This is part 2 of a three part series on Video Games and Art. In the first part we talked with Patricia Taxxon about her career, being a furry and thoughts on Art. Part 2 continues our discussion and focuses on Roger Ebert’s proclamation that “Video Games can Never be Art” and the state of this Art.
But I ask about Artists because the main topic for tonight is Video Games as Art. In my view or experience it’s not a topic that is discussed as much nowadays so still the biggest “enemy” of Video Games as Art is the late Roger Ebert who proclaimed “Video Games can never be Art”. In my opinion on silly grounds.
I thought about it a little bit since you brought it up, of course if you really get down to it Art is just the word we use to describe objects that are useless outside its ability to deliver feelings and ideas. In that sense Video Games are of course Art. But what does he actually mean, on what grounds does he actually deny that Video Games are Art? How does he define Art?
Well here’s the problem. I would say it comes from a general Conservatism. He tries to define Art, for example he will say an Artwork comes from a singular Artistic will, charitably: direction. But say architecture or collaboration cause some trouble for this criterion. So he doesn’t ground his argument very well in a definition of Art. What’s more telling I think is his response to a TedTalk about three games that the panellist considered Art. Those were Braid, Flower and WACO Resurrection. To which he responds with “One is a shooting gallery, the other amounts to a postcard and Braid is written badly”. In his view Art should also not be something that you “win” and should compare to the works of the “Great Poets, Filmmakers, etc”.
For the record, I think Video Games are very young Art and a lot of the examples people bring up for Video Games being Art are weak I think. I can’t imagine Roger Ebert being convinced by Braid. It’s a puzzle game where you get to read a book at the same time. I think to make a compelling argument for Video Games being Art you have to give something that is fully unique to itself. It has to be insular. A statement for the medium. That form of Game-Art I think is very young. Interaction itself as a mode of expression. I talk about Celest a lot and I don’t think that would convince Roger Ebert either because it’s a nice story and a nice time, well designed but it doesn’t really seek to challenge or confront you in a way that exists because it’s a Video Game. It’s very frictionless fun. So if Roger Ebert were around right now I wouldn’t reach to Braid or Bioshock I think.. I would give him a copy of Stephen’s Sausage Roll. [Laughs]
Hmm, what do you think would that accomplish?
Okay I think, Stephen’s Sausage Roll is such a focused, disciplined piece of Design, and makes subversive, confrontational choices without much of a narrative. There’s a small poem at the end. But the way it unravels its own mechanics and world I think is a much more compelling argument for Video Games than simply “Game with good story”. Maybe the Witness. I think it’s a more holistic argument for its status as Art than Braid is. And when Ebert was alive games were even younger than they are now. To me Art is simply a thing that gives you feelings but that’s clearly not the discussion Ebert wanted to have.
Now he does address the argument of Games being young, for example he says that the 1902 “Voyage to the Moon” is more Artistic than any Video Game. But what’s overlooked, I think, is that whereas Film gets to draw more from Theatre for example Games have very little in terms of background. They’re much more novel in that way.
This degree of interaction with Art, having this much of a hand in its creation almost is very unprecedented territory. Decrying the medium for having failed to create towering pillars of achievement I think is jumping the gun a bit. I really think that Games are just beginning to form into their chrysalis stage. We have extreme geniuses like Bennett Foddy [Laughs], Bennett Foddy, Stephen Lavelle and Howly.
Coming at it from a different side, you know that game “That Dragon Cancer”? In my opinion, it makes a good case for Games as Art, because ultimately someone decided to express this very difficult topic, to express some very difficult emotions via Video Game. They didn’t make a movie or a painting about it. And if there was nothing to the statement that “Games are Art” then this wouldn’t happen.
If Video Games weren’t Art then it would not be anyone’s divine quest to make a Game.
I’ve been introducing a bit of spicy theistic language into my Art criticism. I think part of making great Art is having humility in the face of your own divine quest. That’s the language I use. Being able to accept where the talents you’ve been afforded will naturally take you to best express this idea that is laying dormant in your soul. The better you’re able to recognize that quest and take it without shame the better the Art is. Because when you do that you’re closer to God in a way. I don’t know, I’m still developing this.
Actually, I think it naturally flows from how Art is. Your line at the end of the Golden Calf was also great.
Oh yeah, I did say “Art is the Lord and Copyright is the Golden Calf”. I was fucking 17 at the time thinking about these things.
Well perhaps it’s corny but there’s truth in it. I come at it from a more “culture studies” perspective but I would also describe it as a religion of objects. As you say essentially, we don’t use the Mona Lisa to crack open beer bottles. They’re important because we impart value on them. Many people probably thought about Art in those religious terms. Kandinsky for example.
I don’t know, I go back and forth on the notion of letting God back into my life. Cause it’s rhetorically useful when talking about art in my… furry video essays. [Laughs]
It’s a good combination!
It does mean that in this video I say that “instead of shielding himself from God’s light he gives us the most characterful and cathartic piece of furry porn in existence. It’s an interesting direction that my philosophy has been going in recently.
