Friday, January 16, 2009

Are games art?

A few months ago, I applied for a job for computerandvideogames.com, which I didn't get. Obviously. Part of the application was to write a blog article on something game-related, and I just found my effort lying around on the hard drive. I was quite pleased with it then and reckon it still reads quite nicely now, so I thought I'd do a dash of rewriting and slap it up. Take it away, August 2008-me:

Monet. Mozart. Miyazaki. Mario? Is it time for computer games to rise tall and proclaim, “We are an art form”?

Gaming is looked down on by pretty much everyone. While all other forms of media, from painting through to movies, can rest snugly in their classification of art – deep, meaningful works portraying great ideas – games are still the idiot children, enjoyed by the idiot children. Lines and blobs beeping their way across TV screens, providing basic stimulation for those of short attention span. Of course, it’s rubbish. I know it, you know it, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Well, first off, games are astonishingly young. Barely 30 years old – by comparison, thirty years into cinema’s lifespan the concept of sound was just being addressed. Paintings were barely into the “stick man on cave walls” era (unless the aliens took all the fancy stuff with them after buggering off and leaving a couple of crystal skulls behind). The leaps in basic technology and general sophistication games have made from Pong through to GTAIV are bordering on the ridiculous, and it’s not surprising that the general perception of them hasn’t caught up yet.

So, is that it? The simple fact that dedicated gamers need to wait a generation or so before their pastime will be vindicated once and for all? Er, well, no. Games actually haven’t made a rosy perception of themselves easy to come by.

Frankly, they’ve given themselves an uphill struggle. The extremely basic capabilities of the first games machines meant that Space Invaders or Robotron or Oh No Those Pesky Aliens Are At It Again 7 were pretty much all they could handle, and this image got burned into the public’s mind and hasn’t scrubbed off yet. (Admittedly such scenarios are still a favourite haunt of games, but at least nowadays they have the narrative clout, invention and scope of Mass Effect or Dead Space to justify themselves. I'll stick my fingers in my ears and yell "LA LA LA" if you mention Gears of War.)

Which comes to the main point – the majority of games aren’t art. Neither are the majority of films. No-one in their right mind would state that Steven Seagal’s Pistol Whipped is comparable to Citizen Kane, just like you can’t hold up Big Beach Sports next to Super Mario Galaxy. But that pesky fellow John Public doesn’t realise that, so he holds up like his misinformed life depends on it. Look at the charts, after all – Ōkami’s nowhere to be seen on Wii because everyone’s buying Carnival: Funfair Games or the latest half-arsed Pixar tie-in instead. (I’ll leave the irony that Pixar regularly create some of cinema’s finest moments but no-one can be bothered to get a decent development team in to honour their films for another time.) And at Christmas it’s the same thing every year: two certain footie titles and a certain racing series fighting it out for number one (will the reader kindly ignore the generally excellent quality of FIFA and Pro Evo as it will cause the writer’s argument to collapse like the proverbial house of cards).

So there we are – games can be art, but most of the time they don’t deserve the title. They will, in time, like the way that comics were finally deemed worthy of dull, earnest essays like this one in the Eighties with the advent of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and their ilk. For now, gamers will have to wait before the art we play becomes justly acknowledged. That’s several years to prepare for a good “I told you so,” and a hearty mocking laugh. Get to it.

1 comment:

SarlogHoms said...

Pistol Whipped is a fine classic of cinema and, while not as artistically frantic or emotionally complex as his magnum opus "Half Past Dead", one can sense some parallels with the likes of Tolstoy or even Zola and the spectacle is truly breathtaking.

Steven Seagal is undoubtably a genius.