TEDxUSC – Kellee Santiago

By Shamus Posted Saturday Apr 3, 2010

Filed under: Movies 62 comments

We’ve had the “games as art” discussion already, but I like her take on it.

Link (YouTube)


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62 thoughts on “TEDxUSC – Kellee Santiago

  1. John says:

    Great video, the lady was quite articulate and it was all quite well presented. She has good energy. (I also like her shirt.)

    She seems to only be saying that ‘artsy indie’ games are art, unless I misunderstood. ..but I think more games are art than just those kinds. Not getting into an argument about it, just giving my opinion, because I’ve had a number of games elict many emotions from me, joy, sadness, fear and so on.

    However within the context of her defiition of art, and what she says after, I’d say it all fits well. Thanks for putting this up :)

    1. perry says:

      yes, even call of duty modern warfare elicited a very strong emotion in me. even though it was a shallower game than most.

    2. Nick Bell says:

      I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I believe in the broadest possible definition of art. All video games are art, just as all paintings are art, all movies are art, all music is art. Any creative process can create art.

      Many “Is it art?” debates are really debates of quality. Do I like it? Art. Do I hate it? Not art. This is followed by making all sorts of silly distinctions like “fine”, “genuine” or “true” art. Its all art. Some of it is good, some of it is bad. The quality of art is very subjection and always open to opinion.

      Similarly, sometimes when we ask “Is it art?”, we are often actually asking, “Is it important?”. Most of the time when art and video games are brought up, this is really the question people are asking. Bioshock got the “art” label because it did new and different things. People feel that, when we look back at this generation, Bioshock will stand as one of the momentous moments. But its importance is independent of it being art. It IS art, but so is any other video game. It’s just that Bioshock is GOOD art, at least to some.

      1. SolkaTruesilver says:

        I think publicity has reached a level of high-craftsmanship that it could be called art in itself too.

        Just go see the annual contests of the best publicity in the world, and tell me these aren’t just fantastic.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The broadest definition is that everything is art.Example proving this:
        A while ago I read a story about a guy putting his feces into cans and selling them as art.He wasnt some famous person,it wasnt some rare animal feces,et people still bought it as art pieces.

        Personally,I believe that art has to have something genuine in it.Some part of the author.I would call cages 4’33” art,but I wouldnt call sitting in silence for 4 minutes and 33 seconds art.Seeing a performance of 4’33” on the other hand,is art.

  2. Henebry says:

    As a professor of writing and rhetoric, I’m appalled by the first 3 minutes of this presentation. She’s done no meaningful research into the history of art, nor into the history of the study of art. Wikipedia? Come on. This is precisely the sort of thing I teach my first-year students NOT to pass off as meaningful argument. You need to deepen your audience’s understanding, and that’s impossible to do so long as the stuff you cite as instances and authorities is stuff that’s already familiar to your audience.

    If she were my student, I’d also give her a hard time for the b.s. she offers in place of a meaningful history of art. I see what she’s trying to do there””she wants to suggest that video games are in their infancy, and that the earliest expressions in a medium might seem less than artistic to an observer. The problem is that we don’t really know what the first, tentative visual art looked like. There’s simply no record. Same with voice, etc. Speculation isn’t evidence. Speculation is founded in common sense. And, as I said before, whenever you cite stuff that’s familiar to your audience (and what’s more familiar than common sense?) you give up the opportunity of teaching them anything.

    The funny thing is that there are plenty of relatively new artistic media out there: still photography, film, television, comic books. For any of these she could present genuine instances of what those media looked like early on, and by this means she might actually TEST her theory that in its earliest stages a medium tends to be directed to practical ends (“There’s a cougar behind you!”) rather than artistic ones. My guess is that such a test would leave us questioning whether early art is really practical.

    She does bring in early cinema later in the presentation. But she does so only in passing, in a way that puts her audience in the role of completing her thought. If early cinema offers a simplistic moral code and adreniline-soaked action, why not show a clip, offer an explicit parallel between, say, Mario climbing up the construction site in Donkey Kong and Harold Lloyd out on a girder, hanging in space, in Safety Last!?

    She may well be right in her view that video games are art, but I’m not impressed with the argument she offers. Indeed, her most promising idea here was her instinctive sense that traditional games are NOT art, but that film is. Since video games combine gameplay with cinematic storytelling, it strikes me that she might have argued her case wholly by reference to this distinction, possibly identifying certain video games as falling on the “game” side and others as falling on the “film” side. Of course, such an argument might wind up with most of the really popular games (both hardcore and casual) falling short of the mark of “art”, and leaving only self-conscious artsy games like “The Path” on the art side of the line. So perhaps I’m wrong and her distinction between traditional games and art was actually her biggest mistake….

    1. Teldurn says:

      (and what's more familiar than common sense?)

      The funny thing is that common sense, remarkably, isn’t all that common. You hear of and see people do and say things that common sense would have them not do or say all the time.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Sure, but at the same time you have people disagreeing, sometimes violently, over what exactly common sense is. There is no set definition, only a vague idea.

        Everyone has common sense, they’re just not always compatible versions.

    2. Raven says:

      The major problem I had with her presentation is actually quite similar: she approached the history of video games (ostensibly her subject) with a similar level of casual dismissal. Video games weren’t art until she started paying attention to them. Never mind that Pikmin had an extremely similar creative process to Flower but manifested itself as a mainstream title. Never mind that Planescape: Torment explored similar themes to Braid almost a decade prior. Nor does she ever even hint at what differentiates flOw from other puzzle games. And her example 1st-person-shooter didn’t appear to match a whole slew of FPSs in terms of storytelling, gameplay, or artistry if it indeed the result of the “fusion of prior mediums”. I would cite American McGee’s Alice as a game that trumps it in all categories.

