 22, 2010 [21 favorites]


Psychonauts is one of the few 40+ hour games I chose to play after deciding to stop playing the big epics that eat weeks of my life.

I do not regret having experienced it.
posted by egypturnash at 7:57 AM on March 22, 2010


Most of the "is it art" debates come down to an argument between those who want to put art on a pedestal of having deep emotional impact vs. the gritty mundane who see art in just about any thoughtful application of design aesthetics. I have doubts that its possible to have a meaningful conversation between the people who want for games to have their Citizen Kane, and the people who look at the multiple layers of design in Monopoly and call it beautiful.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:07 AM on March 22, 2010


I know, deep down, that I must never touch a MMORPG.

Same here. The people I know who play WoW (some obsessively, some casually) all tell me how I would enjoy it. I'm sure they are absolutely correct, but I know I'd end up like Gabe.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:10 AM on March 22, 2010


My tender musings on playing Eve online for months while drinking excessively have yet to find a publisher, oddly.
posted by mrdaneri at 8:16 AM on March 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I once sat in Tom's living room wearing his flak jacket and drinking and watching him play Resident Evil 5 a few weeks before I left for Iraq. He was the most helpful, intelligent, insightful writer I'd met, and he was entirely without pretension. A gem of a human being. This is a great article and it captures his humor and insight well. What can I say, I'm a fan. His book about his father's excellent but check out his short stories, really great stuff.
posted by matthewstopheles at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know, deep down, that I must never touch a MMORPG.

Same here. I get a kick out of reading about them, and enjoy watching the occasional funny griefing video, but I know I should never go too close to one. The same applies to all other open-ended games - when I get started, it is impossible for me to stop. The most recent one was Transcendence (someone linked it on the blue last week): I only stopped playing it when I realized how addicted to it I had become (it was bordering on physical - I could feel the craving when I was not playing it). Once I had realized this, I got sick and deleted it. It's only roguelikes and room escape games for me from now on, I'm afraid.
posted by daniel_charms at 8:38 AM on March 22, 2010


I think I got more out of the blurb at the top of Bissell's article and his closing paragraph than anything else. He's spinning an entire book out of explaining the plot of Grand Theft Auto with some personal anecdotes interspersed? So much verbosity, so much filler. Cocaine recollections of sitting on a couch do not make a memoir.
posted by mikeh at 8:56 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coke and video games on a Monday morning? Where do I sign up?
posted by june made him a gemini at 9:00 AM on March 22, 2010


If they were so self-evidently great, video games wouldn't need all that defending.

As far as I know, the production of video games is financed by people voluntarily and directly paying for them, because they evidently enjoy playing them. Whereas opera, painting, theatre, poetry, ballet etc. are usually made possible by a combination of taxpayer's money and the fact that some artists don't mind starvation.

If anything, this seems to show that video games are "self-evidently great". It is classical art forms that need defending and justification.
posted by The Toad at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2010


Maybe on cocaine the player character in GTA IV would actually be playable, because without he's sluggish and non-responsive. Very frustrating to push him around, compared to the fluid and easy movement of the older GTA games.

The same applies to driving vehicles in the game. Nothing handles in any sort of 'fun' way, presumably all for the sake of more 'realism'.

Shame they left all the fun out. The older GTA games were mind-blowingly good fun, no drugs necessary.
posted by rokusan at 9:11 AM on March 22, 2010


If anything, this seems to show that video games are "self-evidently great". It is classical art forms that need defending and justification.

The idea that popularity is the only relevant metric is just as wrong as the idea that it's irrelevant. Nobody, I predict, will give half a damn about John Grisham's novels or Beyonce's music fifty years.

In my own opinion, the great difficulty confronting video games will be one of longevity. I can still look at the Mona Lisa, you know? And I can still read Shakespeare. There's no question, none whatsoever, that Shadow Of The Colossus is an outstanding artistic accomplishment. Nobody who has played through it will lightly dismiss it. But will I be able to show it to my grandchildren? Will it even be playable then, by them? Possibly, but probably not.

This is the way of things - most art doesn't survive, most books go out of print. But right now there's no way to effectively curate a video games, in the same way that you can archive books and paintings. The technological dependencies are so severe that the format-migration you'd need to keep them vibrant and alive don't, and maybe can't, exist. And the ability to migrate the games to new machines, or new technologies, doesn't exist either.

Are all video games art? Of course not. Are some of them art, and exceptional art? Also, no question. But is it art that we can show our children, to explain and contextualize the experience in a way that keeps it relevant?

Well, probably not. I don't know.
posted by mhoye at 9:33 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Video games and cocaine feed on my impulsiveness, reinforce my love of solitude and make me feel good and bad in equal measure.

This dude needs a couple of cats!
posted by Greg Nog at 9:40 AM on March 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


My tender musings on playing Eve online for months while drinking excessively have yet to find a publisher, oddly.

That one, she don't let you go, man. And it's fucking ASTEROID MINING.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are all video games art? Of course not. Are some of them art, and exceptional art? Also, no question. But is it art that we can show our children, to explain and contextualize the experience in a way that keeps it relevant?

Well, probably not. I don't know.


Exactly. There's no question that (some) video games are immersive and mind blowing, that creating them takes creativity, that playing them does likewise. But the protestations of "art" always read, to me at least, as someone who wants to justify their own likes, and the way they spend their time. The truth is that almost all video games are trite and formulaic, and that the ones we tend to wish to call "art" are simply those that rise above that very low floor. They also tend to be the ones that are more open-ended, that let you choose your own way to the greatest extent possible. And, while I respect FOB and his experience with Psychonauts, there are many things that raise emotion in us that we don't call art. Indeed, the premise of video games is that they reward and punish based on very prescribed behaviors. It's no surprise that those punishments and rewards elicit emotion. If games didn't do this they would not keep our interest for very long.

There are many things I love, that I nevertheless recognize are not artistic. Many of them contain elements that are also present in video games. When I was a kid I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books because they seemed open ended. I think illustrations of space ships are pretty fucking cool. I like plenty of shlocky genre fiction that sometimes makes me neglect things I should be doing rather than reading. There's no crime in liking popular entertainment, but making believe that it's art devalues both, in my opinion. I don't want to play art, I want to play a game.
posted by OmieWise at 10:01 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my own opinion, the great difficulty confronting video games will be one of longevity. I can still look at the Mona Lisa, you know? And I can still read Shakespeare. There's no question, none whatsoever, that Shadow Of The Colossus is an outstanding artistic accomplishment. Nobody who has played through it will lightly dismiss it. But will I be able to show it to my grandchildren? Will it even be playable then, by them? Possibly, but probably not.

Clearly you've never seen an emulator.

You can read Shakespeare, but you can't read it with a medieval mindset. Arguing that because the interpretation of the art doesn't crystallize the experience pretty much knocks out any form of culture influenced human communication.
posted by edbles at 10:12 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's no crime in liking popular entertainment, but making believe that it's art devalues both, in my opinion.

Can't something that entertains also be art? Or is it the popularity that prevents it from being art? Is it longevity that defines art? Or is it emotional resonance? Or interactivity?

"Are video games art?" = "What is art?"

I don't want to play art, I want to play a game. = I don't want to watch art, I want to watch a movie.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:24 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well obviously video games are addictive... they also 'promote hatred, violence and sexism' Ah good old British day-time telly...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:29 AM on March 22, 2010


The game does not give you any way to interact with this man other than through physical violence, so you take a swing. The fight ends with you stomping the last remaining vitality from the hapless construction worker's blood-squirting body.

This is so sad, and kind of make me feel nauseous. This is what kids (and adults) spend their time doing these days?
posted by jabah at 10:29 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh FFS. Art, like crime, is defined by intention. If the person creating/doing it intends it to be art it is. It may not be art you, or anyone, likes. It may not be good art. It may not be important art. But if the creator(s) intend it as art it is art.
posted by Babblesort at 10:33 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


You guys realize that some dude signed a toilet and it's in a museum, right? So when you say that video games are not art you are essentially saying y that a medium that combines a bunch major art forms (painting, sculpture, writing, sound) and then adds play and treats the person experiencing it as a valued participant and asks them to engage creatively with the object has less aesthetic value than A GRAFFITIED TOILET SEAT.

Actually graffitied toilet seats are cool too. Just trying to make a point about talking about the definition of art in the post-post-modern era.
posted by edbles at 10:37 AM on March 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


"Are video games art?" = "What is art?"

Well, yes and no. "Are video games art?" actually kind of begs the question, and of course, it's very hard to prove a negative. I have no illusions about convincing anyone here. My major problem with the formulation is that it's so self-serving. It reeks of self-justification, which makes me highly suspect. There's absolutely nothing to be lost, and a ton to be gained, by players declaring their favorite time sink art. Art need not involve pain, but there's no pain but monotony in video games. It's like declaring candy bars "food." Yes, technically they are, but insisting on it is usually only done to authorize eating candy bars at the expense of something else more nutritious.
posted by OmieWise at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


So when you say that video games are not art you are essentially saying y that a medium that combines a bunch major art forms (painting, sculpture, writing, sound) and then adds play and treats the person experiencing it as a valued participant and asks them to engage creatively with the object has less aesthetic value than A GRAFFITIED TOILET SEAT.

That's exactly what I was trying to say. Thanks for boiling it down for me.
posted by OmieWise at 10:40 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


OmniWise: My major problem with the formulation is that it's so self-serving. It reeks of self-justification, which makes me highly suspect.

And the argument that something is art only if it hurdles over an entirely arbitrary, subjective, and unexplained bar doesn't?

But on one level, you are right. The people with the greatest stakes in this discussion are too busy building and playing interesting games to repeatedly call attention to such arbitrary wankery.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:49 AM on March 22, 2010


I admire people who know their limits and if they think they're going to lose themselves in something whether it's Farmville or a MMO, I salute them for avoiding it.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 10:51 AM on March 22, 2010


So, by your definition, video games are, in general, less 'nutritious' than other forms of media. It depends on what you are comparing. Gears of War is not War and Peace. But an episode of Survivor isn't Braid, either. I'd rather play through Psychonauts than read Grisham. It's the points of comparison. I feel that video games do have quite a few good examples of art, they're just not mainstream or big sellers.

All it takes is one profound experience during gameplay for people to 'see the light', but the barrier for entry in video games is higher thanks to the interfaces and devices it relies on. Anyone can pick up a book and be transported to a new world or subjected to new ideas, but picking up a controller and learning it well enough to be drawn past the interface to experience something genuine is difficult. The computer/TV screen itself is an alienating and distancing element for lots of people. Art, theatre and cinema have their own places that generate a sense of occasion that rarely exists for games. Playing a game at an art gallery gives it more of a sense of gravitas than sitting on the sofa or at a desk at home.

