Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

5 May, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Make art
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:03 AM

Today’s challenge is inspired by some recent posts I’ve read:

Are Games Art? over on Make it Big in Games. Pretty much what it sounds like: Jeff Tunnell is wondering why more people don’t see games as the obvious works of art they are.

Shilling for Columbine on Amber Night. She argues that a game based on the Columbine tragedy is horrific, but I argue that if games are to be art we have to face issues like this. Great art makes us think and challenges us.

So, we’re going to get a bit theoretical in this design challenge. How would you prove to someone neutral on the issue that games can be art? For bonus points, how could you convince a skeptic?

Read on for a few of my thoughts.

Being a game creator, I would want to work on creating a game that has “artistic merit”. That means affecting feelings and thoughts, perhaps convincing people of something they didn’t realize before. This game would have to eschew most of the usual tropes of the medium, such as heavy killing and big explosions. I’d want to tell a good story, but focus on the interactive elements so you can’t accuse the game of being a movie where you hit buttons to hear the next line of dialog. This game wouldn’t be created overnight, unfortunately, which is why it hasn’t been done yet. I’d probably let some piece of classic literature inspire me, although I’d have to be careful not to make the game just a rip off of that work.

Okay, even more bonus points for coming up with something actually feasible, and not a bunch of wishful thinking like I have. :)

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  1. Friday Design Challenge… cool.

    Art, to me is something maybe a bit too encompassing. Something that causes the triggering of an emotional response or sparks discussion or displays an idea. It must also be demonstration of some skill, or imagination. And finally. Just because it is Art does not mean it deserves to go into a gallery. By extension of my definition then, all created things are Art, but that doesn’t make them good Art or particularly interesting Art either.

    Ok I think that the neutral to Games-As-Art person is interesting but if they are neutral I would expect they would be willing to go either way quite easily. My simplest idea for showing them that games are Art would be to maybe just get them to play Grim Fandango a good way through, preferably all of it. And then to maybe just ask whether it made them feel anything at different parts. I am sure they would laugh at a lot of it. So maybe I would get them to play something with a sad element or strong emotional bits. Final Fantasy IX then. The part when Vivi discovers his true nature. I would ask them about their opinions, I would point out the graphics, I would point out the sounds, whether you can get a meaningful discussion out of it. I think after all that, they would be hard to deny games can be art.

    The sceptic. Now that’s tough. They already don’t believe. It would have to be sheer force of argument that persuades them. I would have to convince them without really using games as a basis. I’d have to spin it on the head. I would argue that if anything it is existing paintings and sculptures that are no longer Art. (not necessarily my opinion but an opening for them to get annoyed). They don’t move. The skills needed to make them are old, well known, not particularly inventive. You can’t interact. They are empty compared to a game. In fact, newer and newer art get’s worse and worse, it should be torn out of museums for being gimmicky and designed to just upset you than promote anything worth discussing or feeling.

    They wouldn’t like me for any of that.

    Of course, the only way for them to really argue with me on it would be to accept that something is not considered as Art because of it’s object or the method used to create it or even it’s idea. The essence of Art is not in the medium. It’s in the things that it attempts to capture and display and share, things hidden within. And as soon as they admit that, how can they deny that games can’t be art? Art is medium-less.

    Well I typed a bit more than I thought then but it was a lot of fun. :D. I like the whole idea of a design challenge.

    Comment by Jpoku — 5 May, 2006 @ 7:25 AM

  2. I think the usual pitfall that game-as-art falls into is the comparison to film. This is not a relevant comparison.

    You say: “That means affecting feelings and thoughts, perhaps convincing people of something they didn’t realize before.” Sculpture, I would contend, is Art. Yet I haven’t seen a work of sculpture that has the raw emotive effect of a tear-jerking movie. The art of a sculpture is different from the art of movies. It demands more of the viewer and is less hand-holding. The great strength of film is the ability to grab hold of the viewer and control their emotions. It seems odd that we keep trying to compare games against films greatest strength without asking if there are other purposes to art than manipulating viewer’s emotions?

