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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 theindoorkidspodcast@gmail.com!

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!

Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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?)

  3. 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?

  4. gumz says:

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. Aaron says:

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

  10. FILMCRITHULK says:

    BRTIBBLE – HULK CAN’T BELIEVE HULK SAID THAT AND IT WAS A GAME! HULK MAY EVEN THINK HULK HAD PLAYED IT WHEN HULK WAS YOUNGER (GUESS IT DIDN’T MAKE AN IMPRESSION?) BUT THAT GAME CLEARLY MAKE A GREAT CASE FOR HOW “GAMING” IN IT’S MOST SIMPLE FORM INSTANTLY ALTERS THE THEMATIC MESSAGE OF THE GAME! HULK PRETTY SURE THAT THING NOT SAYING WHAT THE MOVIE DID.

    GOBIKAHN – GREAT COMMENT. HULK SORT OF JUST ALLUDED TO IT BEFORE DISCOUNTING IT, BUT YOU ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. WHEN HULK SAID IT “ART IS ANYTHING WE WANT IT TO BE.” THAT IS MOST CERTAINLY TRUE AND HULK LOVE A HUGE NUMBER OF ARTISTS WHO PERSONIFY THAT. IT’S JUST IT’S A DEFINITION THAT HULK THINK NOT BREED THE MOST DYNAMIC, INTERESTING GAMES. HULK KEEPS USING THE WORD “PRACTICAL DEFINITION” BUT REALLY THAT JUST MEAN TEACHING DEFINITION. HULK JUST THIS THIS UBER-SPECIFIC-BUT-NOT-MEANT-TO-BE-LIMITING DEFINITION CREATES THE BEST POSSIBLE VIDEO GAMES. STUFF LIKE BIOSHOCK, BRAID, AND RED DEAD. BUT AGAIN, GREAT COMMENT AND YOU VERY MUCH RIGHT. HULK JUST HOPE WHAT HULK WAS DOING COMES ACROSS TOO! HULK THANK!

  11. Matt Handrahan says:

    Actually, I’d like to propose a topic for a future podcast: How do games create meaning?

    It seems to me that this is a far more pertinent question than whether or not they qualify as ‘art’, not least because you’d probably need to find an answer to that before the great art debate can even begin.

    The way games ask you to kill hundreds of bad guys while simultaneously reassuring you that you are, in fact, a laidback everyman hero was mentioned a couple of times in this episode. The more cerebral game designers call this phenomenon ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ – the clash between a game’s ludic elements (the stuff you play) and its narrative elements (the stuff you are told).

    Resolving this issue is widely discussed in the games industry, and while a number of independent games have proved that it’s possible, very few mainstream games have done so.

    However, certain high-profile games contain examples of how it might be achieved. Bioshock is one example – a game with Randian objectivisim at the core of its narrative, with gameplay mechanics that explore choice and self-empowerment in various ways. But Bioshock drops the ball towards the end.

    A more complete mainstream example of gameplay and narrative working in harmony is Far Cry 2, which pairs its settiing (an unnamed African country being torn apart by civil war) with arguably the most nihilistic and uncompromising gameplay mechanics ever seen in a mainstream game. It isn’t perfect, but every second makes you feel like an amoral mercenary in an oppressive, hostile landscape. Far Cry 2 makes sense in a way that very few games do, and it raises the equally interesting question: do games have to be fun?

    (I don’t think they do, no more than all films should be comedies.)

    The thing to remember is that interactivity separates games from other media, just as editing separates cinema. There are numerous ways of conveying meaning through cinema, of course, but mise-en-scene, performance, dialogue and so on are all evident in theatre, painting, photography and other media. Editing is what makes cinema unique, and where it’s fundamental meaning is created. Interactivity is what makes gaming unique, and therefore the most engaging stories will not be those told to us by Naughty Dog or Bioware, but those we create for ourselves through gameplay.
    This episode missed that point, discussing only games with either a single linear, authored narrative like Modern Warfare, or games with numerous linear, authored narratives like Mass Effect and Skyrim – essentially, defining art in games based on their understanding of art in other media.

    In each example, the game tells its story as a film would, rather than allow the narrative to arise from your actions in the game. This is not a passive medium, yet the majority of games require you to stand still while it tells you what’s going on now and what happens next.

    Clint Hocking, the creative director of Far Cry 2, is fascinating on this topic, and he speaks all over the world about how, if games are to fulfil their creative potential, the industry needs to concentrate on figuring out how to create meaning purely through gameplay, and not a grab-bag of passive storytelling tropes. On his excellent blog, Click Nothing, Hocking ponders Far Cry 2’s buddy system, which was intended to evoke the sort of feeling inspired by the scene in Saving Private Ryan where the Jewish soldier Wade is stabbed by a Nazi – a narrative technique that contradicts the fundamental nature of what gaming is all about.