It doesn't help that quite a large percentage of the defenders of video games as 'art' are the same mouth-breathing imbeciles that delight in homophobic and racist diatribes on Xbox Live. And yes, there is a certain edge of desperation for video games to be taken seriously (the comparison to comic books/graphic novels is quite apt), so the noise made is accordingly shrill.

For what it's worth, metafilter is one of the only places where I can have this conversation without it devolving (too much) into shouting matches.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:08 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


All it takes is one profound experience during gameplay for people to 'see the light', but the barrier for entry in video games is higher thanks to the interfaces and devices it relies on.
...
The computer/TV screen itself is an alienating and distancing element for lots of people. Art, theatre and cinema have their own places that generate a sense of occasion that rarely exists for games. Playing a game at an art gallery gives it more of a sense of gravitas than sitting on the sofa or at a desk at home.


Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Thank you. You've just explained like 90% of the conversational difficulties I've ever had trying to tell someone about this totally awesome LBP level I just found. Also I now have a new goal in life to set-up historical arcade galleries.
posted by edbles at 11:17 AM on March 22, 2010


There's no crime in liking popular entertainment, but making believe that it's art devalues both, in my opinion.

Dickens? Shakespeare?
posted by jtron at 11:20 AM on March 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think OmieWise has made himself clear, but it seems like people claiming that games are art are just trying to prove to themselves that they're not wasting their time. They're borrowing the high status of art to justify an experience that isn't wholly self-justifying.

Of course, this is circular: if games were worth our time, we'd call them art and not think of that as 'borrowed status.' Instead we'd complain about all the games we had to play in High School and how Mr. Jacoby totally ruined GTA IV for us in the 11th grade and we didn't realized how beautiful Planescape: Torment was until we were sick at home for a whole week with nothing else to do.

But since you know, and I know, and OmieWise knows that video games aren't really the best uses of our time. The fact that we keep playing them anyway is sort of disturbing, and we'd all feel the same way about someone who obsessed over Rembrandt to the exclusion of their work, family, and other hobbies.

The whole point of Duchamp's readymades was to remind us of just this fetishization problem. People who waste beautiful Sunday afternoons oohing and ahing at hatstands and toilets are just as screwed up as people who waste their evenings collecting gold in World of Warcraft.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:23 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


The ways that video games are art is not the ways people think.

I think a lot of them are art but it has more to do with how they shape personal space/social space.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:25 AM on March 22, 2010


I think a lot of the trouble here is being caused by the word "art", which brings with it a host of prejudices and expectations. I think it would be foolish to argue that "video games" are "art" but it could be argued that some individual games are individual works of art. But the more important case to be made is that video games are a form of expression, and cultural production, that deserves to be taken seriously. And by "taken seriously" I don't mean that people have carte blanche to spend all day playing Puyo Pop Fever and act like they're watching the Three Colours trilogy back to back. I just mean that the makers should have some creative freedom to explore difficult themes without having some kind of Hays Code slapped on them, and that there is merit in academic study of games and serious critical thought about games, fields of study and thought that will in turn throw light back onto our world and society.

Cross-cultural equivalence is something of a mug's game (how many Godfathers to a Guernica?) but games will have their Citizen Kane and more.
posted by WPW at 11:32 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


"art" ≠ "high art"
posted by jtron at 11:35 AM on March 22, 2010


I'll take a Fumita Ueda world over a Doglas Carter Beane play any day.
posted by edbles at 11:49 AM on March 22, 2010


For those playing Metafilter at home, here's the score:

ART!

Pancake Jesus
Goya (beans)
Mad Men
Lady Gaga (Paparazzi)
Animal Collective (first album)
my original short fiction that I am trying to workshop and get into an MFA program please just rea-

NOT ART!

French Toast Judas
Goya (painter)
Banksy
"Important" "Graphic Novels"
Tim Schafer
Emily Short
Lady Gaga (Telephone)
posted by kid ichorous at 11:50 AM on March 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I’m really regretting that last post. I think what I was trying to say is that the traditional art forms have just as much self-indulgent worthless dreck, but because they’ve been around longer and have a history of criticism built up around them they get to ride on the coat tails of the greats in the field who came before them. But the ballet of Shadow of the Colossus and variety of Little Big Planet art levels get thrown out because people think grinding for gold in WoW is silly. Grinding for gold in WoW is silly. Grinding is silly. Orchestral music swelling under you as you guiltily destroy a majestic creature is fucking transcendent.
posted by edbles at 12:09 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only thing more boring than playing GTA is listening to a coke addict tenderly ramble on about GTA.
posted by bradbane at 12:15 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


google makes these really scary reality games online
posted by infini at 12:15 PM on March 22, 2010


There's no question, none whatsoever, that Shadow Of The Colossus is an outstanding artistic accomplishment. Nobody who has played through it will lightly dismiss it. But will I be able to show it to my grandchildren? Will it even be playable then, by them? Possibly, but probably not.

Except for the most very recent Xbox and PS3 games, I can right now play almost every video game ever made in the last 40 years, from Pong to, yes, Shadow of the Colossus, on my PC using emulators. The first 40 years of video games is far better documented and preserved than the first 40 years of film.

I think it's very likely your grandchildren will be able to play Shadow of the Colossus. I think it's far more likely that they will be able to play any given video game released in 2005 than it is they'd be able to read any given book printed in 2005.
posted by straight at 12:16 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whereas opera, painting, theatre, poetry, ballet etc. are usually made possible by a combination

I've yet to see an opera where I get to sleep with my sexy, stern genetically altered second in command.
posted by geoff. at 12:17 PM on March 22, 2010


you people are weird. who played tennis on their tv set?
posted by infini at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2010


If there was a PS3 version of Shadow of the Colossus (or for that matter, Ico) with updated 1080 graphics, I would buy that.

I would buy that very hard.
posted by rokusan at 12:26 PM on March 22, 2010


anotherpanacaea: They're borrowing the high status of art to justify an experience that isn't wholly self-justifying.

Why isn't it self-justifying? This of course is taking for granted that art has a high status, which it doesn't. Most art is made for entirely mundane reasons to get an entirely mundane paycheck.

Of course, this is circular: if games were worth our time, we'd call them art and not think of that as 'borrowed status.' Instead we'd complain about all the games we had to play in High School and how Mr. Jacoby totally ruined GTA IV for us in the 11th grade and we didn't realized how beautiful Planescape: Torment was until we were sick at home for a whole week with nothing else to do.

So, Infinite Jest isn't art until it gets into the High School Curriculum?

Photography wasn't considered an art for many years, and once people started to take it seriously as an art form, photographers working in color had to fight the same battles all over again.

But the reason why some of us want to talk about games as art is because we feel that there is something to talk about in the design of great games. We want to have conversations about things like progressive difficulty, flow, discovery of strategies or exploits, balance and synergy among elements, and tensions between exploration and direction. Some of us are intrigued by the possibility that what works really well for games might work well for more "productive" software.

But by all means, lets grind the "what is art" axe yet again.

But since you know, and I know, and OmieWise knows that video games aren't really the best uses of our time.

Is there a moral obligation to make the best use of our time? Leisure time, I'm discovering, is an intrinsic good and doesn't need justification, whether it's an after-work nap or a few hours of game time.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:27 PM on March 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


edbles, care to expand a bit re: art games in LBP? I try to follow artsy games pretty closely, but this is the first I've heard of that and it sounds awesome.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 12:30 PM on March 22, 2010


Ahh, the video games and art discussion. It's one that's always bugged me, because both sides seem to miss what games and art mean. For some reason people who want games to be considered art confused art with story and emotional poignancy. And out come the predictable 4-5 games as examples. Psychonauts, Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, Passage, and maybe Planescape.

Psychonauts had a good story, coherent art direction (which is surprisingly rare) and some clever moments, but the actual gameplay was weak. Ico had amazing art direction and a refreshing change of pace from every cliche action game out there. Planescape managed to take your classic role playing game of hitpoints and to hit rolls and make it a little more than just killing nasty thing with teeth. (Although when it came down to it, at least 80% of your time was spent in combat.) Passage? It always struck me as the video game's equivalent to angsty teenage poetry. I mean really?

And you know what, of course games can be art. Almost everything can be art, but the art comes from the medium. And games are such a vast medium that it boggles the mind that people keep trying to define art games by confusing proficiency with art. Here's my 5 game art list. Pong, Tetris, one of the mario platformers, Portal, and (although with a reservations) Shadow of the Colossus.

Pong was groundbreaking. Maybe I should have chosen Space War instead, but I'm sticking with Pong. Those early games defined a whole new medium. That's art.

Tetris is a good example of pure gameplay. Tetris could not even remotely exist in another medium, and it doesn't try to hide from that face. It has already existed for a generation, and could easily be eternal, because it's that good.

Mario is my weakest choice, and partially because Mario has become an institution, and while the newer games are fun the play, they lack that spark of originality and creation. Modern Mario is a pastiche of Mario's former glory. (If there's one thing Nintendo is good at these days it is milking franchises to death. And while the gameplay is still good there's something hollow about the whole situation.) But still, Mario has the gameplay, the secrets, a hint of story that doesn't make the mistake on intruding on what makes a game, and there's a reason the early games are so loved by a generation of gamers.

I'm running out of time so I'm skipping Portal. Skip skip skip.

I left Shadow of the Colossus for the last because it is closest to what most people try to call art in games. There's a story, and emotions evoked and moral ambiguity etc etc, but it stays within the medium. It doesn't tell you what to feel, or tell the story by having people narrate away. Shadow of the Colossus tells the story through the art and the gameplay, and never forces it's hand. It makes the player complicit in it's message, and does so without resorting to taking away the player's choice. Of course it doesn't help that it also has amazing art direction and refuses to bow to gaming cliches.
posted by aspo at 12:39 PM on March 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh, and most of the games I mentioned are older not because new games can't be art (although limitations help art, especially in a commercial medium), but because sometimes it takes time to differentiate art from gimmick.
posted by aspo at 12:41 PM on March 22, 2010


some people are just mean
posted by infini at 12:52 PM on March 22, 2010


If there was a PS3 version of Shadow of the Colossus (or for that matter, Ico) with updated 1080 graphics, I would buy that.

PCXS2 will play both games (with some minor glitches, currently) at a resolution limited only by your computer hardware.

