Video Games vs. Other Entertainment Mediums- Part 2

 

Note: This blog is a continuation of Video Games vs. Other Entertainment Mediums- Part 1.

The Real Effect of the Debate

Obviously, for some, clear reasoning over whether games are art wasn’t ever going to happen, because while there have been people contributing to the “are games art?” debate with intellectual and thought-provoking points, there have also been many who wanted games to be accepted as an art form so that they could feel more grown-up and validated in enjoying their favoured pastime, and try and feel as though their medium was more part of the mainstream. Personally, I think even if you’re looking for wide-spread validation of your love of video games, working out whether they are or can be art might help you feel more secure in your own opinion, but it’s never going to change the opinion of the masses.

 Recognition as art doesn't mean the mainstream would like it any more.

If hypothetically, a consensus on this debate was reached in favour of video games being art, it might bump up their social standing among some circles, but most people wouldn’t even be aware of the debate or care if video games were art. The majority of people out there aren’t seeking out art specifically to entertain themselves; they’re just after whatever they enjoy. Most people don’t care that much if the television they watch or the music they listen to is art, they just consume whatever gives them personally, the most pleasure. In fact, in some cases something being labelled as art can make it seem less accessible to people than it otherwise would have been, and the last thing video games need is more barriers between them and the general public.

This kind of debate is never going to lead to some overnight revolution in the place of video games in peoples’ daily lives. Of course that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the games as art debate entirely. When taken on in the right way for the right reasons it’s a legitimately interesting topic and one that’s very relevant to the video game entertainment medium. I see a lot of people bashing the games as art debates and while I can understand people being tired of endless repetitive discussions on it that don’t really go anywhere, there’s no need to put down people who are genuinely engaged in the topic. If you don’t want to discuss it just leave the “games as art” forum threads alone and move on.

Bad Examples and Bad Arguments Against Games

Unfortunately, on the other side of the argument from “Games are absolutely art and should be treated as such so my opinion can be validated” is the view that anyone treating games with the slightest modicum of seriousness, or saying that they can measure up to other entertainment mediums is being ridiculous. There are a lot of people who say that because games haven’t tackled complex social, political or personal issues in the way that other entertainment mediums have, that they just can’t be taken seriously. Personally I think the question of how well video games can speak to us about major human issues and how well they’re doing so right now is an even more important and interesting question than whether they are art, but the way the argument over this is often handled carries its own set of problems.

 If we are to anaylse a medium we have to look at all works within it.

I think some fail to acknowledge that while there are many works in movies, books, music, etc. that deal with deep introspection, analysis or delivering a message, there are countless examples of works in these mediums that are largely for or entirely for the simple purpose of entertaining people. Just as those over-zealously championing video games as a perfect medium hold up Bioshock and Heavy Rain as if they were the norm in video games, so many seem to ignore the enormous body of television shows, movies , books, etc. which come out every year with no greater purpose than to provide a pleasurable short-term experience.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with any entertainment that does this, we just have to acknowledge its existence. Not every video game may be hammering home a highly intellectual, thought-provoking story but they’re certainly not alone in that regard. Whatever games are doing with story now also doesn’t reflect their potential ability for how well they may do in the future. To repeat the old games discussion trope, this is a medium still in its infancy.

Where Games Really Fall Short

Many seem to make the point that because video games cannot deliver on narrative as strongly as other mediums such as movies or books, that they are therefore inferior. I think this argument begins to challenge a very real issue, but I think the people making this argument often don’t understand why narrative is important for games specifically. Narrative should not and does not exist for its own sake, narrative is simply a means to an end and that end is evoking emotion in the person consuming the entertainment. Works like paintings and music often have little to no narrative, but this isn’t a problem because they find other ways to evoke emotion in people. Similarly, when video games can evoke emotion through means other than narrative, they should receive just as much praise and respect as any other medium doing the same, but as I see it video games have two major problems in this regard.

 One of the reasons narrative is important is that it helps provide games with a wider emotional spectrum.

Gameplay is of course, is the crux of the medium, it’s the core of a game, and everything else is built around it, and gameplay is very good at evoking certain emotions such as fun, competitiveness, triumph, satisfaction, productivity, etc. but gameplay alone can’t evoke the kind of emotional range the elements from movies, books, music etc. do, and so games need narrative among other things to attain this emotional range. Games are also often reliant on narrative to justify the mix of gameplay and thematic content the player is presented with and as mentioned earlier, if games are to get across meaningful messages and explore serious issues in an intelligent manner they’re probably going to be much better equipped to do so with a strong narrative backing them up.

The fact that some games exist with little to no narrative is not a problem, these works can be appreciated for what they are, just like music or pictures can. The fact that very few games in the medium as a whole are able to use narrative effectively is a problem, because it means the medium as a whole lacks emotional range and the ability to deliver deeper human experiences. What may be an even bigger problem though is that not only does the medium carry inherent properties that make it difficult to craft a high-quality narrative around its other components, but the industry also lacks motivation to move forward in terms of narrative with their main target demographic for story-based games being 18-35 males who are fairly contented with lacking action-movie style storylines. Raising the bar for narrative in video games may not sound like that big a deal, but it’s an issue that deals with uncharted territory and the only way around it would be to take risks which could not only end poorly for the people financing games but also for the people developing games.

Using the Right Measuring Stick

 When comparing games to other mediums we can't just focus on story.

To make one last slight defence in favour of video games; despite the big problem they have with narrative in general, I occasionally see people comparing individual games to other story-based mediums and proclaiming that the individual game is inferior to the other medium in terms of quality because its narrative isn’t as good. This is not fair; movies, books and television rely on narrative to deliver a positive experience to a much greater extent than games do. While general statements about the shortcomings of games in regards to narrative are entirely valid, a video game thrives on gameplay, we know this, and just because a video game cannot measure up narratively, if it still holds up in terms of gameplay and sometimes other elements such as graphics, audio, etc. then there’s it can still be a work of some considerable quality.

