What makes video games different from other literature?
Defining what one’s position is with regards to a play or standard written literature is simple. Unless one is participating in the play, you are the audience. Similarly, unless you are the author of a text then you are the reader. But defining one’s position with regards to a videogame is less obvious. A player? A participant? A reader? An audience? A spectator? I would argue all of these.
Take a modern videogame, Halo or Fifa, for example: superficially, one is a player and a participant – you are controlling the game. But what if you are gifted with the talent of coding? Then, surely you are a ‘reader’ of the game, in code. And finally, looking ahead to the big question of whether videogames are art, what if the answer is yes, they are. Then surely one assumes the position of the audience, or spectator?
Firstly, I don’t really play videogames so I’m probably setting myself up to be shot down. Feel free. But I’ll try and show what I think could be a similarity between videogames and plays.
In a simple videogame such as Passage, there is one route from the start of the game to the end. Much like play that is produced and performed jut once. If you are either playing Passage or a producing that particular play, there is no escaping the fact that the storyline – the direction – of the videogame/play is linear. They start, progress and finish at a particular point. There is no changing that, as there is no alternative way of completion or production.
However, think of a videogame slightly more complex (again I’ll use Halo as an example), and a more complex play (take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for example – a production produced by a variety of companies in a variety of countries). Perhaps we can align both videogames and plays in a similar fashion, by looking at the relationship of the coder/player in videogames, and writer/director in plays.
With a videogame, the creator, or the coder, effectively assumes the position of ‘writing’ the game, just as the creator of a play writes the words on the page (in this case Shakespeare). Then, in a videogame it is down to the player to act out the game in his/her own way. Although there is a set storyline to the game, the individual player can choose how he/she progresses and accomplishes the game – whether it is by a different route/tactics/gun selection, or whatever. I liken this to the director of a play: he/she has the written text of the play in front of them, and ultimately the play has one storyline. But it is up to the director to choose how the play is acted out, with regards to character selection, props, how the lines are delivered, for example.
Hopefully that makes sense.
So, if playing a videogame can be compared (loosely, I’ll admit!) to directing a play, then where does that leave us in our question of whether videogames are indeed art?!
Can videogames be art?
In 2009, game innovator Kellee Santiago gave a TED speech at the USC addressing the ultimate question – can videogames be considered as a form of art? She starts by defining the term art as ‘a way of communicating ideas to an audience in a way that the audience finds engaging’. I find this definition to be very interesting, since it is so general that it allows the reader to fit it to his or her own individual perception of art. Consider, for example, the Taj Mahal – the gigantic mausoleum erected by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as an expression of his grief over the loss of his third (!) wife. It is regarded as one of the most sophisticated examples of Mughal/Muslim architecture. Today, millions of tourists visit the place every year. The idea of being sad over the loss of a loved one is transported to a huge audience via the way of truly beautiful architecture.
Now, let’s talk videogames. As in architecture, or any other form of art, the ideas that can be communicated are manifold. They range from classical fairy tale themes such as ‘save the princess’, prime examples of which would be Nintendo’s ‘Zelda’ and ‘Super Mario’ game series, to more modern topics such as trans-humanism and research ethics. For instance, in 2011 Square Enix released the Action Role Playing Game ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’. The player plays as Adam Jensen, a security director who has to undergo radical body augmentation to save his life after being mortally wounded in a terrorist attack on his employer’s headquarter. Through the course of the game’s narrative, Jensen is struggling with his new cyborg body while he tries to find out, who is behind the attack.
Up to today, more than 2 million copies of the game have been sold worldwide, across all platforms and the game received a metacritic rating of 90/100. Therefore, it is safe to say that not only are ideas communicated to an audience but also that the audience finds the way they are transported, and probably the idea(s) themselves, very engaging.
