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Episode 180: Your Mom is Art

by Jonathan Metts - January 24, 2010, 5:40 pm PST
Total comments: 49

This episode packs all the usual fun stuff, more Games of the Decade, and the dreaded "art" question. PLUS: A very special announcement!

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RFN 180 kicks off with the big news that we'll be doing a panel at PAX East, called "Radio Free Nintendo: A Live Podcast for Grown-Ups". If you're planning to attend the show, or at least thinking about it, check out the forum thread! In other, game-playing New Business, Jon Lindemann dusts off his DSi for a report on Dark Void Zero, while Jonny catches up on various Xbox games (and rants about Nintendo's dereliction of DS demos). Greg has praise and criticism for Dead Space: Extraction, and James is still half-way through the tutorial in Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World.

After a quick break, we've got the next four testimonials in the ongoing Games of the Decade feature. You'll hear from staffers like Pedro and Grant for the first time, and this salvo of games includes beloved epics (Metroid Prime, Majora's Mask) next to influential experiments (Wii Sports, Wii Fit). And there's still more to come! In your Listener Mail, we look back on a year of infinite fridge space (the SD Card Channel), examine how games create emotional impact, and venture into the ultimate no-man's-land of "games as art".

We're always looking for great Listener Mail to read and discuss on the show, so please send your questions or comments! (We really love seeing your praise and feedback regarding the show itself; however, in the interest of time, we may edit your letter to be read on the podcast.)

Credits:

This podcast was edited by Greg Leahy.

Music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is used with permission from Jason Ricci & New Blood. You can purchase their newest album, Done with the Devil, directly from the record label, Amazon.com, or iTunes, or call your local record store and ask for it!

Additional music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is copyrighted to Nintendo, and is included under fair use protection.

Talkback

ShyGuyJanuary 24, 2010

Is this a podcast for grownups? Seriously? It's not exactly NPR. I think children of all ages can appreciate a Bearrorist. And Cho Aniki.

NWR_KarlKarl Castaneda, Contributing EditorJanuary 24, 2010

The fear that no one's going to show is indeed present on my end, as well. My older brother's going to be at PAX, and even he's on the fence about this thing.

I'm only half kidding. We gotta get asses in those seats, gentlemen. Maybe the promise of nudity? Or the promise of a lack of nudity? Something with nudity.

Speaking of the show, any Boston natives or people familiar with the city who post here? If so, how's the public transit there? I don't mind getting a hotel room a little further off (and saving a bit of cash) if commuting a few miles is easy. The Hilton's got rooms available really close, but it's also a bit pricey.

EDIT: Also, ShyGuy reminded me with his NPR comment of another fear. That we'll all be so out of our element doing this live that it'll turn into an episode of The Delicious Dish. We won't have the dynamic sex appeal of Ana Gasteyer to save us if that happens.

I'm 19 minutes in, and I'm already jealous of a host (in this case, Johnny with the CCPro).

broodwarsJanuary 24, 2010

I have a sneaking suspicion that John will replay Cho Aniki just before the PAX show, just so he'll have an excuse to talk about it in that show's New Business segment.  :P:

Listening to the podcast now...

TJ SpykeJanuary 24, 2010

If I lived anywhere near Boston (I don't have a car, even if I did it would be tough as it would be about a 10 hour drive) I would go to PAX East and try to attend the panel. I hope you guys get lots of people attending.

Quote from: ShyGuy²

Is this a podcast for grownups? Seriously? It's not exactly NPR. I think children of all ages can appreciate a Bearrorist. And Cho Aniki.

I take that to mean that it's geared towards experienced gamers and those interested in intricacies of the industry beyond just the games as opposed to the stereotypical Nintendo demographic.  That doesn't mean everyone can't enjoy it.

adadadJanuary 24, 2010

EDIT: Whoops, thanks for the clarification Greg, I definitely should've listened before I preached.

Onto the actual topic at hand then!

Regarding the question of games as art, there are all sorts of arguments going on as to the specifics and definitions of terms which I don't particularly care to delve into, however I would say that beyond technical definitions that seek to categorise what is and isn't art, it is far easier to conclusively debate when there is a salient example in the medium being referred to. By this what I mean is that in the case of literature for example, there is a large canon of "classic" authors who can be quickly and easily referenced in a debate concerning art. I'd be surprised to find much contention over whether Shakespeare's plays or Dickens' novels are art or not, while I am more likely to find wildly diverging opinions when asking the same question concerning a page in a phonebook. As far as I'm concerned, people can quibble all they like over the latter example but it is scarcely relevant when it comes to enjoyment - just because someone believes that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon can be called art does not make it any way shape or form deserving of merit or my attention, art or not. Also, since the games as art concept is contested by some of its biggest fans and most prominent creators, then without further progress in the medium I don't see how this debate can ever be conclusive.