      But we could spend forever listing games that probably should be considered artistic for one reason or another. What really bothered me that all of her titles came from an incredibly specific sub-market: “recent main-stream faux-indie games”. Not only is this insulting to the thousands of people who have spent their lives developing games that were the best they could make; it was roughly the laziest approach she could’ve made. Those games are /marketed/ as “art”. If Braid isn’t “art” than its just a sub-par platformer with a gimmicky game mechanic. (My apologies to anyone that might offend; I did enjoy my first play-through of Braid but I feel if you go back, especially to get the hidden stars, it becomes evident how obtuse the time mechanics actually are.)

      Taking into consideration her brief mention that she was involved with the development of these sorts of games, for me, her whole speech turned into less of an academic argument to an advertisement for faux-indie games.

    3. eri says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking, and was actually prepared to write a similar rant, but you saved me the time. :P

      It’s true though. I understand her point, but it’s a massive oversimplification of the history of art and writing, as well as making very lazy presumptions about the (extremely diverse) functions these modes of communication served, especially considering most forms of communication have been used as art very near their inceptions.

      I also take some issue with the examples that she uses. Comparing petroglyphs to Michaelangelo isn’t exactly what I’d call fair, considering the huge difference between societies, cultures and time periods. It also seems to suggest that “realism” as a style is superior to other styles of art, either because it is “more realistic”, and/or because it is more mechanically taxing to create (which is a ridiculous argument because photography is both easy and conventionally considered to be the most realistic way of capturing the world). Obviously she was trying to pick examples more for their metaphorical value and so that they would be easily recognised by as many people as possible, but it’s still misleading and, if we are to assume her argument rests on this, highly fallacious for a myriad of reasons.

      In my own opinion, the problem with games as art doesn’t stem from the fact that they are in their infancy. Rather, it’s because often they are made by large groups of people without a consistent vision, because they are made to appeal to market trends and standards rather than discuss issues relevant to human experience in any original or new ways, and because in making a game, you are most likely going to be limited by your medium (by this, I mean that more passive forms of entertainment and communication are able to more clearly transmit their ideas because they don’t have to balance them with the gameplay itself; some games have often used their mechanics and rules to achieve a wider commentary, but this is rare, and usually we are stuck with the “gameplay” vs. the “art” and “story” segments).

      I wrote an essay discussing some of these issues just a few days ago. I think any reasonable definition of art will include games not because they have “gotten almost as good as other media” but precisely for their unique qualities that no other media can provide. The “are games art?” debate is over, as she suggests, but if that’s true then I’m not really sure why she needs to even mention it. Instead we need to examine the games we have in an academic fashion, in order to understand how games reflect us, what they say to us, and, ultimately, using this knowledge, how to make better and more deeply affecting games which are not only capable of affecting us intellectually and emotionally, but also of creating positive social change. She seems to be driving at that to some degree, but I feel like she takes far too long to come around to it.

    4. Chargone says:

      I’m betting the lack of clips is at least partially because showing clips will often get your video taken down without further investigation, often without recourse, and, from time to time, get you sued. depending on where it’s hosted.

      ok, probably not the Only reason, but a significant factor.

      which in no way addresses anything else (haven’t watched the video yet)

    5. Amarsir says:

      This is precisely the sort of thing I teach my first-year students NOT to pass off as meaningful argument. You need to deepen your audience's understanding, and that's impossible to do so long as the stuff you cite as instances and authorities is stuff that's already familiar to your audience.

      I’ve noticed that a lot of the TED speakers seem somewhat amateurish in their presentations. I haven’t watched that many, maybe 30-40 all told. But the sense I often come away with is that TED is trying to find appealing topics but not ensure the quality of them. That is certainly true here with “Games as Art” sounding appealing but the actual talk turning me off.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You want proof that game is art?Play half life 2.Theres your proof.Experience war,rise of enslaved humanity,and emotional connection towards characters you meet,all from first person perspective.All of those are used in books,music,paintings and movies.Yet those make you just see someone else experiencing those things,but still are considered art.


    PS:Id mention other games as well,but half life is one of the rare series that has no cutscenes,and you are always in first person,thus you are never plucked away from actually being in the game(unless you die,of course,but that doesnt happen often if you set it on easy).Id also mention the original half life and the subsequent episodes,but the second game is the one where characters were more fleshed out,and unlike episodes can be easily understood without the knowledge of its prequel.

    1. Henebry says:

      This is really smart. By citing a game without cutscenes, you neatly identify what makes video games art that isn’t a clumsy replication of another medium (film). Interestingly, early cinema leaned overmuch on a prior medium (stage acting). Some experts argue that it only became an independent medium when it began to explore what film could do that stage acting couldn’t do.

  4. SolkaTruesilver says:

    If art is truly meant to inspire emotions in us. If it’s supposed to be a mix of sound, color, and reasoning that makes us react in a pleasing way, or in a way that fills us with despire, fear and hate.

    I hate a few suggestion for good art games:

    1) Dragon Age

    Just the “intro” sequence following the origin story. Seriously. SERIOUSLY. My emotions were:

    – Oh hey. Hello random NPCs I meet. You will be around for the rest of the game. God the King is stupid.. but he’s nice. But stupid.
    – Hum.. these two guys are actually fun. Bantering, arguing, making jokes. One is funnier than the other, but eh, you can’t be even anywhere.
    – Ah.. finished this quest. New characters around.. oh well. They will probably be important in the middle of the storyline, as they were introduced uniquely for storytelling purpose.
    – Back to camp, let’s see what’s happening.. … ….. What..? He…?! Did he just… WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! NOOOOOOO!! STOP! FUCKING STOP!! YOU MONSTER!! HE HAD A WIFE!
    – Oh.. shit. Oh well. I have to go on… no choice apparently. God the King is stupid.. but nice. But stupid.
    – Action scene. Damn, I would REALLY feeled rushed if I had not known that the story is pacing at the speed I read the tower. (okay, this place is lame)
    – Ah, finally! Okay, King’s stupid, but he’s heroic. Wo.. the murderer is a real badass, after all. They all are.. come on, Cavalry.. what are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Okay. Come on, Deus Ex Machina, where are you? I AM WAITING!
    – Nothing? They.. they are dead?… ….. I need a break. God that game is depressing.

