McGinnis: The evolution of video games as artWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Technological experiments in multiple images being strung together and viewed in sequence had been experimented with since the 1860′s. The first motion picture camera was developed in the 1880′s. Over the next 30 years, the medium of film began to evolve at an exponential rate, leading to the blossoming of the motion picture as a genuine work of art. This was solidified by D.W. Griffith’s work on the revolutionary (and disgustingly racist) film, “Birth of a Nation.”
So why the heck am I writing about this in an article that’s supposed to be about video games?
Because the origins of interactive media run a surprisingly similar pattern. The first experiments that would lead to video games occurred in the mid-20th century. The first home console, the primitive Magnavox Odyssey, was marketed in 1972. Over the following 30 years and beyond, gaming would see growth and evolution at an amazing rate.
These similarities lead us to a relatively recent debate: Can video games could be considered “art?” It’s a tantalizing question. Certainly, many aspects of games, from the design of characters to the background music, can be considered in artistic terms. But we’re talking about a game as a whole. Can we call interactive media an “art form,” or is it simply a mild amusement? A distraction? A toy?
The debate has passionate supporters on both sides. Famed film critic Roger Ebert has spoken out vehemently against any such classification, saying that putting so much control in the hands of the player denies the singular control of an artist – namely, the director, the author, the composer, etc. Even Hideo Kojima, the mind behind one of the greatest game series ever, “Metal Gear Solid,” said in an interview that he felt games were not art, arguing that art is made to capture the attention of a single person, while games are made for the masses.
While I am a huge fan of both Ebert’s and Kojima’s work, I find their reasoning as problematic as trying to tip a stripper with quarters. (Not that, you know, I’ve tried that. Ahem.)
Ebert’s point that art comes from a singular person denies the fact that virtually every work of art has the involvement of other people. Films have hundreds (if not thousands) of crew members. A book has an editor and publishers. The composer’s work is performed by musicians. So why should the involvement of one more participant — the player — disqualify it as art? And Kojima’s argument would seem to say that anything made “for the masses” cannot be considered art, which means film, TV, music, and so forth can’t be, either.
What is “art,” anyway? It seems crucial to come to a basic consensus on what the word means before we really can discuss games, but I’d guess that no two people could come to a solid agreement on the term, anyway. Dictionaries aren’t much more helpful – a well-known tome defines art as “produced as an artistic effort.” Hmm. Okay, then what is “artistic?” It says, “of, relating to, or characteristic of art or artists.” Gee, thanks for the wild goose chase, guys. (Redundant: adj. See: “redundant.”)
My point is that we all have our own standards for what makes something art — something that stirs our emotions and speaks to us in a way we can’t quite define. For some, games may be a genuinely artistic experience. For others, a simple plaything, nothing more.
For me? It’s tough to say. The stories in games like “Metal Gear,” “Infamous,” “God of War” and more have affected me as deeply as almost any movie you could name. But the stories are only a part of the experience, and they are largely separate from the main body of what makes a game, well, a game. You play to beat the level, and only then do you get to the story. So, I’d have to say that on the whole, video games are not art.
The day may come when a game brings the player an emotional experience the likes of which can not be had in any other form. Strides are being made which bring remarkable and tantalizing possibilities to gaming. A new PlayStation title, “Heavy Rain,” offers a glimpse of what may be in the future. The game, a psychological thriller about the hunt for a child killer, has deceptively simple controls that augment a deep narrative, and give the player a genuine feeling of control over the directions the story can take. The effect is amazingly involving, cinematic, and emotionally powerful.
“Heavy Rain” is a remarkable experience. And it has me excited for what may lie over the horizon. Games may not be art right now. But neither were movies, in the beginning. Given time, who knows what may happen?
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.