    I also find it not at all clear that games is a new medium. Video games is a new medium. Games are ancient – likely predating even story telling. So, when looking for the equivalient of a Bach or a Schindler’s list, I’d bring up Chess or Go. Both of those games have made people cry! (Of course, there would likely be some confusion here, as the observer will be tempted to consider a particular game of Chess art, rather than admitting that it is the game itself that can be considered art. Individual games are just expressions of that underlying art, just as each listening to a piece of music is an expression of the underlying music. The fact I am moved by one playing of a song, but not the next, does not mean the art was in my listening)

    The trouble of trying to convince a skeptic using a modern game like Oblivion or World of Warcraft is that the “video”, especially in a ten minute demo, will dominate over the “game”. Is it surprising that they immediately try to compare it to movies? However, every video gamer that has played long enough in a game knows that the visuals are soon iconized and chunked away into meaningless distractions. What is left, after they have played it for a year, is the raw game. This raw game is what we should look to for “art”. I should point out here that I am not referring to, necessarily, the reduction of the game to pure gameplay components. Our chunkification of the game isn’t so clean as that.

    My example to show video games are capable of art would likely be Nethack. It has the advantage of already chunking away the graphics – seeing a wash of letters, someone won’t immediately try and compare it to a movie. It also has the advantage of being light on text (as opposed to a text adventure), meaning the observer can’t immediately compare it to a novel. It is an example of something new and different and, in my opinion, artistic. This I think also can show how people chunk games, and why setting is not independent of game mechanics. After years of playing, people don’t bump into blue ‘o’s. They still attack orcs. The long sword doesn’t turn into a 1d6 damage modifier, it remains a long sword. Indeed, it is interesting in so far that setting gets chunked *into* the game mechanics. It is only the beginner that sees a blue ‘o’, the expert sees the orc.

    So, back to the challenge. If I wanted to make an artistically beautiful game, I’d concentrate on the game rather than the video. Which, I think, merely means that I’d try and make a game. I’d avoid trying to make it “socially relevant”, or to address some specific issue. Mostly, however, because I’m suspicious of art-with-a-purpose. Good art should be descriptive, not proscriptive.

    Comment by Brask Mumei — 5 May, 2006 @ 8:22 AM

  3. Woot, one of these design challenges I can actually respond to!

    Am I allowed to contest your proviso that an art game has to eschew heavy killing and big explosions? Quite a few of the best pieces of art involve those things, from movies like Schindler’s List through games like Chess, right up to works like the Bayeux Tapestry. Obviously I understand your point that when those things are implemented in games they tend to be done with the subtlety of an ass to the face, but should we really be so afraid of those elements that we restrict ourselves like that, especially when the same brief asks us to come up with a feasible game that the public and publishers could accept? It kinda reminds me of Ernest Adams’ Dogma 2001 set of game design rules, ordering us not to include elves, dragons, soldiers, aliens, vampires, Nazis, etc etc. The point was obvious, and one worth making, but it does also imply that no game with those elements can be artistic, which is contentious. Just a thought.

    As for games as art, Brask already said more or less what I was going to say. In the wake of the whole Roger Ebert debacle, I’d say literally 95% of designers and players and journalists interpreted art as narrative and incredibly cinematic visuals. Almost nobody embraced the one and only aspect of games that makes them different from movies, which is of course their interactivity. The secret of art in games, in my opinion, is through collaboration between the designer and player. Giving the player choice and options and self-actualisation within the world so that they create the story and the morality themselves.

    One of the blogs, I forget which, responded to Ebert’s comment by describing his experience in Shadow of the Collossus. Lots of people had listed that game as an example of games as art, presumably because of the pretty visuals and the emotions of defeating the Collossi. But this blogger explained that he had beaten all but one of the Collossi, and had finally tracked down the last remaining one, but when faced with it couldn’t bring himself to kill it and wipe out the entire species/race. Because the game is very linear, it’s absolutely impossible for him to complete the game without killing that final Collossus, and so his game remains unfinished, the disc in its case for all eternity. THAT is the beginnings of games as art, in my opinion. It could have been any game, it has nothing to do with Shadow of the Collossus itself, but it’s the crux of player choice and indeterminate morality which cause games to become art. A game which made that kind of ethical decision-making the focus of the entire game would really be making progress, in my opinion. And I do mean the whole focus. Obviously other games, especially RPGs, have offered players choices before, but they usually only relate to moving +5 or -5 on a Good/Evil scale that changes nothing but your avatar’s clothing or something. I want to see/make a game which concentrates properly on those choices and their consequences, hopefully causing the player to address moral issues they never even knew about.