 In fact in some cases it seems like people feel they have to appreciate video games in a solely tongue in-cheek way because of their relative shortfalls and their frequently over-the-top narrative and thematic content. I think this is perfectly sensible to some degree, but when it comes to gameplay, music, environments, and things games can pull off well, even in comparison to other mediums, there’s nothing wrong with standing up and saying “I like this video game on a serious level”.

Duder, It’s Over

Overall, when we compare video games with other entertainment mediums I think we need a wider, more thorough, and more realistic analysis of both sides involved. As hard as it may be to face up to some of the shortfalls or the lack of popularity of video games, trying to hide them and pretend they’re not there, or pretend that video games are more successful than they are only makes you look bad and says that you don’t like video games, you like some idealised alternate version of video games that you’ve created in your head. Arguing unrealistically in favour of video games won’t make them any more popular and if the medium is to come into its own it won’t do so overnight.

On the other side of the argument though, we should not scrutinise games as if they were other forms of entertainment and it’s okay to give love and respect to video games. As always, thank you for reading.

-Gamer_152

33 Comments
33 Comments
Posted by Gamer_152
 

Note: This blog is a continuation of Video Games vs. Other Entertainment Mediums- Part 1.

The Real Effect of the Debate

Obviously, for some, clear reasoning over whether games are art wasn’t ever going to happen, because while there have been people contributing to the “are games art?” debate with intellectual and thought-provoking points, there have also been many who wanted games to be accepted as an art form so that they could feel more grown-up and validated in enjoying their favoured pastime, and try and feel as though their medium was more part of the mainstream. Personally, I think even if you’re looking for wide-spread validation of your love of video games, working out whether they are or can be art might help you feel more secure in your own opinion, but it’s never going to change the opinion of the masses.

 Recognition as art doesn't mean the mainstream would like it any more.

If hypothetically, a consensus on this debate was reached in favour of video games being art, it might bump up their social standing among some circles, but most people wouldn’t even be aware of the debate or care if video games were art. The majority of people out there aren’t seeking out art specifically to entertain themselves; they’re just after whatever they enjoy. Most people don’t care that much if the television they watch or the music they listen to is art, they just consume whatever gives them personally, the most pleasure. In fact, in some cases something being labelled as art can make it seem less accessible to people than it otherwise would have been, and the last thing video games need is more barriers between them and the general public.

This kind of debate is never going to lead to some overnight revolution in the place of video games in peoples’ daily lives. Of course that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the games as art debate entirely. When taken on in the right way for the right reasons it’s a legitimately interesting topic and one that’s very relevant to the video game entertainment medium. I see a lot of people bashing the games as art debates and while I can understand people being tired of endless repetitive discussions on it that don’t really go anywhere, there’s no need to put down people who are genuinely engaged in the topic. If you don’t want to discuss it just leave the “games as art” forum threads alone and move on.

Bad Examples and Bad Arguments Against Games

Unfortunately, on the other side of the argument from “Games are absolutely art and should be treated as such so my opinion can be validated” is the view that anyone treating games with the slightest modicum of seriousness, or saying that they can measure up to other entertainment mediums is being ridiculous. There are a lot of people who say that because games haven’t tackled complex social, political or personal issues in the way that other entertainment mediums have, that they just can’t be taken seriously. Personally I think the question of how well video games can speak to us about major human issues and how well they’re doing so right now is an even more important and interesting question than whether they are art, but the way the argument over this is often handled carries its own set of problems.

 If we are to anaylse a medium we have to look at all works within it.

I think some fail to acknowledge that while there are many works in movies, books, music, etc. that deal with deep introspection, analysis or delivering a message, there are countless examples of works in these mediums that are largely for or entirely for the simple purpose of entertaining people. Just as those over-zealously championing video games as a perfect medium hold up Bioshock and Heavy Rain as if they were the norm in video games, so many seem to ignore the enormous body of television shows, movies , books, etc. which come out every year with no greater purpose than to provide a pleasurable short-term experience.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with any entertainment that does this, we just have to acknowledge its existence. Not every video game may be hammering home a highly intellectual, thought-provoking story but they’re certainly not alone in that regard. Whatever games are doing with story now also doesn’t reflect their potential ability for how well they may do in the future. To repeat the old games discussion trope, this is a medium still in its infancy.

Where Games Really Fall Short

Many seem to make the point that because video games cannot deliver on narrative as strongly as other mediums such as movies or books, that they are therefore inferior. I think this argument begins to challenge a very real issue, but I think the people making this argument often don’t understand why narrative is important for games specifically. Narrative should not and does not exist for its own sake, narrative is simply a means to an end and that end is evoking emotion in the person consuming the entertainment. Works like paintings and music often have little to no narrative, but this isn’t a problem because they find other ways to evoke emotion in people. Similarly, when video games can evoke emotion through means other than narrative, they should receive just as much praise and respect as any other medium doing the same, but as I see it video games have two major problems in this regard.

 One of the reasons narrative is important is that it helps provide games with a wider emotional spectrum.

Gameplay is of course, is the crux of the medium, it’s the core of a game, and everything else is built around it, and gameplay is very good at evoking certain emotions such as fun, competitiveness, triumph, satisfaction, productivity, etc. but gameplay alone can’t evoke the kind of emotional range the elements from movies, books, music etc. do, and so games need narrative among other things to attain this emotional range. Games are also often reliant on narrative to justify the mix of gameplay and thematic content the player is presented with and as mentioned earlier, if games are to get across meaningful messages and explore serious issues in an intelligent manner they’re probably going to be much better equipped to do so with a strong narrative backing them up.

The fact that some games exist with little to no narrative is not a problem, these works can be appreciated for what they are, just like music or pictures can. The fact that very few games in the medium as a whole are able to use narrative effectively is a problem, because it means the medium as a whole lacks emotional range and the ability to deliver deeper human experiences. What may be an even bigger problem though is that not only does the medium carry inherent properties that make it difficult to craft a high-quality narrative around its other components, but the industry also lacks motivation to move forward in terms of narrative with their main target demographic for story-based games being 18-35 males who are fairly contented with lacking action-movie style storylines. Raising the bar for narrative in video games may not sound like that big a deal, but it’s an issue that deals with uncharted territory and the only way around it would be to take risks which could not only end poorly for the people financing games but also for the people developing games.

