The Art School Girl

She sits down on the couch, her legs crossed so she can turn to face me. We've been in the apartment about 40 minutes or so, an artist-sized apartment with hardwood floors, cluttered with newspapers and magazines. The apartment is above the pottery studio and gallery where she works, the walls at odd angles like someone was trying too hard to seem artistic. I walk into the studio, with its kilns still warm from the students who left half an hour ago and its floor with clay spots, then up the creaky oak steps to the living area, and I'm sitting in her overstuffed couch with her inappropriately close, her blue eyes sparkling in the dim light, and that's when she tells me video games are not art.

Everything I'm telling you is true.

I don't normally drop the "I'm a gamer" line when I first meet someone. I'm not ashamed, but it doesn't typically come into the conversation. It came up with this girl when I mentioned my fascination with new media, such as video games. Video games are becoming more of an art form, I say, a type of interactive fiction that captivates its audience in much the same way that War and Peace, the Sistine Chapel, and Michelangelo's David captivate theirs. I'm saying this to impress her, of course, but I believe it. She doesn't.

"Video games are not art," she declares while grabbing two shot glasses. "Video games are simple mind-puzzles to keep children occupied so their parents can go on with their boring lives. They're products designed to sell, to make publishing houses money, in the same way the next Aladdin movie is." She pours two shots of Jack Daniel's, hands one to me, and drains hers. I follow, listening intently as she dissects the medium of electronic entertainment into an expensive, violent waste of time. Every time she says "violence" she wraps her tongue around the word. I can't take my eyes off her mouth.

Pouring another set of shots, I ask her to define art for me. The Oxford Dictionary, she tells me, defines art as the expression of creative skill through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture. It's both creepy and sexy that she knows this off the top of her head. I ask her what makes Monet's paintings art, as opposed to polygonal renderings of Sephiroth or Cortana?

It wasn't going quite like this a couple of hours earlier. She was just a customer in a coffee shop then, purple streaks in her hair and Kafka sticking out of her messenger bag. I don't normally give the customer a second glance, but she came in asking about free trade coffee and what kind of soy milk do you use and Oh My God is that zucchini bread? And at that moment, I don't know, I just started talking. You wouldn't know it from what you've seen here, gentle reader, but I can charm.

It's strange to see how others (Peter Griffin might call them "Normies") view us. It's not that crazy to think someone in their mid-twenties might have a DS in their bag; it's slightly high-tech and gadgets are the new black, right? But people get a little more judgmental when they see you grumbling at the floating doctor's head in Brain Age, or when you get just a little too animated after grabbing that last hard-to-reach star coin. They end up staring at us like we're the generally respectable looking housewives who went nuts for Beanie Babies years ago, driving across the tri-state area searching for a McDonald's that has the rare pink dog that will complete their collection.

"Who's Cortana?" She asks, reaching for the bottle.

Video games can be art, I tell her, just as commercials can be art. I point out Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will as an example, hoping to look intelligent while making a debate-winning point. That's a two hour commercial for Nazis, and everyone considers it an important piece of cinema.

Most people hesitate when you mention Nazis. Art school girls, apparently, don't even balk.

"Video games aren't powerful enough to be art. Van Gough, Monet, Dali"… there's real feeling in their work." She scoots gloriously closer. "Can a video game move you?" Her hand finds my leg. "Can a game make you feel?" Then she squeezes.

My head's racing. Well, Final Fantasy VII would work here. People cry in the middle of FFVII; they break down in tears when Aeris dies. But I hesitate for two reasons, the first being that admitting to a Normie that I bawled like a child while playing a PS1 game feels like crossing a social line, and in my head I can see the Beanie Baby woman motioning for me to join her. My heart fills with dread. The second reason I hold back is because deep down I know that talking about a fictional woman, even one as useless a plot device as Aeris, will kill what looks to be an amazing night ahead of me.

