Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Video Games As Art

Title: Video Games As Art
Date: May 19th, 2011
By: Nate

As of the beginning of May, 2011, the U.S. government has officially recognised video games as an art form worthy of public funding from the National Endowment of the Arts.

To the outside world, this is fairly significant considering that gaming has often been more associated with long-haired basement dwelling male nerds and young children – despite the fact that as of now, most gamers are in their thirties, and there's a large female demographic, too.

It's also significant because the movie industry has been fighting against this for years, and why not? As of right now, gaming is a multi-billion-dollar industry that keeps getting bigger. Hollywood would undoubtedly feel threatened by this, and we've seen this fear through the printed opinions of revered critics/pundits such as Roger Ebert. There are even people within the gaming industry who claim that video games are not and cannot be an art form.

Ironically, Kojima Hideo also feels this way . Kojima-san has worked on many series for Konami, including but not limited to the Metal Gear series – which in many ways tries to meet and exceed artistic merits. We see this with the carefully crafted storylines as well as the deep gameplay that many of the titles in this series provide.

It's not just visuals, music and storytelling that transforms a game into art. How you play the game – character abilities, interactivity with the virtual world, characters, enemies, weapons, sound effects and how the world itself is built are equally – if not more – important than how it looks. This is because a game is very different from a movie; it can contain the narrative of a novel, a museum's worth of art, a concert hall of music and on top of that, you have a measure of control as to how it all comes together at the end. It's a culmination of most of our art forms (excluding the culinary arts, at least for now) on top of technology.

I could say without any pangs of guilt that some of the programmers of a game have to be artists; they need to have a vision, and they need to be both fearless and, I think, a little eccentric.  They need to be able to think in both the practical and the abstract.  Furthermore, they need to understand the value of language; Programming languages are still languages. It takes an estimated 5 to 10 years to become a highly skilled programmer, and while the techniques are fairly similar from language to language, you also still have to a) learn the languages you will need to use - which can change from console to console, but rarely ever with PC's - and b) keep these skills up to date.  Especially when you start factoring in middleware – software engines that are independent of a core game engine, such as the Havok physics engine – and scripting languages that operate on top of a game engine to add more definition to objects within the world such as weight and density. (editied June 14th, 2011) And thus, programmers could be seen as poets.

I think a lot of opinionated gamers are champing at the bit about what should be included and what shouldn't, but being that what defines the true art of a game transcends most concepts of art, I really don't think that anything should be excluded.

From Tennis For Two to Space Wars! to Doom, there are many games that define genres, concepts and standards. It could be as groundbreaking as The Guardian Legend (NES), as mundane as Corridor 7 (DOS PC), as overlooked as Deathrow (XBox) or as horrible as Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage (N64). It can define a genre or merely inhabit it for better or worse - and all genres are evolving.

This is a necessity for an artform, too. Architecture can't live on Baroque alone much like gaming can't be a smorgasbord of first-person shooting.

Regardless of merit, video games are an accepted art form. My intention is not to rub this in the faces of the nay-sayers. I really don't have to, the American government has already done a good enough job by showcasing 80 games at the Smithsonian that they deem to be the most important titles in the industry.

My fellow gamers, pat yourselves on the back.  Whether you know it are not, we're now art afficionados - whether we like it or not.


MrEnglish said...

8 years master a programming language? That seems a little on the high side of things. I would say logical, procedural language is a lot easier to master than something complex, like the english language. I for one was able to speak english before my 8th birthday.

Player_1 said...

8 years is probably conservative when referring to a language like C++. A scripting language like Java or HTML has a much easier learning curve, and would not take quite as long.

That's why there's been an explosion of Java and Flash games.

LadiesMan4567 said...

Hey you can learn how to program by reading those how to program in 24 hours . I suggest giving them a boo. 8 years seems a little much dude. come on....

Player_1 said...

Which is why I edited the article.

A previous poster called DevDude, who was moderated for linking to obscene material, had commented, so I put my nose to the grindstone to see where he was coming from.

I had tried to preserve his comment by way of a quote, but Blogger wouldn't have any of it, so here we are.