Using the Right Measuring Stick

 When comparing games to other mediums we can't just focus on story.

To make one last slight defence in favour of video games; despite the big problem they have with narrative in general, I occasionally see people comparing individual games to other story-based mediums and proclaiming that the individual game is inferior to the other medium in terms of quality because its narrative isn’t as good. This is not fair; movies, books and television rely on narrative to deliver a positive experience to a much greater extent than games do. While general statements about the shortcomings of games in regards to narrative are entirely valid, a video game thrives on gameplay, we know this, and just because a video game cannot measure up narratively, if it still holds up in terms of gameplay and sometimes other elements such as graphics, audio, etc. then there’s it can still be a work of some considerable quality.

 In fact in some cases it seems like people feel they have to appreciate video games in a solely tongue in-cheek way because of their relative shortfalls and their frequently over-the-top narrative and thematic content. I think this is perfectly sensible to some degree, but when it comes to gameplay, music, environments, and things games can pull off well, even in comparison to other mediums, there’s nothing wrong with standing up and saying “I like this video game on a serious level”.

Duder, It’s Over

Overall, when we compare video games with other entertainment mediums I think we need a wider, more thorough, and more realistic analysis of both sides involved. As hard as it may be to face up to some of the shortfalls or the lack of popularity of video games, trying to hide them and pretend they’re not there, or pretend that video games are more successful than they are only makes you look bad and says that you don’t like video games, you like some idealised alternate version of video games that you’ve created in your head. Arguing unrealistically in favour of video games won’t make them any more popular and if the medium is to come into its own it won’t do so overnight.

On the other side of the argument though, we should not scrutinise games as if they were other forms of entertainment and it’s okay to give love and respect to video games. As always, thank you for reading.

-Gamer_152

Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King

Wait, is that last image somebody examining Lorum Ipsum with a magnifying glass? What are they trying to deduce? "It is with great confidence that I can finally say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this IS fucking filler!" (Of course, the "this" is the Lorum Ipsum. I'm not referring to the blog or anything.)

Posted by Commisar123

I'll say this. To me you can't say video games aren't art because anything can be considered art. Whether or not it is good art is entirely up to the person. I think the main reason most people want video games to be considered art, and at least personally this is true, is that I think people are missing out on great experiences and stories by considering video games as childish or somehow beneath you. In some ways I would equate it to playing sports. Playing football and competing in games is awesome, but not everyone can do it equally because it requires a certain degree of skill and effort that serves as a barrier to entry. However in the case of video games, I feel people are dissuaded from making this effort because they think there is no pay off. I can understand why somebody may never play a video game, but I would like them to understand you can get a rewarding experience out of it.

Edited by Gamer_152
@Video_Game_King: Yup, that is lorem ipsum, well spotted.
 
@Commisar123: Whether anything can be considered art really depends on your definition of art. I think you're right that some people want video games to be considered as art and catapulted into the mainstream so that more people can enjoy them, but I'd be reluctant to say this is the main reason and I still stand by what I said in the blog. With video games I think there are multiple barriers to entry for non-gamers and for some I think the idea of a lack of a pay-off may be one of those barriers, but in other cases I do think the issue is that they feel video games are immature, societal stigmas dissuade them from playing them, they underestimate how strong the pay-off will be, they're intimidated by the demands of player input, they're intimidated by the lack of familiarity with the medium or they don't understand the exact kind of experience a video game is trying to put across.
Moderator
Posted by Mento

The games as art debate, while not to disrespect those who champion it ceaselessly, seems like an unnecessary means to grant credibility to a medium that has already procured it by amassing more revenue annually than most other entertainment industries. It's like deciding to grab an Oscar after you're already getting the biggest paycheck per movie, because it seems like the only goal left to aim for.

I think the true obstacle to its success in establishing itself as a viable artform is that video games, more than any other medium, are nigh inaccessible to the elderly and infirm. And those guys are still in charge of everything, somehow. Maybe when the guy who invented Spacewar! is the oldest dude alive, they'll get their due.

Moderator
Posted by upwarDBound

When video game award shows worldwide are more akin to the BAFTAs and less like the Spike VGAs, we can probably put the whole juvenile stigma behind us.

Does anyone know if there are more institutions like the BAFTA that cover video game awards?

Posted by Gamer_152
@Mento: You know I think it's fair enough to disrespect some people who champion it ceaselessly. If they've trying to present potentially misleading information for the sole benefit of their own personal validation that's probably not a good thing. As I said in part 1 though, how financial successful video games are does not tell us how strong they are as creative works or how they're perceived by people, something can make a lot of money and still be terrible. You could view trying to make artistic video games as "the only goal left to aim for" but I see the advancement of the medium in a creative sense and the advancement of the medium in an economic sense as two very different things, and of course the success of a medium in one of these areas does not reflect a success in the other. As discussed here artistic also doesn't mean "accepted" and lots of game sales are being made that's not because a lot of people in the general public hold games in the same regard they do other mediums, but that they're appealing very well to a single chunk of society i.e. 18-35 males.
 
Do the elderly and infirm really rule though? Many people with power in society are elderly but many others are middle-aged or even younger. I think it would also be valid to argue that basically all new entertainment is inaccessible to the elderly. The fact video games haven't been around that long is certainly an obstacle they have to contend with but when it comes to being widely accepted as an art form I wouldn't refer to it as "the true obstacle", they have many more hurdles to go.
 
@upwarDBound: I'd like to think that, but alas, I don't think society is that fair. I also have to begrudgingly admit that to some extent they have a point, a video game with shallow action-centric narrative and thematics can be richer and a lot more complex than books or movies with the same, but none the less it's impossible to ignore that these kinds of narrative and thematics permeate the large majority of games right now. Of course I'm sure utter shit like the VGAs isn't helping. If you do want a good video game awards apart from the BAFTAs I'd recommend the GDC awards, they're very well-presented and have had people like Gabe Newell and Warren Spector speak at them. I love your avatar by the way.
Moderator
Posted by probablytuna

Fantastic write-up and I certainly agree with the points you've raised. Keep it up!

Posted by Still_I_Cry

Good blog.

