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Games Entertainment

Making Statements With Video Games 329

Posted by Soulskill
from the let's-ask-jack-thompson dept.
You may have heard about the recent controversy at the Leipzig Games Conference over a modification of Space Invaders in which the invaders are slowly demolishing the World Trade Center. The creator intended it as an artistic expression, but has since removed the game, saying, "it was never created to merely provoke controversy for controversy's sake." Kotaku took this occasion to ask whether "statements" can and should be made via video games, and how it affects the ongoing question of whether video games should be considered art. "The entire issue begs comparisons to Danny Ledonne's Super Colombine Massacre RPG!, an unsettling and involved title that tasks players on the most basic level with acting out the 1999 Littleton, Colorado school shooting in the role of killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Ledonne told the Washington Post that his intention with the title was never to glorify the tragedy, but to 'confront their actions and the consequences those actions had.' Like Stanley's Invaders!, Ledonne and his title stopped short of providing a direct interpretation - neither artist has been especially specific about 'what it means,' or in instructing players on how they should interpret their work or what 'message' should be taken away."
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Making Statements With Video Games

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  • by Surt (22457) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:06PM (#24744813) Homepage Journal

    Video games are art. It is long settled. No one of consequence is disputing this.

  • meh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thermian (1267986) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:08PM (#24744841)

    Ever since I discovered the joy of hunting down and killing innocent civilian transports in Elite I've been looking for ways to be a completely evil bugger in the games I play.

    I'm not alone either, people like to do that sort of thing. Why else would you be able to sit on top of buildings taking out hookers with a sniper rifle in a car driving game? There is of course a big difference between doing that in a game and doing it in real life, but quite obviously it is something people find amusing, at least in a fantasy sense.

    I can't say I'd like replaying real world modern atrocities, but I know from accounts of elderly relatives just how bloody and horrific the second world war was (in unfortunately graphic detail, given how young I was when I listened to the stories), yet we happily recreate that in game after game.

    recreation of nasty events is going to happen, there's no way to avoid it, and good luck trying to set a time limit on how much time must pass before an event becomes a suitable topic for a game.

  • by grantek (979387) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:12PM (#24744889)

    South Park takes the proverbial piss out of this stuff pretty well. So does the Simpsons - the statue of David never came with an instruction manual directing people how to interpret it, but somehow people called it art instead of porn until the conservative extremists got some media bandwith to play with.

  • by RevVoice (1350871) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:13PM (#24744909) Homepage
    >>"it was never created to merely provoke controversy for controversy's sake." Then what message was it intended to provoke? Did the creator actually suspect people would look and go, "Oh! How artistic?" and not lash out against it? He has every right to create, but I can't imagine what kind of dipstick wouldn't realize that it was going to piss people off.
  • by n dot l (1099033) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:41PM (#24745231)

    Yes video games are art (see Braid). Yes, you can make artistic statements in video games. You can make all sorts of statements in games. No, all video games are not good art (the same applies to paintings, books, and movies). And no, you do not have any sort of right to a warm reception whatsoever for your work. Just like with paintings books and movies (fancy that). If your "statement" makes your game unfun or offensive then, well, suck it up, you broke your own shit. It's not our fault for "not understanding" your well-obfuscated intent.

    That out of the way, I have to agree with the parent that it's stupid debating the whole "games as art" thing in the first place. We don't question whether movies are art when someone makes a film denying the Holocaust. What the hell is it with all these "controversies" we get lately (here, in blogs, in political discourse, in the MSM)? Are we really trying so hard to be "nuanced" that we have to dump illogical statements into every other sentence just to be interesting?

    Although, this gives me another item for my list of "things to do if I suddenly become a god": have my prophet spout subtle logical fallacies and then laugh it up as the idiot humans get upset, and waste a bunch of time or do damage to themselves, and then finally figure it out and say, "hey, wait a minute, that doesn't even make sense!"

