Saturday, June 18, 2011

Video Games as Art?

This post is mostly my reaction to a May blog article on the FSView website. I’ve written for the FSView since November 2009.

Osbourne writes, “This story has, however, reopened an Internet can of Internet worms that I thought had closed way back in 2010 (Internet years work like dog years) when Roger Ebert kinda-sorta-not-really went back on his silly, pretentious "Video games can never be art" statement.”

As is often the case with these kinds of arguments, what I will call the “fallacy of pretension” is used. Calling something “pretentious” is typically a euphemistic way of saying “it offends my sensibilities” or “this sucks because I don’t agree, or I don’t understand.”

He later speaks against generalizing video games as a whole:
“To even generalize video games as one unified thing--which would never be applied to a medium like film--and then to deem that as somehow "lesser than," is quite plainly the same thing as saying, "Those damn kids and that damn rock 'n' roll music, what's the world coming to?"”

Yes, films are generalized- as films. Paintings are generalized as paintings, and despite the strong efforts of people like Donald Judd, “specific objects” are still seen by many as just sculptures. There are many genres of the film, but the work has the qualities of being a “film”, as do video games, no matter how many genres there are in that medium.

Later on, Osbourne appeals to the ignorance of video game novices – a little “pretentious”, if you ask me.
He writes, “I really can't believe we're still having this conversation; are these sites just trolling for web traffic, which people like me give them? It's plain and simple--anyone who still can't or won't see video games as anything but mindless distractions just haven't played them, or even seen them be played.”

This kind of argument is never satisfactory. It is not a matter of simply playing or observing video games to make a person enjoy them. Not everyone will like video games, or any other x, y, z, and no amount of social experimentation will change that.

Osbourne also states that the argument is “pure, freebased ageism.” This is said, at least in part, because the argument is coming from older individuals like Roger Ebert, so Osbourne’s own argument is also rather ageist.

I don’t consider video games art in the way the notion of art is generally understood. While I won’t argue that video games take time, creativity and a crew of folks to work on, that does not make them “art.” Smart mobs and flash mobs also require creativity and cooperation from a group of people, so does working in an office where ideas are bounced around - these are not considered examples of art. A video game is meant to be played – there is an objective and rules to be followed. This is different from what could be considered the closest example of a game as art – participatory art.

The Brazilian neo-concrete artists modeled participatory art pieces after Barthesian analysis, later performance artists relied on volunteers, and mixed-media artists like Lee Bull have created works that require viewer engagement.

The difference between this art and video games is that there is no finish line in participatory art, no way to win or lose, and no challenges to crack in order to retain the meaning of the art.

I really don’t understand the spin campaign to consider Bioshock in the same category as Bill Viola.
The question must be asked, why is there such an insistence to consider video games “art”? Is this label supposed to legitimize the practice of being a video game developer? If the work is as difficult as it is made to seem, why does it need a pat on the back with a label like "art"? Plenty of people already play and love video games, more so than a lot of contemporary gallery art, unfortunately. I don’t happen to be one of the people who plays video games, I have also never visited a seminary - this doesn't mean I'm forced to remain opinionless on monks. 

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I love to read about linguistics, behavioral economics, theory and philosophy. I listen to music some might call outdated, write satirical and high testosterone plays, consume too much caffeine and ruthlessly defend modern and contemporary art.