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Episode 27: The Indoor Kids
Are Videogames Art? (with…
The Indoor KidsThe Indoor Kids

The Indoor Kids #27: Are Videogames Art? (with Film Crit Hulk)

The Indoor Kids fortify their walls & reinforce their chairs, because Film Crit Hulk (badassdigest.com) stops by to discuss the most ultimatest topic of all: Are videogames art? Don’t worry; we don’t get pretentious. (OK, we do a little bit.) HULK PONTIFICATE!

SPOILERS:

Gears of War 3 (1:02:40 – 1:03:48)
Red Dead Redemption (1:06:00 – 1:07:28)
LA Noir (1:13:45 – 1:14:55)

Follow @indoorkids, @kumailn, and @thegynomite on Twitter!

And email us at [email protected]!

Special thanks to Carvin for supplying us with the equipment we need to record this podcast! Check out Carvin.com for more information on recording equipment, guitars, amps and more!

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Comments

  1. nako says:

    Wow, this episode was really hard to listen to. A pedant talks pedantry for an hour. Art is clearly in the beholder.

  2. Conner Fields says:

    This was what I was talking about.
    http://www.opensorcery.net/velvet-strike/

  3. Conner Fields says:

    Also, can modding a game be an artistic expression? Also I heard about this group that went into an online shooter and marched in a peace symbol formation? Is this art?

  4. Conner Fields says:

    Before listening to this podcast or reading all the comments I considered art videogames games with a unique interactive experience that was unique from commercial or genre games. I did however consider the possibility of gameplay getting in the way (I thought it did with Killer 7). Your idea of the theme being most important is interesting. i guess it’s a sure way to separate art from mere design, and film from mere movies. I guess that would make Katamari Damacy unique design, but not art (I had considered that before).
    I’m glad installations were brought up. I’ve considered video games interactive installations that don’t require one to leave home (except perhaps to buy one). They’re multi-sensory and (as stated previously) interactive.
    It seems like Film Review Hulk would have to expand his definition if he were to include games based on the abstract expressionist, or interdeterminate (chance based) composition, or dream based games. Katamari Damacy seems to be created through spontenaity or based on dreams, or drug usage. Moondust makes use of aleatoric (chance based) elements in its gameplay. LSD Dream Emulator is based on Dreams (perhaps hallucenogenic dreams). Perhaps exploration of consciousness or the possibilities chance process creation are themes themselves.
    Moondust: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTk4SqKL-PA
    LSD Dream Emulator:http://kotaku.com/5965668/what-its-like-to-play-a-game-about-someone-elses-dreams

  5. onReload says:

    ^ Dude, why would you listen to something called, “Are Videogames Art?” if that’s the way you feel?

    Also, did you not read/hear the blatant, self-aware acknowledgements of pretentiousness?

    Is your answer to both, “Gee, I sure am dumb”?

  6. Bondo says:

    This episode reminds me of a bunch of people in a bar way over thinking a topic. A critic doing his job I guess but this was just an exercise of talking for the sake of talking.

  7. Brian says:

    I realize that this is a little delayed, but I just discovered the podcast, and wanted to comment on this piece. I think the question of whether or something is “art” is loaded, since the connotation is that something not-art is bad, and something-art is good. I would argue that being a creative medium, videogames are absolutely art, and that they comment meaningfully on themes, but that the themes are NOT always the ones intentioned by the developers. To discuss MW1/MW2/MW3 as a series they say more about the innate desires of american society through multiplayer gameplay than they do in any kind of narrative content. In fact, the one critique I would leverage on the whole discussion is that it focused entirely on narrative content. Being an interactive medium, I feel that the themes that are best explored by games are ones of interaction and the emotion of being another individual. I still agree that the medium has decades of progress ahead of it, but to say that these early works are not art because they don’t fit the narrative definition is far too limiting.

    Having just visited the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore (AWESOME place, please check it out if you have a chance!), my examples probably closer align to that art style than something at the MoMA.

    Just to throw out some quick examples of games I consider to be some of the better examples of art-focused games would be: Knytt Stories, Kingdoms of Loathing, and Katamari Damacy. Apparently I only play games that begin with the letter ‘K’. Simcity – there’s another one.

