Games Aren’t the Final Artform

Are video games the ultimate art form because they have the greatest possibility space?

What? They’re the only art form that has a possibility space, a state space, other than visual novels I guess.

If you’re saying because there’s more things you can do with games than anything else, then I don’t think it’s comparable. I can’t process it. This question seems like it’s trying to preach to the choir.

By possibility space, I mean, a novel, film, painting, etc. can exist inside a video game, so games have rendered all those art works obsolete. In those other mediums, at best, you can empathize with the characters, but in games, you ARE the character, so the experiences are better understood. Why read about a character’s experience of war or loneliness or whatever when YOU can experience those things? Games are the end of art.

You must be a new asker. I’d guess you’re probably either from LTC or Insomnia, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the ideas have spread elsewhere. There’s a lot to unpack here, lemme do my best.

Here are some things I’ve written on immersion previously as a primer.

Here’s the short, you’re not the character in a game. Games aren’t exclusively about controlling characters, many games have no characters at all. Characters are not a concept that is essential to games. The characters you do control are like a car you drive. They’re objects for manipulation. Unreal Engine’s code calls these pawns, a subclass of actors, and I find it to be an apt metaphor.

Next, sure, all those things can exist inside a piece of software, however those things are not games, the game is another thing that exists within the software separate from those things. The software can contain a lot of non-game things in addition to the game thing. Google Earth is a piece of functional software that happens to have a flight simulator in it. I can tell you a couple fun games you can play using photoshop.

Third, software hybrid media cannot render those original media obsolete. This is both because there are many traits of the original media that cannot be recreated in software (like for example, the texture and 3 dimensional attributes of paint on canvas, which some painters use to actual effect in their works), and because software containing a mishmash of a ton of media forms is not necessarily an efficient medium of delivery for those forms. Nobody is going to sit down to read an entire novel in say skyrim or another comparable game. Nobody wants to run an extremely system intensive process just to access that type of information when there are more efficient means of delivery. Same deal with movies/cinematography. You can’t realistically stick a movie in a game without people getting bored of it, even if you’re hideo kojima.

Games are a more specific class of object than software. Games are essentially systems that produce inconsistent outcomes that we leverage in contracts with ourselves to derive enjoyment from attempting to produce specific favored outcomes. The art of games is not a physical or otherwise tangible media. Games use objects like software as facilitators of the contracts we create. Game software is not a game by itself, it is an object designed in an extremely limited way to facilitate the specific functions of a specific game that we agree to play using the software, much like the physical game, Screwball Scamble. In Homo Ludens this contract is referred to as The Magic Circle. We can build software that contains all these mediums, but the game is a more specific thing than the whole software object.

Because you can’t really experience those things through games. You can’t experience the pain of a bullet wound. You can’t experience what it’s like to be isolated from everyone else in a war zone. You can experience systems of interaction that are labeled to be similar to those things, but they’re not the thing itself, and there’s really no substitute for that short of a Derren Brown special (his zombie apocalypse one was funny, as was the recent one where he got people to commit murder).

You’re at best like a tourist to these things, and more realistically you’re opening the cure menu in MGS3 and clicking a bunch of menu options until all the circles go away. You’re still vicariously empathizing through a pawn, or as some have said: a doll, that you are taking to be you. The systems of choice, especially dialogue, are so limited in games that they cannot approximate real conversation. There are always abstractions and this will not change with time.

Due to technological limitations, developmental limitations, and likely limitations in what is possible for a computer, software will probably never be able to simulate a universe to escape into. No developer can make enough content, and no computer will be able to simulate enough to calculate all the intricate physical interactions that govern our reality no matter what those “infinite detail” guys keep claiming but not delivering.

Hybrid Media Software is not the end of all other art forms. Games are a tiny non-encompassing part of that. Games are not the end point or zenith of art. They are what they are, and they’re fine being that.