    “I am conceptually opposed to going too far down this path of using narrative techniques – not because we can’t make our games much more emotionally engaging than they are currently – but because we already know the limits of this approach. By mastering these narrative techniques and wedding them to our designs (as we did with the Buddy System in Far Cry 2 – but better) we can arrive at Saving Private Ryan. What that means is that 10 or 20 or 50 years from now, we will deliver a brand new entertainment medium that is as powerful and moving as one we already have.”

    “Ultimately, when I reject narrative techniques in favor of ludic ones, what I am really saying is that I reject traditional authorship. I reject the notion that what I think you will find emotionally engaging and compelling – and then build and deliver to you to consume – is innately superior to what you think is emotionally compelling.”

    So the real ‘art’ of games may be something altogether more intangible than what we consider art in other media. The designer creates a play-space defined by systems and mechanics, the player enters the play-space and explores and tests its limits. The power of the resulting experience is as dependent on the credulity of the player as the skill of the designer, and that isn’t true of any other medium.

    The best example I can offer to explain this is Alice & Kev, a blog kept by a Sims 3 player to chart the progress of the homeless father and daughter he created. It is funny, sad, nostalgic and profound, and not because Maxis, the developer, made it that way. It was entirely created by a player making decisions within a network of systems and mechanics, and extrapolating what the results meant to him. Here’s a link:

    http://aliceandkev.wordpress.com/

    I think EMILY, in particular, will enjoy this.

  12. Matt Handrahan says:

    Rest assured that I have only the highest respect for Jaws. It is, in fact, one of my very favourite films. If anything, this just illustrates how thorny and arbitrary discussions over what is or isn’t art can be. My definition is different to yours, is different to HULK’s, is different to Kumail’s, is different to Emily’s, and when it comes to the appreciation of anything that’s basically the whole point.

    When I say I wouldn’t necessarily label Jaws a work of art, it’s almost a compliment. I’ll take great entertainment over mediocre art any day of the week – as would we all, even the HULK.

  13. SHassin says:

    Dear Matt,

    Please don’t hurt me by putting Jaws in that list. Jaws is definitely thematically rich and worthy of being considered a work of art. I know it gets a ton of flak for killing the ’70s Hollywood era of personal, character-based, thoughtful films but I believe it is just as much part of that era. It was just dynamic and exciting enough to make a ton of money. I’m terrible at comments-based discussion so I will point out a discussion of Jaws that gels with my own interpretation quite a bit. It’s very long though.

    Link: http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2011/08/the-conversations-jaws/

  14. Matt Handrahan says:

    I enjoyed the episode, but it felt like a missed opportunity. This isn’t an insult, so please don’t take it as such, but I got the distinct impression that Kumail, Emily and HULK either lacked the knowledge or didn’t hit the books hard enough to grasp the subject matter properly.

    I have been covering the games industry for various publications for seven years. The whole “Are games art?” debate used to be a favourite of mine, and I can say with absolute confidence that any conversation around the subject needs to move far beyond the mainstream blockbuster games that dominated here. The lengthy discussion of Modern Warfare, in particular, was a straw-man argument – nobody who has given much serious thought to this subject would put Call of Duty forward as art, no more than I would Titanic or X-Men: First Class in a discussion of cinema.

    What about Jason Rohrer’s Passage? thechineseroom’s Dear Esther? Rod Humble’s The Marriage? If you’re looking for artistic achievement in games you don’t start with the admittedly brilliant Fallout; you start with the indies, where individuals and small teams have created experiences that marry gameplay and theme in exactly the way that HULK believes that the medium never has. It doesn’t happen often, of course, but it does happen, and most people with a deep interest in the creative direction of videogames will be aware of these examples.

    (It’s worth mentioning that HULK’s definition of art is fatally flawed. An enormous number of artists go about their work with no theme or message in mind – the point being to create a completely personal response in each onlooker. In fact, many artists become frustrated when pressed on such matters by critics and journalists, who need to see those themes to justify their own role. But that’s another matter.)

    The games mentioned in this podcast are equivalent to The Dark Knight Returns, The Terminator, Jaws, Avatar, and so on – sublime works of entertainment, but if you absolutely had to draw a line beyond which all things were considered art, I don’t think any of these films would belong there. That doesn’t diminish them at all, but the vast machine within which they are created, and the perceived demands of the audience they are created for, are diametrically opposed to the qualities we normally ascribe to works of art. It’s the same with games like Bioshock, which would certainly have qualified as art under HULK’s definition if it were only five hours long.