    Comment by Dom — 5 May, 2006 @ 1:00 PM

  4. I took a class on Aestetics in college. Each week we would have a new topic and ask “is _topic_ art?”

    While raging subjectivism abounds, I think that we can agree that some games, “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing”, others may transcend thier gamedom. Games are fundamentally ‘enrapturing’ when they are done well. Look at progress quest… which is almost a game, and has held my attention from far to long. The opera scene many people will remember from Final Fantasy VI. The epic cutscenes from Warcraft 3.

    These are things that people will remember for a long time to come… they’ve risen above thier simple wheels and cogs, and, in many minds become emotional hotspots.

    Comment by Yaxamie — 6 May, 2006 @ 8:24 PM

  5. I’m preparing myself for an F on this one, because I just have to ask the question: Why do we care if games are considered art? Why is it important?

    I have a cousin who is a bona fide cowboy. He does not have a fixed address because when he’s not a ranch hand, he works the rodeos. What he does takes a high level of skill, but there’s also an intangible quality to it. An understanding of how the animal reacts in a given situation. An understanding of his own body, and how to move with this completely different life form so that neither of them is hurt. A competitive spirit, and a respect for the animal. But it’s more than that. It’s the lore, the mystique, the romanticism, and the realities of not only performing the profession but living the life. So is being a cowboy art? I think you could make a really good case for it. But in the end does it matter? My cousin does what he does because it’s what he loves. He doesn’t need for it to be art.

    Back to games. Let’s look at it from the perspective of the player. Players play games to have fun. They really don’t care about much else, unless it adversely affects their fun. Now granted, a game like Super Columbine Massacre RPG stretches the concept of “fun” into less traditional directions. The fun factor may be a simple morbid curiosity, or a genuine willingness to try to understand why children would murder other children. But in the end, it all boils down to the fun factor. Did the game meet or exceed the expectations set forth? In my post, I argued that the creators of Super Columbine Massacre RPG could not possibly live up to what they promised, which was insight into the minds of the killers. I.e., they set the expectation of what “fun” for this game will be. I think that’s the best we can hope for with regards to game as art. The creator sets the bar of what fun is, and the player decides if the goal was met.

    Now, having said all that, I’m not completely oblivious to the fact that there are times when a game is elevated above simple gameplay. Chess has been mentioned here and in other places as an example of game as art. But this is like saying my guitar is art because if Eric Clapton were to pick it up, he could bring out some soulful stuff that would bring tears to your eyes. I, on the other hand, can also make you cry with my guitar, but it’s because your ears are bleeding. It’s not chess that’s art, it’s the players. Others have alluded to this. The player who refused to kill the last Collossus had what could be considered an “artistic” moment, but does it make the game itself art? Probably not, but who cares. It was the player who created the experience, not the game designer.

    Comment by Amber — 6 May, 2006 @ 10:39 PM

  6. Lots of responses.

    Jpoku wrote:
    I like the whole idea of a design challenge.

    Glad to oblige. I post these every Friday that I can, because they make for good exercise.

    Brask Mumei wrote:
    Sculpture, I would contend, is Art. Yet I haven’t seen a work of sculpture that has the raw emotive effect of a tear-jerking movie.

    Sculpture is Art, I’ll agree. But, not every stirring of emotion needs to result in tears. When you look at Rodin’s The Thinker it stirs emotions, but it doesn’t necessarily make you want to weep. Or, consider The Gates of Hell, which stirs other emotions but doesn’t necessarily cause weeping.

    Art inspires emotion. Really good art inspires subtle emotion. Games are good at invoking fear, surprise, and curiosity. Movies are good at inspiring empathy, which leads to happiness, sadness, etc. These are “easy” emotions to invoke in the audience.

    I also find it not at all clear that games is a new medium. Video games is a new medium.