  • Just like a book (Score:3, Insightful)

    by atmtarzy (1267802) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .3senojndn.> on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:45PM (#24745283)

    I don't really see much of an argument against considering video games as art. The longer ones, with stories and what-not are very similar to written books. Both have different methods of engaging the player or reader, but both do provide a fully-fledged story, complete with morals, themes, and a message that can change a player's or reader's opinion on a matter. The shorter games, like in the mentioned Space Invaders controversy, are very similar to paintings. There isn't much of a story to them, but they still are fully capable of affecting a player or viewer.

    In general, I'd say that something is art if it's capable of affecting its 'experiencer' in some sort of opinion- or emotially-related way. The fact that 2+2 is 4 isn't art (written on paper, it might be, but not the simple fact itself), while little aliens blowing up the WTC is.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:52PM (#24745399) Journal
    This seems to be less about whether video games can be art, and more about the dimwitted reactionary troglodytes who seem to think that their emotional reactions, so long as they are strong enough, should dictate what other people get to see, say, and do.

    This vice is not a new one(The Romans were bitching about the decadence of Greek art not long after they became familiar with it), nor is it confined to whining about games(as the previous anecdote suggests), nor is it confined to any particular political persuasion(Fascists attacked "decadent" art, Communists attacked "bourgeois" art, religious fundamentalists attack pretty much anything that doesn't bow and scrape to their wretched little gods, hardline bleeding-hearts attack art that threatens "the children" which is one of their few areas of agreement with the fundies.) Video games are the target of choice because, unlike other media which have a long and respectable history to (partially) shield them from attack, it is still common "knowledge" that video games are just homicide simulators for pimply geeks.

    The only "controversy" here consists of people who think that their right to never have their feelings hurt is more important than anybody else's right to speak whining, as they always do. Pathetic.
  • by philspear (1142299) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:54PM (#24745417)

    It never fails to suprise me that emo fans actually get upset and defensive when you insult emo. Or, if you don't claim to be an emo fan, it never fails to suprise me when people object to mocking of emo. This time I was expecting more whining over the republican bashing.

    It's a worthy goal to make fun of emo music because 1. its funny 2. Emo, like many other things worthy of parody, is a little ridiculous when you get down to it 3. Emo fans need to grow a thicker skin. I'm praising the game because making fun of emo is not an asshole thing to do, in other words. And if you had read the author's website, you'll note that he is actually a fan of emo music.

    Anyway, chill out. Why get your undies in a knot over it?

  • by kestasjk (933987) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:57PM (#24745449) Homepage
    I'm going to make a bold prediction that somewhere in this discussion there will be a debate over the meaning of "art".
  • by grahamd0 (1129971) on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:02PM (#24745499)

    Like Stanley's Invaders!, Ledonne and his title stopped short of providing a direct interpretation - neither artist has been especially specific about 'what it means,' or in instructing players on how they should interpret their work or what 'message' should be taken away.

    Nor should they. The meaning of art is subjective.

    Any good artist is far too emotionally connected to their work to objectively critique it. Explaining the meaning of their work is simply being pretentious. Who are they to tell us how to feel?

  • Art (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BeardedClone (1351227) on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:04PM (#24745513)
    Art refers a range of human creations, and expressions that are appealing to other people. I believe when we include music and literature, we should automatically include games because they include both elements. Games also include visual arts and sculptures (3D). We can sit here and discuss aesthetics all day, or agree that it's something better left to the philosophers. Ars est celare artem.
  • Uhmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:32PM (#24745771)

    Can we moderate -1, Psychotic?

  • Video games are art.

    But should that art be censored?

    The fact remains; most people associate video games with children and young people. While this remains the dominant view of the medium it will be subjected to a level of scrutiny and censorship unseen by any medium that has come before it. There are movies rated PG-13 that, as a game, would never be certified with anything less than an M or 18s rating. We've all played GTA. What, if anything, in the entire series compares with the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan?

    Is there a higher level of censorship because the player is "committing the action's themselves!". No. That is only a rationalisation. The real reason is because Joe Public and John Politician think games are for "kids", and should have a level of "decency" befitting that role. Mention drugs or prostitution in a video game, hint at violence, or make even innocuous remarks about sexuality, or heaven forbid use even very mild "language" and you'll be rated akin to a James Bond title.