Saying a solemn oath in my head to make it up to Cloud and the gang, hoping desperately that my privileges as a gamer won't be revoked, I slowly shake my head. My eyes mesmerized by her mouth, I concede. She's right, of course. Video games could never move me the way her art can. And satisfied that she is right, she leans in and hungrily kisses me.

Okay, that part I made up.

Comments

Asz wrote:

["They" see us getting emotional over a game, yelling out in frustration or joy, ect. and instantly draw comparisons with the raving lunatic talking to himself, weraing his glasses upside down, with only half a sock on walking downtown.

Well, it's not like football or baseball players don't do the same thing. So the heck with they.

I don't see why video games can't be modes of expression and qualify as good art, but how many actually do? There's a lot of borrowed visuals and stories from movies and books in video games, and generally derivative imitations are justly considered crap by critics. Narratives in games often seemed bareboned and merely set up, as Staats said, to prepare a person to engage in jump, shoot, fire, and level as part of a game. Games generally aren't considered as art. Chess isn't, shooting free throws isn't. Firing guns at targets isn't. So why should their digital equivalents be viewed as art?

Funkenpants wrote:

Games generally aren't considered as art. Chess isn't, shooting free throws isn't. Firing guns at targets isn't. So why should their digital equivalents be viewed as art?

Nobody is arguing that the act of playing a video game should be considered art. It is the creation of these things that is the art.

Danjo Olivaw wrote:

Nobody is arguing that the act of playing a video game should be considered art. It is the creation of these things that is the art.

I know. But I wouldn't say the creator of Texas Hold Em or Whack-A-Mole was an artist because he created a game of skill that people play, and video games appear to have more in common with those two games than with War & Peace.

Video games may contain artistic elements, but typically those can be separated out from the whole and evaluated independently. As a coherent work, most video games aren't art. I didn't say that one can't qualify as art, just that most don't seem to be intedned to act as works of art rather than as a test of skill like other games.

Funkenpants wrote:

I didn't say that one can't qualify as art, just that most don't seem to be intended to act as works of art rather than as a test of skill like other games.

Sounds good.

I don't care about art or it's definition. I like something, or I don't. I like some movies, some commercials, some paintings and some games. Are they art, or aren't they. I don't give a rats ass.

And yes, games do bring up emotions, in Baldur's Gate 2, that Aerie NPC really made me want to kick her ass with all her whining.

Hmm, the fact that the large majority of games are produced to sell doesn't preclude the occasional gem which can deeply move you. After all, Monet painted to sell as well.

Planescape Torment was art. BG2 was art. The Longest Journey was art. Psychonauts was art. And, yes, Final Fantasy Vii was art.

I sometimes wonder if the computer itself doesn't serve as a large stumbling block to the acceptance of games as art. Perhaps some people see computers so much as just a number crunching tool that it may be difficult to think that art could come out of one. Of course, I'd say the computer is no different than others tools such as a brush, canvas, chisel, camera, etc. But the computer seems to hold a very particular place among our creations, thanks to its ability to do so many different things.

Anyway, I've definitely played games that are artistic enough to be called art. Sure, some are simple mind challenges, but some are definitely much more. Lots of people trot out that since a game is interactive, they can't be art. To which I say hooey, ALL ART IS INTERACTIVE. If not for the interaction between the creation and the observer, art wouldn't exist at all. It's that very perception and processing of what we've seen, thinking about it and reacting to it, that makes it art in the first place. Otherwise, it'd just be colored blobs on a canvas, or a lump of rock pounded on until it looked like something else.

And I bet the author's result would have been much less steamy if he had posited the notion that pottery couldn't possibly be art...

I'm pretty confident that given a few hours and a handful of really good games, I could easily convince anyone, almost regardless of their definition of "art," that computer and video games provide the same artistic expression and value as music, cinema, theater, photography, whatever. And I believe that ultimately, art students and artists would be particularly easy to sway.

I think most of the debate on the subject is a result of lack of exposure to either art in general or video games in particular. I'm honestly at a loss as to how anyone with significant experience with both could fail to make the connection.

