Monday, June 08, 2009

Regarding Shadow of the Colossus...

Tycho, at Penny Arcade, had this to say:

The dread starts at the very beginning, simmering in your gut, and it never gets better ever - hour upon hour. You know immediately that you are engaged in something like evil, if not evil itself, but our appetites as players demand that we seek objectives and conquer them - and the game scourges us for this dereliction of conscience. The technology at work often obscured the game itself, but the emotional wavelength has resounded years after the fact. At this late hour, I can recall no camera foibles or performance valleys. All I can recall now is the black bargain, and concentric waves of anguish.

And that's exactly why people like me point to that game as an example of how games can become art.


Mark said...

Agreed, though I have to admit that I eventually stopped playing. I kinda had a good feel for where it was going, and I'm not sure I want to get there. Also, there are some things about the game's mechanics that annoyed me, but that's another topic:p

It's funny, but while I consider this game "high art" (whatever the hell that means), I never really had a problem with considering games as art...

aug said...

High art? You want to put SotC in the same category as Premier Deuil and Clair de Lune?

All games are art, but they're more akin to arts like carpentry than sculpturing, more akin to painting portraits than abstracts. That's because of the artistic freedom the medium holds: Malevich had the freedom to paint a work most people didn't like - some even hated - what stems from the fact that he was free to abandon all aesthetics people use to experience art. But if you create a game in that vein, people won't have fun with it, and if you don't have any fun with it, what you're left with is software art.

Because the definition of games itself narrows them down so much, it heavily limits the artistic freedom given to the developers.

Roy said...

I don't know, aug.

Personally, I don't consider all games art. Not unless we want to use "art" to refer to all things that human beings create. They're art in-as-much as they involved some creative input and art direction, etc, but I can look at a game like SotC and see a significant difference between it and a game like, say, Destruction Derby.

But I don't buy this notion that you can't have fun with high art. Games do come in an incredibly variety. Other than the fact that both are games, there's not a whole lot in common between, say, Vib Ribon and SotC, or between Killer 7 and Braid.

And there are people making games that they know won't necessarily be "fun" in a traditional sense--games like "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" or "Super Columbine Massacre RPG" aren't intended to be "fun" in the normal sense of the word--in the former, it's impossible to win. You can only lose with dignity. In the later, it's intentionally meant to be uncomfortable and disconcerting.

I don't see, though, that "video game" is really that much more limiting than "sculpture" is.

aug said...

It's not that you can't have fun with high art. It's the constant need to please in the way people expect games to please them that's making all artistic content secondary.

You could compare it to pop music in its priorities. Everything is ancillary to the base structure of simple harmonic progressions and rhythms. You can either create a song with that certain kind of appeal or a song completely devoted to your artistic vision. This vision can be appealing when viewed in the usual aesthetic, but more often than not it doesn't.

Roy said...

I still don't think I agree, though.

You're assuming that a person's artistic vision has to be out of synch with the desire to please people, and I just don't accept that as being true. Consider the works of Shakespeare, which are largely regarded as some of the most significant and valuable pieces of theater... well... ever. They're valued as the highest of the high art. But, they were largely created as pieces of pop-culture theater, for general audiences or as commissioned pieces.

Music is created to be listened to. Films are created to be watched. Video games are created to be played. The type of enjoyment that you get out of them varies, of course, but I don't see anything special about games that makes them more or less capable of being a means to an artistic end.

Also: "It's the constant need to please in the way people expect games to please them that's making all artistic content secondary".

This suggests that there's one way that people expect games to please, and that's no more true than if we tried to suggest that there's only one way for film to please.

You compare it to pop music, but that's not a like comparison. You're comparing a specific genre of music--pop--to an entire medium--games.

You could suggest that, say, fighting games are like pop music. But the enjoyment that someone gets out of a fighting game isn't the same as the enjoyment someone gets out of SotC. And that, in turn, isn't the same as the enjoyment someone gets out of the Sims, or out of Need for Speed, or out of Pac-Man. Some games, it seems to me, have a very strong emphasis on telling a story--like many of Square's games. Others have a very strong emphasis on pushing the player to the limits and beyond--some of the more recent Ninja Gaiden games.

Art games might never have the mass appeal that something like the newest Mario game does... but, then again, it might. Like I said, Shakespeare.

aug said...

This suggests that there's one way that people expect games to please, and that's no more true than if we tried to suggest that there's only one way for film to please.

Of course not. There are many, many ways that people enjoy the medium. The problem lies in the solidification of these expectations that people use to observe a work of art.

But you're right. Games are part of the fine arts. What still bugs me about the medium's artistic potential is that it's restricted by its definition.

Would you consider software like Conway's Life a game? It actually bears that designation in its title - but would you consider it that? If so, would you also consider music software like FL Studio and Cubase games? People certainly can have fun using them, so why not?

For most people, these programs neither are games nor art. This grants them less of the artistic freedom that things considered art have, because they're seen more as "tools" than art. What is nowadays often described as a game, on the other hand, did gain more and more of this freedom. That's great, but keeps the developers from venturing out of that circle of what is considered a game for fear of the work not being given a chance to show its appeal, of losing that freedom.

The artistry remains in the secondary categories. Would you have bought SotC if instead of it being playable it's just a video of it being played through? All that's been removed are the typical points of attraction: the trivial challenges like the fights or the search. And, no, this doesn't take away the ethical aspects. The game is linear - even if you'd play it, you'd have no choice but to progress the story in its given way.

As far as I know, most people wouldn't have. For them, the selling points are these traditional ones. Of course they do love the the characters, the music, the ambience, etc. But if it wasn't for worn-out qualities like challenge and the need to see the next beat in the storyline, it wouldn't've even been made.

Random nobody said...

Haven't played it , but hoping to change that. Just waiting for the HD remake.
Also I'm new t your blog , i kinda like it here :)