You're right, it doesn't take very long to learn the BASICS of programming. But it does take a long time to get good at it to a point where someone like Microsoft or Electronic Arts might consider hiring you on.

Unless you own your own company, you're not going to become a lead programmer with 24 hours of staring at Object Oriented Programming for Idiots and a Hello World text box, now are you?

LadiesMan4567 said...

Well i think those teach yourself books are pretty handy. I'm not saying you are going to sit down and learning every thing in 24hours but you will still have an understanding and a stepping stone of knowlegde from those books. Im sure you could sit down every weekend for 3 hours for a month and understand a programming language. 5 years seems a little high.
Great post btw. Look forward for more tech tips. Thanks

DongkeyKong said...

Questions for you, since you seem quite sure that is takes over 5 years to learn a programming language to the point where you can make a living at it.

1. What programming languages do know?
2. How long did it take you to learn?

DevDude said...

its a shame you removed my post. I didnt realize a picture of a fat guy was too obscene.

Let me reiterate a few of my points.

Firstly, Java is not a scripting language.. it has more in common with C++ than it does with Flash... its a cross platform object oriented programming language with built in garbage collections...

All Object Oriented programming languages are the same. All procedural languages are the same, all functional languages are the same.

There may be slight differences in syntax and handling, but knowing one makes it exponentially easier to know another. Learning the fundamentals of programming takes weeks, not years.. Fine tuning that in to a skillset worthy of professional development is then just a matter of buckling down. Its basically understanding math and the microprocessor.

Programmers don't draw graphics, graphic designers do.. that is the "art" in video games. The design studios define the "rules" that define the game, the graphics designers design and implement the visual art.. the programmers simply implement the rules.

Programmers are not poets, they are bound by the laws of science. There are good programmers and bad programmers, but that is a result of convention, not creativity.

Cross platform development, its not as difficult as you say.. In actuality, it is the same for all. Especially in high level programming. You write code for an interpreter and the machine does the rest... low lever programming is different, but lucky for us programmers some korean kid did all that for us, so we don't need to worry about assembler codes and registers.

There is no explosion of Java games, Java is probably the worst language for writing a game.. There is however going to be a lot more Javascript/HTML5 games in the near future.. as a result of a cross platform toolset designed for interactive media. Note Javascript and Java have ABSOLUTELY nothing in common. aside from the word Java in the name, Javascript is not Java. Javascript is a procedural scipting language. Java is a full on object oriented language that compiles to bytecode and runs in a virtual machine.. allowing complex applications to be ported to multiple platforms very easily.

Lastly, the explosion of flash games has nothing to do with ease of programming. It more has to do with the mass popularity of the flash runtime as the media gateway for choice for the last 10 years. Combine that with Adobes RAD tools that allow quick and dirty runtime rules to be set allowing even a novice to put something together that looks good.

my final statement, as taken from my original post. Programming is NOT rocket science, if it was I would be a rocket scientist instead of a developer..

...having lived it, I can whole heartedly say.. if after 2 years of trying to learn a language, and you still don't think you have it "down".. its time for a career change.

Player_1 said...


This is why I edited the post, because you're right. It takes longer to learn programming than learning a language.

Further, I never said programmers draw graphics, although some of the graphics designers are programmers. I never sade the make sound effects, I never said they make voice overs or even motion capture. As far as I can tell, I only said programmers program.

And the poet reference has everything to do with the recognition of gaming as an art. It's there to look pretentious. Either way, though dost protesteth too much, methinks.

So, going back to Donkey Kong's questions:

1) You completely missed that I changed the point from learning programming languages to learning programming. Read DevDude's comment.

I put my nose back to the grindstone and learned that I was told that because I can be a little gullible at times...and I now think my employer was trying to prevent me from learning to program.

So, I've reflected the new informtation that I've digested.

Also, I never said that it takes five+ years to learn programming or a language to the point where you can earn a living at it, what I said (in figurative terms) is that it most likely takes that much understanding and experience to get a job that pays fairly well, hence the MS and EA references. It's not like they're the only game in town, nor is it a necessity to work for someone else to make money. That's common sense.

