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July 05, 2006

Are Games Art?

This issue will most likely never go away. With people on both sides of the debate arguing with various levels of logic -- I think it's a debate that may never be settled. The whole issue has been brought to the forefront of some people's minds by an article in the new Esquire Magazine. In it, Chuck Klosterman the man responsible for Sex, Drugs & Coco Puffs (Link), says, among other things, that video games have few, if any, serious critics. This coming from the guy who wrote a book that was good, but nothing you couldn't see on VH1's "I love the 90's" or "I love the 80's" or "Best Toys"... Seriously, anyone who took a pop culture class in college would have a shot at coming up with the same shit he writes about. So, given that he wrote a book about pop culture, he feels he now has the authority to decided what is and is not part of being a critic.
In the article he states that most video game criticism is merely, "without exception, it's consumer advice; it tells you what old game a new game resembles, and what the playing experience entails, and whether the game will be commercially successful. It's expository information. As far as I can tell, there is no major critic who specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like, nor is anyone analyzing what specific games mean in any context outside the game itself."
He goes on to talk about Gone with the Wind. And how when, "Scarlett O'Hara asks Rhett Butler what she's supposed to do with the rest of her life, and he says that (frankly) he doesn't give a damn. Now, the meaning of those lines can be interpreted in many ways. However, what if that dialogue happened only sometimes?"
I think this example doesn't work in his favor. There is something very appealing to a large number of people to be able to experience a story that doesn't have a clearly defined & or predetermined outcome. A movie serves a purpose by feeding the viewer what she/he wants to see. There is no thinking involved. Even when a movie is "though provoking" it's only because of some ambiguity that makes you think about what the characters really mean. That's not difficult -- there's nothing special or unique about writing dialogue like that. Billy Shakespeare did a little of that as well as the Bible, Koran, and any other religious text you can think of.
What? You're right, dear reader, video games are becoming rather formulaic too. Though within that formula is still the opportunity to experiment. I think it's safe to say I can count on one hand the amount of decent experimental films within my life time.
So, it does matter to some extent to me that people consider video games art. I'm not even asking for "high art". Though didn't Warhol through the notion out the window when he painted fucking soup cans? Jesus H. Christ the lines have been blurred -- postmodernism is upon us and it turns out that there isn't a right answer. So, Chuck, Fuck you for daring to pontificate on what is and is not critical. I can tell you want to sell magazines & I understand. It strikes me as a Ann Coulter kind of move on your part.. But that's cool.

Check out Henry Jenkins blog for a well written discussion of this subject. I should start thinking through mine better .. But, I'm sure my 3 faithful readers will let this one slide.
(Link - The Official Web Log of Henry Jenkins)

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