  8. DrdrMD says:

    Hulk. Do you write for cracked.com? Did you post an article about comments this week? It very much looks like your thought process and argumentation. Besties.

    • FILMCRITHULK says:

      HULK LAUGH. NO HULK NO WRITE FOR CRACKED. AND ACTUALLY HULK DID SEE THAT BUT DIDN’T READ. HULK HAS AN IN-PROGRESS COLUMN ON SAME THING AND DIDN’T WANT TO READ IN CASE OF OVERLAPS AND STUFF. BUT HULK’S BASIC PHILOSOPHY THAT IF ONE REALLY JUST WANTS TO COMMUNICATE THEIR IDEA, THAN GETTING SMASHY WITH COMMENTERS JUST NOT FUNCTIONAL. AND IF YOU JUST START BEING NICE TO MEAN COMMENTERS, USUALLY THEY COME AROUND. AND IT NOT SOME INSINCERE TACTIC. IT JUST ABOUT COMMUNICATING THE IDEA. HULK THANK!

  9. Sean says:

    We Nerds we have a habit of trying to classify things to much in an effert to understand them (A very good trait) but that doesn’t always work with art. Art refuses to be categorized. Artist will always come forward to challenge whatever you attemped you make to define it like when Marcel Duchamp hung a toilet on a wall as art to challenge conventions about what is art. The definition of art is different within every individual which what make it awesome. This of course drives over analytical right brain thinkers insane because every thing need a definition. I mean if you what to nail down the definition of art you might as well try the meaning of life.

    I think you guys are over thinking the arkham city debate, have you ever been to a prison? Prisoners don’t sit around talking about poetry they are in an over drive protective state pumping out adrenaline and testosterone in an effort to seem manly in order to hide all perceived weakness. Being polite and a gentleman doesn’t get very far in prison. If you want further examples wall any women through a cell block and the things spouted are the most graphic, vile, and disturbing things you have every hear in you life.

  10. DrDrMD says:

    Hulk, I have no idea why I was so riled up. Thanks for the response, I appreciate the acknowledge met. I interpreted your comments as disregarding bad art and not allowing for bad art, as did a couple of commenters after me. However, I was needlessly pedantic and grating. The inherent one-sidedness of listening to a podcast, especially when you are particularly interested in the topic, allows a listener to sit there and become more and more frustrated — even when that frustration is against all logic. Thanks for the compelling episode, keep up the good work.

  11. FILMCRITHULK says:

    DRDRMD – (FIRST COMMENT RESPONSE) HEY THERE. SO THERE A FEW MATTERS OF CONFUSION HERE. FIRST OFF, HULK’S ARGUMENT WASN’T SO MUCH ABOUT SAYING VIDEO GAMES NOT ART, BUT MORE ABOUT WHAT THEY CAN DO TO BECOME MORE-FOCUSED, SHARPER PIECES OF ARTISTIC CONTENT (OBVIOUSLY, JUST IN HULK’S OPINION) AND TO SAY THE MONA LISA DOESN’T HAVE THEMATIC ELEMENTS IS A COMPLETE MISUNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THE MONA LISA IS AND WHY IT HAS ENDURED FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS. FOR ONE IT ACTUALLY SAYS A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT ABOUT ITALIAN GENDER AND CLASS POLITICS. AND REGARDING YOUR GOYA ANALOGY YOU SEEM TO BE EQUATING “THE MERE OF APPEARANCE OF VIOLENCE” WITH THINGS THAT CLEARLY TAKE DIFFERENT TONAL APPROACHES. GOYA’S PAINTING IS CLEARLY A COMMENT. COMMENTS UPON VS. INDULGING IN AN EXPERIENCE LEADS TO TWO WHOLLY DIFFERENT FORMS OF AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE. AND SAYING HULK DIDN’T DO RESEARCH IS TOTALLY UNFAIR AND YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT. HULK’S CLEARLY DONE RESEARCH OUT THE BUTT AND BROUGHT PAGES AND PAGE WORTH OF RESEARCH TO USE DURING THE PODCAST. TO BE HONEST HULK KIND OF INSULT.

