The following was meant to be a comment to
[url]http://bitmob.com/index.php/mobfeed/Video-Games-as-Art-Mo-Money-Mo-Problems-.html[/url], but due to my rambling nature and tangential approach to writing and ideas it really outgrew the comment area. Roadmap: the relationship between technology and technique, business and investment, and artistic language and how they all grow together for any expressive medium (video games included, with mirrors to film history); what holds back the flowering of video games as an artistic medium; on death in video games; and some closely related tangents. All right, I guess with this as my first post in BitMob, I can get a feel for how the community works…
First off, I agree with pretty much the entire article and find the insights useful for my own thoughts on games as art, except the last 2 big paragraphs. I meander in my writings, so please bear.
If I understood my lessons in (narrative) film history and the earlier chapters of Cook’s A History of Narrative Film ([url]http://www.amazon.com/History-Narrative-Film-Fourth/dp/0393978680[/url]), the early history of film since Edison’s first cameras was as much a maturing relationship between the following:
1) what technology and technical skills allowed (and the skills regarding what could be done with the technology had to take time to catch up to the technology itself, while technology was usually developed as a practical solution to a problem that skills+technology had not yet solved)
2) what business management invested in (in terms of technological innovation as well as experimental film productions which were given the green (as in go and as in money) not because they were experimental but because they were novel and marketable to the not-yet-film-consuming public); the businesses that developed the technology tended to have other "mainstream" intentions that had nothing to do w/ what the medium would later become–it was left to other, smaller, less risk averse entrepreneurs to find/build new markets that the technology and the emerging art could "exploit" which the original bigger businesses tried to follow after accepting the profitability in the new markets (these older "dinosaurs" were always disconnected to the art of the medium, however, and had to resort to artificial protections against "upstarts" who "threatened" them, turning to legislation, threats and actual violence, and associations w/ other dinosaurs to muscle into the market being defined by the artmakers and artsellers.
3) what budding artists had discovered about what they could express in language of the medium itself, the medium being a summation of the technology present, emerging skills to use the tech, and what could be done given a certain budget (which was related to what could be marketed); a majority of early artists and/or technicians in the medium simply played with the medium to find what the medium could do, not in terms of tech, but in terms of audience impact, something which amounted to learning the "words" of a new language, artists teaching themselves and each other how to "read" and "write" in the language of the medium so that they would later be able to express their vision in a manner that would translate well into the minds of their audience. (I’m not saying that’s what the artists set out to do, it’s kind of a meta concept, but I think it’s more illustrative for my purposes than saying that future artists at the time were playing w/ the tech b/c they had nothing else to do w/ them, that projects were tiny or long and simple and repetitive b/c the tech and the medium hadn’t been fleshed out yet w/ concepts that the audience or even the would-be artists could understand).
This relationship between technology/technical skills, business, and early artistic experimentation as a model for looking at early film history applies and is mirrored to down to the level of detail of the individuals involved in the history of video games. (a tangential claim would be that this trinary relationship applies to older media as well, b/c even if earlier media may have been cheaper to develop technology for (is it really?), there was always a cost that could be borne by whatever equated to business/investors at the time.)
As far as direct linkage to your good article, I disagree that your implication that business and the drive for profitability retards the development of video games as an art form, and I even say that so long as there’s a paying market for novelty as well as art (not necessarily in terms of money payment), new computing technologies and software development techniques will be developed (and even then not necessarily for games alone, since computers are so versatile), investment will continue to fund technological innovation (if it doesn’t kill us first (different topic)) and the video game projects with the biggest budgets get the opportunity to at least cement the art connection between a game feature and what it expresses in the mind of artist-designer and audience-player w/ the effect of adding depth and/or breadth to the artistic language of video games (features that would probably be "stolen" from smaller, more agile "artist-studios" who innovate features as part of their own playing w/ what was available), while artist-studios and even individual "hackers" play w/ what is available to find/develop not just new game features but new things to say w/ those features and hopefully make them available to the game design world for further refinement.
If anything, these are the closest threats to the forward development of games as art:
1) the imagination of the would-be artists and the capacity for the audience to understand what is being communicated (when society can afford it, there needs to be video game appreciation/literacy classes as much as there are english lit and studio art appreciation classes; although even now music and art is being downgraded in education funding, at least is what I hear)
2) any copyright/intellectual property approaches that choke the spread of any idea that could later be refined and applied in a new way that the copyright holder did not plan for or would be willing to pursue; anything else that chokes the spread of ideas too.
I’m hacking together other ideas about the history and future of game design as art in my personal notes (imagine the above structure but maybe 3 times more in-text wandering), but I admit there are probably a lot of others who have already come up with similar or even better thoughts that I would subscribe to and I just haven’t encountered them yet (I’m lazy that way, that’s what communities are for, there should be a class, etc., but I’m looking into teaching myself more systematically beyond playing games chosen semi-randomly, and the term autodidactism is a new friend from the past couple days).
Other thoughts that I’ll just mention here w/ no desire for much any more comment-jacking from the original article:
1) the artistic atom(s) of video games: in early film, that was the shot (versus a whole scene); I suggest the "move" or the "rule" in video games (or any game), which itself cannot be broken down at current time smaller than a pixel. this atom would be the analogue of the word in the artistic language, what can be conceived in the mind, recorded and expressed, and understood.
2) that video games should share an artistic language with other audience-participation media, although I can’t think of anything that is as responsive as video games/interactive media. related might be participatory improvisational theater and larping as an art form (latter’s a stretch i think), group/community dancing, improvisational music (jazz i guess? and other music playable by the audience as well). anyway the key thing is a medium in which the audience is a part of the performance. the words/atoms may be different, but the language, what can be said, should be a commonality.