Or just wait for The Last Guardian to be released.
posted by straight at 1:08 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


aspo, I think one of the problems is that the category "Video Games" is much too broad. It's like lumping together sculpture, painting, TV, movies, theatre, photography, calligraphy, architecture, and landscaping into a single category, "The Visual Arts," and debating how it is or isn't art.
posted by straight at 1:15 PM on March 22, 2010


eggplantplacebo: Basically I'm referring to the user generated content me and my roommate have stumbled across when we go on marathon level research sessions for Little Big Planet. I'm specifically thinking of this series of all black and white levels someone made that play with optical illusions and shape and form. I will dig into my favorites and post those when I get home. There are a couple of level creators out there really doing some mind blowing stuff.
posted by edbles at 1:21 PM on March 22, 2010


straight: that may be true but still, photography wasn't considered art because it mimicked literature. Architecture isn't art because it bears a resemblance to a greek tragedy. Why is gameplay and immersiveness, the things that are what makes video games video games, not considered a key part of what elevates a game as art?
posted by aspo at 1:31 PM on March 22, 2010


A work of art doesn't enslave you.
posted by jokeefe at 1:42 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lots of folks have issues with interactivity and art. Self-reference and context to a degree as well. And most folks don’t understand the language if they’re not into it. So it’s hard to judge from the outside.
Dance is an art. I’ve spoken to dancers and I appreciate movement. Doesn’t seem to go the other way though.
There have only been rare occasions where martial arts – despite the name – get seen as an art. Some dancers treat fighters like they’re barbarians. But there’s artistry in the form. Hagler/ Hearns was a thing of beauty. Gracie (Helio) and Kimura, Sylvia/Telligman, Sugar Ray Robinson – almost anything he’s ever done is magnificent but his knock out of Fullmer (as spectacular as Tyson was) is one of the greatest punches ever thrown.
(You can see how Robinson generates power – if you know what you’re looking at, you can see how efficient he was. Guy hit like a bolt of lightning.)

And that’s the thing – do you know what you’re talking about? I can appreciate ballet, because I understand the athletics. But I can’t say, as a critic would, what’s exquisite and what isn’t.
And then too, there are sports fans (‘fan’ short for ‘fanatic), ballet fans, opera fans, video game fans.
There, for me, is where the conflation with addictive substances falls. I can see being fanatic about anything being a bit unhealthy, but at least there’s some merit in the pursuit of - something – whether it is ‘truly’ art or not.
Even if you’re a lousy fighter, you get in some shape. If you read trash novels, you’re working your head in a linear fashion. Watch a lot of sports you learn some strategy at least or improve your coordination/fitness if you play some.

All things considered, I’d rather be a hard core gamer than hooked on coke.

“I chewed tobacco, regularly drank about 10 Diet Cokes a day, and liked marijuana. Beyond that, my greatest vice was probably reading poetry for pleasure.” – but this guy seems like he was an escapist from the outset.

So while I agree with his idea on video games turning narrative into an active (or interactive) experience, and I think it is there where people have trouble shifting on the question of ‘art’ (no matter what side one comes down on it), I disagree that this is what he was hooked into.
I think he was more into the prophylactic effect of it. The insulation from an actual experience or even a surrogate experience, not the experience of whatever kind itself.

Haven’t done coke myself. But I have seen the effects of it. If there’s one excuse for having not to deal with shit it’s cocaine (although other drugs do that too. It’s not really always about the substance itself). And I think it’s that which appealed to him the “not dealing.”
Whereas ‘art’ of any kind – whether GTA IV is or isn’t or video games in general or whatever specific form is or is not – art is supposed to genuinely affect you.

I know he says he was affected. But his summation seems to be wherever he looked he found himself. Usually a pretty good indication that you’re trying to escape yourself and the game or sports team or drug or whatever isn’t really the central thing.

One of the things I took away from 'Fight Club' - the fighting was purely secondary and the shock of the experience a replacement for the validity of the experience (and focus on the creation of art through expertise) which soon became a prophylactic for everything else.
(So 'Bob' dies and no one feels anything because they're hooked into the surrogate for meaning, not the reality).
Lot to be said about video games replacing reality. But like I say, that can be done with nearly anything. (Someone posted in a comment on Poe's Oval Portrait story a bit ago. Goes back to the ancient Greeks - Pygmalion and later reiterated 'Galatea.') And it's not like it's a new concept.
But he's not getting off on his own work. I'd argue the interactivity is the excuse to not experience anything, not an alternative experience he got immersed in. One might be able to defend the latter.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:48 PM on March 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Thanks edbles, that would be great.

I love stuff like that because it shows how widely distributed the "art games movement" (ugh) really is. As aspo says, it's generally true that the same few games get trotted out whenever someone wants to defend the artistic merits of games, but I think that speaks more to an ignorance among the commentators than some deficiency in the medium. If you follow any of the indie games coverage, you'll almost always see a couple of new and interesting ideas every week, spread across every platform imaginable, and the energy of this ad-hoc community says some pretty encouraging things about the future of videogames for thinking adults.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 1:51 PM on March 22, 2010


("A work of art doesn't enslave you." - and, obviously, point taken, but a good work of art should affect you. And it should be an authentic experience. And enhance your own experience. Perhaps in a dangerous way. What occurred with this guy is the opposite. Not that it was liberating. But I think he's trying to argue that it did enslave him (the question of whether video games are art or not aside) and in fact he wasn't really compelled by it. But rather, his own desire to avoid genuinely experiencing anything. Not wanting to deal with shit is a hellava drug.)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:52 PM on March 22, 2010


We have had a Wii since my son was 5 years old (he's 7 1/2 now), and all I can say is that we have grown to hate Mario - it's addictive. With Super Mario Galaxy, all my son wanted to do was play the fucking thing, and when our Wii stopped playing it (it's a long story), life returned to normal... He'll play Wii Sports Resort and Raving Rabbits, but will turn it off.

We got Mario Kart and it was the same thing - constant desire to play, and when he lost he became nasty and fighty. Then Nintendo blocked the Twilight hack, and we couldn't play it anymore (long story).

I recently rented Super Mario Wii, and it's the same thing - nastiness, fightiness, extreme desire to play. We took it back to the rental shop, and life has returned to normal.

This is very disturbing because I *loved* Mario (still do) when I was in high school and university. I wish we could let it into our house, but I suppose we will have to wait a few years.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:56 PM on March 22, 2010


A work of art doesn't enslave you.

I know some artists that would feel differently.
posted by aspo at 1:57 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


aspo, I agree that gameplay and immersiveness are key artistic virtues of games. But they aren't the only ones, and even those two play out very, very differently in different genres. Tetris, FarCry 2, Photopia, Civilization IV, Rock Band -- these are all extremely immersive in ways so different I feel like we need a different word for what's going on in each of those examples.

On top of that, you have games which, as a whole, might not cohere into something you'd call art but that contain elements that are genuinely artistic - music, architecture, narratives, animation, acting performances. In such cases is the game just a venue? Something like an art gallery or a movie projector?
posted by straight at 2:04 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


sounds like its not okay to simply take some bandwidth breaks?
posted by infini at 2:08 PM on March 22, 2010


I'm feeling harsh and unsympathetic to this article because the compulsion which he so lovingly dissects sounds like every other junkie who has tried in print to rationalize an addiction or claim that it is, in some way, art. Just reading about it-- the entranced cocaine state of kind of zen static in his head as he hits the buttons over and over and wanders through the "story"-- makes my skin crawl. All that romantic nonsense about cocaine being like jazz, you have to let it come to you-- shite of the worst and most self-indulgent kind. Compulsive use of porn, compulsive gaming, compulsive search for stimuli: it all just brings to mind a lab rat with an electric socket plugged into its head hitting the bar until it drops from exhaustion. Where is art in this?
posted by jokeefe at 2:19 PM on March 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you saw a play that was horrid. Shlock dialog, poor acting, over the top moralizing, bad direction, etc. but that had one amazing set, the play was not (good*) art. The set may be art, but it could be taken out of the context of the play and it would still have the same power.

In the same way, unless the music or architecture or narrative or whatever can only be appreciated as part of the gameplay then the quality of their art is outside of the game's art. Quality art direction is far to rare in the medium. Same with a strong narrative. (I'm sorry, even in the games like oh, Bioshock to name one that keeps getting thrown out there, hardly exists in games. The best game stories are still at the level of mediocre rambling genre novels.) But neither of those are help if the gameplay isn't good.

* The good qualifier makes everything more complicated. If you agree that games are art, then games can be bad art. But the crass commercialism of some games confuses things. A by the numbers commercial takes a lot of skill, maybe even artistry to make look good, but is it art? I don't know.
posted by aspo at 2:20 PM on March 22, 2010


A work of art doesn't enslave you.

I know some artists that would feel differently.


I'm not speaking about production, I'm speaking about reception.

And I do believe that video games can in fact be art-- I'm a huge fan of Tale of Tales, for example-- but GTA isn't anything even close to that. It's sheer sensation, and sensation is its only reward. The games which truly approach art resemble very little the FPS and the games where the only way you can interact with a character is through violence.
posted by jokeefe at 2:24 PM on March 22, 2010


Jokeefe: I mostly agree with you, but there's part of me that's uncomfortable with that argument. Anything can be unhealthy if taken to extremes, but what is it about playing games that makes you lump it in with porn instead of oh say playing basketball?
posted by aspo at 2:25 PM on March 22, 2010


but what is it about playing games that makes you lump it in with porn instead of oh say playing basketball?

Um... both tend to involve sitting (mostly) passively in front of screens identifying with unrealistic actions in a hyperreal invented universe?
posted by jokeefe at 2:42 PM on March 22, 2010


When people argue whether video games are art, they are arguing whether their experiences have meaning, have value.

What does it take for an experience to have value?
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:49 PM on March 22, 2010


Um... both tend to involve sitting (mostly) passively in front of screens identifying with unrealistic actions in a hyperreal invented universe?

But, like basketball a game like Left4Dead (which the author mentions also playing obsessively) involves strategy, tactics, coordination, reflexes, teamwork, and communication. I don't think you can say the same of porn.
posted by aspo at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2010


When people argue whether video games are art, they are arguing whether their experiences have meaning, have value.