    (WHICH BRINGS US TO SECOND COMMENT) AND YEAH, THIS PROBABLY MUCH MORE OF WHAT YOU MEANT AND MUCH BETTER ARGUED. TO THE POINT THAT HULK WOULD WHOLLY AGREE. PART OF THE PROBLEM WITH A PODCAST IS THAT YOU’RE SORT OF JUST HAVING AN ORGANIC CONVERSATION AND SO MANY OF THE THINGS THAT HULK WOULD TOUCH ON, OR ALREADY TOUCHED ON IN ARTICLE JUST GO BY THE SIDE. WHICH MAKE IT TOUGH BECAUSE, YES, HULK WAS TOTALLY PRESENTING AN ARGUMENT. BUT HULK STILL SAID TIME AND TIME AGAIN THAT HULK DIDN’T WANT FOR IT TO BE THOUGHT OF AS LIMITING. SO MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION COME DOWN TO THE ART VS. THE ART OF. AND HULK EVEN MAKES YOUR EXACT POINT IN HULK’S COLUMN ABOUT “BAD ART” STILL BEING ART… AND ONCE YOU GET TO JOHN GARDNER HULK GET REALLY, REALLY CONFUSED BECAUSE… THIS WAS EXACTLY WHAT HULK WAS SAYING IN PODCAST…. LIKE EXACTLY… HULK WAS SAYING WE CAN’T IGNORE THE JINGOISM IN CALL OF DUTY AND MUST TREAT IT AS ART WITH THEMATIC RESPONSIBILITY THAT GOES ALONG WITH IT… HULK WAS NEVER SAYING IT WAS “JUST A GAME” AND IT WAS THAT EXACT ATTITUDE THAT DOES WHAT YOU SAY AND IS ABSORBED IRRESPONSIBLY… HULK SORRY BUT THIS IS REALLY KIND OF RIDICULOUS THAT YOU COULD WRITE THAT BECAUSE THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HULK SAID IN THE PODCAST… EXACTLY… SORRY IF THIS SEEMS SO GRATING BUT HULK REALLY CONFUSED AS TO WHY YOU SAY HULK WAS SAYING THE OPPOSITE.

  12. Spray-Tan says:

    FilmCritHulk, you make a compelling argument, that is completely apt in some respects, but let’s take a look at the examples you gave to discount video games being art: theme and message without contradiction.
    There are amazing films that i would consider art, that have similar hypocrisies. American Beauty for example, incredible movie, the message at the end is very clearly about how beautiful the world is, even in a country so disconnected from nature and is so without empathy for humanity as a collective. Yet, there are a lot of things that don’t flow with the theme in it. For example, the aspect of repression was brought up many times, sexual repression, emotional repression, creative repression, that did manage to come to a climax, but had very little to do with the grand theme of things. I could be completely wrong about that, it depends on what you think the characters learned at the end of that movie. Or maybe a better example is Apocalypse Now, the message is simple “War is hell” is it not? Yet, in the end, a positive goal is reached using violence. It does provoke thought like art should, but it’s the conflicting and confusing nature of the subject matter that makes it so powerful. So, here we have: conflicting themes, still considered art.
    There is a pragmatism involved with everything, and i understand exactly what you mean, how can Call of Duty be a meaningful commentary on war, when the game play requires callus killing?
    You’re a very sensible person, or i guess a very sensible gamma-ray version of Mr. Hyde. One who makes very valid points about how the game-play versus the message conveyed must be addressed with more responsibility from the developers. I do disagree that just because you point a sword in Shadow of the Colossus, it no longer qualifies as art. There can be tedious mechanics involved with video games that can detrimentally flaw its pace and message, but when analyzing something like Art, you have to consider not what the definition is, but what its point is. To me, the point of absorbing and consuming art, is emotional fulfillment, i want to be challenged and shocked and taken out of my element. And i know cynical people that were affected by Aeris’ death in FF7, or like me, were effected by the end of Metal Gear Solid, or Ico. Does the incorporation of game play and challenge ruin any merit video games have at being considered art?

  13. Aaron says:

    So you think it would have been great to let hitler conquer europe and let japan rape everyone to death if it hadn’t been for the holocaust?

  14. ironring1 says:

    I found it interesting when you guys were comparing the Modern Warfare franchise to WWII themed games, saying that the latter had clear good guys and bad guys and moral certainty.