I agree with many if not all of your points.

I consider some games artistically stunning, I don't know if they can be called "art" outright though. I also agree that calling video games art may turn some people away from it.

I tend to love artsy stuff so I wouldn't go anywhere.

:D

Posted by Fizzy

I'm bored.

Good blog.

Posted by MikkaQ

I think video games are better than movies because Red Dead Redemption had a better narrative than How High.

Posted by chrismafuchris

I've heard from some people that games can only be art once they transcend technical issues; once sound glitches, unsteady framerate and lockups are a thing of the past. They say that because the experience can not be standardized, there's no way that the message could be conveyed as the creator would like until games can focus on the games themselves and not the technicality of it all. What do you think of this?

Posted by Gamer_152
@probablytuna: @Fizzy: Thank you.
 
@Still_I_Cry: Thanks, although I wasn't trying to say that games are or are not art here, I was just talking about the debate a little.
 
@XII_Sniper: I am amuse.
 
@chrismafuchris: Can't say I've heard that one before. It's kind of hard to work out an answer to this question without knowing what qualifies art to those people though. I'm reluctant to say they're wrong as many definitions of "art" require subjective analysis of things and saying someone is wrong about something being art in certain cases is basically telling them they're opinion is wrong, still, I find it rather amazing that such minor technical things could invalidate something as art for people.
 
All mediums are dependent on sorting out their technicalities to some extent, the painter has to deal with brushes, paints and canvases, the musician has to deal with instruments and recording equipment, the film-maker is dependent on lighting, cameras, costumes, etc. it's just that games have a lot more technicalities to deal with. Video games are never going to transcend technical issues, because like all these other mediums technology is the means by which they put across what they put across, and technology, especially complex and new technology being heavily utilised, has the tendency to break down.
 
Would the best movie in the world really not be art is the frame rate dropped in some places though? Would the greatest songs in the world suddenly cease to be art if they didn't have perfect recording quality? I think basically everyone would say no, so it baffles me that someone could take a similar position with video games.
Moderator
Posted by Scribbly

Great series of blogs, someone hire this guy! Great objective handling of the whole situation, look forward to reading more articles from you :)

Posted by Trylks

This is a very complex topic and my cognitive capabilities are now on par with an sponge, so this is going to be very deep...

Usually when games are compared with other media it's from the point of view of a gamer, because, who could know about games and not like games? In other cases we see people critisizing Hollywood, as commercial movies are not suitable for some stories, while comics may be.

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2008/09/18/alan-moore-on-w/

I wonder which could be the point of view from other people wrt games. With this I mean well informed people that may not like games, but that do really know what are they about and how are they. Every media has it's own differences. Despite of that, I think there are many aspects that could be improved in games, and I'm quite certain they will be. Molyneux takes an approach very similar to movies, at least in the last fable games. Gears of War 2 moved to a more cinematographical style than Gears of War 1, which I liked more (maybe it was faster, the cammera different, or the locusts were wiser, I don't know, but there was a better post-apocalyptic-in-the-middle-of-a-war-OMG-you're-gonna-die feeling, IMHO).

---

Another point I'd like to bring is that there is some implicit narrative in games, even if there's no story per se. I'm listening now to the music from psyvariar, I like game's OSTs, and some movies, but while you can find movies about love, horror, humor, etc. and you can find all those things in games, there is something that is depicted in most games in one way or another and that is really hard to transmit in a movie: challenge. I like game's OSTs because they are well suited (at least IMHO) to work, to do something actively, the emotions that the music is trying to convey are: "this is challenging, you are doing great, this is fun, look!, 'hey, listen!' " :P and some more. This is not so common in movies, although definitively there are some, and definitively it's very rare in commercial music, which is also normally not so good for work, because the lyrics make harder to focus.

This narrative implicit in the gameplay will tell the gamers different things, while in Halo you can just run into the enemies if you are good enough and take a more aggressive approach, in Assassins' Creed gamers are rewarded for using stealth and having a different approach. The game is describing to gamers a way to approach a problem, that may be generalized to other problems (or not), and it's describing it in an interactive way, so the gamer can really try different things and see what happens. That's the main strength of games vs other media, IMHO. I have to say, in this sense, I liked a lot Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath.

Games propose challenges, that have to be addressed in different ways, depending on the type of game. And while they can include some story, narrative, and so on, as well as being more or less appealing artistically from a "pictorical" point of view, or musical, but the main point of games, which other media lacks completely, is the interactivity, the challenge and what can be expressed as part of that challenge. How many people can punch Chuck Norris in a movie? If they are ten or then thousand doesn't really make a difference, while in a game, gamers can experience that difference in a much more direct way.

BTW: Here you can see the music I listen, in case you feel curious: http://www.last.fm/user/trylks

Edited by Insectecutor
I think some fail to acknowledge that while there are many works in movies, books, music, etc. that deal with deep introspection, analysis or delivering a message, there are countless examples of works in these mediums that are largely for or entirely for the simple purpose of entertaining people

This. People who play games seem to love Boolean arguments over whether or not games are X. Perhaps it's because games are a relatively young medium that still has negative social connotations so people feel more passionate about quashing stereotypes, but arguments like these have got to stop. The fact is that some games qualify as art, others are trash. Just like in books, movies, painting, etc.

I think the "games are not art" argument is based on the idea that the interactive element doesn't add anything more than a framework through which to consume the other elements like visuals and audio. It's rare to find a game where the interaction itself is a key part of some artistic message, and Bioshock certainly pulled that off quite well.

Posted by Jaize

Gamer_152, I'd just like to take a second to thank you for the time and effort you have invested in these two blogs. Irrespective of the points you made, it is nice to see someone putting their passion into something so constructive. Thank you.

Sometimes I like to see video games compared to other forms of media, especially films. Whilst you are right and for the most part such comparisons are not only wholly inaccurate and false, but also quite farcical in their ability to overlook staggering logical barriers, I still take warmth in these acts. For one simple reason; when reporting forms of media compare video games and movies they are elevating both to the same level- a comforting advancement for an industry that is, as you say, still in its infancy.