    2) Half-Life 2 (+ episodes)

    This game is oriented toward immersion. Half-Life 2 really set the motion about an interesting mix of NPCs, storyline, action, and MUSIC.. but it’s the Episodes who really, really mastered the perfect mix of all.
    Seriously, you feel for Alyx. You fear for her, you empathise with her durness. You feel awesome when the techno-beat pops in while running toward Combine soldiers with your pulse gun.

    The creators of this game really touched a nerve with those music/action/drama combination, and I give them my hat. If you consider moviemaking an art, I don’t see why Half-Life 2 cannot be an Artpiece (moreso than… oh… how about 40 Days & 40 Nights?)

    Edit: I got ninja’d about HL2 apparently

  5. Veylon says:

    I’d say that video games are not art. They contain art, but they are more of a tool. You watch a movie, look at a painting, read a book, or hear a concert. All these are passive activities. You don’t take a painting down and do stuff with it, nor are you required to edit a book to appreciate it, or have to yell and wave your arms in order to take in a movie. But you do have to take action in order to play a game.

    Certainly, some games near the line between tool and art, but those are the games where the player does little more than watch what happens. Your input is not appreciated, except to push the button to cause the next art bit to pop up. Cutscenes are movies that interrupt the game; you put down your controller and watch. Why else are quicktime events so annoying than because you are busy experiencing the art and not expecting to have to play a game?

    1. Otters34 says:

      Took the words out of my mouth. Can I have ’em back, now?

    2. Nick Bell says:

      If I get this correct, for something to be art it has to be passive? That by interacting with it, you remove its “artness”? No offense, but that makes no sense to me.

      I think art is BEST when art demands something from the viewer. When it comes to movies, the best are ones like Memento, which requires the viewer to pay attention, analyze the action, and leaves enough unsaid that the viewer has to make the final conclusions hirself. A good painting requires you to consider what it means, why it was created. Great books are more than just the words on the pages; they are the intent, philosophy, and substance behind the pages. Video games can be all that in more, since they ask of the player to actually DO the things that were just passively watched in other mediums.

      1. Veylon says:

        Sure, art is best when it’s subtle. I’m not claiming that video games are without art, only that they aren’t art.

        Compare an art gallery. The building may be art, it contains art, but it, as a whole is not so much art as a place for art. I see video games in much the same way.

        Consider all the examples of artiness people have been posting in support of the “video games are art” assertion. They point out acting, pictures, music, plot, characterization, landscaping, design. What they don’t point out is the gameplay, what lies at the very core of a game being a game. It’s as though someone claimed Chess is art by waxing eloquent over the pretty pieces when they are not at all a part of Chess being Chess.

        Yes, of course you have to pay attention to art. Otherwise you don’t experience it. My essential point is that art happens to you, with you as an observer.

        1. Nick Bell says:

          You are arguing that the piece of video games are art, without the whole. To me, that is like saying it is the painting that is the art, but the canvas isn’t important. Or that the lyrics of a song are art, but the song itself is not. Or saying an actor’s performance is art, but the movie is not. The components themselves might be art, but to then deny the whole as art seems cognitive dissonance to me.

          Much like movies, video games are art in composition. Movies are made up of acting, pictures, music, plot, Characterization, landscaping, and design. And each of these components are used as evidence to evaluate the “artsiness” of the piece. But even if only one of those is great, it does not stop the rest from being art as a whole.

          Most people do not discuss gameplay as art because it is not in our standard “art language.” Mostly because it is unique to video games, and as such, we have not yet built up a level of critic for it. But just because it is not discussed does not make it not art. Television, movies, even the novel were at times dismissed as “not art” at their inceptions. The choice of HOW you interact with a game is vital to that experience, and can enhance or distract from that experience. Watching Indigo Prophesy is very different from causing those actions yourself. DOING is always more powerful than WATCHING.

          And that’s the crux of it for me. You say that art is something that happens to you. I say art is something that happens IN me. The most important thing that art does is do I feel when I see it. What does it make ME think about. My reactions and experiences relating to art are its greatest strength. And the greater the interaction, the greater potential of that experience. Passively letting it happen to me seems to be weak by comparison.

          1. Veylon says:

            I think we’ll have to agree to disagree here. Doing versus Observing really is the crux of it. I like video games and I want them to have more doing. I don’t feel that making them “like movies” or “like novels” is an improvement, but something that detracts from the interaction that games have to offer.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          So books are not art,because you have to flip the pages.Audio books on the other hand are art,because you dont have to do anything.Interpretive dancing also isnt art,as well as plays that include audience,movies that have hidden meanings(aformentioned memento),abstract songs,…..All of them arent art because they require you to actively think.

          As for what you said about gameplay not being art,you are so wrong.Let me get back to half life 2 here:first person view,absence of cutscenes,npcs actively interacting with you,weapons you use,ability to redefine keys in order to use them effectively without the need to look at your keyboard and mouse,all of those help you to fully imerse yourself in the game,to never break the flow.A game with bad gameplay(dias for example)is equivalent of a movie chopped into pieces,each of which is on a different disk,or a book where pages are randomized,or a concert where you have to walk towards the musicians and flip their note sheets.A game with good gameplay,like half life 2,is no more active than reading a book.In fact,flipping a page removes you from a story more than moving your mouse.