    It’s a shame, because the sheer variety in the modern games industry is astonishing, and far greater, I believe, than any other entertainment medium. The closest we got to an acknowledgement of that scope in this episode was Jonathan Blow’s wonderful Braid, which, it’s worth noting, meets every requirement laid out in the HULK’s definition, yet was tellingly skipped past in favour of lengthy discussion of a game about shooting dudes made for people who like shooting dudes.

    Yeah, and the most cinema has to teach us is that large boats sink when they hit icebergs.

  15. Reed says:

    Truthfully I was put off by that definition of art, initially… Specifically because my wife is a relatively successful visual artist, but she draws more from abstraction than from thought-out themes. Not that her work is abstract, but just that it doesn’t have a message, and its purpose and the feelings associated with it are determined as it’s being made.

    But of course, you’re no dummy. It became obvious that Hulk not nazi, and Hulk agree that any creation is art in the broad sense, but not necessarily “high art.” The topic of whether games are high art, or “successful, purposeful art,” is the real discussion, and in that, I think it’s a no. Which is fine!

    I was also talking to someone about where the epic mythologies have gone. Every modern literary or film epic is so tied to reality… What happened to the likes of Tolkien and Star Wars? And after listening to this, I realized… Where some great video games are slowly starting to look like higher art because of their style, theme, or feel, the other great games are generally trying to create a mythology. Gameplay doesn’t interrupt mythology… It’s actually enhanced by having a fully fleshed-out world to take place in. And though the Tamriel is a pretty blatant Middle-Earth ripoff, it’s a step in the right direction… With all those in-game books and minor histories, that’s where the spirit of Tolkien is going.

    So, while you have certain people like Stephanie Meyer or James Cameron utterly failing at their attempts to create new myths, we thankfully have people like Todd Howard or Ken Levine forging a new medium for epic mythologies. That’s the sort of art video games really lend themselves to… Epics, created by aggregating other arts.

  16. Bam says:

    Literally say literally one more time! I dare ya! LITERALLY!!!!! I swear you guys said it like 2,000 times during the podcast.

  17. btribble says:

    Most old video games are all gameplay which I think is the “art” that I tend to look for in games. That is, the feeling that I have the ability to control the game and react to challenges as fast as the game can throw them at me. Is inspiration from satisfying gameplay equivalent to the inspiration someone might get by looking at beautiful images or listening to great music? Sure, and with great games, you can get all three at once!

  18. Aaron says:

    What?

  19. FILMCRITHULK says:

    HEY ALL! HULK GONNA RESPOND TO EVERYTHING AS SOON AS GET CHANCE, BUT JUST WANTED POINT OUT ONE THING.

    AARON – HULK TOTALLY GET WHAT YOU MEAN ABOUT THE PROBLEMS WITH DEFINING ART AND IT’S LIMITED SCOPE, BUT THAT’S WHY HULK WENT TO SUCH LENGTHS TO IMPLY THE DEFINITION PRAGMATIC TO A CERTAIN PURPOSE. HULK ALSO ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THE MORE COMMON, POST MODERN DEFINITION GAVE HULK SOME PROBLEMS. HULK ENGAGING THE IDEA, NOT OUT OF SOME NEED TO EXCLUDE, BUT TO EXPLORE. THE DEFINITION IS ORGANIC AND CAN CHANGE.

    AND WITH ENNUI, IT’S NOT A CASE OF HULK NOT KNOWING “HOW” TO PRONOUNCE IT, BUT A LIFETIME OF HULK’S BRAIN STUBBORNLY REFUSING TO DO SO. HULK DO MUCH MORE WRITING THAN PUBLIC SPEAKING AND SO IT COME UP LESS THAT WAY.

  20. Jeff says:

    First of all, love the show. I’ve listened to every episode, and really enjoy them.

    I never comment about anything I hear on a podcast, but I feel I MUST jump to the defense of “Fight Club”.

    I understand how Kumail and Bruce Banner were comparing the film’s muddled message to Call of Duty’s lame attempt at responsibility, however, I don’t believe the two were doing the same thing. I think CoD makes a weak effort to produce a war game with an anti-war message, whereas “Fight Club” is more of a comment on the state of the modern man.

    The message WAS muddled in “Fight Club”. It was so muddled that people think the message was either “start a fight club” or “don’t start a fight club”. I think it’s more of a comment on the modern man, and how he is disconnected from his violent animal nature. I don’t think this topic could have been explored without violence, and I don’t think the film even pretends to deliver a non-violent message.