Personally I believe that games have the potential to provide experiences with great artistic merit (some might say that this has already happened - but if it has then it hasn't been widely recognised which makes it considerably more awkward to argue the point). Games certainly have not made good on their vast potential as of yet. Still the medium is extremely young and undeveloped, with constantly changing standards. Just as film critics have spoken about the grammar of their medium, there is a grammar to videogames. This of course is founded on the initial basis of a language - which presumably in the case of a game covers the controls and basic mechanics. It follows then that the grammar of a medium is to do with the actual usage and construction of the language forming a coherent or satisfying product. However the grammar of games is, broadly speaking, rather basic, whilst difficulties concerning basic controls are still regular afflictions in finished products, which arguably serve only to prevent games from adequately delivering a compelling experience of any artistic depth. An example of language and grammar in a videogame is in something like Braid, which overtly plays with aspects of Super Mario's core design. Based on the sheer accessibility and mass appeal of 2D Mario, you might call Mario, and consequently the generalised 2D sidescrolling platformer the first language of many modern games players. Based on the acclaim Braid garnered, it is evidently considered in some respects to be an unusually exemplary game for its unique reappropriation of the basic mechanics of Super Mario into a significantly different context, thus rewriting the conventional grammar of the game, which lacks cohesion and artistic vision (it is well documentated that Mario is the product of technical limitations). Portal is similar too, introducing a unique blend of first person shooter and puzzle conventions and mechanics, introducing a new grammar in doing so.

Finally, I do think a case could be made for games offering especially cohesive game experiences that might at least be vaguely equivalent to aesthetic beauty in their construction - Super Metroid, or Ocarina of Time, or Portal are all examples that spring to my mind. As Zach posited, art is non-practical in its purpose, and whether or not games fall under the mantle of art, clearly games share this particular trait. So the argument is certainly there to be made for games, just whether or not it rings true with a wide audience's definition of art I currently doubt. One other obvious reason it is sufficiently tough to argue in favour of games as art is that when taken on the same terms as other mediums widely recognised as art, most games are comparatively mindless and shallow. This is primarily in reference to a game's writing or its story, often the most immediately visible component, if there is an intro for example.

Ugh, why is it that what starts out as a short post always turns into an extended argument. Just my overly long take on things anyway.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterJanuary 24, 2010

This is the first time I've participated in a NWR podcast, and its surreal. I still hate hearing my own voice but I am proud in that I was able to champion Wii Sports as one of the best of the decade, a game some would ignore because "it isn't an epic graphics heavy title" (as someone mentioned in the last thread).

Regarding Lindy's (?) comment about Wii Sports Resort being the best of the two, I agree. But I have the feeling that in the long run Wii Sports is going to be given more credit than Wii Sports Resort simply because it was the first of its kind, and by the time Wii Sports Resort was released motion control wasn't a novelty anymore. Wii Sports had that advantage because the concept was still abstract and the game was the first to fully show it off and be great at it.

YoshidiousGreg Leahy, Staff AlumnusJanuary 24, 2010

adadad, I can confirm that we were responding to a different art-related email (from Oswald in NYC) on this occasion. Hopefully we'll be responding to the cultural perception of gaming points from your letter on a forthcoming episode.

Great episode as always, gents.

I don't think James knows what his own definition of "art" is. Having said that, as an artist myself, I've come to my own definition over the years. It is a modified form of Scott McCloud's excellent, though overbroad, definition in his seminal "Understanding Comics." To him, art is anything that requires creative thought. At first, this sounds like an odd definition--he essentially states that art is anything that is NOT related to reproduction or survival.

As a naturalist, I wholly disagree that the three categories can be segregated from each-other. Creative thought is often but into trying to reproduce, or to make money for one's survival.