          And,like Nick Bell already said,you cannot say that story of a game is art and gameplay is just a tool for that art.It would be like saying background music in a movie is art,but the movie as a whole is not.

        3. Zukhramm says:

          Why exactly does art need to be non-interactive to be art?

          In any case, I actually do agree with you on at least some things. Games contain art, no doubt, but even the most “arty” games, seem very much disconnected from their art. Even if the actual game is removed, you’ve still got the art, and if the gameplay can be removed without removing the art, is it really the game that is art? If a game is to be art, it will have to be one where the actual game part, the interactivity, is integral to it being art.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            If you remove all but a single frame from a movie,you get a photo.Does that mean the movie itself isnt art because it can consist of numerous art pieces?By removing its story,music,etc,you can still get a piece of art,but that doesnt diminish the movie itself.

            1. Zukhramm says:

              I don’t know.

              One piece of art can obviously be made up of smaller pieces that are, on their own, also art. Does that mean that everything containing art, is also, itself art?

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                If you consider art as any mix of objects,then yes.If you consider art as careful assembly of objects,than even if all the parts of something may be art by themselves,the whole still isnt art.

                Veylon’s example of art gallery is excellent for this:While it does consist of pieces of art(including the architecture of the building itself),those pieces dont interact with each other,thus the whole thing is not art.

    3. Cerberus says:

      My rebuttal:

      a) Anything by Team Ico. The art is not the cutscenes. Any cutscenes are in fact the least artistic aspect of any Team Ico game, but the backgrounds, the level design, the visual storytelling, are pure inventiveness, not only as an art game, but as a piece of art. Most especially in the fact that it directly applies an artistic theory to the cinematography to invent a whole new approach to art (making impressionism, the art form of painting as if in motion, actually move).

      b) The hot new thing for the last decade or so in the “Art Scene” aka the visual arts scene dominated by paintings, photography, and sculpture has been technically two things. Those two things? Multimedia and interactivity. Visual artists have been creating big installation pieces where performance art will combine with musical invention, visual art combining with television motion picture and where one artform is combined with another. These pieces have been especially loved by critics if they respond to the motions and actions of the audience or otherwise make participants out of the audience.

      I.e. the art form considered most “artistic” by art critics themselves is currently running as far away from the idea of art as passive or inherently unidimensional in a big way. If many different mediums are combining, constantly drawing your attention and changing and being shaped by the viewer’s actions? That’s hot right now. That’s what’s been hot for over a decade now. Possibly several decades now that I think about it.

      When “art” itself, i.e. the visual arts appreciated in galleries has been asking you to push all sorts of buttons and make all sorts of motions with its pieces, why would we discount video games from qualifying as potential pieces of art?

      1. Veylon says:

        I forsee the day when an Etch-a-sketch is bolted to a pedestal in an art museum and touted as the symbol of an era of Social Art. Is this art? How about that sand box where people write stuff with sticks? Is that art?

        I guess I would rather disqualify these kinds of exhibits. They certainly offer the opportunity for the passerby to create some art, but then so the stationary aisle at the local retailer. I really can’t see how I can offer the ‘art’ label to the former if I’m going to deny it to the latter.

        As for these big interactive things, sure, there’s art there. I can watch the results and enjoy them. I can watch someone play a game and call the finished combination of player and game art as well.

    4. eri says:

      I find your statement hideously old-fashioned. We have grown up coming out of a tradition where art is something produced by supposed masters, to be revered, to be looked upon with wonder, and to be quietly contemplated. What happens, however, in even in the most “passive” of interactions, is in fact an incredibly complex and subjective experience, specific to the individual. People negotiate the sights and sounds they receive in different ways, and their own histories, cultures, ideologies, etc.; these all affect people’s interpretations.

  6. Cerberus says:

    I especially liked the point about the combination of art forms. I think to claim that games aren’t art or at least can’t be art would require one to claim that the addition of interactivity somehow cancels all other aspects of what games are.

    Games at their best combine visual art in motions and backgrounds and cut scenes, musical art in background music and soundtracks, writing and narrative storytelling in the story told. In many ways they are an installation or a movie with a controller in hand to let the audience dictate the pace and flow of the story.

    Given that many installations in modern art do in fact add interactivity to the medium, having the piece warp and shift or take on new meanings to the actions of the participants or gallery visitors, it is hard to say that games aren’t or can’t be art.

    And as to the criticism that games aren’t art because they haven’t truly pierced the boundaries out of the mass-market into the realm of the truly life-changing means one is wholly unfamiliar to the medium.

    There have been great pieces of visual art, Team Ico’s Shadow of the Collosus and Ico were both masterpieces of visual art. Even by stodgy art school standards, they took the style of impressionism, designed to catch life in motion and actually made it move to create possibly the most immersive and awe-inspiring game worlds the world has ever seen. And if that doesn’t move one, Final Fantasy’s main concept artist has gotten his work in worldwide art galleries, his game art that is, and the artwork of Okami’s world is an incredible combination of the world of art and the interactivity of an action-rpg.

    There have been great pieces of orchestral invention, the art of sound. The composers for the Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger, the subtle erasure of traditional instruments in Silent Hill’s backgrounds, among many others. Again, we’re talking about works of music that have been played by top-notch orchestras around the world, voluntarily. The same ones who also play the great masters of centuries gone by.

    There have been amazing works of literature and story, both in atmosphere and inherent game design (Silent Hill 2, Portal) as well as the more-standard variety (Braid, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII). And if they want to argue Sturgeon’s Law with us about the mass-market shoot-em-ups, they’ll have to defend the un-ending glut of mindless action movies, some of which have won their greatest accolades (I’m looking at Gladiator here), trashy pulp romance novels, pop music, and the fact that people can still do a “white canvas” piece after the first one.