    I can somewhat agree with Bruce’s assertion that they made the violence look cool, but I do not think it was alluring. The scene where Brad Pitt spits blood all over another person’s face while cackling “YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE I’VE BEEN!!” is enough motivation to make any RATIONAL person stay away from fight clubs.

    That’s all I wanted to say! My apologies for being a total Fincher fan-boy!

    Once again, love the show! Keep on doing what you’re doing!

  21. Heather says:

    For anyone interested, the Supreme Court debated this issue last year in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association – if video games were art, or”speech,” then they were protected by the First Amendment and only the highest government interest could justify interference. They made a lot of the same arguments, including the use of narrative devices also found in classic literature. Spoiler alert, violent video games are speech and won the day!

    It’s worth a read, if only for the fact that the most recent video game they’re aware of is Mortal Kombat, lol.

  22. Aaron says:

    That is, I disagree with the tremendous intellectual dishonesty behind that obviously ego-serving nonsense.

    Clearly there’s a difference between being able to *think of* multiple spellings (pronunciations in this case) and knowing the correct one.

    Dishonesty is ugly.

  23. frankie says:

    you used to get hours of fun out of games, but now you only get frustration and some fun. i liked the modern warfare games. but the only other call of duty game i have is black ops. i got modern warfare 3 for christmas as a gift it was over in 4 hrs 49 min 15 sec and i barely played the online and i didn’t like it as much as modern warfare 2. spec ops was good. over all i have about 10 hours into the game for 65 dollars. and it kind of made me question games. how you pay for hours 65 dollars for a little bit of fun. because now you don’t get a lot out of them there fun but you will either get frustrated or feel nothing threw the game.

  24. Aaron says:

    I guess I’ll add that to the list of things Andrew Jackson said that I disagree with, including “Ethnic cleansing is a useful political tool” (paraphrased from his actions)

  25. la.donna.pietra says:

    Stephen – “It is a damn poor mind indeed which can’t think of at least two ways to [pronounce] any word.”

    –Andrew Jackson, slightly paraphrased

  26. Aaron says:

    I love that the guy on this podcast pronounced “ennui” in-you-eye instead of on-wee. Red flag.

    Here, by way of etymology, is the only true definition of art –

    Skill.

    That’s what it meant back in the day. That’s why things were referred to as “works of art” rather than simply as “art” – they are products of skill. Martial arts, for example, referred to one’s ability to stab dudes. That’s why “the artful dodger” is a skilled escapist rather than a pretentious twat escapist.

    from etymonline.com
    ______________________________
    art (n.)
    early 13c., “skill as a result of learning or practice,” from O.Fr. art (10c.), from L. artem (nom. ars) “work of art; practical skill; a business, craft,” from PIE *ar-ti- (cf. Skt. rtih “manner, mode;” Gk. arti “just,” artios “complete, suitable,” artizein “to prepare;” L. artus “joint;” Armenian arnam “make;” Ger. art “manner, mode”), from base *ar- “fit together, join” (see arm (1)). In M.E. usually with sense of “skill in scholarship and learning” (c.1300), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts. This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc.

    Meaning “human workmanship” (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c. Sense of “cunning and trickery” first attested c.1600.

    Meaning “skill in creative arts” is first recorded 1610s; especially of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1660s. Broader sense of the word remains in artless.

    Fine arts, “those which appeal to the mind and the imagination” first recorded 1767. Expression art for art’s sake (1836) translates Fr. l’art pour l’art. First record of art critic is from 1865. Arts and crafts “decorative design and handcraft” first attested in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in London, 1888.
    Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead. [William Butler Yeats]
    ____________________________________

    Now today basically you have a situation where that original definition has become archaic and we’ve yet to reach a consensus on what “art” is.

    That’s how you end up with hilariously pretentious arguments where people struggle to apply a word whose definition has become completely ambiguous.

  27. Carrot says:

    Interesting discussion on the role of stereotype in games; particularly with attention to the sensitivity that we need to avoid stereotyping others or thinking that portraying other groups (even those we may disagree with) as collectives that can all be placed into the same category is innately damaging. The predominate portrayal of followers of Islam as terrorists, and Africans as violent in these games must have a lasting, if hidden, effects.

    Unfortunately the remainder of your podcast was incoherent, but that is probably my fault. As a Mormon, I’m sure that I’m just too repressed to fully appreciate your discussion about what is wrong with sexuality Twilight. Sure, I haven’t read the books, but since Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon too, I’m sure that I must agree with every point she makes.

    It’s always nice to hear from such an open minded group of people.