Still, there is more to it. In response to Santiago’s talk, Roger Ebert, a film critic who strongly opposes the idea of games being a form of art, argues that art is ‘usually the creation of one artist’ and that even collaborative artworks like tribal dances can be attributed to a single person (in this case the choreographer). And while that holds true for a great many pieces of art such as, for example, Beethoven’s symphony Nr. 9 or da Vinci’s Mona Lisa what about, say, motion pictures? Granted, most films probably began as the vision of one single person like the producer, director or screenplay writer but in order to make this vision become reality, hundreds of people are necessary. Nonetheless, no one would argue that film is not a form of art, even though most are the product of many. The same applies for (most) modern videogames. They are the product of collaborative work by different creative divisions such as story writers, game developers and level designers but ultimately they are all working on the vision of one person – the person who first came up with the idea of creating a game ‘X’.
And even if one was to follow Ebert’s argument, that every piece of art is the creation of one artist, what about games that are literally created by one person? There are a lot of games out there that have been developed single handedly like Markus “Notch” Persson’s Minecraft. Not every game is developed by studios with dozens, or even hundreds of employees.
In the end, I think nobody can decide whether videogames should be regarded as art or not. It strongly depends on one’s own opinion and perception of art. I for one think that videogames can be art or, to speak with Santiago’s words, they are already art.
Roger Ebert’s Journal
TEXxUSC Kellee Santiago
Why might we as English Scholars want to understand how hard-drives and the internet work?
Firstly I will look at our set reading: Matthew Kirschenbaum – “Every Contact Leaves A Trace”…(or attempt to it is quite complicated!). I will call him MK as his name is too long!
Like Hayles , MK looks at materiality and textuality of the digital. Electronic writing is generally seen as part of the unthinkably vast vacuum of computers/the internet. Electronic text is multi-authored, or has no author, is in constant flux and capable of just ‘vanishing’ unlike the concrete imprint of ink on paper. Amongst other things, MK argues that electronic writing is a real form of writing and that we need to look away from the screen (A neo-Romantic view) and look deeper at the ‘invisible’ hardrive to find that traces do not simply ‘vanish’.
In the article, MK quotes Markus Novak, “everything that is written and transmitted via electronic media is erasable and ephemeral unless stored or reinscribed”. MK disputes this using the example of simply sending an email which leaves many traces. Furthermore, storage on computers nowadays is so cheap and easy that Novak’s statement doesn’t ring true, people who use computers have a whole unseen network or saved files and traces on the internet.
By looking at data on hardrives we can see no two marks are never the same, as Jan Baetens describes it in his JSTOR review of this article, each trace has its ”own signature”. From a forensic standpoint Locard who pioneered forensic science calls this “trace evidence”, that “every contact leaves a trace”. This too is true in a digital setting.
Linking it to the books we read, “Like so-called “dirty books” laced with marginalia and marks from the readers who have previously owned them, beloved by some collectors (notably Henry Clay Folger of the Folger Shakespeare Library), and poured over by historians of reading and writing, a floppy disk image can reveal the hand of a prior reader, owner, or user.”
What I think this reveals to an English scholar is that the general view that electronic writing as unstable, easily deleted and inhuman (and therefore inferior to print writing) is wrong. Mk restores the humanism in electronic writing, to combat the view that online reading is cold and impersonal. After all it is there to be read by humans and the internet has the potential to pull in a wider readership. What’s more, the fact you can trace writing processes through hardrives and the internet creates a personal archive of editons, reditions, in fact everything you do, giving a fuller picture of processes than the finished material book.
MK’s movement from the visual to the invisible is mirrored in literary critical theory. Deconstructivists probed the detailed processes as well as the product. The most famous deconstructivist, Derrida used ‘trace’ to define his theory inlterature and the parallels with hardrives/the internet traces are evident…(thought I’d let Wiki explaon this better than me)
“Trace can be seen as an always contingent term for a “mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present”, of the ‘originary lack’ that seems to be “the condition of thought and experience”. Trace is a contingent unit of the critique of language always-already present: “language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique”. Deconstruction, unlike analysis or interpretation, tries to lay the inner contradictions of a text bare, and, in turn, build a different meaning from that: it is at once a process of destruction and construction. Derrida claims that these contradictions are neither accidental nor exceptions; they are the exposure of certain “metaphysics of pure presence”, an exposure of the “transcendental signified” always-already hidden inside language. This “always-already hidden” contradiction is trace.”