What a great read!

Video games are art. Period. Some art is there just for it's own sake. Other art is there specifically to invoke an emotion. Fear, Fun, Tension, Excitement. As long as we feel something about it, it can be art. Indifference towards our games is all we need fear.

While I am inclined to agree, I am sometimes caught by a standard basic definition of art: Art should convey an idea or concept. What message is Pac-Man trying to convey, if you are not a glutton ghosts will catch you*? Is Robotron 2084 trying to warn me about the dangers of allowing technology to go too far? What emotional context should I put FIFA 2006 in?

Now I can accept GTA as art, it's social commentary, but Garfield 2 for the GBA? I guess there are illustrations in it, but y'know, is it art? Maybe not so much. Is it a difference between just good and bad art? Or is one art and the other merchandising?

There was a developer who came out a few weeks back and said, I'm paraphrasing, "I'm not an artist, I'm a businessman, I am paid to make these things, if the company tells me to put a waffle iron in a game, in it goes." Do the games he's talking about count? Should they?

I often liken games to film, but there are plenty of things filmed that aren't art. Could the same be true of games? Could there be games and then 'art games' like 'art films' or 'art comics'? Or do they all, by their nature just automatically count as art? Are games not art, but sports? Or are they, like figure skating, both? This is the basis of my conundrum.

* That'd be totally awesome.

This all brought a question that I am not even sure on my own opinion. We all agree that Video games can be art (it seems from above comments). However, can the way someone plays a certain video game be considered art. Can the way Boxer played Star Craft Brood War be considered an art. Can The way Cloud 9 wins a League of legends game be considered art.

I ask this because many people consider a sport as their art. Many people would argue the way that Wayne Gretzky played Hockey or Michael Jordan played Basketball as an art.

I am not even 100% to myself if I think it is or not.

Bowlringer wrote:

While I am inclined to agree, I am sometimes caught by a standard basic definition of art: Art should convey an idea or concept. What message is Pac-Man trying to convey, if you are not a glutton ghosts will catch you*? Is Robotron 2084 trying to warn me about the dangers of allowing technology to go too far? What emotional context should I put FIFA 2006 in?

Now I can accept GTA as art, it's social commentary, but Garfield 2 for the GBA? I guess there are illustrations in it, but y'know, is it art? Maybe not so much. Is it a difference between just good and bad art? Or is one art and the other merchandising?

There was a developer who came out a few weeks back and said, I'm paraphrasing, "I'm not an artist, I'm a businessman, I am paid to make these things, if the company tells me to put a waffle iron in a game, in it goes." Do the games he's talking about count? Should they?

I often liken games to film, but there are plenty of things filmed that aren't art. Could the same be true of games? Could there be games and then 'art games' like 'art films' or 'art comics'? Or do they all, by their nature just automatically count as art? Are games not art, but sports? Or are they, like figure skating, both? This is the basis of my conundrum.

* That'd be totally awesome.

I think the difference on this is that video games can be an art. Not are an art. Allot of that depends on what go's in and what is meant by the game. The person that coded the gun physics in Bioshock Infinite probably does not consider it himself an artist but the person who wrote the story should. Just as the person that made the paint for a painting is not an artist but the person who painted it is.

Wow. A 7 year rez. Now that's art.

A game can make me feel!

I feel very frustrated when I can't progress through a particular part of a game.

I feel angry when I have to replay a mission with an unskippable cutscene at the start.

I feel triumphant when I beat a difficult boss.

Seriously though, Gone Home stirred up emotions in me that were directly related to the characters in that story: sadness, sympathy, even being proud of them. Plus I felt genuine dread at

Spoiler:

what I would find in the attic

Honestly didn't realize it was a rez. Read it after the reading on the podcast. LoL.

spider_j wrote:

Wow. A 7 year rez. Now that's art.

This article got a Rowat reading in this week's conference call.