    Ratchet and Clank [wikipedia.org] as a series, has been continuously rated "Teen" by the ESRB. The ESRB, touted as a serious rating agency, is telling me with a straight face that Ratchet and Clank is unsuitable for 9-12 year olds? This is the status quo in the video game industry. In an environment like that, just how much risk do you think artists, or their patrons, will really be willing to take with their work?

  • by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craigNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:48PM (#24745921)

    Are all you humans this histrionic and emotionally narcissistic, or is it only the subclass of the species that lives in the United States? If it's the latter, what is it about your food supply or environment that makes you deserving of one of Bill Engvall's signs? Perhaps you should stop fluoridating your water?

    "Emotionally narcissistic" is the best term I can conceive to describe the irrational stupidity of people who would overreact to iconoclastic art... or games.

  • Also in the news! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Drakonik (1193977) <drakonik@gmail.com> on Monday August 25, 2008 @10:10PM (#24746149) Homepage

    Our expert analysts determine whether paintings, novels, or sculptures can be used to make political or social commentary. Details at 11.

    Seriously though. What the FUCK? Yes, some video games are simply money-makers (Madden 1998-2XXX, anyone?), but others are used to really say something. There's one game called "Harpooned" that is a satire protesting Japanese "research" on whales. A video game is simply a digital canvas. Instead of crushed rocks and plants, we paint with pixels and code. If a video game isn't a piece of art in its own right, then nothing created by anyone is.

    Anyone who thinks that ANY medium is not proper for expressing ideas and beliefs is simply trying to restrict your ability to express YOUR ideas.

  • by Your.Master (1088569) on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:07PM (#24746655)

    That's a fun game.

    Name one painting, song, sculpture, poem, or play that has the intellectual depth of a sophisticated and intellectual video game.

    If you don't define "intellectual depth", then there's no way to ever argue the point with you. If you do define it, then you must define it specifically to exclude video games, and comic books, and trashy romantic comedy movies. Otherwise you will inevitably find a counterexample if you look hard enough & wait long enough (note also that paintings and literature have a far longer history than video games from which to produce classics).

    It's legitimate to define a term to exclude these things, mind you. We normally define pursuits "appropriate for children" to exclude, for instance, fantasy rape pornography. That's fine. But it doesn't mean anything when you do that. If fantasy rape pornography isn't art, it's not because it's inappropriate for children.

  • by pcolaman (1208838) on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:11PM (#24746705)
    I'll see your Big Rigs and raise you Toddler Art [dailymail.co.uk]
  • by daninspokane (1198749) on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:43PM (#24746961)

    Name one video game that has the intellectual depth of a fine art painting or literature. Just like comic books and manga, video games occupy the same intellectual ground as pulp fiction novels and trash romantic comedy movies. There has never been nor will there ever be a video game that can compare with great art and literature like Rafael, Picasso, van Gogh, James Joyce, Yeats, or Shakespeare.

    I am sorry but Bioshock had the story (literature) and the soundtrack (music) to define it as "art" in my book... and I don't think I am alone. It would of made an excellent novel.

  • by Das Modell (969371) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:05AM (#24747165)

    I remember reading an article written by Hideo Kojima (of MGS fame) about whether he thought video games were art, and he said no.
    He essentially said that he didn't believe video games were art as they offered an open ended experience where players can immerse themselves in order to form unique experiences.

    He's full of shit. It's up to the developer to decide how much freedom to give to the player. A completely linear adventure game like Grim Fandango is not going to give the player much room for an "open ended experience" where players can "form unique experiences." Any choice the player can make is a choice that has been predetermined by the developer. Using a video game to tell an emotional story, to make a powerful statement or to provoke deep thoughts is not rendered impossible just because the player can decide in what order he solves two puzzles.

    Kojima is also being short-sighted. Interactivity and freedom of choice can be harnessed for artistic purposes. For an established and experienced video game developer he sure sounds clueless. It's not like your only choice as a developer is to build a sandbox and drop the player in the middle of it.

    As a whole, that's just what they are: packaged, bought and sold "worlds" or "realities" for us to play in, which can contain all sorts and varieties of artistic elements, but yet as a whole can not be considered art. A player's experience rewound and played forward as a non-interactive product of the player's volition (like a film) can be art, but the act of playing a video game is not by itself art. ...