    Not a single country entered WWII because of what we now consider the evil we were all fighting: The Holocaust. The fact is, all of the Allies EXCEPT for the USA entered the war because Germany wanted to conquer Europe, and the Americans stayed out until Pearl Harbor. Hell, American heros like Charles Lindbergh and politicians like Joseph Kennedy (John F.’s father) were openly supportive of the Nazis. The hole damn thing was about property just like the 1st World War, and just like every other war, including the modern “wars” against terrorism. The Holocaust only became apparent at the very end of WWII, and we retroactively have rewritten history so that we can look at ourselves as the “heroes” who fought for the cause of good. In hindsight, it was important to stop Nazi Germany, but not for the reasons that we all entered the war.

  15. ironring1 says:

    An interesting thought about sexism in video games in the sexism in the player him/herself. As I’ve been playing Skyrim, find myself not wanting to fight the female NPCs (I’m a guy, btw). There have been several times when some female NPC attacks my non-Nord character, usually yelling “Skyrim belongs to the Nords!!!” (This muddies things, as it’s a racist statement), and I’m all like “I don’t want to hurt you, lady”. Of course, the alternative to me fighting back is that she kills me, so of course I end up fighting and killing her. I have no qualms about killing male NPCs, but there’s that little pang of guilt when the enemy is female.

  16. Aaron says:

    The story told in Call of Duty is art, though. Shitty, shitty art.

    People need to give art room to be shitty and still be art.

  17. David says:

    This podcast started off interesting but you really lost me with the games you talked about. Who was saying Arkham City, Uncharted and Call of Duty were art in the first place? I really feel it would have been more interesting to talk about games like Limbo, Bastion and Braid (you mentioned it but never discussed it). Ripping on Call of Duty for 45 minutes was not interesting and about as helpful as using the GI Joe movie as a reason film isn’t really art.

    I thought the guest did well and would’ve like to hear his opinions on these games rather than the most popular ones that no one was comparing to art in the first place.

  18. sean says:

    Loved this weeks show, I really agree with what kumail said about Patriotism, my whole family feels that way, but i wonder did you get a lot of flak for saying that? im australian and that kind of sentiment isnt that odd but I would have thought that in america it might not go down well.(or have we become an Internet driven gaming society were deriding star craft invokes a furious backlash but decrying jingoism and patriotism gets ignored?)

  19. DrDrMD says:

    Gumz, if you’re going to make a statement like that at least give some examples to back up your statement. Why shouldn’t this podcast address some intellectual issues every so often? I personally don’t want to miss out on discussions like this because of your (apparently) baseless opinion. What kind of discussion would you prefer?

  20. gumz says:

    I love your podcast but this guy and this topic is so dry and boring that I had to turn it off.

  21. DrdrMD says:

    And…I sent my comment too early. I mean that looking for a “theme” as the exclusive litmus test as to whether or not something is art is foolish, not the very act of looking for a theme. A theme or narrative isn’t the primary aspect you should be digging for to determine if a piece is art. Furthermore, you disliking individual aspects of a piece of art doesn’t invalidate it. If I dislike the impressionistic painting style, I can’t deny that those objects are art. Starry Night is art regardless of my opinion of it.
    Art should be defined as any aesthetic object created to evoke an intellectual or emotional response in the viewer or the artist. And that’s even operating under the bias that an audience is required for art.
    Bad art is still art, regardless of whether or not you like it. You can evaluate a piece of art based on its form, aesthetics, context, and probable intent, but you can’t strip it of its existence as art. You should stick to defining what makes a game a great piece of art vs. badly-produced piece of art. Modern warfare is just a terrible piece of art, so is the Phantom Menace.
    As a public figure who says he writes with a didactic intent, you ought to get people thinking about the various aspects of art in video games and provide them with some tools for analysis. Skyrim is aesthetically a great piece of art but it isn’t a great piece of narrative — discern this instead of saying that it isn’t art.

    A game that leads to great frustration is still evoking a reaction, why is this not art? The above Goya painting depresses me but also excites me, it is still art, even viewed in a vaccuum without a sense of wider meaning of context.