    I use “games” as shorthand for “video games” in this context. But, you are right that games are ancient. However, I don’t think many people give games (in the general sense) that much credit. Too often people consider games childish (largely because “play” is childish), and therefore not worthy of high distinction. Of course, if the only books we had were children’s books, I think books wouldn’t be revered very well, either.

    Dom wrote:
    Am I allowed to contest your proviso that an art game has to eschew heavy killing and big explosions?

    This wasn’t part of the restriction, this was my description of my own answer to the question. Sure, you can have killing and explosions and still be “art”, but in games these tend to draw too much attention away from other parts. I feel that having these in a game trying to demonstrate artistic merit would be too distracting. The goal is to embrace the interactive aspect while not reminding the person I’m trying to convince of all the other childish (or at least perceived as such) games out there.

    Amber wrote:
    Why do we care if games are considered art? Why is it important?

    You don’t get an “F”, you just get sent to a remedial class. :)

    The most important reason why this matters is because it gives developers legitimacy. Nobody says that books are not free speech, for example. Once we can claim that video games as a medium are art, then we get a whole lot of neat protections from society. Part of that also includes being taken seriously, and not being considered just things for kids. We can get respect from other media and don’t get Ebert dissing us just because we aren’t movies.

    It also means I can start telling my mom I’m a game developer and she won’t lose respect for me. (I tell her I’m a drug dealer instead, so she doesn’t lose all faith in me. ;)

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 May, 2006 @ 12:51 AM

  7. As a quick side swipe… I was reading about the elephant currently parading through London.. and it occured to me maybe there’s a comparison there. Maybe not.

    We already attribute the title ‘art’ to street performances. The performers come out to entertain the people with their ideas, visual, audible, even interactive. Maybe games can be seen as taking the role of the performer, the entertainer. The entire game itself is a performer. The designers directing away and the coders making all the technical magic happen. What you get at the end is nothing more than a virtual, interactive performance.

    In the extreme, maybe you could even go so far as to argue that previously games had to catch up with reality, but now it’s reality catching up to games. People are now realising that you can bring interactive games back out into the real world. (ARG’s being the biggest example) Are ARG’s art though? :S

    Comment by Jpoku — 7 May, 2006 @ 12:15 PM

  8. Amber: I actually agree with you on the Guitar analogy and the classification of the Shadow of the Colossos example. That’s why I made the point that the difficulty of saying that “Chess is art” is that people will immediately decide that it is a specific game of chess that is art. A specific game of chess can be art, just like a song played on a guitar can be art. This is orthogonal to whether a game can be art, or, equivalently, whether a guitar can be art.

    I would contend that a guitar can be art. A Stradivarius, for example, could be so classified.

    I know it is fashionable now a days to contend that art has to be useless. IMHO, that’s an attempt of modern artists to justify their lack of practical skills. A swordsmith is better deserving the title of artist than someone filling a house with cement. It is tempting to discount guitar manufacture as mere “craft” without realizing that before it can be craft, artists must first create the guitar-itself. Manufacturing a guitar according to a template is craft, as would be writing a clone of MegaMan. To write the original, however, requires art.

    Comment by Brask Mumei — 8 May, 2006 @ 9:03 AM

  9. I think “proving” and “convincing” is usually a bad way to approach an effort to communicate with an someone. Most people are never going to be convinced of something which is contrary to what they already believe. In general, humans are not rational and will not be suaded by rational arguments.

    A more realistic goal is to try to change the thinking of people who haven’t formed those models yet, ie. children, and I think this process is already underway. As video game players get older, and new children play more, the rules about what video games are will change.

    Your rebuttal to the person who asked why it matters had two points – one that is provides legitimacy (this is a path that will not lead to anything useful, the original poster was correct, if you need external approval to feel good about your profession you are doomed, are porn stars respected? lawyers?) – the other is it’s importance to be recognized as speech. I agree that this is relevent, but it rests on the ability to convince a judge or judges or jury, that [video?] games are protected speech. This seems to have already been done, as my google search for “video games free speech” seems to show.

    Comment by Mike W — 8 May, 2006 @ 11:10 AM

  10. @Brask: Good analogy with the Stradivarius. I would argue, however, that the art of the Stradivarius is only complete in the hands of an accomplished musician. On it’s own it is certainly a masterpiece of worksmanship, quality and physical beauty. It is a work of art, but incomplete. Like the Stuart painting of George Washington. By itself it makes no music. Only in the hands of a master does it truly become a complete work of art.