In fact, whilst I dislike that such comparisons happen I'm also held of cognitive dissonance between the two poles. I have, for a long time, hated such comparisons, but I also welcome them gladly with open arms- the more comparisons are made, the higher the gaming industry is elevated out of the ridiculous niche that mainstream opinion has allocated them (the stigma of immature, male-centric wastes of time), the less and less people will be able to use it not only for political hay, but for ridicule and reason to set themselves apart from others.

As such, in our current western society, accusing someone of being a video gamer is almost considered a slur. No one says, "He's so pathetic, he watches movies," any more. Ideological debates are welcome be they on the nature of games as narrative vehicles or art forms in their own right, but I'm glad to see comparisons in the media and on the tinternets being made, simply for their actual outcome on reality. Though I guess Kant's categorical imperative would slap my face for that. ^^

We live our lives on negations, defining one thing by another. The philosopher David Hume even went as far as to claim we were incapable of creating anything not synthesised from other ideas already within our ken. We can't create ideas or even imagine simple things without reference to others- even simple things like colours. 'Tis little wonder, then, that comparisons are a basis for our ability to comprehend our own existence. I'm not saying such comparisons between media industries are good, but I can understand why they occur.

Once again, thank you.

Posted by Max015

Lovely thought provoker here, nice work.

I think it is interesting to consider this discussion in the context of the economic/business side of video games. Interesting because games unlike most art are still very rarely produced with funding from not for profit organisations.

The focus of game development is still largely to sell as much product as possible. It is healthy and right for the games business to have developed in the way it has, however from the thought of developing artistic and ground breaking games I think the freedom to create games that might not have a market is important. The fear of risk in companies like EA and Activision is palpable.

We've seen Hollywood develop brands within the large studios dedicated to making films that are unlikely to set the box office alight but that will be used to satiate the hardcore film lovers' demands for more challenging cinema. Additionally publically funded art investments given by countries to help create innovative and exciting art works has also largely not been extended to game projects.

I feel strongly that this type of investment is needed to see more wide spread creation of fresh thinking game designs. However I think we're in a catch 22 situation where we are waiting for games to prove that game development needs this artistic funding, but who will have the time, expertise and budget to prove the potential with complete financial independence.

Perhaps we will have to look to powerhouse companies like Valve and Blizzard to invest some of their time and money into more unusual and risky projects.

Posted by Trylks

Now, think about a game like sim city or civilization, made even more realistic in which the gamer can choose which taxes to collect (direct vs indirect for instance) add taxes to some activities, or commodities (for instance raise taxes on oil, as a mean to promote public transport, and bicycles, reducing contamination in the air), etc. As much realistic and complex as possible.

It's basically a sandbox game, there is no narrative. Yet, people would learn about economy and how systems like these work more than reading many books, including some text books, not to speak about movies, etc. There is a lot of implicit knowledge about how economic systems and agents in them are, about decisions and consequences, but this knowledge is not expressed with some narrative, but in a sandbox.

Posted by Gamer_152
@Smiley26: Thank you very much.
 
@Trylks: I think I'd go one step further than you and say that the thing which is unique about games and really brings them into their own as an entertainment medium is not just challenge but gameplay. As far as OSTs go I'd say not only do movies and games tend to do them slightly differently, but because of the differences between the two the person consuming the medium is always going to have a slightly different relationship with the soundtrack. I have to say that I think there's a big difference between games using gameplay to teach a player something and games using gameplay to tell a narrative, I think that gameplay implicitly does both of those things but that we shouldn't confuse them. 
 
With SimCity and Civilisation I have to disagree with you that playing those games would teach people more than reading many books on the same subjects those games deal with, and I also have to disagree with you that they aim to be as realistic and complex as possible. They are games, not simulations, and while they may be more realistic and complex than many games out there they only use their realism and complexity within the bounds of what will be fun for the player, they don't go to extremes with either.
 
@Insectecutor: I agree, the over-simplified boolean thinking that often seems to come about is irritating to see.
 
@Jaize: Thank you for your comment. Believe me, I don't dislike comparisons between games and other media, I think when they're done properly and insightfully they can be great, I just see a lot of these kinds of comparisons going wrong and I dislike seeing people making these comparisons in a way which only seems concerned with validating their own opinions or is made in a way where they feel they have to put on a certain emotional air to be taken seriously. However evolved video games are approaches like that are inherently biased and aren't going to help us understand the reality of the situation. I disagree that calling someone a gamer is almost a slur, but I think you're right that they still have a considerable stigma to shake off. I suspect that Hume may be right about us having to create one thing out of ideas borrowed from other things.
 
@Max015: Thank you. I'm not sure I'd say the way video games have grown up is necessarily "right", it's certainly good for them from an economic perspective, but I think overall they're too often economically-driven to a point where it hurts them creatively. As for external non-publisher investments funding more artistic games, it's an interesting an idea but it must be remembered to create anything other than a low budget video game requires a whole lot of cash, I suspect if we did see more external funding for artsy stuff in the relatively near future it would likely manifest itself as an extension of the kinds of things we're already seeing from indie games. I think there is room for big budget studios to experiment and create new experiences but I imagine most are only going to go so far with it. I do think Valve have done some very interesting experiments in the field of games though, look at Half-Life 2, Portal and the place of community content in TF2.
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Posted by Trylks

@Gamer_152: yeah, ok, but... read that again, I was speaking about an hypothetical game, made as realistic and complex as possible, not about those two specific games.

Posted by Gamer_152
@Trylks: I apologise, my bad. I was rather tired when responding last night and didn't have a ton of time on my hands either, let me take another crack at that last bit. I think we have to acknowledge that there's a big difference between a sandbox game and a sandbox/simulator. Additionally, if your primary goal is to teach people something then you do want to be looking at providing them with a simulator, rather than a game. Even then though, I don't agree with the idea that the simulator would be superior to many books. Even if the simulator allowed them to play around with variables and speed up time in their simulations it would still take people a significant amount of time to learn anything from it and even then there's massive potential for misinterpretation or gaps in their knowledge. A book on the other hand can convey lots of rather complex ideas rather quickly and very thoroughly. It's like the difference between taking piano lessons or some form of tutorial and just trying to work out how to play the piano through experimentation. Sure, you could just sit there and hit random keys until you work out how to play a song, but you're going to be a lot better a lot faster if you have some kind of external learning aid.
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Edited by Trylks

@Gamer_152: Think about guitar hero, then piano hero and then think about how the complexity can be increased gradually in the piano lessons, as levels in a game, also think about how most games have tutorials to learn some concepts.