No, I rather prefer to think that "art" is anything that requires creative thought beyond practical means. Let's say you make clay pots for a living. Clay pots require some creative thought, some problem-solving, and improvement in design over time. But their purpose is entirely practical. You carry things in pots. However, let's say that you start carving symbols into the pots. Maybe you charge a little more per pot. However, they are still used primarily for carrying things. Well, one day you carve very intricate designs into a clay pot, then put it aside. It is distinctly NOT used for carrying things. Its value is too great--what if the pot breaks? All the work you put into it will be lost. Because of the added effort, that pot has more value, and that value is emotionally determined.

So, under this definition, all video games are art by their very existance. Creative thought went into even the worst games. They are, in themselves, entirely IMpractical. The same goes for literature, film, and television. Quality does not equal art. It is the process of creating something inherently creative--not practical--that warrants the term "art."

James is advocating a sort of rubrik that can never be realized. Author's (or creator's) intent is NEVER apparant unless you have the creator right there, and you ask what their intent was regarding whatever it is they created. Often, you'll find that creators have multiple intentions or, more rarely, they cannot pinpoint what their intention was. What is great art comes from drug-induced euphoric states, as sometimes happens? The next day, the artist might not even remember making the piece of art, much less what the intention was.

Let's look at it another way. I am a paleoartist. In order to achieve was I consider a successful product, I actually try to remove all creative licensing from my pictures. If I can't get ahold of valid, first-tier references for, say, Dimorphodon macronyx, I probably won't restore it. The knowledge has to be there first, and if some crucial aspect of the anatomy is unknown (like the skull of Masiakosaurus), I will not restore it. Is my work "art?" No, not especially. It's informative, and the purpose is to educate. My paleoart may require a creative mind, but the end result is not art. I am drawing practical representations of extinct animals. Were I to stylize my dinosaurs for the hell of it, that would be art. But a Tyrannosaurus rex based on skeletal references and studies of its integument and A&P is not art--it's informative.

KDR_11kJanuary 25, 2010

Art is what you can convince others to buy as such. :P

I'm not sure I'd really call entertainment unproductive, living beings need some kind of entertainment as experiments have shown that being entertained instead of bored has many positive effects on the body (e.g. lab mice showed a higher brain cell regrowth rate when they were entertained).

- NintendoFan -January 25, 2010

It's the funny, the older I get the more I appreciate and am shocked at how amazing Majora's Mask really is.

broodwarsJanuary 25, 2010

Wow, I'd forgotten that Majora's Mask came out in the 2000s, and being my favorite Zelda game and one of the more innovative games Nintendo's done the past 10 years it's a strong candidate for my Nintendo Game of the Decade.  Hmm...going up against Metroid Prime, though, there's strong competition.  Something that didn't get mentioned that's significant about Metroid Prime (and a possible reason to give it the overall honors) is that it was pretty much the first time Nintendo handed off one of their big AAA franchises over to a Western developer, who then reinvented and reinvigorated the franchise (I didn't like Metroid until the Prime series, and even now I don't care too much for 2D Metroid).  Considering how the industry has shifted towards Western development over the last decade, that's pretty significant and influential.

As for James' view on the whole tired "games as art" debate, I think he's full of it.  The idea of something not being art unless the person creating is making it specifically to be art is just pretentious and always comes off as rather fake.  What makes games "art" is the immersive experience (how a game sucks you into the experience and lingers in your head long after you've stopped playing), and it's a completely different approach from any other media.

happyastoriaJanuary 25, 2010

NWR is the NPR of video game podcast. I love it. It's very refreshing. I submitted this same question to another podcast, but all I get is bullshit answers. I was very satisfied with the response I got here.  I must confess that I have been listing to you guys for awhile, but I never visited the website until a week ago (Blame iTunes, there should be a link next to the podcast or something) Thanks You and good luck on PAX!

Oswald, New York

NWR_DrewMGAndy Goergen, AlmunusJanuary 25, 2010

Quote from: -

It's the funny, the older I get the more I appreciate and am shocked at how amazing Majora's Mask really is.

I know!  Such a great game, and I enjoyed recording my segment for this week's show.

D_AverageJanuary 25, 2010

Oh man. I'm in Denver. It would be sweet to have a video podcast of the Pax show.

SouthForkJanuary 25, 2010

Art Shmart. If people get so uspest by someone trying to define a word then is that word really relevant anymore. Art, like literature, is a relative term. James you should be commended for trying to pigeon-hole "art." Because no one wants to define art we get people using the bathroom on a canvas and somehow they are able to justify it as art. What a shame.
Let people who write be writers. Let people who paint be painters and let people who make games be game developers. Why do people have to be artists? It's when people call themselves artist that true pretention rises its head.