    Sturgeon’s Law pretty much shows that much produced won’t transcend, because if it did, where would the transcendence come from? A world with nothing but the purest art would lead to us simply taking great art for granted in the way we take the existence of whole mediums and genres for granted.

    But it’s there in this medium, just as it’s there in the medium she dissed (television).

    But the works are there and the medium as a whole is as assuredly one of artistic expression as much as the art-forms it is born of.

  7. Raygereio says:

    I'm starting to really get tired of people constantly trying to defend videogames by proclaiming it to be art. Videogames don't need to be art, in fact it's the last thing videogames need to be; videogames need to be enjoyable, fun to play, a good timewaster. Nothing more.

    This will probably offend many people (and to clarify, that isn't my goal), but what is and isn't art these days is generally determined by the amount of bullshit the artist can think up. For instance, in the State Russian Museum hangs a painting that is nothing more then a black square. It's ““ somewhat unimaginatively ““ called “Black Square”. The artist said he wanted to “express the night within him” ““ or some Goth nonsense like that and all of a sudden it is art. It's a frigging black square!
    What further annoys me is the fact just because some small elite has decided something is art, there's this social pressure to also think it's wonderful. This is especially a problem in literature; pretty much all those so called “˜masterpieces' I had to read in high school, I thought were boring and the books I thought are works of art were condemned as drivel.

    *sigh* Honestly, I'm trying to write this post for the better part of an hour now and it degenerates every time into mindless ranting because I really hate that elitist notion of superiority that surrounds pretty much all art forms these days.
    The point I'm trying to make is for one that one man's art is another man's crap. Art is subjective. For instance, you might think the metal gear series is the work of genius, I think its storyline is comedy gold for all the wrong reasons.
    Secondly, one should never set out with the goal to create art. You should instead try to create something (be it a videogame, book, movie, painting, whatever) that someone will enjoy. The moment that person enjoys it; he'll consider it to be art. If you instead try to create art, you will produce crap that only a really small group of people ““ the ones that bought your gibberish about how your game is about the baby's pain inside the womb, or something like that – will enjoy.

  8. B.J. says:

    There is obviously an art to making games, but I disagree that games have any automatic artistic value. Most often “art” is a label used to defend a crummy game. People will call a game art if it favors cinematic styling or high-concept, novel mechanics over regular gameplay.

    Thus we have the argument, “This game is art because it tells a story,” with this argument more likely to be brought up the more obtuse or difficult to understand the story is. But what this argument really means is, “This game is like a book/movie.” As others have pointed out, mimicking film and novels do not make games art.

    By the woman in this video’s extremely narrow and ignorant definition, the world’s greatest works do not qualify as art. After all, Michaelangelo’s David conveys no message and reveals no story; the Mona Lisa attempts no persuasion on the viewer, Mozart’s operas are remembered more for their musical compositions than for their literary content. These are all works of sublime artistic craftsmanship which have remained self-evident throughout the ages. If history is any indication, story is the least important factor for determining the artistic value of a work.

    I will argue that Tetris and Super Mario Brothers contain more art than any of the games she mentioned. Half-Life 2 is art, but not for the struggles of an MIT scientist against an alien adversary, but because of the meticulous work and craftsmanship which went into creating the game.

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      The whole creative process of having combat arena, incoming ennemy, surprising players, having them look where you want the to look.

      Without even the music. Without the graphics. Without the story. Is Half-Life 2’s game design to be considered an art form? They really put a lot of work to make us think, to make us fight, to make us look. Always in special ways.

      I think so. Maybe we shouldn’t look solely a the integration of muliple art forms into the game, but find the art part that is unique to a game. In that case, carefully created gameplay elements

  9. Gndwyn says:

    I think one of he real problems with this kind of conversation is lumping all video games into a single category called “video games.”

    Tetris, Ico, Planescape. Those three games are all works of art, but they are completely different genres of art. As different as The Brandenburg Concertos, Chartres Cathedral, and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

  10. Sean Conner says:

    I’m surprised she never mentioned any of the Infocom games. I was 14, playing Planetfall and crying my eyes out towards the end.

  11. silver Harloe says:

    Odd, the reason I didn’t like her presentation started with her presentation. It seemed awkward, like she hadn’t rehearsed enough – evidenced by her pausing at the wrong times, looking at her own slides at inappropriate times, and standing too long on her “pause for dramatic effect” or “pause for laughter” cues (usually after failing to say something dramatic enough or funny enough to warrant such).

    That and I found the content to be lacking in research – but Henebry, Raven, and eri discussed that already. Though I fear this lack of research will become more and more common as people seem to think “the information age” means that we have all the best information at our fingertips — but what it really means if that we have reams of unedited junk intermixed with a smattering of decent information, while all the best information is still hiding in books not yet made public enough to view on the net for free. You know that job site commercial where the whole audience starts jumping onto the tennis court flailing at the hall with whatever, crowding out the two pros that were there to play? That’s what trying to find good information is like these days. And “Bing” (or, indeed, any change in search engine technology) isn’t going to magically solve that, because the authorial analogs of the tennis pros are still putting their best stuff onto copyrighted dead trees.

    Personally, I’m more in favor of referring to this as the Misinformation Age. The Information Age is yet to come. It will involve all books being online somewhere, and humans using sophisticated, nearly humanly intelligent themselves, tools to collate it.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      Oh, and back to the topic at hand, I can’t speak for the game (probably never will if the DRM issues keep me from playing it), but the trailer for DX3 is art.