  28. la.donna.pietra says:

    Stephen – No, I don’t know what you mean by your statement that most movies are essentially pornography. Could you please clarify?

  29. Stephen says:

    I thought this was a great discussion. I loved the brief part where emily talks about loving the satisfaction of solving a puzzle which is completely removed from some sort of vicarious pleasure of placing yourself in a character. thats one of my favorite parts of games, and i wish you guys would get into more

    also the art discussion, i feel like there do exist games that are art but that doesn’t mean all are. i think that’s true in all mediums. most movies are essentially pornography (i hope everyone knows what i mean by that) but there are movies that are really art. a lot of books are garbage but some are truly art.

    i think games have reached the point of fitting art even to the hulk’s definition. i’d say of the pretty limited games i’ve played braid comes the closest, and i’m sure he’s heard it all before. But basically i think games that are art do exist, even if they are rare, and certainly the more popular ones, just like in any medium, just satisfy more basic desires

  30. Nik says:

    Yeah, I’m finding it frustrating to listen to a conversation about taste/morality in subject matter (regarding the CoD games or Fight Club) being conflated with a discussion about categorization of art. If you can consider a movie a piece of art – a large, collaborative work that will create an individual experience/reaction to each viewer – as well as interactive installation pieces or a production of a play, then I fail to see how a video game fails the test. The interactive gameplay aspect is just one medium used to convey a message/feeling/theme/etc. I feel that the comparison/test has defaulted to comparing the best or representative pieces of art with the worst of video games. There are many movies out there which I, personally, do not consider art, but the medium still has the potential – even in 1902 Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon). Maybe video games aren’t there yet, but they will be. And to get a little more meta/pretentious, the fact that so many video games can evoke such a strong response (with criticism of the themes, morality, interpretation of the base material), argues strongly that they can be considered art. My 2 cents.

  31. Rene says:

    …Is it me or was Bagel meowing like crazy in that lil intro part where its just Kumail prefacing stuff?

  32. SHassin says:

    (Continued from previous rambly thoughts) Now the problem I see here is that because of the mechanics of gaming, games are incredibly limited in what they can say. Think about it: what can you possibly say with a driving game or a first-person shooter? The scope is incredibly limited. Most of the time you will spend with that game will be driving and shooting. And these actions have few thematic connotations. Because of this I think that Hulk’s definition will always be a challenging one for video games to overcome.

    But I don’t think that this is impossible. I’ve plugged ‘Passage’ a couple of times already but before I analyze that game I think it’s a good idea for everybody to play it (also I would take far too long). Instead I’m gonna go for ‘Planescape: Torment’ a D&D CRPG that, I believe, manages to be one of the most thematically unified of large RPG games.

    *minor SPOILERS to follow*.

    In the game you start out as a character called The Nameless One. He has just woken up from a slab in a Mortuary. Apparently he’s not quite dead yet. But he has lost his memory.

    Now the main theme of this game is probably ‘what can change the nature of a man?’ and if the game is trying to give a definitive answer it is ‘amnesia’. But the important point is how it uses the player’s experience with the game to comment on its theme. The player’s choices in the game, and thus The Nameless One’s, are going off a slightly blank slate for this character. Most of the time in “Planescape” is spent talking or reading the main characters thoughts. These are usually used to flesh out both the protagonist’s character and the world around him. These are relevant because it shows the environment in which The Nameless One became who he is and also the choices that he now makes that shape who he is. Even the never-ending dialogue (I love it though) is brought into the equation through a degree of choice.

    For example, early on in the game (Planescape is actually really, really open so I don’t know how many people got this early on, I know that when I finished the game I apparently had not met at least two other possible ‘party’ members and missed at least three dungeons) you meet someone who knew you in a previous life. She is dead but her ghost asks that you find some way to join her. Your conversation options include (paraphrasing):

    1. F**k off you b*tch
    2. I doubt any friend of mine would ask something like that of me.
    3. Truth: I will do what I can to join you.
    4. Lie: I will do what I can to join you.
    5. Vow: I will do what I can to join you.

    Now the last three options, though seeming similar, are vastly different for the player and her role playing (it’s a Role Playing Game, remember?). These choices shape the play experience greatly if you take the time and effort to appreciate them. ‘But what is the point? Does it have any significant effect on the mechanics of the game?’ Not really. But the choices accumulate and alter the player’s alignment (which in turn influences things like what equipment can be used and conversation options between party members and NPCs). But they have thematic significance.

    *MAJOR SPOILER below*

    This idea is also underlined in the final part of the game when The Nameless One is confronted by his previous live(s). He (and by proxy the player) has to re-consider why she made the choices that she did and whether making those choices were worth it.