Um, no. Questions of meaning and value are pretty much orthogonal to whether something is art or not.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2010


And to be clear, I somewhat agree with you. I know people who are fitness junkies. I know people who care way too much about movies or books. I know people who game way too much. Fitness freaks? A bit silly at times. Movie buffs? Hey it's a hobby. Voracious readers? Cool with me (although I am a bit eye-rolly at the ones who only read trash genre lit.) Compulsive gamers? A little pathetic. What is it about gaming that makes one want to lump it in with porn and drug addiction?
posted by aspo at 3:13 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The eye-rolly bit about genre fiction bit made me want to expand a bit. There are movie buffs who only watch the crappiest of movies and don't think critically about the films at all. There are want too many gamers whose appreciation of games stops at "dude strippers, heheh" and just how awesome the graphics look when you blow someone's head off. (ok, there's also just how awesome it looks when you crash a car into a wall at 120 mph). But even the intelligent gamer, the one who thinks about games and what they mean, they get less respect than the guy who thinks Transformers 2 was the best film ever.
posted by aspo at 3:18 PM on March 22, 2010


I think it's self-evident that games can be art, as they are an aesthetic product, which is one of the ways in which I define art to myself.

I never played most of the games that get trotted out as examples of art in games, some existed on consoles I never owned, others I found boring on first try and never gave a second chance. My list of games I'd consider art is fairly different (e.g. Ultima VII, Civilization, Doom, Star Flight) but they all share one thing, they gave me a feeling of complete and total freedom, a transcendent freedom that I have never experienced in any other medium of any kind. In fact, having experienced that in games I sought out something similar in life and fell into a different artistic pursuit, writing, which also gives me that sense of freedom.

It's a freedom that comes from entering a world that is different from my own, existing there and then exiting again. It's like I swap out my imagination for that of the game and I let it take over. This isn't saying that older games are better, as people on MeFightClub can attest (and people in gaming threads here) I cannot shut up about Men of War. It's hard for me to say what separates a game that is transcendental for me like Ultima VII from a game with similar ambitions that is merely very, very good, like Oblivion. Or Doom from Half Life etc. I could probably tease out some differences, but in the end it's question of aesthetics.
posted by Kattullus at 3:24 PM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


“What does it take for an experience to have value?”
Bringing something to it. Risk. Some real stake – of any kind.
I suppose that echoes Nietzsche on living dangerously. But if you don’t know achieve even failure (there Wolfgang Pauli), there’s no possibility of any experience having value.
I agree somewhere with KJS, but here because I think Bissell’s real argument is in favor of stalemate. The refusal to face anything, even failure. Eternal purgatory wrapped in the more traditional question of whether it’s art or a real experience, etc. Folks are giving Bissell too much credit.
That said, any given experience might be ‘real’ or not – but some delusions are necessary (that is, the individual meaning to them is – whatever the theme or medium). No one thinks dreams are real. But some dreams have inspired people and had real world effects.
Escapism has always had that disreputable edge to it. One of the reasons LOTR was so big when it came out is because it seemed so subversive to enjoy a bit of pure fantasy. Same thing with novels (which weren’t considered ‘art’ by any means for some time).
Video games seem to have the same shabbiness paper and pencil RPGs had/have. And, I suspect, for some of the same reasons. It can be abused, as Bissell did it, for purely reality shirking reasons as opposed to just enjoying a bit of time out of your own head.
And it’s easy to get habituated to something like that. Lots of complaints that video games make you violent. I disagree. But there is a desensitization that can be ingrained into one’s reactions.
But it’s not ‘real’ in the sense that someone who trains on a video simulation is going to outshoot someone who has real world experience. So by the same token – there are so many complex variables in ‘reality’ that a virtual experience can’t match it.
F’rnstnce, you do use all your senses, smell, shift in air pressure, all that, in close combat, it’s a different experience, but a video trainer does have some uses – but on the other hand you have the Sean Maguire quote from Good Will Hunting – ‘ if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.’
I think for some people any medium can be a surrogate for genuine experience. And I think a lot of people use that to run away from who they are.
As it is, video games are the latest thing. An artist can make art from almost anything and someone open to it can have a genuine and valuable experience with almost anything.
Someone who isn’t though isn’t going to be open to any experience of any kind. I have a buddy like that. Told him about the birth of my first kid and it was like trying to show a kazoo to a puppy. Yeah. Child. So? I would have chalked it up to him not being into kids but we’ve seen a maelstrom together. I was awed. He couldn’t stop talking about it just being an effect of different tidal whatsits. Beautiful. Awe inspiring. None of that enters into it. Lots of other stuff too.
Some folks are sensitive and in a way that they can derive something meaningful from certain video games. Some folks need a whole church or something. Some gaze into the night sky all night every night of the summer. Some listen to Bach. Some people are unfazed by any of those things and some won’t open themselves up to anything. Film, painting, sculpture, nature, nada.
Sometimes on purpose.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


(sorry about the disorderly form of the thoughts. Ugh. Gotta go get some sleep)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:50 PM on March 22, 2010


Gah, that article makes my hair stand on end.
The guy is losing years of his life to a terrible addiction. Two of them. I'm a little puzzled by the atmosphere of tender reflection or amusement both in the article and in some the comments here.


Why do you think he is "losing" those years? Sounds like he's enjoying himself immensely.
posted by telstar at 3:53 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems to be there's no difference in quality between those people who are closed to artistic experience and those who are open to it. You can't say that someone who has no reception to anything is a worse person than someone who has. And wrap in the two extremes of people who are nihilistic rocks, impervious to everything, and schizophrenic wanna-be artists who are too disorganized to accomplish the slightest thing, and you've taken two pathologies that are roughly equivalently worse than plain jane normal, whatever that might be.

Everything's addictive, especially when people are enjoying it, and especially when those people aren't scheduled for enjoyment today. When we are with our friends enjoying things, it's quite different.
posted by nervousfritz at 3:58 PM on March 22, 2010


But the reason why some of us want to talk about games basketweaving as art is because we feel that there is something to talk about in the design of great games baskets.

I don't really hold onto some sort of art/craft dichotomy, but just because you practice a lucrative craft and would like to hone it while snorting cocaine doesn't make you an artist.

First make art out of video games, then brag about it.

Why isn't it self-justifying? This of course is taking for granted that art has a high status, which it doesn't.

So, Infinite Jest isn't art until it gets into the High School Curriculum?

When I see you comparing Grand Theft Auto to David Foster Wallace I can't help but notice that there's a bit of a status-grab at stake. Look, this entire debate depends on an equivocation. There's art as making something, and there's art as making something that accumulates an aura of exclusivity and discrimination. If Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light (tm) is an artist, and if all you want to say is that video games are on the same level as schlockmeisters, then fine.

But that's not really what you're indicating you want with your references: saying video games are art is about demanding respect. Video games are a group of closely related interactive multimedia, and one question is why you'd demand respect for the whole medium rather than just for one or another work of art that happens to belong in that medium. Like the novel, just because video games don't start as high art doesn't mean they won't end up there. But even when a work of art does take the form of a video game, Mario Kart won't be art.

Let's not equivocate: video games are not at present high status activities, in large part because they're solitary, addictive, and cheap. Comparing yourself to Proust or Andy Warhol won't change that, nor does it bear any resemblance to the lived experience of your interlocutors.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:24 PM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Reading is solitary, cheap, and somewhat addictive. And yet being well read is not a character flaw.
posted by aspo at 4:30 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cocaine," Robert Sabbag tells us in the smuggling classic Snowblind, "has no edge. It is strictly a motor drug. It does not alter your perception; it will not even wire you up like the amphetamines. No pictures, no time/space warping, no danger, no fun, no edge. Any individual serious about his chemicals – a heavy hitter – would sooner take 30 No-Doz [caffeine tablets]. Coke is to acid what jazz is to rock. You have to appreciate it. It does not come to you."

This is just nonsense. In the lab, people can't even distinguish cocaine from amphetamine in the moment they are given-- the main thing that distinguishes them is that amphetamine is much longer acting. Cocaine will wire you up quite seriously and if he's never experienced danger, fun, edge-- well, he had a very different experience of cocaine than I did and than did many others that I know who have taken it. Of course, set and setting plays a huge role in drug experience-- which is why these blunt statements like "cocaine does not alter your perception" are as stupid as saying something like "sex is boring." Well, yeah, it can be-- doesn't mean it always is by any means!

I have to say I didn't like the rest of the article much better than I liked this quoted passage. The guy seemed to have no insight whatsoever into *why* he went from being self-disciplined and workaholic into being addicted to cocaine and gaming. What I find funny is that the guy clearly doesn't know moderation from excess-- who drinks 10 diet cokes a day? I bet he smoked marijuana several times a day as well and thought that was casual use.

And, while he goes around trying to justify the games as providing "real" experience and being worthwhile, he seems afraid to make the point that drugs can do the same. He seems afraid to even let himself think that-- which certainly is fine if you are trying to avoid relapse, but which doesn't seem to be completely honest.

He seems to have not looked at all into anything beyond the superficial content of his obsessions. Obsessions are escape: what are you trying to get away from?
posted by Maias at 4:30 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Planescape managed to take your classic role playing game of hitpoints and to hit rolls and make it a little more than just killing nasty thing with teeth. (Although when it came down to it, at least 80% of your time was spent in combat.)

Not really. With a high-wisdom character you can spend the majority of your time talking to people and reading descriptions. With more exp from quests, even in the end when battles become more frequent, you can waltz through them. The saving grace of Planescape was telling a story in one of the most kitchen-sink settings ever created and drawing the focus away from crunching numbers.

Anyway, if people seem to miss what games and art mean, it may mean that different people have different criteria.
posted by ersatz at 4:33 PM on March 22, 2010


Though I don't play them (I pretty much lost a summer to them once, and don't care to repeat that process), I expect that video games will be the dominant art form and experiential medium within two decades, if not sooner.

As they become more immersive, more realistic, and more intrinsic to social life, video games will sweep aside movies, and become the stage for introducing things like pop music. Getting to the point where we can manifest and share dream worlds seems very much just a matter of improving bandwidth and refining software.

It's kinda neat how things like environmental collapse and mass poverty will probably coincide with digital utopia.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:43 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't really hold onto some sort of art/craft dichotomy, but just because you practice a lucrative craft and would like to hone it while snorting cocaine doesn't make you an artist.

Of course it does. Because the only possible method of answering, "what is art" that isn't hopelessly mired in cultural and individual bias is to say that art is the conscious application of aesthetic principles to design within a given craft. There are, of course, fine-art basketweavers out there.

When I see you comparing Grand Theft Auto to David Foster Wallace I can't help but notice that there's a bit of a status-grab at stake.

I didn't. You did. I simply pointed out that by the standard you presented, David Foster Wallace can't be an artist until he's included in the high school curriculum. That's a very silly and stupid standard of defining art.

There's art as making something, and there's art as making something that accumulates an aura of exclusivity and discrimination. If Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light (tm) is an artist, and if all you want to say is that video games are on the same level as schlockmeisters, then fine.