As a parallel, consider Sleep No More, a site-specific work of theater that is essentially a building you walk through with actors performing parts of Macbeth in each room. The building was changed to look like a hotel. There are documents scattered that you can look through in each room. Haunted Houses are still popular around halloween time and I think some even run year-round. These are a hybrid media form present in real life, containing novels, films, paintings. They contain a type of media that cannot exist in software since it is a live theater production. They could easily shove a donkey kong cabinet in there somewhere and include games as well. Are they the end-point of all media? Don’t be ridiculous.

Concerning games, stories, and art: I see what you mean, but designers can attempt to simulate things like the pain of a bullet wound or the isolation of war. Take a bullet wound for example. Obviously you can’t feel pain, but the designers can attempt to simulate the physical motions of someone who got shot in the leg. He walks slower now. He stumbles. All the while, everything’s going to hell around you. Or loneliness for a more flexible and broader concept. The obvious example would be a “walking sim”-type game, but you could have a game where you’re so powerful, you end up feeling empty. You can’t feel pain of loneliness from reading a novel or watching a movie either, you can merely empathize with the characters portraying those characteristics. Wouldn’t you say that every great work of art was created out of a fear of death or, rather, the desire to use life meaningfully before dying. Videogames do that better than any medium because you can actually die in them or even transcend death. No other medium can even come close to the simulating this desire to live. And then you have games like Beyond Two Souls (a better game than any i-frame cheeser from From) or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (far more interesting environments than any fps), and these games portray so many interesting things about death and the human condition, but are ignored because there’s no shooting every 5 seconds.

At first I suspected you were trolling me, now with a statement like, “And then you have games like Beyond Two Souls (a better game than any i-frame cheeser from From)” I’m pretty sure you’re trolling me.

Designers can’t simulate pain or isolation. They can make mechanics that approximate and abstract them within the limits of what software can do. They can simulate a character that walks slower. They can simulate a character that screams in pain. However it’s still a matter of identification and empathization that you choose to interpret those things that way. You can’t actually die in a game. You can get sent back to a checkpoint. You can have a save file deleted.

Trying to connect the fear of death to a player’s experience of dying in a video game is absolutely ridiculous. On an existential level it might be valid to argue that all art is created to pass the time between living and dying, but trying to jump that to say that video games are the best art because they involve something that superficially resembles dying, that might be connected to a player’s, not the artist’s, experience? Are you high? In what world are those factors even remotely connected?

Your ability to feel loneliness from reading a novel or watching a movie is as great as that of playing a game. These are all very comparable experiences on a narrative level. Trying to prop up games as something special that puts you inside the work is straight up immersion talk and you should probably know how I feel about that.

Not all art is explicitly about death and the human condition, except in the most existential sense possible that all art is about death and the human condition, because we’re all going to die, and everything we do is a part of the human condition.

Games that are about shooting are a part of the human condition. Games that are about placing stones on a board, then removing surrounded ones are about the human condition. Or rolling things up into a giant ball. Or collecting coins. Or walking a tightrope. Or practicing a long sequence of precisely timed inputs for hours on end.

Not all music has lyrics. Not all music has meaning. Sometimes something just sounds nice. Same deal with games, sometimes it’s just an interesting system, and that’s frankly enough.


One thought on “Games Aren’t the Final Artform

  1. treeghettox September 14, 2016 / 2:09 am

    These questions sort of prove what I’ve been arguing for decades: most people choose entertainment not for its entertainment value, but rather because they believe liking a certain type of entertainment makes them a better (“classier”) person and that they gain social clout for their “tastes.” They spend more time thinking about what other people like (or what they “should” like) than determining what they as an individual actually care for.

    Check out this video. Long story short, when humans determine whether they like something, they use two different parts of the brain: one that determines how much they personally enjoy something, and another part that calculates the social ramifications of liking that thing. In my experience, most people that desperately try to define “art” are doing their darndest to argue why they’re a better person than you because the shit they like is “deeper” or “more meaningful” than what you like. They’re developmentally stunted queefs with deep-seated self-esteem issues and this is their fucked-up attempt to address their problems.

    “What I like is art, but what you like is entertainment.”


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