    Because of games like “Planescape” I think it is definitely possible to have a large sprawling game have a unified theme, but again, it has to tie back to the game mechanics. Without being aware of the mechanics of the game and what they themselves communicate to the player, a game designer cannot create a unified theme and thus use the medium of games to say something significant.

  33. Juan says:

    As for me, I remember becoming keenly aware that I was playing a game of art during the final stage of Rez.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0_qwXD5VaI&hd=1

    You could hang a monitor looping this up on a gallery wall and call it a day.

  34. SHassin says:

    This is going to be a long rambly comment folks, so please bear with me a bit. What I think is problematic about Hulk’s definition for the case of video games is that video game mechanics get in the way of themes. Let me try and explain using the RPG game.

    Let’s imagine that a turn-based RPG game (think Final Fantasy IV or VI) needs to have a unity of theme to be considered art. Both Final Fantasy IV and VI have several main themes in their story. But these themes are not carried over to the majority of your time with the game which mainly consists of exploring and using the battle system.

    The themes of the story don’t match up to what the battle system is telling us. The battle system says: beat monsters, gain exp, level up and get stronger, use tactics and teamwork to overcome large obstacles. What themes can bind these together? Maybe ideas about growing up, getting stronger, taking care of oneself, the importance of family and social bonds, the idea of brains over brawn, facing up to fear, etc. But these are (arguably I guess, I haven’t played either FF IV or FF VI recently) not the theme of the game’s story. Because of this thematic disconnect the message of the work is muddled. The ‘story’ has thematic concerns that are divorced from the game mechanics. And so by Hulk’s definition these games cannot be art.

    Now think about how many of the games that we discuss as art manage to combine their game mechanics and story into a unified theme. I think there are very few of these games out there. I think the most successful of these games are small and short because that helps these games unify themes. As we get bigger the themes and ideas start to diverge wildly. This is why I recommended that Hulk take a look at ‘Passage’ because that game, more than most (or maybe all) that I’ve played, has an essential thematic connection between what it’s trying to say and it’s gameplay mechanics.

  35. dangeraardvark says:

    Good discussion.

  36. NathanS says:

    I just remembered, a genre of “games” (There’s some debate if they count as games in certain quarters.) that don’t have much if any game play. The Japanese Visual Novels. Basically imagine a choose your own adventure book… Only instead of having a choice about every page you get one every ten pages… Or in some every fifty pages.

    Basically the story branches into variation of that story with different ending, the “game play,” as it is, is avoiding a bad ending.

    These have never gone over well in the west were people seem t prefer that games have, at least SOME gameplay.

    The best demonstration of this is the once mighty Adventure Games. Smiler to Visual Novels in that you’re moving through a story, but instead of “take story route A or B” style choose it focuses on puzzles. In these games there is usually only one route and your job is to do al the problem solving that characters have to do in the story. “How do you convince a stranger to trust you? How do you get the bad guy to fall off the ledge?” That sort of thing. this gives the Adventure Games often a greater amont of gameplay, and they did succeed in te west, for a long time being THE genre of choice on the PC.

  37. Kass says:

    Love the “video games will catch up” hypothesis. Henceforth, Commander Keen will be linked to Mary, Queen of Scots.

    Also, it’s older, but I feel like Civ 4 is proof that we’re getting there. Pretty, consequences and the only thing you can’t control, really, is time. It’s a Gene Kelly movie.

  38. Gobi Khan says:

    And with this episode, TIK graduates to officially become the best video games commentary on the internet ;)

    Of course computer programs are Art. And I’m not simply talking of artists who use digital tech as a medium. Underlying the process of computation is a creative mode of expression that is just as rich as anything produced in Rembrandt’s atelier. Think of Conway’s Game of Life algorithm, for example.

    Picking Triple-A titles as evidence of a certain moral slackitude with regard to game design does not negate this fact. The elite publishing factories in LA and Montreal are stocked with top graduates of RISD, CalArts and Parsons who are well-versed in the history of Art.

    But then again, as the recent spectacle of Art Basel in Miami makes plain, Art is barely Art anymore:
    http://vernissage.tv/blog/2011/12/01/art-basel-miami-beach-2011/

    “Fashion is more Art than Art these days. I’d rather buy a dress and put it on the wall than a painting, wouldn’t you?” -Andy Warhol

    “Business is the new Art” -Andy Warhol

    “Politics is the new Art” -Hitler

    “Science is the new Art” -Freud

    “Music is the new Art” -Nietzsche

    “Sex is the new Art” -Vatsyayana

    Ad infinitum. In really ancient times, there were no categories for “Art” and “Science”. Everything was “Nature” or “Religion”. I can imagine a future in which its all just “Computation”, if they even bother calling it that anymore…

  39. Kevin says:

    Great podcast; you guys thoroughly sought out both sides to this debate. I understand why people think videogames are art, but quickly labeling a game as one is disregarding the works of art that came before it.