Well it’s not necessarily “letting God back in” in the Christian sense, really. I mean the language is there but I don’t think you need to worry about it.
Probably not, yeah.
For something else, we talked about Ebert specifically but do you think there’s something that blocks Video Games from being more artistic?
Well, if anything I’d say it’s less accessible as a medium, in order to make something that’s playable at all you’ll need to dedicate quite a bit of your life to it. So I kinda feel like, the more readily you can soul-bear your shit out as early as possible, that makes your stuff more artistic. It generally means there’s more spontaneity and more experimentation as new voices enter the fray. Of course there are still strange, experimental, scrappy games out there but I feel like in order to make something that is even a little palatable the craftsman has to be prohibitive. Palatability is a lot more easily achieved in other mediums. But that’s it. I think that’s what makes the genre more prone to commercialism, oversaturation, stagnation than say Music which is constantly reinventing itself everywhere.
That’s definitely true. The barrier to entry for video games seems higher, perhaps not technically but practically tends to be. With film, not to say you’ll make a good movie, but all you need is a camera. With games, sure you could make a game out of the AoE III editor but practically to make something that’s actually your own it’s coding, making assets, music…
I’m making a visual novel, which is for all intents and purposes the least labour intensive genre out there. It’s still a massive investment just to get my main cast drawn and poseable.
Exactly, Games are perhaps the medium that combines the most stuff in it, so it’s difficult. Going a bit outside of our topic, I’ve been getting the feeling that a lot of people that proclaim Games as Art come from a tech-bro or nowadays crypto-bro niche. Which is ironic because they have the worst view on Art or how Art should be.
Some people say “of course Games can be Art” and they mean Art as in shining pillars of achievement, the canon, games can be elevated or special, whatever. When I say it, I mean that Games can be Art because anything can be Art. Anything can be designed with aesthetic purpose, it’s very simple. And when I see a certain kind of person that is very adamant about Games being Art it’s more like they want it to be culturally respected, they want to be treated with reverence for having knowledge of the medium. But what it would mean to elevate Video Games to the status of art would mean scrutiny and analysis and coalescence. Which clearly is something that not everyone is ready for.
A thing I would definitely agree with Ebert on is this, he asks “do they [gamers] require validation defending their gaming against parents, spouses, etc. Do they want to look up from the screen and say ‘I’m studying a great form of art!’”. And I do get the feeling from the crowd I described before that they, not even to mock the game, but they want to play Call of Duty and feel like they’re doing something very important.
Yeah and I think, Games as a whole are slowly getting to the point where more often than not you will be enriching yourself when you sit down with one. I really think sitting down with Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy is a culturally enriching experience because it’s a dialogue, you sit with it for a while and it provokes feelings very directly with its design. There is no story, it’s just a static sculpture that you interact with and feel for yourself. The strange tactile nature of the controls lends a lasting reality to the terrain that you traverse in it. And that, I think you can look up from the screen and say that you are studying great Art, mom. And if that’s what Art is, if that’s the prerequisite for something to be Art then I think Games are getting there. I think for something to be culturally enriching it has to provoke more from yourself than just pleasure like Getting Over It famously provokes searing frustration and aggravation but it does it in a very particular, disciplined way that I think speaks to Foddy’s craft as a designer.
Yeah, I think Getting Over It is a very good example of design, or mostly design provoking something in you. But even aside from that. Take a game like Subnautica where everyone and their mother speaks about its horror. Even if it’s not something that you have to play the whole game to get, it’s unique to Video Games. Certainly there’s something there that’s worth studying and exploring.
Of course, I think anything humans do is objectively a driving force in culture that should be understood and recognized.
Well honestly that’s all I have for tonight, but in honour of Pride month I have one last, lighter, question. Kink at pride? Yes or no?
People should be having sex in the streets at Pride, don’t tell me it’s a consent violation, just look away. There are more adults whose life would be lived more fully involving sexual elements and I think it’s worth some people being briefly uncomfortable before looking the fuck away to enable that on the month that’s supposed to be for the celebration of Queer identity. [Laughs] It’s not a debate. I think someone’s opinions on niche sexuality is often directly correlated with their beliefs on queerness. That’s why I think furry-phobia strongly intersects with queerphobia. In some spaces it’s more socially acceptable than openly finding queer people disgusting. It’s a barometer, a proxy issue, they’ll let you know how open someone will be about people visibly being themselves.
Absolutely, it’s rather obvious that furries have been associated with sex in general but also being gay in particular.
Yeah, the furry aesthetic is queer as hell. And it’s also in spite of what some defensive Youtube commenters might say, is also sexy as hell. It’s sexual in nature. Am I embarrassing myself?
I would say… not too much.
Okay, good. [Laughs] My mind has been blank this entire time.
Well, this was just supposed to be a silly question for the end so I’ll say the answer is a definitive “Yes”.
Yeah. [Laughs] Kink at Pride is fine.
The final part of this series on Art and Video games will be released next week where I will be trying to more thoroughly respond to arguments against the view and ground my own arguments. Thanks again to Patricia Taxxon for doing this interview and thanks also to the people reading this.