    Is riding the subway to work art? No. Is seeing a painting on the wall art? The painting itself is, yes, but not the act of seeing it or your choice to go and see it. Is listening to music art? Not the act of listening, but the music itself is art... and you see my point.

    But by your own logic video games can be art. The act of playing them isn't art (obviously!), but the games themselves can be. Just like listening to music isn't art but the music itself is. I don't even understand what your point is. Surely everyone understands that the act of viewing or experiencing art is not art itself.

  • by Das Modell (969371) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:15AM (#24747245)

    Let's take this statement...

    What I meant to say (and sorry if this wasn't clear), is that art (music, a painting) is inherently classifiable as art where a video game is inherently not classifiable as art. While their may be artistic attributes to games, like graphics art, the plot, the background score and even the voice acting, the game as a whole is not art. The game itself is not art but there are things in it which are.

    ... and change it:

    What I meant to say (and sorry if this wasn't clear), is that art (music, a painting) is inherently classifiable as art where a film is inherently not classifiable as art. While their may be artistic attributes to films, like cinematography, the plot, the background score and even the acting, the film as a whole is not art. The film itself is not art but there are things in it which are.

    What I meant to say (and sorry if this wasn't clear), is that art (films, a painting) is inherently classifiable as art where a song is inherently not classifiable as art. While their may be artistic attributes to a song, like the melody and the lyrics, the song as a whole is not art. The song itself is not art but there are things in it which are.

    Maybe I'm just slow, but I can't understand the difference between the three.

  • by Das Modell (969371) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:19AM (#24747273)

    Name one video game that has the intellectual depth of a fine art painting or literature.

    No. Instead, why don't you explain how video games, as a medium, are incapable of being art?

    Just like comic books and manga, video games occupy the same intellectual ground as pulp fiction novels and trash romantic comedy movies.

    This is a ridiculous blanket statement. You might as well say all films are stupid trash and can never compare to literature.

    There has never been nor will there ever be a video game that can compare with great art and literature like Rafael, Picasso, van Gogh, James Joyce, Yeats, or Shakespeare.

    Impossible. Anything that can be done in literature, film, music and paintings can be done in video games.

  • by n dot l (1099033) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:28AM (#24747357)

    The Myst series: Some of the most fantastic and beautifully rendered worlds in any game. Themes of family bonds and betrayal. Ridiculously good music that while not as technically complex as a classical symphony can and does evoke strong emotion just the same, especially when paired with the strange loneliness of the worlds within those games.

    Braid: Fantastic visual art. A deeply human story about a search for the unattainable, scattered throughout in bits of excellent prose. Puzzles that leave you with a sense of awe at the raw ingenuity of the thing.

    God of War (I and II, haven't played the PSP one): Again, beautifully rendered worlds. Gameplay, imagery, and a story that explore brutality, insanity, anger, the thirst for revenge, all set within the framework of a quest for glorious redemption.

    Yes, many games are just there for the raw entertainment value. But then again a lot of visual art is just advertising, and a lot of "literature" is just cheap supermarket trash (as you yourself have pointed out). How does that make entire medium non-art, while the existence of trashy fiction doesn't do the same to all novels, for instance?

    And yes, many of the people that play games are in it just for the entertainment of shooting a few bad guys and bragging about their high score. I'd even go on to say that in those cases where a game is really art, most of its players will fail to take the time to appreciate, really appreciate what it is that they're looking at. But then again most of the people I saw at the Louvre were just there to take pictures that they could brag about to their friends (particularly the clusterfuck of idiots in front of the Mona Lisa), and I ended up being one of a very few people who moved through slowly, looking at everything, stopping occasionally to stare at something particularly striking.

    The fact that you've never looked carefully at what makes up a video game (if you've looked at one at all, that is), and then sat back and taken it in as a whole doesn't even begin to mean that no game anywhere has ever had any significant artistic merit at all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @01:26AM (#24747757)

    In NetHack when you reach the the Astral level, you are met with three riders of the Apocalypse, Death, Pestilence and Famine.

    But wait! Isn't there one missing? When the player character #chats with Death he responds:"Who do you think you are, War?"

