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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Are games art?"

Okay, well, first of all, you asked that as a simple question, a simple yes-or-no question, so I first of all should give you a simple answer, which is "Sometimes.", but behind the question is a whole historical, historical sociological sort of way of thinking, which I object to.

See, we say that over here is entertainment and over here is art. And this comes from the class system, right? We've got the lower experience and the higher experience, the one which the lower class enjoys and the more sophisticated one that the higher class likes. And even though these days there aren't such limits on where you get what and you can get really good art or entertainment for free or really cheap, so even now we've still got the… remnants of that class system. And that's the distinction between "art" and "entertainment".

And… you'll probably think I'm stupid for saying this, but there isn't really… that's not a clear distinction at all. It's arbitrary. It's vague and hard to define. And it doesn't really mean anything. If you're making something, you don't say "I'm going to make a work of art!" or "I'm going to make a work of entertainment!", you say "I'm going to make a good work.". The creator is trying to evoke emotions, that's what this is all about. Right? The creator is, the creator of any work, is trying to evoke emotions through whatever means he feels like using. That's art and entertainment. So we say that art's here and entertainment's here, but it's not like that. They're all part of the same field! Creation is creation.

And what people tend to forget is that there is such a thing as bad art. Most art is bad, and you just don't see it because nobody's gonna put that in a museum. You've got experts hand-picking the best of the best out of the past few hundred years, and putting that on display, and we get the idea that art is great. But entertainment is great, too! If you're evoking emotions, you've done a good job, and it doesn't make any difference if a bunch of snobs in the 19th century would call it "art" or "entertainment"!

We say that art is inspiring and serious and world-changing and well-done and significant, but.. If I were to take, if I were to go through the last few hundred years and pick out the best-of-the-best of entertainment, the best magic acts, the best movies, the best comedians, the best videogames, you think that wouldn't be inspiring?! You think it wouldn't be significant? But we don't get the best of the best, we get whatever's going now. So we see it as, like, a scale, where you've got zero and then entertainment and then art, but it's not like that. There's just a scale of quality, and the "art" and "entertainment" the whole… argument over what is art and what is entertainment has nothing to do with it!

There's nothing inherently better about evoking emotions through dance and evoking emotions through people punching each other. Now you probably want to say that I'm an idiot, that dance is great and people punching each other is stupid, but that's the whole sociological thing I'm talking about! What does it matter how you get the audience to feel something, as long as you do? If you do, …bravo. You've done something good. And that's what all of it is about.

So now we have games. Where everything is possible, there are no limitations and set rules. It may seem like there are things we can't do, but that's just because even the best of modern technology isn't giving us everything we want yet. But we'll get there eventually, when the technology gets better. In principle, everything is possible.

So now we have everything and we're still holding onto our little groups. Here's art, here's entertainment. They're separate. And even though gamism encompasses everything, everything we could possibly want from it, we're still trying to fit it into these little boxes. Because that's what we do, from hundreds of years of… experience, I guess. Habit. We try to say "It's entertainment, because anyone can enjoy it!", and then some people say "It's art, because there's this neat game here which is hard to understand!" And we argue about it, moving games back and forth between these two categories which we think are miles apart. Guys, there is no distinction! Games are entertaining! Games are artistic! That's the end of the story.

So when you ask me if games are art, it may be that in fifty years people will look back and say, "All those videogames? All those early videogames, like Zelda and Myst and all that? Those were art.". But I really hope they don't. I hope that in the future we'll be more enlightened, and we'll stop dividing things into art and entertainment.

You could make a game that's similar enough to old art forms that a guy in the 1800's would say: "Ah, that's art." There's nothing wrong with that. Actually, that's really good, to try and be more intellectual or focused on aesthetics. But thinking that that's a whole different world from the "lower" forms of entertainment, and that we've gotta let games be one or the other, that's just wrong. Games don't have to pick a side. At least, they shouldn't have to.

Now, something which makes me… hopeful for the future is that these days, if you're talking about games, you don't talk about it being "artistic" or "entertaining", you say it's "fun". Which can mean both things, because "fun" doesn't mean anything. Entertainment is fun and art is fun. Everything's fun if it's good. So maybe this is, like, a sign that we're throwing away the old categories. And people still hold on to those categories and say that only this can be fun, but maybe that'll go away. Maybe.. Well, I guess what I'm saying is I just hope we get out of this way of thinking.



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