I think we’ve established that this post will be bullshit, so don’t blame me if my drunken ramblings make no sense. With that disclaimer, here is my attempt at describing what I consider to be art in videogames.
The weakest kind of arguement for art in the context of videogames is, I think, a pretty game. Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, Rez, all that shit. Fucking weakass opinion-offerers (for lack of a better descriptive) will constantly make a call to arms along the lines of “justify your habit! Tell people this game is fucking art cos it’s pretty and people will look down on you less! We’re as good as movies!”
Fuck that shit. Kate Moss is beautiful when she poses but that’s not art. Maybe the process of creating the visual style of a game like Okami is not grounded solely in pushing the technological limits of the machine in a way that basically imitates another visual form, but I doubt it. It’s artistic, maybe, but it’s not art. Well, not the visual style, anyway. That’s imitation, and beauty, but not really what I think is art.
I said that was the weakest as if there were loads, but on reflection there’s only one other justification I’ve seen - that the creation of the game is an artform. Perhaps that is, it gets tricky there. But so much is just reaction to research and refinement of technique. It’s creating something that people will love. That’s not what I consider art to be. I consider art to be expression, but in truth I obviously don’t know. But there is another form of art in videogames that doesn’t seem to ever be considered, and this is the arguement for gaming as a valid pursuit that appeals to me the most but seems to get no attention at all but must surely count as the most definitely valid and verifiable, and that’s of performance.
There’s no question that at its very highest level, martial arts are just that - art. And they’re that in a very physical sense as is, say, ballet, but definitely an artform. Many martial arts are more aesthetically pleasing than they are effective and that is, I feel, an artisitic choice. It’s certainly not a practical one, and any decision in which form takes precedence over function is a decision that perhaps qualifies for art in my books as they are a form of expression. Some games provide the ability to make those choices.
Any form of expression can be offered as art. A friend once told me that, and as he is most definitely an artist I have to take his word for it. I’m not. I do often feel that I make choices in games that prioritise my need for expression over that of function. And all games have a function. All have a sense of progression that ties everything together. So any choice I make that deviates from progressing at the absolute efficiency must surely qualify for consideration as an artistic choice. Admittedly, not many games are of a level of complexity that allow such a scenario to exist (Brain Training LOL) and those that do are often impenetrable to all but the most dedicated of followers. That’s perhaps why there’s so little recognition for this kind of expression. Dance is immediately obvious, whereas the choices that Daigo made in his now infamous full-parry match against Justin Wong are only really understandable by those that saw all of the games in that match and understood the mechanics of the game intimately. Daigo played. He literally played. He didn’t set out to just win, he expressed himself through the medium of an incredibly complex, perhaps the most intricate, fighting game.
Chibita, my own personal favourite Virtua Fighter player, regularly qualifies as an artist in my books from watching the choices he makes and realising that he is often choosing to express himself over simply winning the match. Anyone who doesn’t understand how his character works, let alone how the game works, would not see that. I remember once watching him play a match in which he used every single move in Lion’s formidably extensive arsenal, and did so as a deliberate choice. He did win, actually, but I felt that he achieved what he set out to do which was more than just win. He took the process of playing Virtua Fighter and took it to another level beyond mere showmanship. That’s art in games to me.
Other people deserve credit, I think. Saur Dash’s deconstruction of the system in Devil May Cry 3 and the choices he makes in that game can be considered as art (go search youTube for evidence). Anyone who chooses to prioritise their performance over their score in Guitar Hero can be consididered an artist, regardless of result. Anyone who chooses to crawl through a small crack in the wall in Call of Duty 4 just because it’s there is expressing. Anyone who jumps down from up high to challenge another player who has a sword even though they only have a magnum pistol in Halo 3, just because they feel the need, is expressing themself. Anyone who plays Prince of Persia and doesn’t allow the Prince to make a full rotation after grabbing any pole is making a deliberately non-functional decision. Anyone who runs up the stairs in Peach’s castle just so they can backflip onto the banister and bum-grind down is expressing. And that, I think, is art.