    @Brian: I don’t know that I buy the argument that we must pursue games as art because it lends legitimacy. I don’t dismiss it out of hand, but certainly there has to be more to it, doesn’t there? I also question the “protections” built in by gaining acceptance as art. Throughout history art has been banned, destroyed, criticized, dismissed as pornography and worse. Artists have faced ridicule, imprisonment, death, etc. It could even be argued that if games were someday generally held to be art, they would be subject to even harsher standards. The notions that artists suffer for their work isn’t accidental.

    I’m not arguing that games *cannot* be art. I think there are some tantalizing examples that it really is possible. I’m just saying that in general it shouldn’t be the end goal of either a project or the industry as a whole. Making fun games should be the objective.

    Comment by Amber — 8 May, 2006 @ 1:57 PM

  11. Amber wrote:
    I don’t know that I buy the argument that we must pursue games as art because it lends legitimacy. I don’t dismiss it out of hand, but certainly there has to be more to it, doesn’t there? I also question the “protections” built in by gaining acceptance as art. Throughout history art has been banned, destroyed, criticized, dismissed as pornography and worse. Artists have faced ridicule, imprisonment, death, etc. It could even be argued that if games were someday generally held to be art, they would be subject to even harsher standards. The notions that artists suffer for their work isn’t accidental.

    Yes, the issue is more complicated than I described above. That’s the easy answer, the more complex answer is, well, complex.

    If games are considered to be capable of having artistic merit, then they have legitimacy to communicate and influence people. Let me point to the reaction to the Columbine RPG. I think one reason why people are horrified is because they assume games are only for entertainment. Having a game about Columbine sounds about as tactful as having a sitcom about the subject. It’s possible to have a meaningful game cover such a sensitive subject in a media that has artistic merit, though. (I think that games does an okay job, but I’m still in the middle of it. More information later.)

    Consider the book Lolita. Yeah, a book about an older guy having sex with an underage girl. Even with this normally taboo subject, the book is considered great literature. Why? Because books are considered a medium with artistic merit. Sure, some people hate Lolita and think the book should be banned, but as a society we protect the book because it is art. If this book or any like it do start to be banned en masse, then it’s time to worry about the state of our government.

    The designation as “art” can also influence the future of the medium. If games continue to be considered just simple entertainment for childish individuals, then future games will be of a considerably different quality than if games are considered a legitimate medium for artistic expression. Consider the differences between television, which most people feel is a medium with low artistic merit, and movies, which people consider to have higher artistic merit. Sure, you still have brain-dead popcorn flicks, but you can have a movie like V for Vendetta or American Beauty. Trying to show these types of movies on television just wouldn’t work quite as well, in general. Yes, there are some quality TV shows that have a very strong message, but these tend to be few and far in between.

    And, I don’t think you should write off the protection that the “art” designation provides to a medium. Comics used to be seen as mere entertainment, targeted at children and corrupting the youth. The Comics Code Authority really hurt the industry. If comics had been considered art, and thus protected as speech worthy of protection, then the medium might be flourishing here like it is in Japan, instead of merely being enjoyed by a hard-core niche. (Sound familiar?)

    And, yeah, perhaps there will be higher standards for games if they are considered art, but is that a bad thing? Is it so horrible that developers can’t make lowest-common-denominator tripe to appeal to the widest audience possible? Here’s something to consider: the same restrictions might make the misogynistic attitudes in games and game advertising so prevalent and acceptable these days less acceptable in the future. I, for one, think that would be a great step forward. Obviously, there’s no guarantee, but it’s one possible side-effect if game developers, publishers, marketers, and the rest take their artistic responsibilities seriously.

    One reason why we need to fight for this is because it goes against the usual short-term business goal: to maximize profits. “Art” doesn’t sell well, in general. Sure, people know it’s good for you, but most people just want to be entertained. This is an uphill battle, and it’s unlikely that we’ll get to our goal through traditional market forces. In the end, you only get “art” made by a few daring souls that don’t have the experience, ability, or resources becaues they’re the only people willing to do so.