In pharaoh there are several views that display relevant information about the city, like fire risk or distance to firemen. With these views and this data is much easier to understand how the placement of firemen centrals should be done. For humans it's much more natural to learn experiencing and experimenting than just reading plain old books. I think the future in education is to use the potential in games to people to understand the lessons, because the understanding gained this way is much better, while reading a book the understanding is much more superficial

Of course the simulator/game/interactive-book should contain some tutorial, that would explain the theory, which otherwise would be more complex to guess out from the game. But:

  1. Politics show a deep lack of knowledge about how many things work, or they just don't care, maybe.
  2. People make political decisions, at least when voting, they should learn a bit about how things work at least to understand politics, then maybe they could apply some of these ideas (left-winged, right-winged and so on) to the game, in different situations, and check what happens to their virtual little men.

So at least in schools that would be beneficial, since children don't need such a deep understanding as text books provide and if learning is fun they are going to do that much better. It's the natural way of learning, learning should be fun, actually, games are fun in a great extent because you are learning, once someone controls and knows perfectly what's going on in a game, the game is beaten, and it's not fun anymore. What people learn from games is sometimes relevant and sometimes not, because games are not designed specifically to be relevant in their knowledge, mostly, but purely fun and, thus, profitable.

In any case, the main point of disagreement is that you consider simulators can never surpass the usefulness of a text-book. But they have already done that in many areas, surgeons, bus drivers, pilots, etc. learn a lot from books, but to finally prove they know what they have to know and they can do their job without risking people's lives they use a simulator (or a real bus sometimes). In politics the consequences on the lives of millions of people are relevant enough as to consider to use something similar.

So now we need both, text books and simulators, oh.. great...

Well, the point is that:

  1. You can always split a text book into very short lessons and put then at the beginning of each stage in the simulator.
  2. The text book is not that important. Of course there are fundamental ways to calculate the fire risk, or to calculate thousands of things, but from the controller point of view, that is not relevant, what a controller has to do is to check all the variables that are calculated and make a decision on the actuators that are available. They don't really need to know where and how do those numbers come from, they just need to use those numbers and do something with them, know the consequences that their actions are going to have, and while having some theory for that would be great, it's mostly art now, and thus experience is what makes the difference.

In this context you have to consider that:

  1. It's not about having a deep knowledge about the fundamentals of something, but solving some problem.
  2. It's not a theoretical subject, but practical. It's not about what people know, but about what people can do. Knowledge is most of the time not explicit but implicit, no text-book is going to give you that knowledge.
  3. The explicit knowledge can be included anyway in the game/simulator, the understanding that would be provided in this way would be deeper and easier to assimilate.

In the end, you cannot learn to play a piano without a piano, a piano is the main element you need, and then, maybe, some lessons, from a teacher. But, what if the teacher was a sort of assistant in a game? They can get to be pretty good, and real teachers really bad. When you can take dozens of experts to create the assistant in the game that will teach millions of students it's quite feasible to come out with something that is better than most of the teachers individually.

As I say, I'm convinced this is the future and if educationalists are not trying to push towards it but in other directions its not because those directions are better education wise, but because they are afraid of losing their jobs, very few dare to even speak about this possibility, which is, already, very real and feasible.

Posted by Gamer_152
@Trylks: I feel a bit like the terms "game" and "simulator" are still being used a bit too interchangeably here, but I hear most of what you're saying. I do think there's something to be said for teaching to be backed up with practical examples and for educational games which are genuinely fun. A lot like in a science class, practical experimentation in any field, especially when it's fun, can help information stick in the mind, but I think attempting to back up every little thing you teach people with these big practical examples like you'd find in a sandbox game would vastly limit how much you can teach a person within a certain space of time. First-hand experimentation may be the natural way that we learn but that doesn't mean it's the best way to teach people, I think primarily using textbooks is still much faster and more effective. I also don't think that packing a piece of software with as much realism and complexity as possible, whether it be in the form of a simulator or educational game, is the most effective way to teach people, and I certainly don't think it makes for a very fun experience. It's a minor detail but I also don't believe us knowing everything about a game is always what makes it boring in the end, most games require that we exercise some sort of skill beyond straight application of knowledge.
 
My original argument wasn't that simulators aren't more useful than textbooks, it was actually that simulators aren't as effective at teaching people as textbooks, but I don't think your argument for the usefulness of simulators over textbooks works anyway. I don't see the logic in the idea that because simulators are used in examinations for jobs like pilot or surgeon, that this means they're more useful than the learning aids that people utilise up until those examinations. I think it's also very important to note that these simulators are not just there to test knowledge, but are also largely there to test perception and hand-eye co-ordination skills, and I think it says something about the relationship of simulators in relation to more conventional teaching methods, that you can have a job like surgeon where this simulation technology is available, but people are still largely taught through conventional learning methods. There's also a big difference between using a simulator in an educational capacity and using it in a professional capacity to experiment with new ideas that would be potentially dangerous if carried out in the real world.
 
I must admit I got sort of lost from where you started talking about fire risks up until you said "In the end". I couldn't quite understand your English, sorry. Sure, you can't learn to play the piano without a piano but that's because the exact point of learning piano is developing a rather specific practical skill. Most areas of education these days don't focus around developing any skill which couldn't be applied in a normal classroom environment. Sure, if I'm learning to program or something then I need a computer, but if I'm learning a subject like English or maths, all I need is my brain, a pen and some paper. I also think a real teacher is much better than a virtual one, someone who you identify as a human being and can actually give you concise and effective feedback is much more valuable than a pre-programmed series of text prompts. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely think that in a hypothetical scenario educational games and simulators could be a great learning aid, but I really don't think they surpass text books as a standard learning method, and I don't think teaching through these methods is anywhere near "very real and feasible".
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Posted by Trylks

@Gamer_152 said:

@Trylks: I feel a bit like the terms "game" and "simulator" are still being used a bit too interchangeably here, but I hear most of what you're saying. I do think there's something to be said for teaching to be backed up with practical examples and for educational games which are genuinely fun. A lot like in a science class, practical experimentation in any field, especially when it's fun, can help information stick in the mind, but I think attempting to back up every little thing you teach people with these big practical examples like you'd find in a sandbox game would vastly limit how much you can teach a person within a certain space of time.

