David Jaffe, the man behind Twisted Metal and God of War, recently updated on his blog regarding video games as an art form. He explicates that assigning them such a label depreciates the medium. I partially agree with his stance, though my sentiment reads: Declaration propels the issue; recognition simply showcases subjective appreciation.
To elaborate, one needs accurate analysis of the word “art”; however, the term’s ambiguity involves context. The expression confuses and intimidates and the interpretation recalls different meanings.
Modern majority defines art as the, “…product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect.”
The “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” breaks down the statement of meaning into several categories: Traditional, contemporary, institutional, historical, and functional or aesthetic.
Jaffe employs his own translation as, “Real art and genuinely important work doesn't need to continually toot its own horn. The very nature of something being artistic and important means that- except in rare cases- its power is evident without anyone having to tell you that it is.”
Film’s acknowledgment derives from narrative development, authorial direction of events, and visual stimuli – stories. If the public considers these elements ingenuity in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, then should they be considered of Maria’s scene in Gears of War 2, or saving Princess Peach?
Ignorance may argue art is generated from pure passion and that profit is an afterthought; yet history dictates otherwise. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began writing the Requiem Mass in 1791 for Count Franz von Walsegg who commissioned the work for use at the anniversary of his wife’s death. If working for hire devalues the piece, then the Requiem is a jingle and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a graphic. Just as Mozart sought income, so do developers and publishers of modern entertainment.
Production also characterizes artistic integrity, such as a fine meal prepared by a talented chef. The teams at Visceral Games, the proprietors of Dead Space, are experts in their own right just like Daniel Quinn for writing “Ishmael”. The creativity, and the appealing outcome, is a work of art.
The dispute lies with the abstract nature of the word. Different instances call for varying definitions. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” explores one avenue of vague usage. Tzu perfected a catalog of strategies, ascertained them as art, and was received positively. Is the book regarded as art or the composition?
Questionable designation exists everywhere surrounding the subject and video games exemplify this. As Jaffe says, “Just because there's wind blowing and a minimal soundtrack and vast open spaces to explore and a slow pace doesn't mean that the game you are playing is art.”
Linger in Shadows portrays Jaffe’s conviction precisely. An interactive presentation developed by Plastic and released on the PlayStation Store, Linger in Shadows takes players on a journey through beautiful visual environments to the sounds of a throbbing playlist. From an observable standpoint the images bestow beauty and one can tell the creators arranged the product with talent.
The official description reads, “Linger in Shadows is not a game, but rather an experiment into the realm of interactive digital art.” The three-dollar download is utterly boring to explore. Players interact with the environment by shaking the controller to move objects and creatures; the mechanics generate more confusion and frustrating than fun.
Rusty Buchert, Senior Producer for the project, describes the piece as a demo, although its price point and explorative interactivity quality it as a game.
Buchert stated, “Previously demoscene productions were passive experiences. You ran it, sat back and watched. One of the things that Plastic wanted to do with Linger was to move in a new direction. Linger can be watched passively, but you won't get the whole experience that way. It is meant to be an experience that you explore through. Look beyond the frame of what you see. Search for new things, experiment with the SIXAXIS, and you might be surprised by what you find.”
Linger in Shadows casts itself as something to be admired – and that is its error.
Jaffe explains, “To be going on and on about how games need to be/can be/should be/already are 'more' than 'just games' to me disrespects the joy and happiness traditional games bring to the world.” He has a point. As the industry continues to evolve, we, as a collective group of fans and developers, need to remember Jaffe’s words. Experiences can surely provoke an emotional response, but the base foundation is the interactivity between player and character.
If the core element isn’t fun then the product will fail.
Limbo provides users with precise controls, thought inducing puzzles, a compelling visual and audible performance, and an obscure story that some would regard as “artsy-fartsy”. Where Limbo succeeds over others is its remembrance of heritage and its dedication to create an enjoyable, playable experience.
Playdead has never preached about Limbo’s “artistic” merit; they simply released their child and let the masses decide its worth.
Advertisement of value based on abstract, theoretical, and pseudo-intellectual design does not make a proper title and spearheads the debate. However, appreciation as art is justifiable based on introspection.
Video games should enact one core architectural philosophy: “Is this fun?” The Legend of Zelda series can be enjoyed and considered art just as much as the Battlefield suite can. Additionally, one can credit their makers as artists. Though labeling to justify time spent designing, creating, and playing them rests the inherent problem.
We want to avoid the industry being perceived as a pompous, “hoity-toity” bunch that desperately requires the world’s attention. We don’t need to define our passion as art, but we can certainly enjoy it as such.