  12. Eddie says:

    Better minds than I have criticized her superficiality. I totally agree that games are art – all expression is artistic in some way – but she then cherry picks a number of titles, and … well… I personally did not get much of a point out of any of her selections.

    From my perspective, the interesting discussion is on the difficulties this medium has in being expressive. These difficulties are what stands between interactive entertainment and being a profound impact on the 21st century – a totally unsupported conjecture this woman makes.

    Some of them are commercial. Look at the collapse of the App Store into a churn of brand names and monolithic publishing. Look at the success in Facebook apps. Look at the low sales of many artistically interesting tittles – the measure of success in this medium is almost entirely financial, and the motivators and success stories are all highly divorced from any artistic merit. They focus on the interactivity, the ability to manipulate and react to the psychology of the participant, and while this is interested my first response is that this is against the nature of artistic expression – it is manipulative, active, instead of observable, and passive.

    Some of them are technological. It is incredibly taxing to create a video game. They are substantial technological investements, and setting aside all the commercial implications of this it means that the outcome is highly complex, the subject of many inputs, and has an unpredictability and resistance to transformation. The “machine” that makes the game transforms the game, diminishing the ability of the artist to talk to the audience. It’s like painting in a dimly lit room, or singing in a noisy auditorium. It doesn’t mean its not art, but it … well I want to say it diminishes it, but really all I can say with certainty is that it is interesting and relevant in a not totally clear way.


    I fear I am being unclear, I find this topic quite challenging and I always find my own faculties to process it someone taxed. I see the road ahead for games as artistic to be fraught with challenges no other medium has faced, and that will inhibit its ability to grow. I think it will grow much more slowly than film or television have because of this, and I really wish I could afford the luxury of studying the games medium rather than working in it, as advancing this progression is, I think, important to our cultural development.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      The financial woes of video games aren’t so much the cost as the rewards. Movies take an order of magnitude more investment (except indies, which, arguably, are more artistic, anyway. Then again, most people seem to feel indie games are more artistic – though maybe they’re just too stuck in the mindset of movies, evidenced by constant attempts to judge the artistic merits of games by the same rules with which they judge movies).

      1. Eddie says:

        It is a challenge to make fair generalizations, but I would suggest you can make a movie for a lot less than a video game. I can’t think of many projects in gaming that have similar budgets as, say, Kevin Smiths Clerks and make the same relative impact to the gaming industry.

        Film has multiple established and reliable revenue models with hundreds of millions of consumers as well. Games do not have that

        Essentially, if you go buy a AVCHD camcorder for $500 you can cobble together a film with nothing but time. Games demand a high degree of sophisticated talent even to cobble together a bad one. There are some toolkits out there to mitigate this barrier, but they completely funnel your project into preconceived templates.

        1. silver Harloe says:

          You just compared apples and oranges, though perhaps accidentally.

          I would argue that:
          a) if you just need a $500 camcorder and time to make a movie, you just need a $1000 computer and time to make a game, or
          b) if you need “sophisticated talent” to make a good game, you need some kind of similarly advanced talent to make a movie anyone but the director’s mother wants to watch.

          I’m going to make a rough guess, but I suspect for every Clerks there’s probably a jillion home movie attempts that would make you cringe to watch. And not every movie can be as cheap as Clerks. The minute you step outside the bounds of “set in the contemporary real world, with only 2-4 actors no one has heard of,” you are immediately asking to spend oodles of money on the film. You might say “oh, games require a combination of several people’s talents to bring together,” but then I’d argue that movies need at least one talented director and 2 talented actors, and, once again, to step outside of the Clerks model, you probably need talent in wardrobe and set design.

          You say “Film has multiple established and reliable revenue models with hundreds of millions of consumers as well. Games do not have that” … that actually goes right to my point: the problem is the reward more than the cost.

  13. Josh R says:

    Surprised to see people applauding her good public speaking, as she is in dire need of either practice, skill or both.
    Her material was strong though.

  14. Stiltskin says:

    “The same kind of games we played when we were children just don’t work for us anymore. Now we have a generation of gamers who are grownups themselves…”

    And you know what most of those gamers are playing? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not Bioshock or Braid or flOw. No, most gaming adults these days prefer playing Wii Sports, Mario Kart, Wii Play, New Super Mario Bros., etc. Clear successors to many of the more “old-school” type games.

    The games we played when we were children don’t work anymore? Bullshit. The games we played as children continue to be the most popular games. And focusing on games that display “sadness” or “catharsis” or “artistic expression” will do nothing for the medium but shrink it.

    1. Sean Riley says:

      This is a depressing and possibly true statement.

  15. Sean Riley says:

    Count me among the detractors. She’s not begun to mount any decent critique or discussion about videogames. She’s simply said, “Oh, these are some artsy games, look at what they allegedly express!”

    Screw that.

    Let’s try this.

    Art is an attempt by a creator or creators to directly convey a cognitive or emotional truth to an audience through a medium. That’s more or less what she said, and why not? It’s a decent enough definition. It does a nice job of explaining why chess, mah-jong, etc. aren’t arts, while video games are: The latter have a creator or team of creators.

    But here she drops the ball by pushing straight into examples. What she should have done was challenge her audience to ask: Is there anything inherent to the gaming medium that it cannot convey a cognitive or emotional truth via it?

    From here, demolish Roger Ebert’s interactivity hypothesis. Games cannot be art because art requires the artist’s vision to come through. But games exist within a wider point, they are experienced as environments, choices and stories that stand firm even as the player changes details of them. Far Cry 2 (which stands for me as one of the best examples of artistic design in games) gets its point about violence and irrationality across to the player whether or not you kill your buddies. The artistic point is not dulled.

    Conclude that nothing about games prevents it. Games can be art.