    The ambiguity of that response just makes it's more compelling.

  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @02:42AM (#24748117)

    We've all played GTA. What, if anything, in the entire series compares with the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan?

    Well, there is a significant difference you see. Sure the opening scene of Private Ryan is gruesome and vivid. Yet the message behind it is the pointlessness and futility of the whole thing. Most violence in GTA is trivial in comparison but instills that VIOLENCE HAS REWARDS. That is a very significant difference.

  • by Psychochild (64124) <psychochildNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @05:45AM (#24749073) Homepage

    Great, let's take Shakespeare. From the moment he set pen to page, he was considered an artistic genius, right?

    Not quite. As other people pointed out, playwriting during Shakespeare's time was what second-rate writers did to pass the time. Real artists wrote poetry or essays, not common entertainment for the masses. It was only years later that anyone started to appreciate Shakespeare as anything more than the equivalent of today's TV.

    There's also the problem that interactive entertainment, such as games, are more limited in audience. Just as Opera isn't for everyone, games aren't going to be grasped by everyone. People that aren't used to the medium (read: older people who didn't grow up with the medium) are going to have a much harder time understand it and why it has the potential for art.

    So, we need some time before we can state this case unequivocally in one way or the other. Being a game developer and not interested in just producing mass entertainment, I'll politely disagree with you for now. ;)

    Have fun,

  • by Flambergius (55153) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @06:56AM (#24749383)

    Yet the message behind [Saving Private Ryan] is the pointlessness and futility of the whole thing. Most violence in GTA is trivial in comparison but instills that VIOLENCE HAS REWARDS. That is a very significant difference.

    Now you have engaged in picking a winner between two works of art. Fine for a private person to do, but not fine for the government or for any entity that serves the whole public (like de facto offical ratings agency like ESRB).

  • by KDR_11k (778916) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @07:59AM (#24749723)

    It would of made an excellent novel.

    I think that sentence right there shows that Bioshock isn't a game that is art but a game that contains art. If you can strip the game part without significantly impacting the art then it's not using the medium it chose properly. The game medium has its own unique traits and an artist should only choose the medium if he wants these traits in his work (sure, the market is a trait too but don't movies make more money still?). Many seem to be fighting the traits of their chosen medium, writing a static story and forcing the player to play through it (basically giving him a work sheet to complete between the story scenes) rather than using the interactivity of the game as a central component of their work. When you don't want to make a game perhaps you really shouldn't make one. Think about the traits you need for your work and then choose the medium, don't make a movie out of a painting, a book out of a play or a game out of a story.

    To be recognized as a medium for art games must find their own strengths instead of merely copying other media. Show the critics something that makes them say "this could only be expressed in a videogame!".

  • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @09:27AM (#24750367)

    That 99 out of 100 times, anyone who speaks of making a 'statement' with their 'art' falls into most of the following categories:

    1. Leftist.
    2. Repeating cliche, trite ideas dressed up with a college sophomore's verbiage.
    3. Incompetent at creating aesthetically pleasing work.
    4. Using the 'statement' angle to try to get an audience for their work even though item 3 applies.
    5. The 'art' in question, as a consequence of all of the above, is ugly and absurdly abstract*.
    6. If you point out that the 'artist' is juvenile and incompetent, and the art is ugly, the 'you don't get it' scam is applied.

    This statement nonsense is a long standing pattern with 'modern' art. Actual art [artrenewal.org] speaks for itself.

    No one who creates quality work that stands on it's own needs to tie themselves up with nonsense about 'statements.'

    Only hacks with no skill or talent ever speak of 'statement' and 'art' in the same breath.

    *(Picasso and many other famous abstract artists were accomplished Classical painters before they turned abstract. This solid base of skill gave them the tools to create aesthetically pleasing abstract pieces.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:21PM (#24752553)
    Or maybe, just maybe, people are weary of talentless little assholes exploiting tragedies for their own masturbatory activities.
  • Nethack is art (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Angvaw (992553) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @12:51PM (#24752955)
    Nethack is art. It showed me that given enough time, random events can coincide in such a way that you feel like someone is conspiring against you.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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