Games as Art: The Cost
The cost of embracing the view of games as art is that gameplay involves a reduction of oneself. This is what the squeeze is all about. To better work within the gameplay system, one's own opinions, ideas, tactics, strategies, and actions are squeezed tighter and tighter to better conform to the system. And by squeezed I generally mean set aside, tweaked, and mostly deleted. Anything you think or feel will eventually be replaced with specifics of what the system can allow. There really isn't a lot of room for pride, hubris, or excuses. The measuring system (the goals and the gameplay systems) are fair and unyielding to all players.
Because video games ask this question so clearly, it's clear whether we have what it takes, or we don't. And this experience is hard to take for most people. When done poorly because of player participation or the game's design, ramming your head against a challenge over and over to find out that you're not good enough is not most people's idea of entertainment. I've said before that video games are inherently filled with repetition because learning is a fairly slow and repetitive process. Well, video games are also filled with a lot of losing. This losing doesn't just come from game over screens. It also comes from the loss of some of the weakness, unnecessary, prideful, and whiny parts of yourself. If the novelty (basically the benefits and joys of learning) wasn't such a strong and compelling experience, the squeeze most games put us through wouldn't be worth it. But, for the games designed around this aspect of video games, it is worth it in the very same way that listening to others is worth it. It changes us, and when various weaknesses are left behind, these changes are for the better. And the ideas we're left with from this transformative process is why games are art. Why games are powerful. Why games are meaningful. And why I've worked for years just to explain this clearly.
Ultimately, games as technology looks for games to reflect the current state of technology. Games as business looks for games to reflect each individual gamer, like a mirror, satisfying their desires with the hope that more meaningful experiences will come from doing less. And games as art is the view that requires work and looks at games to reflect both the developer and the player simultaneously in a very balanced way. Games as tech reflects and external subject. Games as business reflects the individual. And games as art reflects the developers, the world, and in doing so the player as the player quiets him or herself. Can you see that looking at video games from these views do not overlap? Can you see that one interested in pleasing oneself can't be the kind of person willing to quiet oneself in order to listen, and both can't be the type to ignore people altogether to reflect progress in technology. If you can see that these views are pointing in opposing directions like the points of an equilateral triangle, you'll understand why it's hard for a single gamers to hold multiple views simultaneously.
If you're thinking that it's possible to explore each trigon view completely and then switch to the others to gain a complete perspective on video games, you should know that each of the trigon view is its own endless pursuit. The pursuit of self satisfaction is endless. The pursuit of technology, if not endless, is hard to resolve because technology advances daily at an alarming rate. And the pursuit of art and understanding oneself through understanding others (via gameplay systems) makes every game a world unto itself. You can get lost in a quest to understand games via their gameplay systems. I've spent years diving into the design of Super Mario Bros, and I'm still not done. So even with games as art, mastering each game is an endless pursuit.
I clearly support the view of games as art. But I understand that there is much to appreciate from the other views. Also, I understand that blending these views can result in more varied, more interesting, and stronger products overall. Yes, many products that we call games these days aren't much of games at all. But instead of getting tangled up in the terms, I suggest going straight to the heart of the matter by asking what views you hold and how these views affect everything you think and love about video games. Understanding which view or views you hold is important for understanding yourself, communicating to others, and supporting the video game industry. And if you're unsatisfied with the games you play, consider if a more well-rounded viewpoint could work for you. Chances are, you're neglecting the games as art view.
I respect each view. I respect that anyone can find something to like within a very complex medium like video games. Regardless of what you're looking for, it takes work to get more complex, more varied, and more meaningful experiences out of art and entertainment. It's work whether you have to know a language to read books, you have to recognize the grammar to enjoy music, piece together scenes and characters to understand movies, or learn mechanics to understand interactivity and gameplay. Whether you want better stories, music, emotions, ideas, or whatever from games, you will have to work for it. In fact, the only problem I have with with gamer demands and complaints is when they demand from video games what they already offer and are unwilling to work for it.
I know that gameplay conveys much of the meaning that many gamers demand. I also know that gameplay systems can enhance the stories, meaning, and emotions in a game experience. I'm convinced that anyone who complains that games aren't "there" yet does not consider gameplay systems as a factor or at least doesn't understand them well enough. I know that many gamers heavily rely on non-gaming elements to make their gaming experiences more enjoyable. A little story, music, and visuals go a long way in making games more appealing and accessible to a wide range of people. But without a community and a culture to teach people what's valuable about gameplay or games as art, and without the language to describe what's great about games, most of these gamers are largely unaware of gameplay at all.
Final Fantasy Judges.
This series, The Verdict on Video Games, considers what video games are and how they have evolved as products of entertainment in a rapidly growing industry. Games cannot easily separate from a unique relationship with technology and therefore business. But the art of games (game design) is something that can be utterly overlooked, invisible, and even lost if we fail to preserve it. Even the most hardcore enthusiast, writers, critics and the like in our industry are not necessarily good at talking about gameplay. In other words the casual gamer is just as likely to miss out on quality gameplay discussions as the hardcore gamer. We only have to look at the current gaming discourse to see how far we've come and how much the trigon view of video games explains how we think, what we want out of our games, what we value, where games are going, and why gameplay is invisible to the masses.
I think that when it comes to video games, gameplay takes precedence over language, so this could be the thing that makes the world one. ~ Mizuki
Such is the verdict on video games. And as the judge for yourself, you get to make a decision on what matters to you and whether or not to express this decision. You get to consider if there's more to gameplay than you thought. You get to decide if you want to take a small step of faith in a game and put in a bit of work to see more of what it's about. You get to decide if you want to embrace the ideas of others through gameplay and its abstract concepts, function, squeeze, and structured interactivity. You get to decide if you really want to know yourself by measuring up to the challenges of gameplay.
Now, I better understand the thoughts, comments, and opinions of fellow gamers. Stay tuned for Critical-Casts episode 3: Trigon in which we'll listen to various statements and voices from the gaming discourse and see how the trigon view of video games helps us categorize and understand each other better.
The verdict has passed.