    Check out the famous critic John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction. He agrees that the greatest art is a theatre that tests human ideas, and that the best art deals with its themes responsibly.
    http://www.amazon.com/Moral-Fiction-Harper-Torchbook–5069/dp/0465052266/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326597600&sr=8-1
    He does not, however, decide that he is the sole arbiter of what is or is not art. He addresses the ideas in terms of evaluating all art. Disregarding bad art is giving it more influence. Ignoring the jingoistic tendencies of Call of Duty because it’s “just a game” allows it to fly under the radar and permeate our society with idiotic ideas. You need to take this question deeper and give a set of evaluative tools or you’re misusing your influence.

  22. DrDrMD says:

    I just want to point out that looking for a “theme” in artwork is a foolish idea. What is the “theme” of the Mona Lisa? How about Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain?
    Additionally, you are saying that Bioshock isn’t art because you don’t like the theme evoked by shooting hordes of people in the head? What about Goya’s painting of two men beating each other to death with clubs?
    http://chef-doeuvre.blogspot.com/2006/11/goyas-black-paintings-two-men-fighting.html
    I think you’re doing games a disservice. Xenosaga is art, Final Fantasy 7 is art. Why don’t you research the artists who have made video-game installations? There are many. You aren’t breaking new ground here, Hulk, and you didn’t do your research.

  23. Matt Handrahan says:

    Thanks for the kind words, HULK, and no offence meant. The episode’s focus on commercial games didn’t necessarily come across as a conscious choice, but I shouldn’t have made any assumptions.

    The mode of internet discussion is often irritable self-righteousness, but I tend to aim for playfully frank. As you can see, it doesn’t always work out.

    As a critic, though, it’s really worth digging into the critical discussion among game designers at the moment. It’s a bit like cinema in the early part of last Century, when people like Griffiths and Eisenstein were trying to figure out the fundamentals. The chance to watch a medium grapple with its own nature as it tries to find widespread acceptance only happens every hundred years or so, so it’s a special time. I guess I was just trying to assert (too forcefully, perhaps) that the really interesting work is being done outside of AAA development.

  24. FILMCRITHULK says:

    REED – AWESOME COMMENT. REALLY SPOT ON. HULK THANK.

    MATT H – 1ST COMMENT – HULK ACTUALLY HAVING A COLUMN GO UP TODAY THAT SPEAK A LOT TO THINGS YOU IDENTIFY ABOUT WHAT STORY AND HIGH ART COMPRISE, AND WHERE THE INTENTION AND INSPIRATION COME FROM FOR AN ARTIST. HULK KNOW OF JUST WHAT YOU SPEAK. BUT WHILE IT MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY TO ANSWER IT A CERTAIN WHY, HULK FELT LIKE THE PODCAST ASKED THE RIGHT QUESTIONS, AND HULK GOT OUT HULK’S KEY IDEA ABOUT THE RESPONSIBILITY THAT COMES ALONG WITH ANY MEDIUM LIKE THIS. AND FOR THE RECORD, IT NOT REALLY COOL TO IMPLY SOMEONE “DIDN’T HIT THE BOOKS” HARD ENOUGH JUST BECAUSE THEY HAD A DIFFERENT FOCUS. THE C.O.D. TANGENT WAS LARGELY BUILT AROUND HUMOR. IT’S AN ORGANIC DISCUSSION AND IF IT WERE AN ESSAY IT WOULD BE MUCH MORE REFINED, HOPEFULLY JUST TO WHAT YOU SPEAK OF.

    MATT H – 2ND COMMENT – NOW THIS IS A FRIGGEN PRODUCTIVE COMMENT. IT WORKS ALMOST LIKE A PART 2 TO THE COLUMN AND ASKS THE EXACT RIGHT QUESTION OF “HOW DO GAMES CREATE MEANING?” IF ANYTHING, HULK’S “WHAT IS ART?” QUESTION IS SORT OF REDUCTIVE BECAUSE IT GOES BACKWARDS. IT’S A CASE OF REVERSE ENGINEERING. ASKING “HOW CAN GAMES CREATE MEANING?” IS A MUCH BETTER QUESTION BECAUSE IT PROPELS IT FORWARD. AGAIN, THE IRONY OF THIS IS IT’S SORT EXACTLY WHAT HULK ARGUES IN THE UPCOMING SCREENWRITING COLUMN. BUT AGAIN, GREAT COMMENT AND HULK HOPES EVERYONE HERE READS IT. CHEERS!

  25. Aaron says:

    Have you thought about turning into filmcritdavidbanner from time to time?