    The strongest argument videogames have, though, is the fact that they’ve been around for 30+ years, and have built a solid foundation to work off of; you can relate this to an artist who has learned how to paint still art as a child, then goes off to do abstract shit for the rest of his life. Videogames are not art for now, but they definitely have the ability to become so. But the game will not be fun, like you guys said.

  40. btribble says:

    Interesting discussion – it’s nice that we’re at a point that so much debate can be had, compared to say ten years ago when something like “Thrill Kill” would be cutting edge just because it was extreme for extreme’s sake.

    I also wanted to point out that (since the movie was mentioned) Platoon was made into a NES game back in the day. I remember thinking at the time it was an odd choice of a movie license… and I still think it is. :D Here’s some YouTubage of the game:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj84Li0eaFw

  41. Kumail Nanjiani says:

    Wow, great discussions guys. I would respond, but the HULK has got this one, I think.

    I wanna say how commendable (and ironic) it is that HULK can stay so calm and logical through all of this. People calling him a “retard” and people clearly misunderstanding the arguments or “passionately” commenting before they had actually heard the episode. I would have gone off the rails hours ago. So, big big kudos to HULK for sticking to logic & not dismissing even the most aggressive commenters.

    You don’t have to agree with us, but you do have to keep things civil & stop them from getting too personal. Just remember that. I love the arguments; but let’s not get mean about it.

    Thanks all for listening! Love ya lots!

    Kumail

  42. Carleton says:

    Oops, I misspelled “succeeds”

  43. Carleton says:

    Good stuff. These kind of debates are always interesting to me. The thing that frustrates me is when value or quality of a piece of art gets involved up in to such debates, when I think that whether something succeds or not has nothing to do with whether it’s art or not. I’ve heard a lot of people (not you guys necessarily) say things like “That (game, movie, etc) is so terrible, there’s no way it could be art” Basically suggesting that in order for something to be art it has to be good, or successful at what it attempts.

    Except in maybe some extreme cases, no one argues that a bad movie isn’t actually a movie or that bad game isn’t actually a game. They’re just a bad movie, or a bad game. Yet when arguing that a bad movie/game/etc isn’t art I frequently hear someone say “That thing is terrible, it isn’t art,” implying that art isn’t just a type of communication, but a quality of communication

    So basically I think it’d be helpful for everyone if Film Crit Hulk or someone could define not just what art is, but what “bad art” is.

  44. la.donna.pietra says:

    … apparently the reply function doesn’t work the way I thought it did. My previous two comments were responses to Matt10 and dysomniak.

  45. IAmGrossman says:

    It’s Ok Hulk, I think a lot of people played the, listen to the opening argument, freak out, and comment, game. Myself included.

  46. FILMCRITHULK says:

    IAMGROSSMAN – HULK THANK. WITH SO MANY OF THESE COMMENTS HULK WORRY THAT IT MAY SEEM LIKE HULK “LOOKING DOWN” ON VIDEO GAMES, BUT THAT NOT THE CASE. HULK LOVE VIDEO GAMES. THE REAL THING HULK FIND INTERESTING IS THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK AT WHAT THEY CAN DO, AND FIND NEW WAYS OF SPEAKING TO PEOPLE WITH “THE ARTISTIC INTENTION.” AND HULK USE THE LENS OF MOVIES BECAUSE AT THIS POINT HULK THINK IT SOMETHING PEOPLE SORT OF UNDERSTAND. HULK THINK LOOKING AT HOW ART WORKS IN MOVIES IS AN IMPORTANT WAY TO LOOK AT HOW THE SAME CAN, AND CANNOT, WORK IN GAMES. IT’S FUN BECAUSE THERE SO MUCH TO EXPLORE IN THE MEDIUM. HULK JUST WISHED MORE AAA DEVELOPERS WERE INTERESTED IN DOING THAT. FOR EVERY BIOSHOCK IT SEEMS LIKE THERE’S 10 OTHER KINDS OF BIG RELEASED GAMES THAT ARE NOT EVEN TRYING TO BE IN CONTROL OF THE TONE.

    BUT AGAIN, HULK SORT OF RAMBLING HERE. HULK THANK AGAIN.

  47. IAmGrossman says:

    Fair Hulk, very fair.

