Friday, December 30, 2011

Since You Ask

Are video games art?

The answer I usually give is "I'm so tired of that question," which some might argue is no answer at all. But I respond that way because long ago I learned an important lesson about questions, and it goes like this:

"The question is not the question, the question is the questioner." In other words, answering a question is about more than simply providing a solution, it involves looking to what motivated it in the first place. "Games as art" has a lot to do with a generational gap, and the passing of creative torches, and no well-reasoned argument can make a dent in such large, emotional movements.

But if you're interested, here's what I think.

Are video games art? Well, let's first recognize that "art" is a word, and, like all words, it's meaning is a fluid, relative thing. You could pull down a dictionary from the shelf and find a listing for it, but dictionaries do not tell us what words *should* mean, they tell us how words are used among current speakers (and as such, they are regularly revised with the linguistic ebb and flow.)

So when you ask if games are "art," I need to know what you mean by that.

Are games a valid form of expression? Yeah, they are.

Can they make you feel things, can they make you cry? Can they move you, change the way you see the world,  give you new perspective on the events of your life? I'm here to tell you, on behalf of a generation that grew up with games in our homes, that they can.

And when you look back on your life, can games be an integral element that shaped who you are for the better? Yeah.

And if those things are not art, then what a stupid thing "art" must be. What a meaningless distinction, what a sad, unimportant little idea.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pandora's Blocks

When you really break it down, wrapping paper represents a kind of psychological torture.

It's a perfect tease: allure and obstruction in a single device. At once, it indicates that this is a gift, something good that was bought with the intent of pleasing, while simultaneously acting as a barrier to that very thing. It inspires intrigue about what the contents could be,and holds the promise of something that will be yours-that is yours actually. By all rights, the tag on the outside secures this object of mystery as your property. You can take it, even carry it with you if you like.

But you can't open it.

If you open it, you're a bad person. To have that thing that's yours before an communally agreed upon time would make someone sad, the same person that chose to do this nice thing for you/force you into this trial of human will. And the icing on this cake, what we can now recognize as some sort of devilish butter cream, is the knowledge that wrapping paper is so easy, and so fun, to remove.*

*And sometimes then there are Legos.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Level of Investment

If you're going to be a gamer, you have to make peace with certain realities.

"I am going to manipulate this piece of plastic so that I can make an imaginary elf man kill imaginary monsters. And I'm choosing to believe that this represents an acceptable use of my leisure time."

This bargain becomes more difficult as you come to understand more about the underlying technology.

"I am going to inefficiently edit a save file using an elaborate visual interface."

But its even worse when the game has no noble hero, and no grand conflict. Games with stories are one thing; people have been getting overly invested in stories for a long time. But in a game like Animal Crossing, or Minecraft, even seasoned virtual puppeteers have difficulty reconciling their choice of hobbies.

"I am going to design and construct an imaginary farm, then meticulously harvest imaginary wheat, so I can then feed it to imaginary chickens* so they'll pretend to lay imaginary eggs. I am going to pretend to do something that is in all ways toil."

*What the hell is wrong with you stupid things? I've built you a huge pen, why do you insist on crowding into one tiny corner?

Friday, December 2, 2011


Simple question:

Well, okay, it's actually not a simple question. I'm just setting you up to think of it as a simple question so we can then hold it up to the light and find out whether or not it is so. Course, I probably shouldn't have told you that, since it kinda spoils the whole thing.

Sometimes I over analyze things, and have trouble getting to my point.


What is the world like? (the human world, not the natural world)

An individual's answer to that is a pretty telling marker of his personality. Is the world evil? Is it full of idiots? Is it just fine? Those are all divisive perspectives. But I think it's a mistake to mentally group people by their answer to that question. Many may stand in the same spot, and see the same thing, but more important is what direction led them there. Take, for instance, "The world is bad."

"The world is bad, and there's no hope for anyone."
"The world is bad, and that's why we're going to change it."
"The world is bad, but it'll be better once I'm in charge."
"The world is bad, so I'll make for me and mine a place that isn't."*

Same idea, vastly different implications. 

*We might call these Eeyore, Obama, Dr. Horrible, and Malcolm Reynolds.