Friday, August 28, 2009

Art in Computer Games

Can the next Nukem inspire the next Neitzsche? Let’s hope not…

When society hears the word ‘art’ and ‘computers’ in the same sentence they automatically cringe in disgust. People tend to see art as a purely humanistic creation and shun the involvement of any computational processing. The use of computers, some believe, take away from, or take over, the input humans have into their own expression. What I aim to do in this feature is to show people that this is not the case. Indeed, I aim to show that the medium of interactive media has more potential for the expression of the human condition than any other medium that has come before it.

How can I say this is the case? How can I possibly compare such games as DUKE NUKEM, TOMB RADIER and GEARS OF WAR to such revolutionary masterpieces as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Michelangelo’s David? The truth is I can’t. However, we cannot let computer games be eaten up by the dreaded pop culture beast solely on the evidence of the current crop of games. The medium is in its infancy and the longer we let games bow down to popular culture the longer we will have to endure such meaningless titles as GTA, DAWN OF WAR and WOLFENSTEIN. What we must consider is not the actuality of the medium, but rather its potentiality.
Firstly, we must come to consensus as to the definition of art. Now, as a game design student this is way above my head. However, in 1982 game designer Chris Crawford published a text called ‘The Art of Computer Games’. This fantastic piece of writing was way ahead of its time and is my main source of reference. It can be read in full at Crawford proposes his ‘pedestrian’ definition of art; “art is something designed to evoke emotion through fantasy. The artist presents his audience with a set of sensory experiences that stimulates commonly shared fantasies, and so generates emotions. Art is made possible only by the richness of the fantasy world we share.” Crawford observes that the challenge of art is to get the attention and participation of the audience. With traditional forms of art the audience’s role is to sit passively whilst the artist does all the active work to get the audience to care about his expression. Being active as an audience is impossible. However, without participation attention can dwindle and the impact crumbles away. Here enters the computer. According to Crawford, “the artist has here a tool that is more subtly indirect than traditional art. With other art forms, the artist directly creates the experience that the audience will encounter. Since this experience is carefully planned and executed, the audience must somehow be prevented from disturbing it; hence, non participation. With a game, the artist creates not the experience itself but the conditions and rules under which the audience will create its own individualized experience.” So as you can see the potential for computer games as an art form is much higher than what you had previously imagined. A game allows for participation, participation enhances immersion and immersion creates a much more effective fantasy that can evoke intense emotion.
Take into consideration that Crawford wrote his text in 1982, the time of arcade and pixel graphics. Now that the technology has matured the capacity for not only believable graphics but also high complex rule programming has arrived. Not only this, but independent game design is slowly but surely coming into fruition through such avenues as the modding communities. Now is the time we can create more than mere superficial Skill and Action games. Now is the time we can captivate our audience with something meaningful. Something to get them thinking. Something to get them feeling.
If you took nothing out of this post, please at least play a game called The Path by Tale of Tales. If your attention span can only last if you’re blowing up an alien in a fountain of goo, don’t bother. But if your open to something more, something different, please give it a go. I shall be giving it a review soon.

1 comment:

  1. The are a couple of interesting takes at art video games i've seen, one by Ron Humble (now at EA) called "Marriage" - link:

    Also The passage, by Jason Rohrer. With these two games the visuals are not the focus but the game is.

    While the art/game is still in it's infancy, i do think we will see art games develop and gain respect in the art community.

    But the main problem is that games must be FUN.

    Perhaps it will evolve into interactive art or art based more on the gaming ideas and tropes?