The Beautiful Game

We live in amazing times: we can instantaneously communicate pretty much with anyone we want to, go further and faster than any of our ancestors could have ever imagined. We have the capacity to literally have the world at our fingertips. I had a discussion with a friend of mine and he griped and complained about how awful this generation’s games are; he cried foul about how terrible Skyrim looked on his console and how this year produced the most “flops” of any previous year. As I always do, I take his opinions with a salt lick amount of salt, but it made me think about just how spoiled some of us are and just how far we’ve come.

The amount of tech that has been invented and implemented just for our enjoyment has gone leaps and bounds past anything my late 70’s baby brain could have ever imagined. Videogames have truly become not only a vehicle for storytelling but a device to exhibit art and evoke emotion. Emotions that are just as unique and visceral as the ones that we get when interacting with our human brethren.

So with that as a backdrop I decided to take a look around the web for some images that would counteract my friend’s argument about not only Skyrim but about this generation’s graphical fidelity. I came across a site today that not only shut those allegations down but also gave me the utmost respect for the artists in gaming development. The people who make something out of nothing using binary code, the people who can dream up worlds and characters that live somewhere in their amazing brains. These people deserve their due and hopefully in some way we as gamers can give that to them. I can only imagine what is next for us. I can hardly wait.

So if you are ever asked the question “Are games art?” This can be your answer:

I want to thank the site Dead End Thrills and give the massive credit to it’s founder Duncan Harris for creating such masterpieces. Send them a shout out here and let them know we sent you.

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17 responses

  1. Russell

    Vladimir and Kahlief- really great take on the issue. V: I think your point about the “essence” of a play being the acting/directing vs. music or set design is really interesting. Some genres of art combine other genres together. I’ve heard it argued that Opera is the “best” form of art because it combines acting with music, sets, costumes and singing and therefore is somehow more “artful” than any of them separately. Of course, that’s ridiculous. But when you think about what makes it a genre in and of itself, you think of people singing on stage. So, genres do have defining characteristics that stand above their component elements. In other words, I agree with you- showing screenshots to prove games are capital-A Art is like playing a score to prove that film is. You’re proving something’s beautiful, which I think is different from calling it “Art.”

    Unfortunately, “Art” is often used as an honorific. It’s what we call beautiful things that society places a high value on. Games aren’t held in high regard in our society, so you’ll get a lot of backlash claiming them as art. There’s no doubt from looking at one nowadays that they’re beautiful. K’s point in the post about storytelling and emotion are more salient than the screenshots, I think. Combine that with Vladimir’s point about gameplay and we’re getting closer to nailing the thing. In other words, I’d say that what makes video games unique is that they’re interactive and bound by rules of gameplay.

    Regarding Ebert’s points: you can tell stories about chess, which is a game, but it’s much more difficult to USE chess to tell a story, while still staying within the rules of the game of chess. Video games are therefore different. They can tell stories that don’t “break” the game aspect.

    From here, to be taken seriously, games don’t need to get more attractive, they need to get more “serious.” Look at the low regard most sci-fi and fantasy novels, let alone movies or comic books have in the world of high culture. Now think about the settings of most games. To even have a chance, you’re going to need an “auteur” movement of games, which I think we’re starting to see. Like with film, it will take an essentially collaborative art and make it the vision of a single person with an intensely emotional, personal story to tell, that plays up the unique features of the genre’s game-y-ness. Not an easy nut to crack, but some will try.

    Anyway, gaming is hugely popular and with an ever-graying demographic, so I’m hopeful for the future. We’re going to have fun, cool games that also make us see the world differently, with more wisdom. And also ones where you get to blow stuff up. There’s room for both.

    January 3, 2012 at 6:22 PM

    • Thank you for your reply Russel, you are spot on with that last paragraph especially. I think to reach a certain level to which a mainstream audience would call something art it has to stoke a certain imagery or emotion that is lasting within said audience. The ability to tell a adult story in games has only now been broached with games like Catherine, L.A. Noire and some missions in other games. The issue comes down to when these stories are taking place how do you meld entertaining gameplay with narrative elements. That is the part that most developers seem to either fold to outside pressures, cave to publishers want to do nothing but make money or just run out of time developing the characters and having the ability to flesh them out. I think this is the reason why you have seen so many sequels to games of late. I think they grab the gamer and then once they finally get them to a certain place they hit you with a cliffhanger that ends up never giving the protagonist three-dimensions in the other games.

      January 3, 2012 at 7:21 PM

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    January 3, 2012 at 10:56 AM

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    December 27, 2011 at 6:31 PM

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      January 3, 2012 at 4:35 PM

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    December 27, 2011 at 4:25 PM

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  5. Vladimir

    I thought that screenshot is from a 2D game 🙂 Like Trine. Thanx for clearing that up.

    December 22, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    • I had to double take myself when I saw the game, I thought “how did they get that angle?” I’m sure the guys over at Dead End would love to hear the feedback as well.

      December 22, 2011 at 5:04 PM

  6. Vladimir

    And I totally agree with: “The people who make something out of nothing using binary code, the people who can dream up worlds and characters that live somewhere in their amazing brains.”

    There’s no better medium for making living, breathing worlds than video games. Sure some books are fantastic but the worlds in games feel more “independent”.

    December 22, 2011 at 11:03 AM

  7. Vladimir

    I think many people misunderstood Eberet when he said that games can never be art. People were criticizing him and pointing out how beautiful a game looks or sounds.