You can pack many things into a practical example.

First-hand experimentation may be the natural way that we learn but that doesn't mean it's the best way to teach people, I think primarily using textbooks is still much faster and more effective. I also don't think that packing a piece of software with as much realism and complexity as possible, whether it be in the form of a simulator or educational game, is the most effective way to teach people, and I certainly don't think it makes for a very fun experience. It's a minor detail but I also don't believe us knowing everything about a game is always what makes it boring in the end, most games require that we exercise some sort of skill beyond straight application of knowledge.

People enjoy naturally learning, if they don't then you are doing it wrong. Text books do it wrong.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-06/uosc-fk062006.php

My original argument wasn't that simulators aren't more useful than textbooks, it was actually that simulators aren't as effective at teaching people as textbooks, but I don't think your argument for the usefulness of simulators over textbooks works anyway. I don't see the logic in the idea that because simulators are used in examinations for jobs like pilot or surgeon, that this means they're more useful than the learning aids that people utilise up until those examinations.

They are used in examinations, but also as lessons.

I think it's also very important to note that these simulators are not just there to test knowledge, but are also largely there to test perception and hand-eye co-ordination skills, and I think it says something about the relationship of simulators in relation to more conventional teaching methods, that you can have a job like surgeon where this simulation technology is available, but people are still largely taught through conventional learning methods. There's also a big difference between using a simulator in an educational capacity and using it in a professional capacity to experiment with new ideas that would be potentially dangerous if carried out in the real world.

The point is that, in the end, it's about doing something, otherwise, why would anyone learn anything? If there is nothing to be done with that knowledge then the knowledge is pointless, it's not even knowledge, that's just information. So if it is about doing something why not learn to do that by doing it and then giving information about how to do it? In that way, the problem will serve as a motivator, the knowledge will be perceived in context, etc. The point is: first give the problem, a problem someone would care about, then give the knowledge. The problem with schools nowadays is the attitude: "memorize this, someday you will find it useful", not best motivation, because, actually, that is false, most of the stuff is pretty pointless because I don't remember it and I'd have to search wikipedia, in case I wanted to check again when someone did what, which, again, I don't care, because that is useless to solve the problems I face every day, at work and at life.

I must admit I got sort of lost from where you started talking about fire risks up until you said "In the end". I couldn't quite understand your English, sorry. Sure, you can't learn to play the piano without a piano but that's because the exact point of learning piano is developing a rather specific practical skill. Most areas of education these days don't focus around developing any skill which couldn't be applied in a normal classroom environment. Sure, if I'm learning to program or something then I need a computer, but if I'm learning a subject like English or maths, all I need is my brain, a pen and some paper.

I don't think so. You will never really learn English if you don't speak English. Do you know how did I learn English? With games, Nintendo would never translate them, so I had a motivation. Even if my English is still confusing, I was one of the best ones at my class in school, and that's because I had a motivation, for the others, they didn't have that motivation, and learning English was kind of a torture, because they didn't care, they wanted to do something else, and their potential and time would have got a better use if they had been motivated first or they had been taught what they were already motivated to learn.

Do you know which way is great to learn mathematics? Through recreational mathematics, this can be put directly into a game like professor Layton.

I also think a real teacher is much better than a virtual one, someone who you identify as a human being and can actually give you concise and effective feedback is much more valuable than a pre-programmed series of text prompts. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely think that in a hypothetical scenario educational games and simulators could be a great learning aid, but I really don't think they surpass text books as a standard learning method, and I don't think teaching through these methods is anywhere near "very real and feasible".

Why not? Fortunately some experts are already remarking how important and beneficial would it be, despite of the fact that, in some sense, it's against their own best interest, from a selfish point of view, was this beneficial to them we would see most experts remarking how full e-learning has to be a reality. Here are some links:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ali_carr_chellman_gaming_to_re_engage_boys_in_learning.html

Check the right hand side of the videos, you can see a section named "what to watch next", it contains many other interesting videos. TED is like youtube, but interesting.

Posted by Gamer_152
@Trylks:  I feel a bit like some of my points are being glossed over here but anyway, here goes:
 
  • You can pack a lot of things into a practical example, but that's not what I was contesting, I still don't believe the classroom should be very largely just practical examples played out by a computer.

  • The point of learning, is at its core to acquire information and if information can be effectively acquired in an enjoyable way then that's great, if fun methods of learning can present a more effective way of teaching people then we should absolutely adopt those methods but we can't just say "any learning that isn't fun is automatically more invalid than the learning that is fun", we have to make objective judgement calls about what is an effective way to teach and what isn't.

  • Simulators may be used in lessons, but I still don't think this means they're superior to text books and again, I think it says something about the place of them that even when they're readily available to be used in lessons, the majority of the time teachers opt for other methods of teaching.

  • All learning is done so we can eventually apply the knowledge in some way, but some knowledge is more directly applicable than other knowledge. Much of it does not require an educational video game or simulator to apply and overall I still maintain that throwing out the text-books and instead just trying to get people to apply every little thing they learn via video game or simulation is a long-winded and potential ineffective way to teach.

  • You say give people a problem, let them attempt to solve it and then give them the solution, but imagine if we put that into action even with current teaching methods. Imagine if every time a teacher wanted to teach something in mathematics they proposed a problem the students obviously wouldn't be able to solve, waited for them to flounder around trying to find an answer they're never going to invent and then gave them the answer. If all you're doing is constantly asking people for answers, you are essentially asking them to generate the entirety of the subject by themselves, that's an impossible task.

  • If schools are teaching irrelevant information that isn't a problem with teaching methods, that's a problem with content, it's a separate issue.