    NOW you can bring out examples. But instead of shooting for obviously artsy ones, get out the history books. Bring up Silent Hill. Show the way it was attempting to tell a story of child abuse, hidden in the margins. Explain the powerlessness and fear it attempted to convey to the player.

    Creator -> Emotional truth -> Medium -> Audience. Art.

    Move forward. Ico. Show the way it used communication and physicality to convey a point about intimacy and love.

    Creator -> Emotional truth -> Medium -> Audience. ART.

    Let’s leap ahead again. Far Cry 2. Show the way it subverted common videogame tropes to critique the shooter genre as a whole and make a statement about the nature of violence.

    Creator -> Cognitive truth -> Medium -> Audience. ART GODDAMIT.

    I dislike her exclusive use of ‘arty’ games because it implies less arty games aren’t art. And screw that. Argue Bayonetta is artistic, an attempt to seriously explore female sexual power in a videogame. I’ll listen! (This has already been done, and I find it persuasive.) I’ll listen to arguments that Modern Warfare 2 is serious in its artistic intent. (None yet have swayed me.)

    I dislike her argument because it seems to imply that Super Mario Bros. isn’t a work of art. That its deliberate use of bright colors, quick controls and (in later games in the series) exuberant voice samples isn’t meant to be a study in joy.

    Creator -> Emotional truth -> Medium -> Audience. ART. ART. ART!

  16. ehlijen says:

    If computer games are not art, what else are they?

    They are the product of people attmepting to create something that entertains someone. They do not prodcue tools or useful resources like fule, they do not provide a lasting service in the financial sense nor is it healthcare related or anything else I can think of right now.

    Every other industry that is purely aimed at entertaining people (movies, music, theater etc) is considered art. Why not games?

    And I’m not just talking computer games, but any kind of game. The inventor of chess has created someting lasting that entertains and fascinates people. Just because we have forgotten who that is (or at least I have, but I’m pretty sure there is no known inventor) doesn’t make it any less important to our culture than the Mona Lisa. In fact I dare say it’s even more so.

    I say games are art simply because I don’t see them being anything else.

    1. Roy says:

      I have to say that, generally speaking (particularly amongst art critics), whether something entertains or not isn’t really a necessary or sufficient condition for something being “art”.

      If “is it entertaining” is the primary defining trait of “art”, then a stick is art of the highest order–billions and billions of children throughout history have found themselves entertained for countless hours by a little imagination, and a stick.

      Further, there are plenty of people who spend a great deal of time and energy explaining why Britney Spears and boy bands aren’t really art, even though, if their sales are any indication, they’ve certainly entertained a lot of people.

  17. Low-Level DM says:

    This, I first must make the point, is a hugely intriguing point even in and of itself, irrespective of which side you chose to take. But I’m going to go two posts up to @Sean Riley, who expressed a very basic point that I would make myself, had he not already expressed it so fluently. Art, at the most critically reduced level, is (and here I’ll make a slight modification to his argument) the successful creation of a composition of elements in a medium (words in a novel, images in a painting, etc) which work together with the viewer’s interpretations and cognitive evaluations of said elements to portray and express a life/emotional/historical/world/etc truth. That would be the definition I would argue from, in which case I have to say that some games are art, and some games are not. But first I need to do some qualification of that horribly artificial and arbitrary word successful.

    So, what makes any composition ‘successful enough’ to be art? That’s a really good question, and I think it’s one of the bigger points that’s in dispute, up there with the active/passive debate that went on, and the interacting-with-other-mediums argument. But the best way that I can think of to qualify it is actually, again, something someone else said. So, up at #7, @Raygerio: art is not created as art. I think that the distinction of ‘art’ is something that an attempted expression of truth can attain, and this is where the heart of my argument lies – there is a difference between a composition (let me call it a game, for now, since that’s the argument, isn’t it?) which attempts to express truth and a composition (a game) which attempts only to appeal to a market. There are both kinds in existence today. But there is a further difference between a game which attempts to express truth and one which actually does so.

    So the final point I’ll make is, again, leaning on someone else. The active/passive, tool/composition argument, at #5, @Nick Bell, @Veylon, @Daemian Lucifer. Basically, the dispute is whether or not a viewer’s interpretation, evaluation, speculation, and consideration of/on/caused by a piece of traditional art (say, a painting) is really the same thing as a player’s participation in a video game. Veylon makes the argument that the video game itself is sort of a half-work-of-art, in that it requires the player’s interaction and playthrough of the game to really complete it, make it a whole composition, a finished thing, and thereby qualify for the dub of art, and that the game all by itself is really more a tool with art in pieces inside of it. Nick Bell and Daemian are making the opposite argument that the game itself can be art, in different aspects of design, interactivity, expressed and created or stimulated emotions, etc, and that the player’s interaction with the game is the same or similar to a viewer’s ‘interaction’ with any piece of traditional art, and that the sense of ‘passiveness’ about art is not itself a tenant of art, and that art really isn’t passive.

    So where do I fall on all this? I’m going to make the argument that the interactivity in games does not disqualify them from being art in and of themselves, but for a very different reason. When you read a book, there is only one way that the events in the book are going to happen, and therefore only one way, one specific, crucial, critical way that the elements within that composition are arranged. This same holds true for a painting, for a movie, etc. In a completely linear video game, isn’t that going to be exactly the same? So, given a theoretical game which was entirely and completely linear, where is the distinction between a novel and a game, or more closely, a movie and a game? The only substantiation difference that I can see is that the interpretation and speculation, the immersion that is employed and stimulated in you as you experience the art, is replicated in a different way. I do not believe that simply employing an alternative – a more direct – version of immersion disqualifies video games as art.