3) films primarily express ideas about the concept of time, sculpture of 3d space, drawings/paintings of 2d space, literature of characterization/personality, poetry of emotion/sensation. what does the artistic language of video games now and potentially the future primarily express? i’m not sure myself, but that may be b/c the language is still immature and/or i don’t have the vision (yet, hopefully), but i suggest that video games express ideas about the concept of cause and effect/interaction at the very least as a function that video games excel at over other modes of representation/media. Sure video games can include cinematic implementation to examine the sensation of time (I’ve been meaning to see what the hubbub about Braid and Sands of Time are about), and 3d and 2d games can explore their respective dimensions, and there could be literary things to extract from a video game (feminist roles, themes of growing up and loss, something), but the co-opting wouldn’t be something new–other media projects incorporate words from other media, hopefully making for a richer artistic experience. What is nice though is a growing increase in the emphasis on simplicity in design, b/c I think that will lead to a more systematic focus on exploring what a newly invented/applied game feature expresses until a later project can hopefully coopt that feature in a refined clear form and blend it with other game features as well as other media techniques to say something deep and meaningful about some aspect of human existence and experience.
4) I’d place the status of video game as artistic medium to about the same point that film was in about the 20s-30s, where 3d and motion controls are analogous to color and sound in the technical areas. I don’t know if there’s a cause and effect connection, but we just happen to have a low point in our economy too. Anyway, films were close to attaining a majority of their form as we know them today, in terms of length and representational ability, but there was still a lot of room for experimentation, and I think barring some breakthrough in the way we perceive reality, 3d and better developed motion interfaces (and other interfaces as we get closer and closer to direct brain-computer interaction) will set the overall form of the video game medium from a technical standpoint. As far as experimentation, films in the 20s-30s still had a lot of short form projects that minimized risk and encouraged exploration even given the high cost of equipment to produce films, just as we have independent/smaller studios for video games now which include projects in 3d and different modes of interaction, as well as a plethora of Flash-based play-projects. We still aren’t too clear on what kind of things we can express as artists and understand as audiences in the video game medium, just as 20s-30s film were more or less simple in what they expressed (stories of people doing stuff at personal and at epic scales, simultaneous action in different scenes, emerging genres of narrative) w/ some representational experimentation mostly in Europe and Russia at the time. As far as business and investment, we’ve got older firms who enabled the technology like Atari, Nintendo, Microsoft, and later Sony working their way in and staying competitive in the market of ideas about video games (and for the latter 2 reconciling their investment into video games w/ their older product lines that brought them into power) (I wouldn’t be surprised if IBM and Apple tried to get into game design in say 10-20 years), and with the hubbub around copyright and DCMA etc.; 20s-30s film had the first gen companies of Edison’s generation thinking they controlled the medium through their patents and such, but failed to recognize they didn’t hold a patent on what could be expressed with their technologies, the start of the huge movie studios that exist to this day that came out of the film business pioneers that were upstarts then to Edison’s crowd, and had to fight the previous gen’s attempts to keep them down via legal action, violence, shallow/not-even-really-expressive project competition.
5) Game reviews can talk about the technique and technical aspects of the game and its features, but for a deeper look at what the gameplay *says* from an artistic perspective, we still need a deeper and broader lexicon that matches up a specific game feature, its known implementations, and a consensus on what it expresses. Not to mention a broader and deeper artistic perspective in general, b/c despite what I’ve rambled about, I still can’t quite wrap my mind around most art interpretations, like high-falutin-sounding art freaks that I seem to get a sense of what they’re saying is legit and valid, but I’m not keeping up. Hence more emphasis on art education in general, and video game as art in particular! But being pragmatic survival-oriented economical biological beings, maybe not too much investment into squeezing the most expression out of the art for the common masses. Difference between summer blockbusters and art films, accessible bestsellers with deep evaluations of the human experience in novels, classical/instrumental/theory-heavy music vs pop, crazy mad mathemagical theory vs algebra and calculus in daily life, that sort of balance between immediately practical and applicable to expression for the sake of expressing.
As for death in video games, yeah, I’m getting tired of meaningless reload and do-overs and reload times. I like 360 Prince of Time’s immediate death-save-from-falls, rpg designs that let you respawn at the nearest inn w/o any loss in your quest progress (I don’t mind experience losses or setbacks in resources that can be made up doing other/new things in the game) (sandbox games do this to a larger extent, part of why I love em, including features that send you back immediately to the start of the last quest/mission you failed if you want to reattempt right away). If an exceptional artistic usage of video games is to express ideas about cause and effect and interaction, then the same game death needs to stop after a handful of attempts and let the game move on, or give the player something else to do until they’re ready to reattempt again. "Reward" death even as an exploration of something else in the game sometimes (as necessary to progress the narrative or to progress the narrative in a tangent, etc.). Instead of static reload screens, maybe hints and tips to strategy, maybe even community-linked analysis from other gamers pertinent to how that particular way to die happened (in competitive games hopefully that is already done round by round through strategy/tactical discussion while the next round is being set up (Sirlin Playing to Win reference here).
And that’s that, long enough. If I’ve managed to keep you, original article author and other readers like myself, reading hopefully contributing substantially to the original article and can think of good resources/references to help me along, maybe I can develop my formal writing skills and start putting up some [properly written] articles better explaining my views, think of this as a rough draft or heavy brainstorm inviting peer review and critique–your assistance is appreciated!