The problem here is that "on the same level as" is completely orthogonal to whether something can properly be called art. Of course, Thomas Kinkade is an artist. When we critique him, it's on the artistic merits of his work, not on its utility as a raincoat or its ability to perform floating point operations.

But that's not really what you're indicating you want with your references: saying video games are art is about demanding respect.

Well no. Saying games (note, not video games, games) are art is saying that we are going to talk about them in terms of the kinds of aesthetic principles that go into their design rather than their technical ability to animate thousands of polygons at 50 fps.

If you define games as a group of closely related multimedia, then by definition, you are saying that video games are art and should be critiqued on aesthetic grounds. Otherwise, you really need to articulate what other than the big stick up your ass justifies your obviously biased and self-justifying distinction between art and schlock.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's kinda neat how things like environmental collapse and mass poverty will probably coincide with digital utopia.

Somebody should write a novel based on this very original thought.
posted by not that girl at 5:18 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or to put it another way, it's about like saying that the Obama election isn't history until it appears in history textbooks, or new findings in molecular biology are not science until they appear in science textbooks. It's an utter absurdity and I can't tell if it's a pathetic argument from authority or popularity given that high school curricula are not authoritative or popular.

Other than the fact that Wallace is among the many artists who don't get mentioned in curriculum, I wouldn't dream of comparing his work to games, because it happens in an entirely different medium. For that matter, I don't think you can meaningfully compare still photography, painting, cinema, drama, or novels because they are different media with different aesthetic criteria.

My call, is that we should be judging games qua games, rather than games as a derivative of cinema or literature, for many of the same reasons that we don't judge opera and musical theater entirely by the costume design or the libretto.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:32 PM on March 22, 2010


Otherwise, you really need to articulate what other than the big stick up your ass justifies your obviously biased and self-justifying distinction between art and schlock.

No, you're right... it's not like you're defending status here, is it?

Just because I recognize status doesn't mean I think status is good or justified: the opposite, in fact. But I didn't bring up Infinite Jest, you did. By your lights, it could easily have been a bodice-ripping romance. They're both art, right?

If you're offended when I make low-status comparison, what does that suggest about your claim to artistry? It looks to me like you're smuggling "good" into the claim. You're not just saying video games are art, you're saying that they're GOOD art. But you don't want to say that they're good art, because you know many of them are bad. So you say "Of course they're good art!" and hope we won't notice.

On the definitional/conceptual stuff, I'd go even farther than you: art is what artists do. (The real bind is: who is an artist?)
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:37 PM on March 22, 2010


Just because I recognize status doesn't mean I think status is good or justified: the opposite, in fact.

Well, you keep saying this but you keep arguing otherwise.

But I didn't bring up Infinite Jest, you did. By your lights, it could easily have been a bodice-ripping romance. They're both art, right?

Yes, but using a bodice-ripping romance doesn't highlight the problems in your pathetic argument from authority or popularity (it's so ugly and stupid that I can't figure out which) that high school curricula are useful for defining art.

If you're offended when I make low-status comparison, what does that suggest about your claim to artistry?

Well, wake me up when you actually say something about my claim to artistry. As it is, your arguments to far have ranged from the stupid (high school) to the arbitrary (art vs. not art). All you've revealed so far is that GTA, Planescape, and Mario Kart are not art because you say so.

It looks to me like you're smuggling "good" into the claim. You're not just saying video games are art, you're saying that they're GOOD art.

Well, I don't know how you get this when I've explicitly said otherwise. Art is art. Good or bad is an entirely different question. But we can't blast Kinkade for being bad without addressing things like his failures of perspective, development, framing, subject matter, and yes, rending of light. Otherwise, we might as well talk about his work in relationship to an ink-jet printer.

I will stand on the notion that if we look at games qua games, that Scrabble and Portal are very good, while Mass Effect and Oblivion are less good. But I don't think we can get there if we can't get past the knee-jerk judgement that games can't be art.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:01 PM on March 22, 2010


videogames are a channel through which people experience their own personalities ("...I learned that maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough")

The whole 'is X art' discussion is one that never does anything but spin in circles, even if it's fun to have. So I'm not going to bother addressing it. Instead, this long personal ramble, which you may feel free to ignore!

I wanted to highlight the bit I quoted above, there, because the last couple of years have really deepened my thinking about some aspects of video games, and in particular, multiplayer ones.

Since starting Mefightclub, the offshoot site of Metafilter where MeFites who are inclined can hang out and play games and talk about them together, I've done more gaming than I ever have in my life, and of the many things I've learned from the experience, which has been overwhelmingly positive, is that my life-long mild guilt at playing games is something that I should have examined more closely.

Which is to say, our gang of upwards of a thousand people (registered at the site if not all active, as usual for fora and such on the internet) is composed of a wide variety of people -- smart, groovy ones, of course, being a subset of Metafilter membership itself -- but very very few of them, if any, are the kind of shy, arrested-development shut-in stereotype trotted out upthread.

There are doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, designers, students, people with kids and lives and everything, married couples and old bastards like me (we skew middle-aged, atypical for a gaming-centric group), all the way down to a teenager or three. We spend a lot of time, sure, especially on weekends, hanging out in various virtual game spaces, talking, joking, laughing and having fun (while blowing stuff up or building cities or any number of other 'game' activities) but it is just a group of people who are drawn together by a shared enthusiasm, like any other busy internet community.

We (well, they, because of my geographical isolation) get together for barbeques and beer and dinner and real-life fun, all over the planet, send each other baked goods and computer parts, share our lives and projects, all the meetup and regular-people stuff that the larger community of Metafilter does (or, again, any other web community does).

As I remember saying about Metafilter itself years ago, I've made more good friends as part of that gang than I have in all my years on the internet. But the intimacy of hanging out together, virtually, talking and playing, as opposed to the distance of interacting through text, has made my Mefight Club friends feel all that much closer to my heart.

I've learned too that different people approach gaming in different ways, and that like any other group of many hundreds of people, there are a range of personality types. People who are compulsive about games, who may be 'addicted', people who play, like me, mostly just to hang out with folks and have a few laughs, people who game for reasons good and bad, and all the various shades of grey in between.

But the experience of running the site and sharing the responsibilities of running our constellation of sites and subgroups and game servers and all the rest has been one of the most positive social experiences of my life, and I wouldn't have changed it, even with all the transient conflicts and disagreements that always happen in such a large group of people, even a bit.

Gaming has been very very good to me in the last few years, and though I still try very hard to balance my normal life with the life online, hanging out with my friends around the world, I've stopped worrying about it so much, because it's become so much clearer to me that, stereotypes aside (which exist because there is a kernel of truth in them sometimes), there are a lot of smart, capable, confident, social, successful people out there who like as much as I do to hop into a game of TF2, say, with their friends, and blow each other up for a while for fun. Preferably with a fine scotch or three at hand.

It bothers me when people paint people who enjoy games with the broad brush of disapproval and belittle gaming as a hobby somehow less worthy than others, but it comes with the territory, I guess. Ten million teenage Xboxers LOLing there way to nirvana out there do nothing to dispell the negative impressions.

Also, it's been decades since I was an afficionado of cocaine, but I'll tell ya: my life would be very different if I'd stopped gaming and kept up with the drugs, rather than the reverse. And definitely not for the better.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:06 PM on March 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


anotherpanacaea: On the definitional/conceptual stuff, I'd go even farther than you: art is what artists do. (The real bind is: who is an artist?)

Oh, this isn't even wrong. It's not even in the same galaxy as wrong. As a hint, quite a bit of art we have is by artists who are anonymous and only loosely connected to a historic place and time.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:11 PM on March 22, 2010


I think you've misunderstood my joke about Mr. Jacoby's 11th grade Video Game class and the various artworks he ruins. To spell out the joke: "Literature is what they force you to read in school because it's good for you, but that takes the fun out of it. Later, you pick up some Shakespeare and realize you like it when you're not being forced to read it." As I say, and as the context demonstrates, it was not intended to be an actual prerequisite.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:31 PM on March 22, 2010


Meanwhile, you've repeatedly misunderstood my explicitly stated reasons for talking about games as art: there are some reasonably consistent aesthetic design principles in games that are much more worthy of discussion than getting outraged by calling it art.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:57 PM on March 22, 2010


I think you are all correct.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:15 PM on March 22, 2010


Okay I will get sucked into the silly 'art' debate.

I think that games-as-art is to 'real', traditional art the same way web design is to 'real', traditional design, for pretty much the same reason.

I think the thing that keeps these things from wider acceptance is just time's arrow. Most any videogame, like most any web site, is a very transitory thing that will be gone or irrelevant in 10-20 years, or only known to those actively seeking it out for historical interest. (The retro kitsch appeal of Pac Man is about the same as the retro kitsch aesthetic of green ASCII text, or an animated under-construction GIF.)

Paintings, statues, novels and even films stand up much much longer, for purely technical reasons: seeing a statue or a film today is pretty much the same experience its been for the lifetime of its medium. And with that, we come to accept these as art, because they're established. They feel more solid, more real, more worthy of respect.

When there are 200 year old videogames to look back upon, this may change... assuming anyone bothers to preserve them, of course.
posted by rokusan at 1:55 AM on March 23, 2010


The best design decision in the Metal Gear Solid series is, in my opinion, the noise the game makes when your protagonist character is spotted by an enemy. The games are mainly about sneaking through environments without being seen, using your surroundings and your tools to conceal yourself. As you sneak along, some quiet music plays and you watch all around your character for signs of enemy activity. You lean forward, slow your breathing, and take care in your movements.

Then an enemy spots you and the game suddenly lets out a single musical chord louder than anything else in the game. It shocks you, gets your heart pumping and your adrenaline flowing, and suddenly you're running your little character about, trying to get away and hide. It's playing generic getaway music here but the masterful part is the way the sound design drew you into the stealth and then scared the shit out of you, making you feel, in a small way, how the protagonist felt when he realised that guard was looking right at him.

As for whether or not games can be art? Meh. If a film or an album can be "art", then so can any other piece of collaborative entertainment. Also, like a lot of art in other media, games are incredibly self-referential, and I think some of the people who say that no game can be art simply don't speak the language required to appreciate it.

yes we did just get a ps3 and yes we're playing MGS4 for the first time. wow.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:21 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


eggplantplacebo: The creator I was referring to goes by the tag harjavieve or something along those lines the level name is Dawn of the Tribals. That creator has two other levels produced before that. Couldn't find any youTube nonsense of it, but this playlist gives you a pretty good sample of the types of things people are doing with the level creator tools. A lot of it is derivative some of it is gorgeous. There's a couple of other levels I've found that are less playing with LBP space and form and visuals and more just really funa nd consistently themed and those are Welcome to the Circus and Dead Sack's Cave whichI think are by the same people.
posted by edbles at 5:09 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


When there are 200 year old videogames to look back upon, this may change... assuming anyone bothers to preserve them, of course.