Great Show though. Save a seat at PAX for me.

noname2200January 25, 2010

I want in on this "art" business!

Let me preface my comments by saying that I truly do not care if someone/anyone decides that games are "art." If the entire world woke up tomorrow and decided that games are/aren't art, I can't see that judgment making an iota of difference.

Quote from: adadad

It seems to me that broadly speaking, an increased (or dare I say it, an expanded) audience gives gaming additional credibility as a medium - not necessarily by attributing games any artistic merit, but simply by contributing to removing some of the stigma surrounding games and the people who play them.

I agree with this assessment. I'm convinced that the only reason that folks like Egbert (sic) are so adamant that games are not "art" is that gaming has done everything in its power to acquire a stigma that repels 90% of the population. Until recently, gaming has desperately wanted to exclude everyone but the adolescent male from their target audience. And the general preferences of that group are almost never embraced as "art."

Take for example summer blockbusters, sci-fi novels, and comic books, the other three areas that are primarily associated with the same group of folks who play video games. Even though these are all old media with countless works, and even though the general public has long since come to embrace movies, books, and illustrated stories, only a small handful of those works are considered "art." How much worse then will it be for video games, which are rarely played by the general public?

Getting more people into gaming is not a sufficient step for having games recognized as "art," but it's definitely a necessary one.

Quote from: Halbred



No, I rather prefer to think that "art" is anything that requires creative thought beyond practical means.Let's say you make clay pots for a living. Clay pots require somecreative thought, some problem-solving, and improvement in design overtime. But their purpose is entirely practical. You carry things inpots. However, let's say that you start carving symbols into the pots.Maybe you charge a little more per pot. However, they are still usedprimarily for carrying things.

You laid out a persuasive case...

Quote:

Well, one day you carve very intricate designs into a clay pot, thenput it aside. It is distinctly NOT used for carrying things. Its valueis too great--what if the pot breaks? All the work you put into it willbe lost. Because of the added effort, that pot has more value, and thatvalue is emotionally determined.

...until you got to this part. It sounds, quite literally, that yourdefinition of art is "anything on a pedestal." I reject that. I don'tsee why a piece of art has to be so valuable that you wouldn't riskdamaging it. Think of samurai armor, starting with the Heike era.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/arts/design/23samurai.html?_r=1

These things maintained a very practical purpose (saving your life inbattle), and the bearer very much risked damaging it (by wearing itinto battle). And yet I'm hard-pressed to argue that some of thesethings are not, in fact, damned fine art. They're gorgeous andelaborate, needlessly so, but their artistic merit hardly vanishes oncea guy pulled it off the rack and took it into a fight!

Relating this back to the topic, I think games need to have way morethan just some creative process to become "art." If we go aroundclaiming that art is incredibly broad, as three of the hosts apparentlyare, I think we cheapen the few works that may qualify as "art." Afterall, saying that everyone's special is just another way of saying thatno one is.

I'll be the first to say that I'm not willing to separate the "art" from the "not-art," though.  :D

Quote from: KDR_11k

Art is what you can convince others to buy as such. :P:

You're being cheeky, but the more I look into the matter, the more convinced I become that you're actually quite right...

Good point. There is certainly a meeting point between art and practicality. Samurai armor is very much a good example of this. I think it's "art" when it ceases being used for whatever practical purpose it was originally meant for BECAUSE OF the artistic influence. How's that sound?

sladeadamsJanuary 25, 2010

I want to start by saying thanks for reading my e-mail, That was freakin awsome! I never had that happen before.
    I feel calling anything art or someone an artist is a personal emotion and opinion. If you notice, not one piece of art can be liked by everyone. Yet, no matter if you like a piece or not, you CAN consider it a legit piece of art.  You can call anything in a gallery a piece of shit, but you can admit that one person looked at that piece and did what they saw, weather it was to get it into a gallery for money or it was true passion down to the bone with no other purpose at the time. Art is what anyone makes of it and is up to no one to categorize what art is and isn't. A way someone does business can be an art, or the way one manages time. That person took an actual mental agenda to those subjects to be proficient and therefore mastered it.

KDR_11kJanuary 26, 2010

Well, a relative of mine is studying art and apparently the definition requires reading Hegel. Since I'm sure nobody here wants to suffer through that we won't be producing any definitive answers.