2) I'm not a programmer. All I know is DDF Script and RTS for the EDGE (Enhanced Doom Gaming Engine) source port.

I know you guys just live to poke holes in the technical sides of arguments, and I appreciate that. I have no problem with being humbled, I do the same thing on other gaming sites when
inexperienced writers talk about stuff and completely miss the mark.

As developing a style of common courtesy, I also try to leave a comment abou tthe article itself before I start posting everything I thikn is wrong with it. I tend to get moderated for having an "off-topic" comment. I won't do that here, but I'm also not going to beat a dead horse.

I think I've explained myself fairly well here. I appreciate the input, but this topic needs to change. If all people are going to do is focus on an error that I corrected, I'm going to lock the editorial. Fair enough?

GirlyGamer said...

DevDude, shut up.. I think Player_1 knows more about programming than you.. afterall, he runs a blog about B video games from 10 years ago.

Player_1 said...

Goddammit, I moderated the wrong post; I was trying to clean up a conversation and I cleaned up the wrong one. This one, and it was a lock warning.

Now then, GirlyGamer, DevDude is mostly right, that's why I had edited this piece. Knowing about video games does not mean you know anything about programming, although you may have a better appreciation for it as a user - one would hope.

He's mostly just re-posting what he already said and what I accidently lost when I moderated his post and tried to preserve the body of it in a reply. Blogger is very douchy when it comes to URLs, unfortunately.

I know nothing about programming languages, but I do know a lot about the concept of a craft, which programming is. I also know enough programmers that I can confidently say that they didn't come into what they do in a matter of months or even a 2-year computer sciences course. They came into it over years of doing it when the were kids or in their teens - just like most people - and the college courses helped them refine it - if they took them.

Anyone who comes in here and says you can learn to program a game in a matter of months isn't lying or wrong, they're just not telling you that you'll be making Pac-Man, Tetris and Arkanoid clones at first.

That said, final warning and I'm locking the article. This topic has already been addressed, problem recognised and resolved. Let's move on, shall we?

HyperDemon2000 said...

Real art stands the test of time.. in 300 years will any true art afficiando want a copy of a Doom 3.5 inch floppy hanging in their parlour?

LadiesMan4567 said...

Hey Nate :-) Just noticed that you replied on my request. That would be sweet if you could do a review and get your computer upto speed.

Player_1 said...

@ Hyperdemon: Your question is really good for two reasons: One, it's practical, but two, it opens up a whole new range of questioning because of the subject - that being the concept of art being lost.

Let me explain:

I don't know art, only what I like. But I do know that many personal art collectors buy based on what others tell them is the hottest thing.

If the Doom floppies are the hottest thing in 300 years or so, whether or not they have practical value, then yes, someone will acquire them...god knows how they'll make them work, but they'll try to acquire them.

However, if that's the case, the whole point of games as art is completely lost because it's not just about the packaging. If you can't play and experience it, you've lost what actually makes a game art.

HyperDemon2000 said...

By that logic a portrait of a nude woman isnt art, because you can't bend her over the saddle and feed her the SpiderDemon.

Player_1 said...

Then you've completely misinterpreted my logic.

What makes a game art is the experience of playing it because only by playing it can you experience the essence of the game. The packaging and manual have their own charm, but they aren't the game and they most certainly are not the essence of it.

We experience every form of art as intended; paintings are looked at, music is listened to, books are read and movies are watched.

All of these are experiences, and all of these must be interpreted. Games are no different, and, like each of these, if they aren't experienced in the way they're meant to be, then the art is lost.

Owning the install media and having a completely playable installation ready and rearing to go are two completely different things in the world of PC gaming, so your analogy is probably over-reaching.

But it still holds true for game consoles; What is having a piece of media without the media player? Again, if you can't play a game, then the art can't be experienced, so it's lost.

And then you come back to pretentious people with more money than brains that I referred to in my first reply to you that just have to have something without understanding or appreciating the significance of it.