This guy's got that covered.
posted by edbles at 5:14 AM on March 23, 2010


quite a bit of art we have is by artists

The only difference between our positions is that I think that ALL of the art we have is by artists, whereas you're apparently only willing to commit to the claim that SOME (well, "quite a bit") of it is. "All this effort to feel so empty," indeed.

reasonably consistent aesthetic design principles in games

Why not call it 'design' then? Why is 'art' the holy grail? (Here's a hint: 'art' has higher status than 'design.')
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:50 AM on March 23, 2010


anotherpanacea, the full quote was:

KirkJobSluder: "quite a bit of art we have is by artists who are anonymous and only loosely connected to a historic place and time."

I'm confused as to why you took that so out of context.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:15 AM on March 23, 2010


KirkJobSludder, I’m honestly quite confused about your position here, and your vehemence seems to be counter-productive. (I say that as someone who started commenting here with an inflammatory comment.)

I actually think anotherpanacea has done a good job of identifying my objection to the video games are art argument. There is an attendant claim, left carefully un- or understated, that they are good art and should therefore get more respect as products, and as pastimes, than they do. You seem to be objecting to that notion, but at the same time you keep comparing them to things that are already perceived to have a higher worth than video games. That seems to undo your argument, at least to me.

At another point, however, you made a comment that I completely agree with, and that forms the basis for my objection. It was a comment that leisure activities should be just that, and their worth is intrinsic, and should not be based on whether or not they are a “good” use of time. I agree. There are many many things I do that don’t have very much worth outside of the activities themselves. Sometimes I tell myself stories about why they are worthy, other times I just do them. More and more often I’ve been trying not to justify them because I think it muddies the water, and makes it harder to be honest with myself (not in some grand sense, just in the how do I want to spend my time sense). I think video games are like this, and I frankly see it as a sign of insecurity that someone would have to claim an intrinsic “good” for them, in this case, the mantle of art, in order to feel good about playing them.
posted by OmieWise at 6:32 AM on March 23, 2010


I don’t know about other people or what the current running trend in the art world on the definition of art is, but I’m going to go ahead and use a paraphrase the James Joyce definition in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which is where he describes anything that creates fear or desire as pornographic and anything that gets you all zenned up and reflecty is art. When I talk about design I’m talking about grace and elegance in the production of an object, when I talk about art I’m talking about the objects ability to get people all zenned up and reflecty. When people say video games are art what they are saying is I have played a game that caused me to change or re-examine who I am, the world I am living in, my relationships to others or all of the above. When people who say video games are art hear people say video games are not art they hear people saying that experience you had where you re-evaluated your perspective on life the universe and everything could not have happened, because your hobby is trivial.

However this does not mean that I think every game does this, or that I play every game looking to find this. Sometimes I just want to have a little orange dude hit people with a stick, but sometimes I want to re-evaluate my relationship with color and form and movement.
posted by edbles at 6:46 AM on March 23, 2010


anotherpanacea: Yes, what is with this thing of taking fragmentary quotes out of context?

The problem with identifying art as the work of artists is that it becomes a circular argument. Who created King Tut's funeral mask? All we know about the artist is the mask. Who created it? An artist! How do we know? He or she created a work of art!

There are other problems as well, which is why art criticism tends to focus on art work and not the wacky or mundane details of biography.

Why not call it 'design' then? Why is 'art' the holy grail? (Here's a hint: 'art' has higher status than 'design.')

Here is a hint: quite obviously there are methods of design that are not primarily concerned with aesthetics and therefore can't be called art. I'm not certain it's possible to continue a discussion with someone who appears to be unwilling to read complete sentences.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:48 AM on March 23, 2010


One distinction that seems to be operating here is a producer/consumer dichotomy. Are the various video game makers engaged in high value "aesthetic design"? Are the players consuming a high value aesthetic product? It seems at least possible that we might say yes to the first question but no to the second.

I'd analogize it to television: David Simon is a great writer but there's still something pernicious about watching five seasons of The Wire in a long weekend.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:51 AM on March 23, 2010


I play games because I have nothing better to do with my time. That used to bother me, but it can't be helped.
posted by planet at 7:14 AM on March 23, 2010


OmnieWise: I actually think anotherpanacea has done a good job of identifying my objection to the video games are art argument. There is an attendant claim, left carefully un- or understated, that they are good art and should therefore get more respect as products, and as pastimes, than they do.

My vehemence comes from the perception that this has gone beyond simple misunderstanding to intentional dishonesty, as I see no other reason to quote sentence fragments to create entirely new arguments.

Identifying games as art, as clearly and explicitly stated multiple times. Has nothing to do with quality, value, or respect. I don't know how I can be more clear on this point.

And further more, my argument that some games are worthy of respect as products, pastimes, and subjects of criticism hasn't been left unstated, or understated. I've explicitly said multiple times that some games are worthy of such respect and identified which ones. I don't know how I can be more clear there either.

(Also as I clearly stated, I don't see these issues as new or unique to video games. Chess and card games have been reviled or respected in different cultures and different historical periods.)

OmnieWise: At another point, however, you made a comment that I completely agree with, and that forms the basis for my objection. It was a comment that leisure activities should be just that, and their worth is intrinsic, and should not be based on whether or not they are a “good” use of time. I agree. There are many many things I do that don’t have very much worth outside of the activities themselves. Sometimes I tell myself stories about why they are worthy, other times I just do them. More and more often I’ve been trying not to justify them because I think it muddies the water, and makes it harder to be honest with myself (not in some grand sense, just in the how do I want to spend my time sense). I think video games are like this, and I frankly see it as a sign of insecurity that someone would have to claim an intrinsic “good” for them, in this case, the mantle of art, in order to feel good about playing them.

Your objection here is so muddled, I'm not certain you understand your own position. Games are an intrinsic good as leisure time, except when they are not, except when they are.

The entire thing hinges on some mythical "mantle of art," which is something I categorically reject because there is no way to consider "this is art" as a statement of value or quality that doesn't hinge on personal taste, emotional response, or cultural bias. And it's usually the case that to reject something as art (like Kinkade paintings) you have to treat it as a viable subject of artistic criticism to start with.

anotherpanacaea: One distinction that seems to be operating here is a producer/consumer dichotomy. Are the various video game makers engaged in high value "aesthetic design"? Are the players consuming a high value aesthetic product?

Neither of these questions have anything to do with identifying games as art.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:24 AM on March 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are the players consuming a high value aesthetic product? [...] I'd analogize it to television: David Simon is a great writer but there's still something pernicious about watching five seasons of The Wire in a long weekend.

A counterexample might help - what would constitute a winning move, here? A weekend spent indoors on Wagner and physics homework? Translating Ovid? A line of cocaine from here to Providence?

Making my own art isn't a satisfying answer, because it sounds like we're being called upon to surpass David Simon. Moreover, if the passive consumption of art is bad, then producing more art becomes even less appealing - like setting a table for visitors we don't even want.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:32 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, what is with this thing of taking fragmentary quotes out of context?

Tu quoque and all that. I said that art is what artists do, and you said, "That's not even wrong!" and then proceeded to identify ancient artworks that were done by artists. By calling them artists, you confirmed my definition while at the same time insulting me by refusing to acknowledge that's what I'd said.

I think your claim is that art defines the artist and not vice versa, but you haven't thought it through. Is John Cage's 4′33″ art? If I cough during a performance of 4'33", do I become an artist, since I've produced an aesthetic experience? Is rotting meat art, even if the artist is not responsible for the specific patterns of experience it generates? Found art? Is a black box that sells itself on Ebay art?

Art is what artists do. Becoming an artist is about earning status, so art is a status question. That's why a lot of art sucks. On the other hand, a lot of design is pretty fantastic. It doesn't have to be an insult unless you're somehow committed to self-identifying as an artist and justifying your activities as art. Better simply to do activities that are worthwhile and disregard status and labels.

You might be able to develop your position a bit better if you take a look at John Dewey's Art as Experience. It's a good read, though ultimately disconnected from the contemporary art world... still, it helps to demonstrate the fundamental elitism in "art" claims.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:49 AM on March 23, 2010


Making my own art isn't a satisfying answer, because it sounds like we're being called upon to surpass David Simon. Moreover, if the passive consumption of art is bad, then producing more art becomes even less appealing - like setting a table for visitors we don't even want.

I understand the concern, kid ichorous. The problem is audience: some art seems to demand it, yet being-an-audience is not a fundamentally worthwhile activity. It's a tragic tension, but we won't make any progress if we ignore that tension.

I think "doing it yourself" has got to be the end point of all this consumption, even (perhaps especially) if you never manage to surpass David Simon.

I don't play the guitar as well as Jimmy Hendrix, either... but there's a different (and inferior) quality to listening to an album than there is to making music with friends. I can't garden one-tenth as well as my friend who has a professional orchid business... but if gardening is a worthwhile activity, it's worth more to do it myself than simply admire hers.

This is where we generally start talking about 'active listening,' 'close reading' and 'participatory theater.'
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:59 AM on March 23, 2010


Have you ever found yourself sitting on some rocks, looking out over the river at night, admiring the graphics?

I limit myself, now, to a few hours of PSP per week because of those weird experiences; the blurring between gaming environments and my non-gaming life.
posted by ServSci at 7:59 AM on March 23, 2010


Another book that deals with this dispute is Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:01 AM on March 23, 2010


there are a wide variety of situations and experiences where having a server of some sort matters
posted by infini at 8:14 AM on March 23, 2010


anotherpanacea: By calling them artists, you confirmed my definition while at the same time insulting me by refusing to acknowledge that's what I'd said.

The problem is, you have it backwards. We can't use the artist to identify the artwork because we don't know who the artist was. Perhaps it was created by a professional artisan, perhaps it was created by a talented member of the court. We don't know. We can't talk about the (assumed) artist, but we can talk about the art.

So it's still not even wrong.

Is John Cage's 4′33″ art?

Yes, and it would be art if it had been produced by John Doe, or Johann Bach. In fact, it's safe to say that Cage is notorious for having created 4'33" rather than 4'33" is famous as a work of John Cage. Arguing that 4'33" is art because it was created by an artist is putting the cart before the horse.

Is rotting meat art, even if the artist is not responsible for the specific patterns of experience it generates? Found art? Is a black box that sells itself on Ebay art?

Well, in all of these cases, the argument is that the art is in the invented context in which those particular elements appear. So, yes, yes, and possibly. I don't need biographical information about the artist to answer these questions.