ControlerFleXJanuary 26, 2010

Everyone's definition of art seems to vary and it should, BUT the definition of weird and awkward will be apparent for the PAX "podcast". The way the podcast is regularly done is not unlike many other but the friendship and comradery is unique for four dudes that don't physically "hang out" with each other.

I do believe that the shear uncomfortability of the situation will land you all on the backbone of the relationship that is showcased on a weekly basis. With that said, even if there's only five dudes, outside the other five dudes yall already know at PAX, you will find a way to pool your tallents and still deliver something to the live audience but more so, deliver something that us loyal listeners will love for years to come.

Good luck fellas and..OOHRAH!!

happyastoriaJanuary 26, 2010

Hmm, I'm finding it kinda weird that many poster here are claiming that the "art" e-mail was theirs. It's not! It belongs to me! lol Oswald Leon from New York. Stop stealing my identity! lol

ShyGuyJanuary 26, 2010

Happyastoria's name led me to finding out that Astoria isn't just the name of the best town in Oregon, but also a neighborhood in Queens.

happyastoriaJanuary 26, 2010

Quote from: ShyGuy²

Happyastoria's name led me to finding out that Astoria isn't just the name of the best town in Oregon, but also a neighborhood in Queens.

yup, you're right!

vuduJanuary 26, 2010

Re:  Soul Bubbles demo

Actually, there was a demo for Soul Bubbles on the Nintendo Channel when the game first came out.  I downloaded it.

Re:  Spirit Tracks

Spoiler alert, dudes!  The game's only 2 months old.  Some of us don't have as much free time to devote to gaming as you guys!

yoshi1001January 26, 2010

Quote from: happyastoria

NWR is the NPR of video game podcast. I love it. It's very refreshing.

I keep thinking TYP should do a "Support for NPR comes from..." spoof the next time Radio Trivia ends with classical/jazz music. ;)

Quote from: vudu

Re:  Soul Bubbles demo

Actually, there was a demo for Soul Bubbles on the Nintendo Channel when the game first came out.  I downloaded it.

Doesn't do me any good now! And are you in the U.S.? I check the channel every week and would have downloaded that if I'd seen it.

Quote:

Spoiler alert, dudes!  The game's only 2 months old.  Some of us don't have as much free time to devote to gaming as you guys!

Sorry about that -- we rarely get into spoiler territory, so when it does happen, we don't always realize it.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterJanuary 27, 2010

Johnny: The Soul Bubbles demo was in the American Nintendo Channel, but it was pulled out a week later. Nintendo should really keep the demos around.

ShyGuyJanuary 27, 2010

Pap's voice was awesome.

KDR_11kJanuary 27, 2010

Third party demos expire after a week or two while Nintendo demos stay around forever. I got a Go Go Cosmo Cops demo with the right timing but right now there are three demos for Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and a bunch of ancient games.

YoshidiousGreg Leahy, Staff AlumnusJanuary 27, 2010

Quote from: vudu

Re:  Spirit Tracks

Spoiler alert, dudes!  The game's only 2 months old.  Some of us don't have as much free time to devote to gaming as you guys!

The discussion originally went into extensive, explicit detail of the finale to Spirit Tracks, but I removed as much of that as I could while preserving James' sentiments about the game. I'm sorry you feel you've had Spirit Tracks' ending spoiled for you to some extent, but believe me there is a lot about it that went unsaid in the final edit of the podcast. Also, given how much time I spend every weekend editing out things like that, I somewhat doubt I have much more free time than you do to play video games!

noname2200January 27, 2010

Quote from: Halbred

Good point. There is certainly a meeting point between art and practicality. Samurai armor is very much a good example of this. I think it's "art" when it ceases being used for whatever practical purpose it was originally meant for BECAUSE OF the artistic influence. How's that sound?


That's better!  ;D

I still don't agree completely, but then I'm pretty sure I'm going to go to my grave without ever getting a perfect definition for the term. For now though, I'm stealing yours.  ;)

I just listened to 180 and want to note that the lop-sidedness of the art discussion was not intentional. James accidentally muted himself during most of that discussion, and none of us (including him) realized that until we were quite deep into it. So when we finally got wise to the problem, he came in towards the end to give his side and finish the segment. Rather than try to splice his comments throughout the discussion, we thought it would be simpler and more honest to preserve the original flow. Frankly, I do feel that James was a bit short-changed on how much time he got to lay out his arguments, but the conversation was already so incredibly long that I had to end it soon after.

