I have a muse. She's an overweight, chain-smoking, cantankerous bogan who sits in front of the telly in her trackie-dacks and ugh boots channel surfing. She's a lazy old cow too, as you've probably guessed if you read this blog. From time to time she's good to me and warrants a kiss of gratitude. Now if only she'd shave, wax, or Nair® her upper lip. I'm talking about my muse for a reason...
You see on my left there's this horse, lying on the ground, still. It's tongue is hanging out, eyes staring vacantly and it's not breathing. On my right is a riding crop, or bull whip if that's your kink, and it beckons. You know what happens next. I reach for the bullwhip and get cracking.
I firmly belong to the group that believes that video games are not art. I repeat, not art. This group is actually quite large and is composed mainly of individuals who have no idea about either art or video games. Nobodies like me, I suppose. I'm the odd one out in this group as I'm a dedicated gamer who loves video games and proudly declares to all and sundry that I love me some good gaming (phrasing intended). Hence my muse's cameo. One of the questions that comes up in this sort of debate pretty much all of the time is "What is art?". It's a corker isn't it? I love when a discussion about the artistic merits of the medium boil down to semantics. Art is that stuff that hangs on the walls of capital 'G' Galleries (and the small 'g' galleries too), when it's outdoors it's either a sculpture or an "installation". People can perform art but they're not actors. Art can be comics, anime, drawings, paintings and bits of tummy fluff stuck to a wall. It can be made, found and discovered. And sometimes, very rarely, it's a science. Or is science an art? I'm confused!
And let's not forget art's poor cousin crafts!
Right, so now that that is out of the way... Art, yeah it's some pretty fancy stuff. All sorts of somebodies love it and often enough I have no idea why. Art has a special something though, a quality that transcends meaning, definitions and words. It is. Thus I suppose I should claim that video games ARE art because they is! The thing is that I have strong beliefs about what games are and what they could be. Examples of these beliefs are littered throughout the blog and if you're new here I strongly recommend going off to read it - or you could just ignore me and continue - I know what I'd do. Games contain art, but games are more science than art, more craft than art, more tools than creations. I would agree with those who claim that games can look all arty like. Okami by Capcom is an excellent example, Braid and PixelJunk Eden are others. Games can contain considerable music scores that then prompt travelling performances of these austere works. Games may one day contain writing worthy of being called okay, maybe even good, but so far the overall standard of writing in games is shit. So let's just pretend that writing is for books, movies and TV shows and move on.
The ultimate expression of the concept of a game is, in my completely irrelevant opinion, Tetris. It enjoys the status of being "Easy to learn, Hard to master". Clichés exist for a reason you know! And if my muse was half the woman I wish she was then I'd have something better. Tetris is the closest a game has ever come to being "art". The ultimate expression of what a game is, something that can reach anyone, anywhere, anyhow and within a few moments suck away years of their life. Now that's something to be proud of! Yet I don't really see Tetris as art because as you know I believe that in order for something to be meaningful to a society it must have a degree of relevance, of purpose, of bearing a message that both reflects and shapes the society in which it resides. Perhaps we really do live in a society of losers who waste time and will never reach the end. Perhaps not. I've already discussed how I see games and play and which has more meaning.
You see the problem for me is that games offer an opportunity and most developers choose to ignore that opportunity. Instead they seek to emulate other forms of entertainment. They haven't embraced the intrinsic nature of games, and for me, that nature is "tools for play". The games of our childhood are inspired by the pulp action film, that comic we read, the latest pop song, or the stories our parents read to us as we fell asleep. Ultimately though, this form of play is made using our own rules. We can play alone (no comments from the peanut gallery!) We can play with others. We can make up and change the rules of the game as we play in order to refine it. Right now, games are largely the vision of their creator (sans editor) and choose to ignore the primary participant. Me. Or you if you really must play my games. The player. It's akin to a circuit class in a children's playground where the trainer refuses my desperate pleas to have a go on the slippery dip until after I've mastered the monkey bars. I try, but my weak hands, porcine frame, and perspiration borne of excessive effort mean that I fall before reaching the end - time and again. Scuffing my hands and knees, face planting into the gravel, breaking first my collar bone, then my arm and finally my leg. Yet all the while my trainer refuses to share the slippery dip until I reach the last rung.
Games are vehicles for play. The best games are those games that promote play. The best way to promote play is to give the players control over the game. Offering a toolset that is constrained by rules, sure, yet complete enough to allow the player to play. It is when games give the players the tools to create art of their own that games will become what they were always meant to be. And that's not art, but a brush, a canvas, a roll of film, a script and billions of wannabe actors and writers, nobodies. Just. Like. Me.