    Actually, what he tried to say that games can be composed out of works of art (images, sounds etc) but games themselves, in regards to gameplay, could not ever be art. For him, it’s a game, just as sports or chess or any other form of game.

    I don’t agree with him, because I think games can be art and some already are, in regards to gameplay. But generally, pointing out at how beautiful a game look is not really a good argument. Because, you can easily think of some movies that are not artistic but feature some beautiful and artistic images. The images themselves may be art but that movie is not. It’s like saying a theater play is a work of art just because of how beautiful the scene props are. No, it’s a combination of all of those, pictures, sounds, screenplay, etc…but the most important is what’s exclusively characteristic of theater – the performance of actors and the way a director chose to interpret the story. If you saw a movie Dogville, that play would be a work of art in theater although there is almost no scenery. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_e2vCMsCWBf8/TTNoJW6LMnI/AAAAAAAAJzg/mkazNVh4toE/s1600/dogville21.jpg

    I think the same goes with games. Sure games can be beautiful, have great story, but if gameplay is bad, it’s not important. For me, the way Fumito Ueda “composed” The Shadow of the Colossus is maestral. And for me it’s a work of art. It made me feel strong emotions and told the story in just a right way for me. The sound design is stellar and everything is so atmospheric. But not only that. The way he designed the controls, making you hold the button when you want Wander to hold onto a ledge or colossi is really adding to the overall immersion. The “clumsiness” of Wander’s movement, the stubborn horse. Also, the rhythm of the overall game: the slow and silent wandering before the epic fight. IMHO, there are many artistic achievements in that game, most of which can not be really defined and point at. But the most important for me are the ones that are unique to a video game experience, that can’t be expressed with other artistic mediums.

    Flower also comes to mind. The mere controls evoke genuine emotions. They are simple and “feel true”. Just like that holding onto the ledge in SOTC feels true.

    There are many games with great story, great visuals, or great music. But honestly, those emotions that these games evoke could easily be evoked by a movie, a book, a play, a painting or a concert. There are many games that I played only for music. I feel exactly the same now when I find those on youtube and just listen to the music. But no matter how much I listen to the fantastic score of SOTC, the feeling is incomplete.

    Wow, that was a long post 🙂 I hope it was worth it. It comes from an architect with formal artistic education who’s also a gamer so I guess I’m not making uninformed statements.

    Cheers

    December 22, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    • We appreciate well thought out comments so please, comment away. I have the same feelings about certain games or even certain levels of games. In MGS4 for instance, the microwave scene was so awesome for that reason. The combination of forced controls and the peril you felt Snake was in gave me a experience that is hard to reproduce even in film. One of Jenova Chen’s ideas behind Flower and all the games from ThatGameCompany has always been that each game should evoke an emotion from the player, it should bring you along not only visually but emotionally. There aren’t too many games that try to do that for many reasons, mostly because of money. The ones that try and fail are because of the ham-fisted exaggerated ideas of what they are trying to pull out of the gamer.

      December 22, 2011 at 5:03 PM

  8. Vladimir

    Hi, where’s that second screenshot from?

    Thanx

    December 22, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    • Thank you so much for commenting, the second screenshot is from Skyrim. If check out the Dead End website linked above you can see the settings he used to get that screenshot.

      Thanks again Vlad for posting.

      December 22, 2011 at 9:55 AM

  9. Nevaar

    In your first paragraph you said we are “spoilled”. I could not agree more. I try to keep an open mind and try to see a game for what it IS, not for what it isn’t. I have to assume most gamers these days are younger than I and obviously mold the market based on THIEIR tastes. Must be why we seem to have WAY too many FPS. That being said, great games are gonna be overlooked because they “aren’t as good” as another game, or they can’t hold the attention of someone with a short attention span. It reminds me of a friend i have who is 37 but acts 13 at times. He will turn his nose up to a game because it falls short of his “standards” without even giving it a chance. It just pisses me off sometimes. THAT, and his love for sony, which now-a-days is equal to hatred for anything NOT Sony. That I still don’t get either. Somehow gaming has become more about who’s side you are on and less about the experience ( not saying this is everyone ). As far as games being ART, i don’t understand why a game that is visually beautiful can’t be considered art. I mean isn’t Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet based on one man’s art style? If anything I would say it’s advanced art. Like you said in your last paragraph; “The people who make something out of nothing using binary code, the people who can dream up worlds and characters that live somewhere in their amazing brains.” Here you have a medium, canvas, imagination, and heart and soul. What else makes art…art? I have Skyrim on 360 and it looks great. Yes it looks nicer on PC but I don’t feel like I have a “shitty” version. Without a comparison, would game be great or would they all suck? If you went from pac-man to skyrim on 360 with nothing else, would skyrim suck? no, and I’m back to spoiled. Too bad.

    December 21, 2011 at 11:12 PM

    • Hey Nevaar, you make some awesome points. I think a huge problem that has arisen is fanboyism. It’s created this atmosphere in which some people can’t be objective in giving criticism, the funny part is that now even the developers have been getting into the act. I can play the same game on both systems and look at the differences and say if a version is lacking or not without pledging my loyalty to a specific brand.

      As far as games being art, you are spot on. Art is a combination of all the things you listed and some people only believe that art can come from certain disciplines. They just don’t understand that this is a new version of those older ways of doing something.

      Thank you so much for your comment, thank you for stopping by and please pass the word.

      December 22, 2011 at 10:09 AM

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