As for whether we'll reopen the debate, that probably won't happen anytime soon, as it seems we are quite set in our ways and are unlikely to find any middle ground or approach the topic from a new angle. However, we have received some very intelligent (and lengthy) emails and posts about the question, and I will try to fit some of those into an upcoming show. Just be aware that we will likely read these without comment in order to avoid repeating ourselves or arguing in circles.

Invincible Donkey KongJanuary 28, 2010

Pretty deep stuff for a podcast, but I'm glad you know when to move on to other topics.

I think you should've mentioned Legendo's Pearl Harbor game somewhere in the discussion of Wiiware's file size limits; breaking it up into 3 parts is an interesting risk, especially since they still don't know how much they're going to charge or when it's going to be released.

I enjoyed the part where Jonny and James argued the semantics of the word semantics.

NWR_DrewMGAndy Goergen, AlmunusJanuary 28, 2010

I think every discussion of the meaning of art is essentially an argument over semantics. 

KDR_11kJanuary 28, 2010

Any sufficiently long discussion turns into semantics.

Fatty The HuttJanuary 29, 2010

Quote from: Halbred

as an artist myself, I've come to my own definition over the years. It is a modified form of Scott McCloud's excellent, though overbroad, definition in his seminal "Understanding Comics." To him, art is anything that requires creative thought. At first, this sounds like an odd definition--he essentially states that art is anything that is NOT related to reproduction or survival.

As a naturalist, I wholly disagree that the three categories can be segregated from each-other. Creative thought is often but into trying to reproduce, or to make money for one's survival.

No, I rather prefer to think that "art" is anything that requires creative thought beyond practical means.
...

So, under this definition, all video games are art by their very existance. Creative thought went into even the worst games. They are, in themselves, entirely IMpractical. The same goes for literature, film, and television. Quality does not equal art. It is the process of creating something inherently creative--not practical--that warrants the term "art."


I quite like this definition of "art" as a starting point but I do have one fundamental qualifier: I think the purpose of art is indeed very practical. Maybe we (like Johnny and James) will be arguing over semantics and/or the definition of "practical". But what I mean is, I think some of the purposes of art are to illuminate or reflect the human condition and to provoke a feeling of "elevation". When I use the term "elevation," I am here pilfering the concept of "elevation" from Roger Ebert. He wrote of "elevation in his blog here:http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/01/i_feel_good_i_knew_that_i_woul.html

The irony of stealing an idea from Ebert is not lost on me for it is he who has flamed the fires of the videogames-as-art debate by stating unequivocally and on many occasions that he does not think videogames are art. On that point, he is, in my opinion, simply dead wrong.

Ebert, and others, describe "elevation" as the sensation one gets when we see good people doing good things or things that are "right" (morally speaking, I suppose). These moments can be profoundly sad, but they move us in a specific way. I think this definition of "elevation" is a bit narrower than what I think of as "art." Rather art, to me, speaks to me about what it is to be human and alive. This, to me, includes moments of "elevation" but also moments that remind us of the darkness of humankind. Is it not true, for example, that humans are the only of Earth's creatures that murder, rape, commit crimes of passion and are deliberately cruel? Communicating those aspects of "humanity" is important in art as well. When I experience moments of "art" that reflect or illuminate humanity, I get that tingly feeling that Ebert talks about in his article of "elevation." That's why I've cited it here. I can also get that tingly feeling simply from artistic works that are praised primarily for their beauty and not much else. I am moved by the beauty alone. I think that feeling is specifically human, too.

But back to "practicality". All I am saying is that I think it is eminently practical, necessary even, for humans to seek to illuminate, elevate, touch, whatever, through "art." We all know videogames can and regularly do this. Videogames are art. Its a no-brainer. Maybe not all videogames are "art" but certainly many qualify.

One could also suggest that "art" encourages discussion as to its significance or meaning. It's pretty obvious what a hammer is for, but those cave paintings could mean a lot of different things.

noname2200January 29, 2010

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

I just listened to 180 and want to note that the lop-sidedness of the art discussion was not intentional. James accidentally muted himself during most of that discussion, and none of us (including him) realized that until we were quite deep into it. So when we finally got wise to the problem, he came in towards the end to give his side and finish the segment. Rather than try to splice his comments throughout the discussion, we thought it would be simpler and more honest to preserve the original flow. Frankly, I do feel that James was a bit short-changed on how much time he got to lay out his arguments, but the conversation was already so incredibly long that I had to end it soon after.