Art is what artists do. Becoming an artist is about earning status, so art is a status question.

These are contradictory and incompatible statements. Defining artists as people who create art is an entirely functional proposition. Defining artists as people who have status is a political proposition. The latter we usually explicitly reject when it comes to the King of France, Hitler, or the United States Congress choosing to deny status to art they find to be offensive.

The whole point in trying to define art in functional and structural terms is an attempt to get away from that kind of class and political elitism. It's shocking to me that you can't grasp this point.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:14 AM on March 23, 2010


I understand the concern, kid ichorous. The problem is audience: some art seems to demand it, yet being-an-audience is not a fundamentally worthwhile activity. It's a tragic tension, but we won't make any progress if we ignore that tension.

Which highlights another problem with pinning art on the social status of the artist. How do we deal with art created by and for people who were considered amateurs? Did Jane Austin suddenly become an artist once she published, and does the fact that she did so under a pseudonym change this? Do we categorically reject the works of Fanny Mendelssohn because in her life, "music must be only an ornament?"
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:27 AM on March 23, 2010


I think "doing it yourself" has got to be the end point of all this consumption, even (perhaps especially) if you never manage to surpass David Simon.

Apprceating art without creating some yourself is 100% valid. Or is architecture not a valid artform because almost noone goes out and builds an iconic skyscraper just for the hell of it?

Still, video games do have a strong DIY ethic. The internet is littered with homemade games, written by game devotees who took the next step made their own art Yeah, a lot of it is derivitive and schlocky, but that's true of every art form.
posted by aspo at 8:47 AM on March 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


The whole point in trying to define art in functional and structural terms is an attempt to get away from that kind of class and political elitism. It's shocking to me that you can't grasp this point

I understand that's the goal. I just think it fails. "Art as experience" claims to be a democratic revolution but it's a front for a different set of oligarchs. Every medium and genre that demands inclusion into the 'art world' is really just perpetuating the elitism that frames the 'art world' as such. Like Napoleon, you claim to advance the ideals of equality and freedom, but as soon as you're victorious you just want to install yourself as Emperors.

"Art as sociology" however, constantly reminds us that artists are playing status games and partially defuses those games in the process. Instead of "the King is dead, long live the new King," we try to defuse and eliminate the status markers of art so that elitism can't get off the ground in the first place. The whole graffiti ethic that Mike Mongo likes to advance is a good example of this. Art isn't a special club you should demand entrance to, it's a problem to be solved.

I'm going to go make something: back soon!
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:25 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


My vehemence comes from the perception that this has gone beyond simple misunderstanding to intentional dishonesty

You might want to reexamine this perception. I really do understand that my first comment in this thread was pretty inflammatory, so I bear quite a lot of responsibility for setting the tone here. Your comments, however, have been incredibly fighty and dismissive. You keep calling people "wrong" in the kind of flat way that is not part of conversation, and it is clear that you'd rather assume bad motives on the part of your interlocutors. At the same time, your own arguments haven't been as clear as I think you'd like to think that they are, so there has been a fair amount of grasping around for the terms of the argument. I'm not sure why confusion about your arguments should be viewed as willful disingenuousness. (And I really think you're misreading the partial quoting as something nefarious rather than copy-editorial.)
posted by OmieWise at 9:41 AM on March 23, 2010


The problem is audience: some art seems to demand it, yet being-an-audience is not a fundamentally worthwhile activity. It's a tragic tension, but we won't make any progress if we ignore that tension. I think "doing it yourself" has got to be the end point of all this consumption, even (perhaps especially) if you never manage to surpass David Simon.

See, I think games have drawn awfully close to this all-in punk ideal, if in part because of the open source ethos. Half Life 2 isn't offered as some figurine behind a glass, or etched in rom. With the SDK, there is the invitation that its audience to break it down to Source, and repurpose it. Take a quick look at Dear Esther, Korsakovia, Polaris, or Handle With Care.

Korsakovia places you in the boots of Christopher, a sufferer of the rare Korsakoff’s syndrome, in a psychiatric hospital. [...] the game’s narrated by a sequence of conversations between Christopher and his doctor. But they’re fragmented, broken by static, and often don’t make a lot of sense.

[in] Polaris, you’re on a date – a cheap and crappy date, in the unseen protagonist’s own words. You’re in a moonlit forest, with Him sitting casually on a bench, and acoustic guitar lilting from an iPod. [...] He doesn’t seem to be making a move on you – he’s just looking at the stars. And he wants you to look too.

And therein lies the crux of the game, and also the point where I’d say Polaris triumphs and stumbles in equal measure. A guy showing his date the stars is classic romance territory, but there’s something creepy and opportunistic about it too. He knows the stars; you do not. He’ll show you a particular constellation, then demand you find it yourself. Every second you fail to identify it is mortifying – he says nothing, but you feel more and more pathetic.


This isn't exactly fanfic. These premises have little in common with the survival FPS. This isn’t about chasing high scores, and it doesn’t feel like an Xbox Achievement synthetic Hell of pushing infinitely many rocks up just as many digital hills. It’s also not about money. There are tens of thousands of free Half Life 2 mods out there. Modding the game is nearly as important as playing the game; you could make the case that modding is playing the game.

Whether or not you agree that something like Polaris is art, we can at least agree that gaming can cultivate an active, responsive audience.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:56 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacaea: I understand that's the goal. I just think it fails.

Then perhaps you should actually address this goal rather than straw men of your own introduction, such as:

"Art as experience" claims to be a democratic revolution but it's a front for a different set of oligarchs.

Well that's fine but I've not discussed or addressed Dewey's work, and feel the need to re-read it before I do. If you want to argue with Dewey, argue with Dewey, don't put me in Dewey's suit, slap his mustache on my face, and treat me as if I were Dewey.

Every medium and genre that demands inclusion into the 'art world' is really just perpetuating the elitism that frames the 'art world' as such. Like Napoleon, you claim to advance the ideals of equality and freedom, but as soon as you're victorious you just want to install yourself as Emperors.

Oh my this is rich. Yes, an 'art world' that includes 3-year-olds, and even you is elitist. The problem here is that you only identified yourself as a revolutionary after you've pissed around declaring that Kinkade and Mario Kart are not art because of standards you refuse to describe. Then you make an appeal to "Art as Sociology." If you go there, you have to wrestle with the problem that both Kinkade and game designers like Shigeru Miyamoto have been recognized as artists.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:59 AM on March 23, 2010


OmnieWise: You keep calling people "wrong" in the kind of flat way that is not part of conversation, and it is clear that you'd rather assume bad motives on the part of your interlocutors.

Well, on the former case. I'm honestly baffled as to the confusion.

If we say that art is the product of people given status as artists, then we must say that most works from antiquity, including the Bible and the Iliad, can't be art given the historic anonymity of the artists. The status of those works as art doesn't depend on reliable biographical detail regarding the artist. In fact, we tend to work in reverse trying to identify biographical detail from careful analysis of the work.

Identifying art according to the status of the artist reduces those definitions to mere politics, something I assumed that we are trying to avoid.

Now it's quite reasonable to make an argument regarding the social construction and privilege behind the identification of art and artists in our current culture (as long as we don't assume that it's universally applicable). But it's unreasonable to attack advocates for broader and more inclusive definitions that don't rely on putting art or artists on a pedestal.

If you want to attack definitions of art as a status grab, perhaps you shouldn't be arguing with someone who treats TruckNuts as bad and kitschey art. As it is, I rather dislike being repeatedly accused of holding an opinion about art I find to be distasteful.

At the same time, your own arguments haven't been as clear as I think you'd like to think that they are, so there has been a fair amount of grasping around for the terms of the argument.

I don't know how I can be more clear than "there are some reasonably consistent aesthetic design principles in games that are much more worthy of discussion than getting outraged by calling it art." If you don't understand, try asking a question. Repeatedly accusing me of the same argument I've dismissed is a bad-faith argument.

I'm not sure why confusion about your arguments should be viewed as willful disingenuousness. (And I really think you're misreading the partial quoting as something nefarious rather than copy-editorial.)

Well, once is a mistake, a pattern repeated multiple times is suspicious. I do a fair amount of copyediting, and there's no excuse for cutting key parts of a sentence in such a way as to dramatically change the meaning.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:51 AM on March 23, 2010


Or, "Art is art. Good or bad is an entirely different question."

Because if your concern is centered on whether games as art justifies elitist definitions of art, perhaps me might have some common concerns.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:16 AM on March 23, 2010


Art is art.

Okay, but what's art? Your usage seems to include (a) all artefacts that (b) can be experienced.

One question: why exclude non-artefacts? (The @ symbol comes to mind, but you already starting excluding things with "A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter." What about an elegant mathematical proof?)

Another question: if everything that has aesthetic experiences counts as art, and all experience is aesthetic, why do we need to call it 'art'?

A follow=up, why are you so attached to the word 'art'? It's like you're running around trying to defend monarchy because on your definition, in a democracy, "We're all kings!" It's important to recognize that 'art' has a history that you can't just duck by defining it away.

there's no excuse for cutting key parts of a sentence in such a way as to dramatically change the meaning.

I preserved the part of the meaning that was relevant for my argument. I said art is what artists make, and you assumed that this meant we have to resolve the biographical/epistemological question of the identity of the maker. Your full quote was "quite a bit of art we have is by artists who are anonymous and only loosely connected to a historic place and time," but the only relevant part was "quite a bit of art we have is by artists," because all that matters is that you're also making a circular claim about art being made by artists.

Part of the sociological critique of art is to claim that the very category 'artist' was invented in a time and place (the Renaissance) and that before that the artefacts crafted by artisans have a different status. They are undoubtedly the products of aesthetic choices, but they're not 'Art,' because that word names a constellation of social relations and conceptual cues (like 'the artistic genius') that only came into being later. On this view, calling the creators of King Tut's funeral mask 'artists' is an anachronism, not because they were anonymous, but because they wouldn't have thought of themselves in the same ways that a modern self-described artist thinks of herself, and because the people who purchased funeral masks wouldn't have thought of these objects using a concept that could be readily translated by the English term 'art.'

Again, this is part of why we should want to jettison the term 'art' and select a word like 'design,' or even just speak of 'making' in the sense of poiesis. Hell, let's call it 'bligen-grue.' Let the douchebags in the art world do 'art', and maybe eventually it'll die out, and our great-grandkids can adopt the term ironically when they're looking at a particularly unappealing piece of bligen-grue.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:06 PM on March 23, 2010


I play games because I have nothing better to do with my time. That used to bother me, but it can't be helped.

