Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Yes, But Is It A Cloverleaf?

The other day Roger Ebert declared that videogames are not, and can never be art. I love ya, Roger, but you're wrong on this one. Really, though, we're arguing about the meaning of a word, "art".

Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob, takes issue and gives a fairly broad definition of art:

Art is more about having a message, about communicating something to people, than about the medium the artists chooses. Anybody who declares something “not art” because they object to the medium is kidding themselves. Art is not the medium. Art is the message, the intent.

I have an even broader definition of art, one I got from my kids' high school art teacher (and host of a couple of art appreciation trips to the orient that I went on with him).

Whenever humans alter their environment, art is there. Any decision made with an eye to someone's reaction (not necessarily pleasing, no no) there is art.

"Is this art?" is the wrong question. It's always the wrong question. The right questions are "How does it affect me and others?" and "How successful is it at achieving its aims?"

And yes, I do believe that freeway overpasses are art. I do not believe that all freeway overpasses are equally successful art, though. And its true that I find a painting by Magritte more interesting. Mostly.

Roger says that Bobby Fischer didn't consider his chess games to be art. Well, maybe not, but lots of people who play chess and replay his games most certainly do think of them as art. I think maybe its best that creators not be too self-conscious about their art, even painters and filmmakers. "Is this art?" is at least one step away from what you ought to be asking yourself when you are creating something. Maybe more.

Ok, here's five games I think are pretty interesting and influential pieces of art.

  1. Adventure. By Will Crowther and Don Woods. Seemingly simple minded, this was the first text-adventure game and succeeded in capturing the imaginations of a lot of us. Simple descriptive passages evoked a quite particular mood.

  2. Myst. Who remembers Myst? It was Mac-only, a complete pig in terms of resources, and a completely compelling multi-media experience.

  3. Super Mario 64. The importance of this game is that it explored 3D not just in terms of visuals but in gameplay, too. Succeeding wasn't about finding the exact timing and sequence of button pushes, but to find one solution among many.

  4. Portal. This game has more to say about our life, alienation and freedom than most paintings. Could the ideas in Portal really be communicated any more effectively as a film? I don't really think so.

  5. Rock Band: The Beatles. Derived work at its finest. Models, sets, audio outtakes from studio masters, fantasy sequences. All of it distills the essence of the Beatles in the format of a video game. It's an impressive piece of work, and it engages one utterly.

So, in the end, I think Roger needs to either play a few more video games or shut the hell up. And I say that with the greatest affection.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my favorite intersections that, at least in terms of giving directions. This is where you can be on Highway 101 northbound and choose to take either I-280 northbound, which heads west, or I-680 northbound, which heads east. Gets the out-of-towners every time.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Myst was also available on the PC. It's an interesting game, because it had nearly perfect timing: it was a game that had enough content to fill up a CD (couldn't be put on a reasonable number of floppies), so it was a game that really took advantage of the CD drive. Salespeople pushed the game when people were buying computers with the new-fangled optical drives, so it sold an amazing number of copies.

But, yeah. Ebert is out of his depth here. Funny since he's pretty much echoing the arguments people made about movies and how they couldn't compare to "real art" like theater, etc. I have to believe that someone with Ebert's background can't be foolish enough to not realize that. So, I suspect he's trolling for attention at this point.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Rita said...

No argument from me. But another angle to think about when considering art:

When I was in high school, absorbing the music that would form the soundtrack to so much of my life, my best friend (to this day) told me something that took a while to sink in, but that I carry with me and which really resonates with me now.

He said, "Art exists despite the artist." Meaning that art is not only defined by intent on the part of the artist, but also by inference on the part of the observer. So if the observer finds a message in the work - a message which was not the intent of the artist - it is still an equally valid interpretation of said work. The artist created that message despite her/his ignorance of it at the time of creation.

I find this phenomenon fascinating as a means of understanding that art has a life of its own. We, as artists, can create. But we don't have complete control over our creations. They will surprise us and turn out to be many things beyond, and in addition to, that which we intended.

In fact, according to this perspective, art exists even when its creator wasn't trying to create "art" at all. If anyone sees it as art, then it is art. Which means that so much of every moment of every day is art, if we choose to see it so.

I fucking love that ;)

10:27 PM  
Blogger Toldain said...

@tagn, I was wondering if you'd take note of which cloverleaf I used.

@psychochild I could swear that at least for a time Myst was Mac-only. But the size of the PC market was too strong.

Roger is trolling? Maybe. But I think he's just got the thing that someone who's spent his life studying one form gets.

@Rita Oddly, I made much the same argument in comments on another blog just a few days ago. It's beautiful though, isn't it?

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I could swear that at least for a time Myst was Mac-only.

Quite possible. I remember that is was originally written for HyperCard, and early bit of Mac software. But, it got tremendous sales on the PC because of the CD-ROM thing I mentioned above.

But I think he's just got the thing that someone who's spent his life studying one form gets.

That might be the fig leaf he has to hide behind, but let's face it: he needs to be high profile to do his job. Making controversial statements gets him attention. He already knows this is a hot-button issue, and he's studiously avoiding dealing with any challenges that might contradict him. He even admitted that he had the upper hand in his latest article: he was writing whereas Kellee Santiago, the target of his latest article, had to give a presentation.

All this added together makes it pretty obvious to me that he's trolling for attention.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Toldain said...

Fair enough, Brian. I tend to associate the "troll" concept with message boards and anonymous posters, but of course it applies to other forms of communication as well.

7:50 AM  

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