Poor James: it must have been frustrating to keep saying something, only to be completely ignored.  ;D

adadadJanuary 29, 2010

Quote from: Fatty_The_Hutt

I quite like this definition of "art" as a starting point but I do have one fundamental qualifier: I think the purpose of art is indeed very practical. Maybe we (like Johnny and James) will be arguing over semantics and/or the definition of "practical". But what I mean is, I think some of the purposes of art are to illuminate or reflect the human condition and to provoke a feeling of "elevation". When I use the term "elevation," I am here pilfering the concept of "elevation" from Roger Ebert. He wrote of "elevation in his blog here:http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/01/i_feel_good_i_knew_that_i_woul.html

The irony of stealing an idea from Ebert is not lost on me for it is he who has flamed the fires of the videogames-as-art debate by stating unequivocally and on many occasions that he does not think videogames are art. On that point, he is, in my opinion, simply dead wrong.

Ebert, and others, describe "elevation" as the sensation one gets when we see good people doing good things or things that are "right" (morally speaking, I suppose). These moments can be profoundly sad, but they move us in a specific way. I think this definition of "elevation" is a bit narrower than what I think of as "art." Rather art, to me, speaks to me about what it is to be human and alive. This, to me, includes moments of "elevation" but also moments that remind us of the darkness of humankind. Is it not true, for example, that humans are the only of Earth's creatures that murder, rape, commit crimes of passion and are deliberately cruel? Communicating those aspects of "humanity" is important in art as well. When I experience moments of "art" that reflect or illuminate humanity, I get that tingly feeling that Ebert talks about in his article of "elevation." That's why I've cited it here. I can also get that tingly feeling simply from artistic works that are praised primarily for their beauty and not much else. I am moved by the beauty alone. I think that feeling is specifically human, too.

But back to "practicality". All I am saying is that I think it is eminently practical, necessary even, for humans to seek to illuminate, elevate, touch, whatever, through "art." We all know videogames can and regularly do this. Videogames are art. Its a no-brainer. Maybe not all videogames are "art" but certainly many qualify.

This is quite an Aristotelian way to go about defining art and its purpose, and while I cannot speak with any great deal of certainty on the topic, I would argue that while I can get behind a substantial portion of this definition, there needs to be a distinction drawn between art, and what games typically offer. In other words, if games are not currently considered to be art by a substantial number of people who also happen to see cinema and literature as being art, then the question is less one of semantics. Instead it is a question of what qualities games lack - if any - that would factor into this choice. I don't care to get into Ebert's past comments on the topic of games as art (because it's been done to death, because he's only one voice in a sea, and other factors involving some tiredness on my part), but one of the primary troubles games give critics, in my opinion, is the game's interactivity. Typically art is composed of some form of narrative, to be digested in a linear fashion in the case of a film or a book (by which I mean the story has a set, linear order to be observed from beginning to end, even if the actual narrative takes place out of chronological order). In the case of a painting or similar work of art, critics often attempt to describe and evaluate the way the viewer's eye is drawn, as if it the piece were, to an extent, linear. Obviously this is a problematic approach and games offer even more difficulties in this vein, especially when looking at non-linear games with open environments, when it is not easily predictable what any given player will do. One way of getting across a linear in a non-linear experience that is frequently used is the cutscene. It is my opinion that the cutscene gives critics like Roger Ebert an easy reason to look at games derisively, since a cutscene can be said to acknowledge the inferiority of games by deferring to cinema. An example from cinema is the voiceover, a frequent component of films, even today. Why would I want to go to the cinema, a visual medium, in order to hear a talking book telling me the story? Likewise we saw in the 50s the French Auteurs setting out to move cinema out of its subservient role to literature, by downplaying the role of the screenwriter in favour of the director. In recent years we've seen some games edging away from the cutscene model, a veritable "feature" of the original Half-Life, but ultimately, while admirable, most of the time the game will constrict the player enough to the extent it provides non-interactive cutscenes in which you can do aught but jump around while the dialogue plays out whilst having no effect on the events taking place.