    But then we have the real world, and we have to deal with games that aren’t entirely and completely linear. But again, this introduces only two new variables to the equation that determines the artistic potential of the medium: one, that the elements of the composition have multiple possible arrangements, and two, that the interpreter of the art has himself the ability to decide which of those arrangements to view. But these are not new ideas, and these are not new circumstances. I would argue that even within a traditional painting, there are many, many different ways in which a piece of art can be viewed, even literally – which elements of the painting you notice first, which stand out as more important, which make more of a personal impact on you due to your own experiences – I think these things in and of themselves perfectly equate to the power a player has over a story in a video game. they have the potential to slightly alter your perception of certain aspects of the overall piece, or even change your interpretation of the overarching theme and truth of the piece.

    So, to sum up, yes, I believe that games, potentially, can and have been art.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “When you read a book, there is only one way that the events in the book are going to happen, and therefore only one way, one specific, crucial, critical way that the elements within that composition are arranged. This same holds true for a painting, for a movie, etc.”

      Not true.There are “choose your adventure” books,where you have several different stories and depending on the order you read them,youll experience it differently.There are songs that are completelly different when listened to forwards and backwards.There are paintings that can be turned upside down and become something completelly different.

      Also,let me cite Yahtzee here,that there is no true non-linearity.Games as such are a finished piece,and by playing them you dont change them.Given enough playthroughs you can experience every choice,every path,every location,and before you do that,you are witnessing only a part of the game,not its whole.So,if you were to look at the statue of zeus,but concentrate just on the eyes,you might stop and call it a finished piece.But then you concentrate on the whole face,find it to be the finished piece,and call it a day.Then you examine the bust.Then you examine the whole figure.This way,you have experienced the statue in a different way than someone else,but does it make the statue a non-linear piece of art?

      1. silver Harloe says:

        Similarly, I have a nasty habit with novels. When I’m about half-way through, I sorta thumb through the last chapter scanning for character names (as a quick test for who’s dead or alive). Bad me. But have I changed the book into a non-linear piece of art? :)

  18. Vladius says:

    I don’t want video games to become art. I love video games, and I hate art.

    I think it’s a tad counterproductive to complain that we’re “destroying” a medium that was already based on crudity and violence since its inception.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    How come it says “Many comments. 52, if you’re a stickler”,and below that “51 comments:”?

    Edit:Its 53,52 now.

    1. Shamus says:

      Hm. I dunno. I’ll have to look into it.

      Actually, I’m not sure we really need the second number at all. Hmm.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        And the numbers are off by 2 now.I think it has something to do with trackbacks.One number sees them as comments,the other doesnt.

  20. Kimagure says:

    Games aren’t art. No more than TV is art.

    Games are a medium. Art can be a part of games, and art can be made using games or in the form of games, but games themselves aren’t art. And for that matter, most games are as much art as is reality TV.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      So because majority of written words are newspapers,magazines and manuals,that means the books arent art?Just because majority of paintings are magazine illustrations and road signs,paintings arent art?

      Games are not like tv.Tv has series,movies,shows,song videos,news,and reality shows on it.Games are just a subcategory of entertainment available on your computer/console.There is music,there are videos,there are books,blogs,comics,….So games are not medium,computers/consoles are the medium for(amongst other things)entertainment.

      1. Kimagure says:

        Exactly. Books aren’t art. They’re a medium. You can have art that comes in the form of a book. But there are all kinds of books including technical manuals, dissertations, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and phone books.

        Likewise, games aren’t art. To be more precise, games are an interactive medium (often used for entertainment). The broader catagory of games includes slot machines (hardly art, but one of the largest segments of the gaming industry), training simulators, serious games, edutainment, and screen-saver mini-games.

        The question that should be asked isn’t “Are games Art”, but “Is this particular game Art”? After all, art can come in the form of games.

        If you’re asking me my personal opinion on that note, I wouldn’t count most games as being art, because I think that cultural products and art are two separate but overlapping catagories. Art has many purposes but I’d say most of what’s art attempts to inspire thought or emotion of some kind (though that kind of a definition would probably preclude many ancient works of pottery and the like). Modern games really are there to entertain and make money more than anything else, though there are exceptions. But not all games need to be or should be art.

        Art can be made from Tetris, but what ideas or emotions does tetris try to provoke? Or minesweeper? Or for that matter, soccer or chess. Would you consider those to be art? Figure skating routines on the other hand, would be considered artistic by most people (and are even judged on that note). But just because something isn’t art doesn’t mean that it’s not important or worthwhile. Spreadsheets and tax preparation software is incredibly useful. So are cars. But neither (in general) are art.

      2. Kimagure says:

        And no, I don’t think painting is art either. It’s a medium. You can certainly make art with paint, and paintings can be art. But if I paint my house this weekend, that’s generally not considered art. Likewise with video. If I make a home video of a kid’s birthday party, that’s not generally considered to be art.

        Those are all mediums in which art can be made. And the same is true for gaming.

  21. Zaghadka says:

    OMG. This is why we need to return a core liberal arts program to all college degree programs, even MFAs. She’s up there giving a talk that is supposedly pro-gaming, yet obliviously initiates premises, and even draws conclusions, that would make Jack Thompson salivate. Logic fail. Then she talks about how cheap our culture has become, even going so far as to say that she “hates freedom” with an example that likens herself to Al Quaeda in the process? Minutes later she quotes Spiderman as her best authority on the exercise of power and the responsibilities that come with it? Irony.

    And if she tailored that quote to her audience, then she was talking down to her audience, which is a poor choice. It’s a bad choice to try to “sell” artistic value to Philistines. Her speech, if you’ll suffer a Charles Schultz quote, was “too commercial,” and had little insight, other than an a priori claim that games are art because she says so.

    While I agree on that point, she made a lousy case.

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