Mk finishes his article “the bibliographer and textual critic of the future may well need to know as much about hex editors, hashes, and Magnetic Force Microscopy as he or she now knows about collation formula, paleography, and stemma.” How might knowledge of digital media affect our expirience of it?
When we see a film with a gory cut throat, it might not be as scary or dramatic since we have further knowledge about it being fake. This might be the same for explosions, cloning, and fake wounds. This concept interplays with video games as well. The digitalization takes away from the dramatic experience because the player knows it isn’t real. However, the opposite might take effect. Players might gain a sense of appreciation for digital graphics in how close it comes to being real.
More intense graphics may draw in more players because of its lifelike model. The Reverence article discusses the controversy over the cathedral in Manchester city. Even though the article exposes the symbolic dilemma, the viewer may like or dislike the scene based on his or her previous personal encounter with the cathedral. Others might criticize that it artistically does not respect the cathedral in real life because of its design. Or, someone who is knowledgeable about coding may acknowledge the hard work of the artists and applaud them for the end result.
In relation to the article about hard drives, knowledge may have a big impact on how we interact with a text. Knowing data and information can still be salvaged when it appears to be gone, may make people think twice about what they decide to do online and on their computers.
Immersion and Emotional Investment
Being a cowboy is cooler than watching a film about other people who are cowboys.
Modelling, role play, world building
model– smaller abstracted version
modeling– aviation rules, house building, sim hospital, sims
role play– invite viewers to take on roles- forced to play a role within a designed set of constraints (the model). Empathy, moral choices, different sets of life options. Immersion.
Makes complex problems relevant and puts them in context.
More effective at conveying emotional effects because it makes you directly feel them. Empathy with a character is always possible through film and other medias, but how much more invested are we in a character’s progression and well being if we have actively built a relationship with them within the model of the game- we are playing by the same rules etc. What is the difference between a game character and a real person? Mouth syncing? A well scripted character can behave and respond in a way which would directly mimick a ‘real’ avatar’s behaviour.
Playing at Being: Psychoanalysis and the Avatar.
Bob Rehak’s work on the avatar, how it came to be and how it works alongside the ‘ego’ and definitions of the self focuses on the writings of Lacan and Samuel Weber on the ‘mirror stage’ in a child’s development. Occurring when the child is between six and eighteen months, the human infant, unlike other animals “seems engrossed, and commences in a kind of gleeful experimentation.”
Rehak identifies areas of the discovery of the self that are particularly relevant to the gaming avatar:
- The infant identifies as dual observer and observed.
- The helpless infant is attracted to the image of “wholeness, power and unity” in the reflected image.
- The aggressive nature of the child’s assumption of the image – “The Ego comes to be by taking the place of the imaginary other.”
- The other and the self being united in the reflection.
He also points out that there is no “particularly reflective avatar” and that the embodied reality comes more from mapping control rather than appearance – he compares it to “a customer in a convenience store who catching sight of himself waves his arms”. Players pleasurably experiment with the surprising articulation between their manipulation of the interface and the avatar’s obedient response.
The most significant difference of the avatar to us is in its ability to live, die and then live again. As well as being fantasies of immortality, Rehak argues this also is a staging within technology of the “ego’s vicious cycle of ego confirmation.”
Rehak also discusses how far too often in VR (virtual reality) discourse the avatar is collapsed into an assumed one to one discourse with the player when instead he proposes that they exist in an unstable relationship who’s essential difference shouldn’t be omitted. He writes, “just as one does not unproblematically equate a glove with the hand inside it, we should not presume that the subjectivity produced by video games or other implementations of VR to transparently correspond to, and thus substitute for the player’s own.” This goes directly against the intention of the video game which intends this for the sake of immersion, but this is the same of all imaginative works.
Avatars allow players to think through questions of agency and existence, exploring in fantasy form aspects of our own materiality and the video game “for all its chaotic cartoonishness, may constitute a small square of contemplative space: a laboratory, quiet and orderly by comparison with the complexity of the real world, in which we toy with subjectivity, play with being.”
Rehak, Bob. “Playing at Being.” The Video Game Theory Reader. Routledge (2003): 103-123