Video Games and Aesthetics (A response to Magical Wasteland)

I would like games to be seen as art if someone can clearly place them within an understood artistic tradition. It hasn't really happened yet.

Video games are a young medium and if the community wants to push to re-define art as it is currently understood they need to have clear understanding of art as it is currently understood.

Wikipedia isn't a lot of help here in finding the two-sentence blurb on art definition. To be sure, there is plenty of subjectivity to be found when discussing art but there is also much to draw upon in terms of artistic tradition and history.

The recent N+1 article Cave Painting was an attempt to discuss that context. It touched on general aesthetic understandings as articulated by Kant and refuted by Nietzsche. Its conclusion in brief was that to the extent that they are both currently understood, games are not art.

Author and journalist, Tom Bissell submitted a thoughtful reply which disagreed with the article and suggested comparing game interactivity to theater.

Matthew S. Burns from Magical Wasteland also replied on his website and questioned N+1's understanding of gaming, art and aesthetics.

I am not a game designer or student of Kant; however; I feel that many of N+1's points were misunderstood.

Much of Kant's discussion of beauty centers on the context within which it is found. Therefore the suggestion of beauty qua beauty is problematic because its meaning is not objective. This is what N+1 means when they say "Art-beauty is not the same as being good-looking, or else Bond movies might be the most beautiful films ever made." Context is paramount or meaning is lost.

And while we're fairly certain Kant never thought about video games this does not mean his concepts are invalid. As you'll note from the link below Kant spoke generally enough to remain relevant.

All that said, any headway in this discussion will be helped by writers and thinkers who are able to have meaningful discussions in both art and gaming contexts (even if the intent is to re-imagine that context). Nietzsche understood Kant's arguments clearly so he could adequately refute them.

Unfortunately discussions on games as art rarely touch on any sort of nuanced understanding of artistic tradition or criticism. Most immediately understand art's problematic subjectivity to mean that nothing has (or can) be said on the matter, thus games must be art. N+1 acknowledges this when it asks "If video games have turned out to be art, then what has art turned out to be?"

At least with Tom Bissell there's the idea (the hope?) that his training as a journalist has conditioned him to try to see all sides of the argument as he frames the narrative.

Here's a great primer on Kant's ideas of beauty.

Blog Posts about Blog Posts are Boring; Lists are Not

It's so much easier to just make a list of things I've found interesting at my new job.
  1. There is no training. I met my recruiter on day one and she directed me in getting my temporary badge and escorted me to the department. I got to choose my cubicle and was escorted to the storage closet to find a computer. I put it together, installed the new OS, figured out what my login was, and got it on the domain. Two recently new hires gave me hints. It was like being inside a PC adventure game where you are stuck in a room and have to figure out what to do by randomly clicking on things, picking stuff up and giving it to strangers.
  2. This is not Microserfs. It's my favorite book and a large part of it takes place at Microsoft (circa 1993/4). I don't have my own office and I'm not coding full time so that's different. Don't let my first point fool you - EVERYONE HERE IS INCREDIBLY NICE. Literally 15 people have stopped by my desk to introduce themselves and offer their knowledge.
  3. Maybe this Microserfs. Everyone is so kind to me that I can't help but have that nice warm feelings for them. It's like reading the book (except I don't cry at the end - maybe at the end of my 12 month contract that will change. That could be awkward).
  4. Other similarities. Everyone is super into our technology. The campus has free coffee and drinks. There is a library in the other building where you can check out books for study and every time I walk over there I imagine that Bill Gates might be looking out of one of the windows judging any shortcut I might take (this will only make sense if you've read the book)
  5. Geek stuff. I fill out a quick web form and 10 minutes later someone has built a virtual machine for me. To my exact specifications. This won't make sense to everyone but most computer users know that just installing an operating system like windows XP takes an hour. So getting something like this in ten minutes is pretty impressive.

I'll probably think of some more stuff later.