    Just imagine how different the Columbine RPG could be if Bioware had made it. How many more people could it have reached? How much more effective as a though-provoking work could it have been? Wow, boggles the mind, doesn’t it? But, Bioware would probably never make that type of game under the current conditions because it wouldn’t be accepted by the current audience. The thing is, we don’t even need Bioware to make it, just someone with a bit more resources than someone with a copy of RPG maker 2000 and pixelated graphics that make Meridian 59 look bleeding-edge.

    Making fun games should be the objective.

    No, making meaningful games should be the objective. Some might be fun, some might provoke thought, some might make you cry, some might even change your opinion on something. Right now we focus on the fun because that’s what we’ve conditioned the audience to expect. But, if we want to move beyond that, we need to start thinking about games as art. That’s why this issue is important, especially for those of us that want the industry to become something greater than it is currently.

    More thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 8 May, 2006 @ 6:30 PM

  12. Amber wrote:
    I just haven’t heard a convincing argument yet. (sorry Brian. :)

    I suspect you’d be a lot more interested in this if you made your living working in the medium aspiring to be called “art”. As a game player with enough interest in the current state of the art, you’re likely more interested in having fun than any other high-brow considerations. The thought of games being “art” and thus encouraging Columbine RPG-type games probably doesn’t excite you much.

    That’s fine. Just please don’t try to stop the rest of us that do care about the issue from fighting the good fight.

    Comment by Psychochild — 8 May, 2006 @ 7:16 PM

  13. Sorry for the double post, but Brian you responded while I was composing.

    You make an excellent point with Lolita. But as you know, books like Lolita are never safe, even as they are considered art. Seems like every year we read about some school district or another banning Lolita, Huck Finn, and just about anything by Beverly Cleary. And of course there’s the Patriot Act that lets the government know about any book you’re reading. Check out Lolita lately? I’m sure they’d be very interested in your little pedophilia habit. I can’t comment intelligently about comic books, so I won’t. But I do concede your point that if books like Lolita weren’t considered important literature, it’s likely we’d have never heard of the title.

    Still…this sounds more like a freedom of speech issue than of art to me. I’d rather see games be treated as a form of free speech than as an object d’Art. The two are not mutually exclusive of course, but games that are accepted as legitimate speech are going to buy you a lot more freedoms than art.

    I’m all for higher standards too, but unfortunately corporate dollars rule the landscape. A subject that is near and dear to my heart for that exact reason is indie games. Companies like Garage Games prove that it’s possible to create solid games without having to sell your soul. Marble Blast Ultra is about the most fun you can have with your clothes on, yet was completed on a very small budget.

    I’ll also concede that a Columbine “game” could work. I think a “game” (dreaded quotes because I’m not sure “game” is the right term) based on the events at Columbine could be done in a sensitive and meaningful way. I don’t believe, however, that it could be done by putting the player in the sneakers of the killers and have them murder children. I don’t know what it would look like, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t look like that.

    A recent commenter on my story asked cynically how a game based on Auschwitz might go. I confess that it got me thinking. Could you make a game (again, not sure “game” is the best term) based on Auschwitz where the goal is simpe survival? What would it look like? What hurdles would have to be overcome to ensure that it was sensitive to the survivors, maintained an apropriate level of gravitas, and still a meaningful experience? Could you actually make this game, and have it generate the same reactions as, say, Schindlers List? I know I’m supposed to be arguing the opposite view, but you know me. I’m all over the board. :)


    Comment by Amber — 8 May, 2006 @ 7:20 PM

  14. Amber, we have to stop arguing with each other this way. People will talk….

    Amber wrote:
    the Patriot Act

    Yes, but there are other countries out there besides the U.S. And, one has to assume the current national attitude can’t last forever, otherwise we have much, MUCH deeper worries than what is or is not “art”.

    This is another reason why the “art” designation is better than “protected speech”: it’s more universal. In many countries, “protected speech” is a curious topic, but “art” is much better understood. I admit, I tend to frame most of my arguments in a U.S.-centric way, but there are other cultures out there to consider.

    A recent commenter on my story asked cynically how a game based on Auschwitz might go.

