on Oct 18, 2007
Here is Steven’s definition of art:
- What is communicated can be mundane or profound. (Or somewhere in between.)
- The idea is communicated effectively or not effectively.
- What is communicate can be understood by a broad audience or only by a few.
“Great” art is profound, effective, and broad. It says something important, says it extremely well, and communicates it to many people.
This makes me think of a scene near the beginning of Dead Poets Society where John Keating (Robin Williams) begins a lesson on how to judge the merit of a poem by placing within a two-axis grid. I can’t recall what the two axis stood for, but they were not unlike the three-dimensional system Steven gives us above. The movie then mocks the idea that you can clearly define the merits of art this way and Keating has the students tear these pages out of their books. But I like what Steven has up there: A thing Is what it Does. Yeah, yeah. I know: Engineers and their confounded desire to quantify every dang thing. Sue me.
Later he says:
Let’s drag this topic over to my favorite dead horse – videogames as art – and give it a few more good thumps. It’s interesting to note that for an overwhelming number of games – first-person games in particular – the message is something along the lines of “You are a hero”, or perhaps better, “Heroes are good”. Hero stories are the landscape paintings of videogames. They’re an easy target to hit. Most of us have a built-in appreciation of heroism just like our appreciation of mountain vistas, so the creator just needs to connect with the audience enough to tap into that.
(Futile attempt to intercept nitpickery: Of course there are also games which aren’t trying to communicate anything. The Sim series of games is a good example of this. Will Wright calls these “software toys”. It’s not a chess set, it’s a box of Legos. They aren’t games in the sense that you have to “win” and they are not designed to communicate ideas or evoke emotions.)
Now, hopefully that isn’t all the game has to say, or it’s going to be very dull. Letting you knock down bad guys for its own sake is an empty sort of self-gratification. Hopefully the game uses the hero concept as a starting point for bigger questions. “What is a hero?” or “What can change the nature of a man?“.
Okay, this is the eighth post on videogames in a week. Man, I really need to get our D&D group going again.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.