Now, obviously, games have the potential to present a good story to the extent that it should, at the very least, achieve the famous "Oscar-worthy writing" promised by GTA4. I haven't watched any cutscenes from the game (nor played it in fact!) so I couldn't see how ably it managed to reach, or miss, its target. Regardless, if cutscences and dialogue are all games have to offer and the Oscar aim is shared by the remainder of the industry then the medium should be declared dead in the water in my opinion. Ultimately games have to offer more than art-worthy cinematics in order to justify their continued existence. To draw on a game I haven't personally experienced, both Jon on RFN and Garnett Lee spoke highly of the vaguely interactive cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4. I particularly liked the sound of one part of the game which involved button mashing to make the elderly Snake crawl - and there we have a primitive example conforming to Aristotle's generalised aspirations for art. I won't go into it too much, however Aristotle is a hell of a lot of easier to read than Hegel, and probably more influential, so I might as well mention it quickly (quoting from the Aristotle's 'Poetics' by the way). Aristotle says that the task of the poet when writing Greek tragedy, is to depict 'the kind of events which could occur, and are possible'. By depicting conceivably real characters and plausible actions, we are able to emphathise with characters and their situations, and as such are primed to experience the sort of emotion Ebert wrote about in his blog, the so-called Elevation. Now I can only speculate on the effectiveness of the MGS scene on the player, having not experienced it beyond YouTube, however as melodramatic as it looked to me, it does seem to be, at least to my eyes, a representation 'which is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude , in the mode of dramatic enactment, not narrative', and works with the goal of arousing emotions in a similar vein to those 'of pity and fear'. Whether MGS4 accomplished the end goal of a great artistic endeavour is all matter of taste, which I would argue in large part is potentially marred for the player by some of the game's qualities; melodramatic and over the top drama characterise the MGS series and I'm not a big fan, which goes some way to preventing me (and likeminded players) from becoming overly emotionally invested. The phrase "I don't buy it" sums it up well I think, and it's a phrase that can be meted out to an overwhelming number of films, games and books that lack the spark of empathy that inspires emotions in the viewer, player and reader respectively.

Quote from: Fatty_The_Hutt

But back to "practicality". All I am saying is that I think it is eminently practical, necessary even, for humans to seek to illuminate, elevate, touch, whatever, through "art." We all know videogames can and regularly do this. Videogames are art. Its a no-brainer. Maybe not all videogames are "art" but certainly many qualify.

When I started writing this message I initially disagreed with this idea of art being practical, however the more I think on it the more noticeable it is that everyone I've ever met or heard of, as far as I know, is partial to some form of fiction, whether it be in games, films, books or plays etc., and this consumption of fiction is of course widespread and unquestioned. It strikes me as strange that we as humans should be unquestionably drawn to lies. When we're extremely young we learn moral and practical lessons through stories, and narrative provides a basis for understanding the world around us. Yet when we grow up, the narratives continute, only they have grown more complex and large, and for what purpose exactly? I couldn't possibly comment any longer in this message, except to second the possibility that art might somehow be more practical in its purpose and use than is immediately apparent.

Fatty The HuttJanuary 30, 2010

Quote from: Halbred

One could also suggest that "art" encourages discussion as to its significance or meaning. It's pretty obvious what a hammer is for, but those cave paintings could mean a lot of different things.


A hammer is for illuminating the human condition, right?  ;D

@adadad - good points. Thanks for the thought-provoking, er, thoughts.

It's not important to know the definition of a word that nobody can agree on a definition for.

Kind of like "Eutheropoda" or "Titanosauriformes."

PlugabugzJanuary 31, 2010

I'[m not going to weigh in on the Art section, but i did want to make a shout out to Greg.

Normally your editing is great 99% of the time, but in the "break" segment where you're talking about stuff on RFN... everyone just NAILED it. It felt literally like radio and had such a live feel to it. Absolutely perfect.

You raised the bar far too high now ;)

Quote from: adadad

This is quite an Aristotelian way to go about defining art and its purpose

When I saw this word, my head exploded.

Great googly moogly. This really IS a podcast for Grown-ups.

GoldenPhoenixFebruary 01, 2010

Ah, what is art, semantics and lots of "my opinion is better then yours of what it is".  My answer, I could care less. Some creations inspire me some don't, the end.

vuduFebruary 02, 2010

Ah, what is goth, semantics and lots of "my opinion is better then yours of what it is".  My answer, I could care less. Some creations inspire me some don't, the end.

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