  • Again, I feel as though languages are a more directly applicable skill and one not as heavy on the books. Even then though, they may be a great candidate for video games or simulators in some senses but the only person who can really assess your pronunciation ability or ability to write in that language is a human teacher.

  • I agree that motivation in the classroom is a big problem, although I don't think it's the only problem, but why is the only answer to that immediately replacing everything with educational games and simulations? If it's motivation we're looking for I believe gamification is a much more realistic solution.

  • Why is this not a realistic or feasible solution? Because fun, rich and effective educational games don't even exist in small handfuls, let alone on a scale large enough to replace all current education methods in the U.S. or UK. What's more nobody has ever created anything like the enormously complex simulators and games you're talking about, and for fields like sociology and politics it would be arguably impossible to create an accurate simulator or game. Even if we could do all this between development, manufacture and distribution you're asking for a ridiculous amount of money, resources and man hours to make it possible.

  • While I wouldn't quite describe it as "like YouTube but interesting" I'm familiar with TED and I think they have some really insightful and inspiring talks. There's a big difference between championing e-learning and saying that video games and simulators are a completely viable replacement for all current teaching methods. In fact you will find that neither of the people in those videos were supporting anything like the kind of thing you're suggesting here, the closest it got was Carr-Chellman saying that we need better educational video games, which we absolutely do. They were not saying that video games and simulators in the classroom were the answer to all the problems, they were not saying that real teachers should be scrapped in favour of virtual teachers (Carr-Chellman actually seemed to be talking about more real teachers to some extent), and they were not saying that all conventional teaching methods should be immediately scrapped.
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Posted by Trylks

And the same goes for the work.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Cubicle%20Coma&defid=5169562

Edited by mewarmo990

Great article.

I think that in the end, the statement that "video games can be art" is much more accurate to the current state of the medium, than the insistence by some people that they absolutely are or aren't art.

Posted by Oni

Media. The plural of medium is media. Sorry, just a pet peeve of mine.

Posted by Gamer_152
@mewarmo990: Thanks. I agree that people usually take a poor approach by trying to too often say all video games or no video games are art.
 
@Oni: You're right, my bad.
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Posted by owl_of_minerva

I think another issue that needs to be addressed before we answer more philosophical questions about video games, such as their status as art, is the development of a critical vocabulary. For instance, both books and movies have developed a wealth of critical concepts and categories that have filtered into the popular consciousness through education, whereas video games have some of this but in a disorganised state and concentrated in enthusiast communities rather in the general (gaming) public. So although I do believe firmly that games deserve artistic status, their being acclaimed as art right now does not take us very far: we need ludonarrative criticism to generate interpretations, and arguments about the best interpretation, to take place.

And as for defusing the argument that games handle narrative poorly, I would take a slightly different tack. I would argue, as you pointed out, that games revolve around mechanics, and are thus result of an engagement with a set of mechanical conventions (genres). Writing in games is also a mechanic: it provides information about the mechanics and the world, it provides context, in RPGs it is most obviously a mechanic (quests, factions, choice and consequence) for instance, and can even convey a narrative that structures the experience of the game and its events. The idea that the story can exist separate from the mechanics seems fundamentally wrong to me: games where the story doesn't tie in well with the mechanics are disjointed and poorly designed perhaps, not proof that the story and mechanics exist on separate planes. You concede too much to the argument that games have poor narratives, because each medium uses narrative in a different way, and thus need medium-specific standards. Although it's unlikely we'll see strong authorial narratives as often in games, because it is a medium dictated by player control and interaction, it ultimately doesn't matter. When we examine how the narrative and mechanics inter-relate, it can generate surprisingly complex results, for instance Clint Hocking's analysis of Bioshock. And I'd still argue that Portal or Silent Hill 2, for instance, are as important artistic and narrative achievements for games as the masterpieces of other media.

Sorry for the tl;dr.

Posted by Oni

@owl_of_minerva: This is a great post I agree with wholeheartedly. Games can't and shouldn't be held to the same standards as movies, which a lot of people do. A great story told purely in cut scenes that doesn't really relate to the actual gameplay (the ludonarrative) may be compelling, but it's hardly making a case for games as art, in my mind. Examples that spring to mind are Rockstar games, especially Red Dead Redemption, which a lot of people gush about. On its own terms, I found the story decent enough (though it's filled with poorly written caricatures), but the game around it has little enough to do with it. It's mostly you shooting people and then watching a cut scene. Games like Bioshock, which make the story part of the visuals and the exploration, even the combat, succeed much more at being good video game stories. Sure, Bioshock kind of falls into its own trap, as player agency is kind of the theme and it turns out you have very little even after the big reveal, but as an audiovisual 'passive' storytelling experience it's top notch.

That's the key for me, it's what separates games from other media: the interactivity. Making the player's interaction with the world a key part of the narrative, that's something only games can do, and it's by that criterium (among others) they should be assessed when considering them succesful as artistic stories.

Note that I don't think only games with a strong story component are art, but when we're talking about narrative, they should strive to do something only games can do, and that's truly involve the player, whether that's by letting them make choices or by making interaction a key part of the narrative.

Posted by Gamer_152
@owl_of_minerva: The general gaming public may not be aware of the full vocabulary used to describe games and interpret their experiences with them, but it's never been the masses who are that interested or effective in answering big questions about entertainment. If the general public is to develop a wider vocabulary then I think more than anything, the social status of games and the way society perceives them is one major thing that's going to have to change first. As for those more invested in the analysis and critiquing of games, I believe more links between the games industry/academia and the public/journalists may be a strong influence on our vocabulary. I think people more dedicated to analysing games developing a wider and more useful vocabulary for criticising games is an issue, but I don't think it should be top priority before answering other major questions about video games as a medium.
 
Perhaps I wasn't very clear about it, but when I was talking about the comparison of games to story-based mediums, I didn't mean they could be compared 100% directly. I actually wrote a couple of blogs a while back about the difficult relationship gameplay and narrative, and how a marriage of game mechanics and story like we've seen in games such as Portal and Braid seem to be pushing game narrative in the right direction. A very well thought-out comment though, thank you.
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