  48. FILMCRITHULK says:

    IAMGROSSMAN – HULK THINK YOU REALLY, REALLY MISUNDERSTOOD WHAT HULK WAS SAYING. BECAUSE HULK BASICALLY SAID WHAT YOU JUST SAID IN THE PODCAST. WORD FOR WORD ABOUT HOW VIDEO GAMES TELL STORIES. HULK’S PROBLEM WAS THAT SO MANY DEVELOPERS DON’T REALLY REALIZED THAT OR TAKE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR IT, SO THEY MUST LEARN HOW TO CONTROL AND HARNESS THAT MESSAGE. IT’S NOT ABOUT HIGH BROW, LOW BROW, IT’S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING HOW TO EVEN HAVE THOSE INTENTIONS. AND AS A COLLECTIVE MEDIUM, HULK FEEL LIKE THE ARTISTS BEHIND VIDEO GAMES HAVE NOT REALLY EMBRACED THAT UNDERSTANDING YET. SOME HAVE. SOME ARE REALLY STRAINING FOR IT. BUT THERE IS NO DOUBTING THE INDUSTRY CAN DO BETTER.

  49. FILMCRITHULK says:

    DRMRBADGUY – KEEP IT UP. THE EVOLUTION OF ONE’S MIND AND THE ABILITY TO CHANGE ONE’S THOUGHTS IS PARAMOUNT TO GROWTH. NEVER BE AFRAID TO SEE THINGS IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT THAT YOU ONCE SAW THEM.

    NATHANS – IT AN INTERESTING QUESTION. GAMES AND CHESS AND THINGS DO NOT NATURALLY HAVE A NARRATIVE, BUT TERE IS CERTAINLY AN “ART OF” THOSE THINGS, AND THERE IS ALSO WAY IN HOW WE CAN WRITE ABOUT THOSE SUBJECTS AND EXPLORE THE THEMES FOUND WITHIN OUR APPROACH TO THESE GAMES OR WHAT A BASEBALL STORY SAYS ABOUT PATHOS AND HUMANITY. BUT THAT IS DIFFERENT FROM THE “THING ITSELF” BEING ART… IF THAT MAKES SENSE? IT SORT OF A HUGE QUESTION THAT HULK NOT KNOW THE REAL ANSWER TOO BUT THERE A LOT OF ROOM FOR IDEAS.

    SHASSIN – HULK THANK! HULK DEFINITELY GOING TO CHECK OUT PASSAGE TOO. IT ON THE LIST!

    JIM AGAIN – THE ABSURDITY ALL THERE, BUT THE PROBLEM IS THE COD GAMES TAKE IT SO DAMN SERIOUSLY. AS A COUNTERPOINT LOOK AT SAINTS ROW 2 OR SOMETHING, WHERE THE ABSURDITY IS WORN ON THE SLEEVE AND LETS THE AUTHORS KNOW WHAT THEY ARE SAYING IS A JOKE AND WORKS MORE LIKE SATIRE. COD IS NOT SATIRE. IT REALLY SEEMS TO BELIEVE THE ABSURDITY OF WHAT IT SAYING.

    STEVE – NOT AGREEING WITH THE DEFINITION TOTALLY PART OF IT! IT ABOUT FORMULATING YOUR OWN IDEAS OF HOW TO BEST MAKE AND APPROACH GAMES AND ASK WHAT YOU VALUE. IT ALL FUN STUFF. HULK GLAD YOU LIKED!

    ACTION – WE TOTALLY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT, SO HULK’S POINT THAT TO JUST BE JUST AS LAZY IN LOOKING AT AS THEY WERE IN MAKING IT IS NOT THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT. PLUS A LOT OF PEOPLE REALLY DO PLAY THE SINGLE PLAYERS TOO. THE FIRST SINGLE PLAYER IN COD MW 1 IS REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

    WALTER T – THE AGE OF THE GENRE DEFINITELY PART OF IT. HULK ACKNOWLEDGED HOW LONG IT TOOK MOVIES TO “GET IT” TOO AND REALLY LEARN HOW TO HARNESS THE POWER OF NARRATIVE, THEME, AND INTENTION. GREAT STUFF.

  50. IAmGrossman says:

    I can not rationalize how much RAGE I am feeling based on this interpretation of what is and what is not art. Video Games are a medium in which a story can be conveyed. That story no matter how shallow, how flawed, implies meaning and provokes emotion. Therefor the same way there is high brow, and low brow, interpretation of artistic mediums video games falls under the same critique.

    It is actually ironic that someone who marries their knowledge the critique of film, a medium in which was considered low brow holding no artistic merit a generation, or two, ago, is making a similar argument for video games.