Tom Bissell, in a Salon interview promoting his new book “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter“, continues to make the case for video games as art. The whole interview is worth reading, but here are some choice tidbits:
Around 2006, 2007, a handful of games started coming out that, as someone who played games but didn’t think of them as like a viable artistic medium, made me think, “Wow things have gotten extremely compelling formally.” I mostly associated video game storytelling with unforgivable clumsiness, irredeemable incompetence, and suddenly I was finding the aesthetic and formal concerns I’d always associated with fiction: storytelling, form, the medium, character. That kind of shocked me.
Games that changed the paradigm, at least for me, were “Portal,” “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” and “BioShock.” All took their storytelling seriously in different ways, and brought to the table a relatively unusual level of sophistication when it came to video-game storytelling. They simply didn’t seem unnecessarily dumb in the way a lot of video-game storytelling games feel dumb.
Roger Ebert has famously argued (and recently restated in a blog post) that video games should not be considered art. What do you say to that?
I really admire Roger Ebert a lot, but on this issue he’s just wrong. I think he even kind of knows he’s wrong, and he’s kind of Custer in a battle that he knows he’s outnumbered on, but he’s actually asking the wrong question. The question is not, “Are video games art?” The question is, “Can artists express themselves through the video-game medium?” …
He’s kind of right in the sense that this isn’t going to stand up against impressionist painting, but it’s not supposed to. …
…It’d be like giving sex advice after having watched “Debbie Does Dallas,” but never having fucked anyone.
Interestingly, perhaps because neither of two are from an arts background, the point of “interactive art” was never mentioned in the interview. Perhaps Roger Ebert is unaware of the “interactive art” movement, and his ignorance of this type of artistic impression (despite beginning in the 20′s, catching steam in the 60′s, and exploding in the late 90′s) is what keeps Ebert from understanding video games as art (that, and the fact that he doesn’t play any video games).
Interactive art is defined as a form of art that requires the viewers to participate in some way. Without the viewers participation or input, the art piece would not function, and therefore not be. The art would be reduced to a monitor, sensors, plastic, metal, wood, what have you – plain ol’ inanimate objects with no artistic merit. Now consider video games. Without the video game player, directing the characters, unlocking story arcs, making choices, providing input, the video game would cease to be a work of art, and just be code, or plastic and metal – plain ol’ inanimate objects.
We already consider films as art, so why when video games combine the visual medium of film with interactivity, are they not considered art? Sure, not every game is a work of art, just like how not every movie (Transformers?) is a work of art. The art community already considers art that isn’t displayed in galleries or museums ( see the “street art” movement) as “high art”, so why can’t we make the obvious leap to video games?
The below ad aired some time in early May, but I am one of those weird people that only watches TV on the internet (yay, Hulu?) so the first time I saw this ad was yesterday. Did I miss the parade? I will admit I spend a lot of time on here talking about what displeases me regarding gender in the video game industry, but this ad gets it whatever that “it” is.
The 30 second ad opens up with two women in their late 20′s, early 30′s, sitting on a park bench. One woman looks professional in every sense of the word- from her attire, to her make-up, to her calm but gracious behavior – all while being sexy. The other character in this ad looks like she engages in a more relaxed lifestyle- she is not in business attire, wearing a patterned shirt, eating chips or cookies and presumably slurping a soft drink. This second character gets caught up in the moment and does things spontaneously, like talk to strangers. Right off the bat we know this game is for every type of woman (well, “white” at least).
This ad puts a new spin on what many parents think of as just a child’s toy. Both of these women are beautiful and fit, proving that you don’t have to be an overweight loser nerd in their parents basement to like video games. These video game playing gals are also outside, loving life! Perhaps employed and on a lunch break! They don’t look depressed.
The professional woman is playing a puzzle game on the Nintendo DS. Why play Sudoku, or do a crossword puzzles, when you can do it on a portable high-tech consumer gadget? We don’t need to chop down any trees for these types of puzzles… or be at home linked into a social network like our older aunts. The free bird character (played by Jama Williamson, the actress who plays Aziz Ansari’s ex wife in Parks & Recreation) jumps in at the end of the commercial and helps solve the puzzle. The professional woman has enough class to not be phased and the two women move closer to each other on the bench so they can both play, indicating that these two can be friends in real life after all! How idyllic – no back seat gamer there. Nintendo says “See, technology can bring people together!”
Way to go, Nintendo! Look at you, understanding the older untapped female market with all your research and consumer reports! Your good efforts almost make me want to go out and buy another DS game …. from the used bin.
I have long puzzled over the validity of ”all female” gaming clans… and as more young ladies get involved in the competitive gaming industry, more and more all female gaming clans are popping up. The following is a rant of ideas that have been around since 2006.
I understand women feel the need to band together as the video game industry is male dominated and women can feel marginalized, and granted, some male gamers are still shocked to find a girl gamer online, but that novelty is disappearing as more and more women play video games. There is no need to segregate competitive clans based on gender, and exclusively female clans hurts the female gamer in the long run. It is already hard enough to be a female gamer, from the cracks at my voice sounding like a 12 year old, to all the close-up porn sprays I am subjected to, that the idea of me asking for special attention because of the genitalia between my legs is just mind-blowing. I just want some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, nothing more, nothing less. I just want to be a person that plays games. I don’t want to be a novelty.
By having the female gamers separate from the males in competitive gaming clans, you are asking that the females in the gaming world be treated differently. By asking that females be treated differently, you are perpetuating the myth that women in gaming is a novelty, and is something special. By having an all female gaming clan, you identify yourself as the other, as the outsider, and how can you ever be fully integrated into the gaming community if you wish to remain in your gender-based group? It doesn’t happen. All female gaming clans, while sounding good initially, just make it worse, especially when you never hear of them winning a single tournament (or maybe that is the gaming media’s fault?).
(Side note: why does it matter how good these ladies look, any way? Shouldn’t their skills matter more than their appearance? These gaming clans are marketing themselves to women, not men, so why all the revealing pictures? I’d rather join a clan where everyone was dressed like a classy lady, thank you very much. Is this why females have yet to win any major titles? I don’t see competitive male gamers being judged on both their appearance and gaming skills, so why do women need to prove that they are hot AND a good gamer? Hot women who play video games are not a novelty any more, sorry. If over 50% of us play games now, chances are, many of us are attractive.)
I can’t think of a clan that claims to be all male (it happens by default), so why are there all-female clans? It’s not like the competitive gaming community has different categories for male and female gamers, right? Competitive gaming is not the Olympics in the physical sense, so we ladies don’t need separate teams…the sooner we are integrated the sooner we will gain respect in the community. If women ever want to be treated like normal human beings in the gaming community, they have to start acting like it. Female gamers need to get into the habit of viewing themselves as plain ol’ ordinary gamers, not OMG “girl gamers” in need of their own special “girl gamer” clan.
If I see one more profile with the words “I’m a hot girl gamer, deal with it!” or another attention whore-y profile (I get it, you’re insecure!) next time I log on I think I will riot. Somewhere. On the internet. Or maybe I just don’t understand, because I am no longer a teenager and I don’t play with teenagers…..