    As an aspiring game designer in high school, I have to admit that I actually started designing a game based on surviving a concentration camp like Auschwitz. I never made it, but I thought it through. The thing is, adding a layer of interactivity where you have to survive is a lot more potent that just reading a book about how concentration camp victims lived. Exploring options and realizing the hopelessness is something a book can only tell you about, but a game can actually show you. (Remember the old writing rule? “Show, don’t tell.” This is it in spades.)

    Obviously you have to be careful with this type of game: you have to get people to empathize with the character they control, so you don’t get them gleefully running political prisoners into certain-death scenarios like some people did with The Sims. You also have to make escape nearly impossible, because people may get the wrong impression of the situation if they can easily escape every time.

    But, here’s a another take on this type of game that is perhaps more appropriate for the current times: What if the game put you in the role of a guard at a camp? What if you had to follow the rules and prepare victims for the gas chambers? Many soldiers said they were “just following orders”, so the game should focus on the player following orders. Yet, at the end of a certain period of time, the game turns around and points out that dozens of people are now dead directly by your hand. You became a murderer, no matter how closely you were “following orders”. Done well, I think this could be a something to make people really stop and consider things. This is a game very much in the same vein as September 12th.

    Perhaps this game, done right, might be the game I could develop as my response above. Hmm….

    The problem is, of course, that neither of these games sounds particularly fun. They both would be fairly restrictive, with lots of failure conditions. The player can’t just get the powerup and win the game, so most would give it a pass.

    Something to think about.

    Comment by Psychochild — 8 May, 2006 @ 11:43 PM

  15. See, now this is much more satisfying than your initial answer. I get the sense I might have annoyed you a little bit, but eventually I was able to tease a more satisfactory answer out. ;) I think you’ve given some solid reasons and definitely a lot to think about.

    Some interesting ideas. I’m skeptical that a meaningful game could be made with player as concentration camp guard, but then again I’m sure that when someone pitched the idea of The Sims, someone else said “you want to make a game about virtual people doing normal things?” Anything is possible.

    Have fun at E3!

    Comment by Amber — 9 May, 2006 @ 7:52 AM

  16. In reference to many of the earlier comments:

    Along the lines of a player actually going through the act of playing a game as the form of ‘art’, consider if a painter created a wonderful painting and then immeadiately covered it and put it in a closet where it remained until his house burned down, etc. etc. Can you then say that the painting was in itself not a piece of artwork because it was never -viewed- by anyone aside from the painter. There are many famous examples of painters and sculptors who do not care nearly as much about their own artwork as those who view it do. Things have changed lately, as artists begin to dmand a certain amount of money for their own artwork, but the idea is still the same. Are paintings art if no one sees them?

    If videogames are art, are they still art if no one ever plays them?

    Comment by Bartoneus — 10 May, 2006 @ 9:42 AM

  17. Send them here ( or provide the ISBN of John Bergers ‘Ways Of Seeing’; I’d then cite examples such as Black & White, The Sims, Shadow Of The Collosus, Darwinia, Rez, Vib Ribbon, GTA, among others, and discuss why.

    Art is a complex subject; at its crudest, any building deemed a gallery can make any object into a symbol of art if the object is housed within, afforded exhibition of space and advertised as such.

    The argument is not so much ‘are games art’, but do those who ask the question grasp what art is now, what art was then and what art could be in the future?

    Comment by GreatBritishProducer — 10 May, 2006 @ 5:03 PM

  18. Louisiana House Unanimously Passes Violent Games Bill

    Note the word “Unanimously” in that title. Think you’d get a unanimous vote if it were violent books? Violent paintings? Take a look at El Tres de Mayo by Goya and tell me that this isn’t a violent painting. Tell me that the blood and guns might not appeal to a young boy’s interest in violence. Yet, we consider this a great work of art and consider any that wish to limit it as an uncultured person at best, a monster at worst.

    Comment by Psychochild — 18 May, 2006 @ 2:44 PM

  19. Columbine RPG dropped from competition…

    I just saw an article, “Exclusive: Columbine Game Kicked From Competition” ( over at Kotaku. In short, the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG (http://www.col...

    Trackback by Psychochild's Blog — 6 January, 2007 @ 7:02 PM

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