I think this is actually a good point. The article brought up a lot of questions, like: what on earth do we do with our time? And at what point, if any, should we start feeling bad about it? The stereotype is the stunted adolescent-adult, but I like to think I live a busy and full life: I have a respectable and challenging job, at least one serious music project, go to the gym multiple times a week, write, hang out with people and go to events, maintain romantic relationships, keep up with world affairs and culture, etc. And yet there it is: nearly daily I'll find myself turning on the XBox or PS3. I could write at length about how compelling it is to navigate and explore wide-open spaces that increasingly feel like tangible alternate worlds, or to shape narrative rather than passively consume it, but in the end I'm filling up some time. Maybe we can feel bad and talk about addiction, but as long as there's no demonstrable physical or mental addiction (see: cocaine), it's all so much tennis. I'm reminded of a cutscene in a videogame I played once, Waiting For Godot:

alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold on sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull fading fading fading and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labors abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard (mêlée, final vociferations) . . . tennis . . . the stones . . . so calm . . . Cunard . . . unfinished . . .
posted by naju at 2:31 PM on March 23, 2010


anotherpanacaea: You do have balls.

The problem here is that we seem to be arguing at cross purposes. As I've made it explicitly clear that I'm interested in [Art as Aesthetic Design] and not at all interested in defending [Art as a Value Proposition] or [Art as Renaissance (which one?) Social Status], it's absurd of you to continually hold me accountable for positions I clearly don't hold.

As for the rest, you seem to contradict yourself at every turn. First you howl that I don't use art to give value to David Foster Wallace, then you howl that I'm using the term art at all.

You deny that you irresponsibly edited a quote to claim, "art is created by artists." Then you proceed to (finally) address clear meaning of the full quote that your [Art as Renaissance Social Status] excludes anonymous works. You deny that [Art as Renaissance Social Status] is exclusive, then you describe how it is exclusive, then you start yelling that we shouldn't be talking about art at all.

I'm not denying the history of the words "art" and "artist." I'm refusing to treat them as fossil museum pieces. And that means I'm quite obviously open products of the last 150 years of critical approaches to art, including [Art as Universal Human Activity] and [Art as Aesthetic Design]. If you want to howl at an advocate of [Art as Social Status], I'm sure you can find one, likely in the bathroom mirror. As it is, it certainly looks like your [Art as Renaissance Social Status] critique (not the only one in the sociology of art) is a hammer looking for a nail.

To answer your questions:

One question: why exclude non-artefacts?

I don't, quite obviously if I'm including games.

Another question: if everything that has aesthetic experiences counts as art, and all experience is aesthetic, why do we need to call it 'art'?

I've addressed this multiple times. Like it or not [Art as Aesthetic Design] is where all the interesting conversations about aesthetics are happening. To the degree that games borrow from literature, cinema, graphic design, sculpture, and architecture, there are useful conversations to be had across different types of media. To the degree that there are interesting things to say about flow and progressive difficulty, well I'd rather talk about that than misplaced outrage about the relative status of David Foster Wallace and Mario Kart.

And of course, not all experience is aesthetic. But that shouldn't need to be said.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:40 PM on March 23, 2010


And there's two more reasons to be skeptical. First, Mary Daly aside, I've never been impressed by the idea that we can fix problems by sprinkling some semantic sugar on our dictionary and s/art/schmart/. It's a naive idea with a dismal track record.

The second issue is, why are we still treating the opinions of renaissance nobles as definitive? I don't think our only options are [Art as Renaissance Social Status] and schmart. Especially when the leading advocate for schmart apparently has another vague and hand-wavy status hierarchy in mind.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:17 PM on March 23, 2010


One question: why exclude non-artefacts?

I don't, quite obviously if I'm including games.


An artefact is a made thing. It's the word we use to distinguish beautiful wildflowers from beautiful paintings. Generally we'd say the 'designed' character of the video game is due to the fact that it is the artefact of human intentions and plans.

And of course, not all experience is aesthetic. But that shouldn't need to be said.

Aesthetics is the study of sensations, i.e. experiences. So if you'd like to point to some non-aesthetic experiences, I'm all ears. One reason to champion 'aesthetic design' over 'art' is to capture the way designers increasingly direct their attentions to the framing and trajectory of experiences rather than to static images and objects that we encounter in multiple from multiple unplanned angles. This seems like it'd be right up your alley.

Obviously, some people use aesthetics to describe the study of beauty, but if rotting meat can be the product of aesthetic design, you're clearly not using it in that way. The alternative is to use it generally to describe all experience.

Like it or not [Art as Aesthetic Design] is where all the interesting conversations about aesthetics are happening.

What is the bracketed word [Art] adding to this statement? How would I change its meaning if I shortened it:

"Like it or not Design is where all the interesting conversations about aesthetics are happening"?

"Design" is the trouser word here: it's the word that "wears the pants" in this sentence. "Art" was superfluous. (And "aesthetic" was redundant.) In my experience, designers know what to do with superfluous elements....

First, Mary Daly aside, I've never been impressed by the idea that we can fix problems by sprinkling some semantic sugar on our dictionary

And yet you're the one trying to 'turn the term' and make queer "artist" an epithet to be wear with pride, rather than a term of derision.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:32 PM on March 23, 2010


Aesthetics is the study of sensations, i.e. experiences. So if you'd like to point to some non-aesthetic experiences, I'm all ears.

Funny. The study of sensation tends to fall into psychology, while aesthetics by my sources is the study of beauty. The whole point of putting rotting meat onto photographic film was that the results of the chemical reactions can be unexpectedly "beautiful," and rotting meat in an installation says something intriguing, and therefore beautiful about the nature of installed art. But here, you are just being inconsistent in demanding that we simultaneously use a museum fossil of [Art as Renaissance Social Status] and then willy nilly redefining aesthetics to suit your argument.

"Design" is the trouser word here: it's the word that "wears the pants" in this sentence. "Art" was superfluous. (And "aesthetic" was redundant.) In my experience, designers know what to do with superfluous elements....

Because not all design is primarily concerned with aesthetic principles. A strip of duct tape on the handle of a trash can is certainly designed, it's highly unlikely to be art having been applied for purely functional and pragmatic reasons.

And in the context of this discussion, (you do seem to have problems with context), art is the trouser word because the point is the contrast between [Art as Aesthetic Design] vs. your museum fossil [Art as Renaissance Status]. Modern fans are more than within their rights to treat Pride and Prejudice as a novel, Jane Austin as its artist, and the the scandal of that social relation at the time of publication as a footnote.

And yet you're the one trying to 'turn the term' and make queer "artist" an epithet to be wear with pride, rather than a term of derision.

There are a few key issues here. First, I have no illusions that reclaiming queer is going to secure rights for LGBT couples legally or socially. Second, from what I can see, "artist" is a term of pride in the circles I run in, and inclusive of children, students, and amateurs while you are a singular nutter. And third, your objections here are conveniently late and inconsistent after you've howled with outrage that inclusive use of "art" threatens the status of David Foster Wallace.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:04 AM on March 24, 2010


There is an inherent conflict to howling that inclusive use of the word "art" is bad because it confers undeserved status and respect, and then howling that inclusive use is bad because it's an epithet and a term of derision.

I will change my tune as use in this discussion. Yes, when I say something is art, I am saying it's worthy of respect in the form of thoughtful consideration and constructive criticism. If you find that granting that respect to kids, students, and amateurs is wrong, then perhaps you are the elitist.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:35 AM on March 24, 2010


And my goodness, if you want to support the development of a practice away from associations of professionalism and status, design is probably the last word you want to use right now, I feel sorry for having introduced it into the discussion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:50 AM on March 24, 2010


I guess I agree with OmieWise still: calling video games "art" still looks like it's doing very particular work in this thread and in the FPP article. It's a way of justifying addictive behavior rather than addressing it.

As I said at the outset, the whole point of Duchamp's readymades was to remind us of just this fetishization problem. People who waste beautiful Sunday afternoons oohing and ahing at hatstands and toilets are just as screwed up as people who waste their evenings collecting gold in World of Warcraft.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:22 AM on March 24, 2010


There are tens of thousands of free Half Life 2 mods out there. Modding the game is nearly as important as playing the game; you could make the case that modding is playing the game.

There are 1400 HL2 mods listed at moddb.com, at least half of which are unfinished projects. HL2 sold 6 or 7 million copies. With piracy, maybe 10 or 20 million people have played the game. That rounds down to 0% of HL2 players who make mods for the game. So no, modding is not as important as playing the game.
posted by straight at 10:23 AM on March 25, 2010


oi Art, you done yapping? come along now lets find some consensual story here to make it look good
posted by infini at 12:47 PM on March 25, 2010


oops, im leaving now, the blue I mean not sure about the grey and green
posted by infini at 12:49 PM on March 25, 2010


anotherpanacea: Well, the argument that addictive behavior matters with games and not with books, films, food, or beautiful Sunday afternoons strikes me as terribly arbitrary. I've had to put strict time limits on my enjoyment of novels, otherwise pull all-nighters on a good story because I just have to discover the end to a twisty bit of plot. And yet, few people rail against the promotion of literacy programs, the establishment of multiple academic disciplines around the creation and enjoyment of the written word, or the development of public libraries on the grounds that books can support addictive behavior.

It reminds me of my crazy grandmother who habitually overgeneralized in those sort of ways. If you have a drink, you'll become a drunk. If you play cards, you'll become a compulsive gambler. If you danced, you'll have sex.

Weekend afternoons are, for most people, leisure time. This intrinsic good doesn't need further justification, unless you want to make an argument that your personal fetishes on how to spend it deserve special consideration.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:02 AM on March 26, 2010


the barrier for entry in video games is higher thanks to the interfaces and devices it relies on. Anyone can pick up a book and be transported to a new world or subjected to new ideas

At least one author (Zadie Smith) disagrees that "anyone can pick up a book" and longs for readers that work at reading.

She turns right around to denigrate movies and TV as a form that you can just soak up passively, but I know people who can't manage to go potty and grab a snack before a movie starts and think that pausing it at any moment is acceptable.

Someday the lazyweb will create a website with intermission recommendations for DVD releases based on chapter breaks and a patch for VLC that auto-pauses at the highest-voted time.
posted by morganw at 1:52 PM on March 27, 2010


I happened across a couple of germane links:

This one about addiction and video games:

Addiction and Narrative

and this one about a couple of measures of what happens when computers enter a household that previously did not have them:

One Game Machine Per Child
posted by OmieWise at 9:07 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older Antique typewriters....  |  Kevin Coyne plays his song "Ha... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments