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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bioshock Infinite: Your Argument is Invalid


Among many geeks, it is a source of some tenderness that video games are not recognized, and generally not considered a “legitimate” art form. Of course, geeks themselves know this is complete crap. Most sort of roll their eyes at the fact that a bunch of arrogant blowhards haven’t gotten the fucking memo yet. Still, among prudish tweed-jacketed Humanities professors and their slack jawed, drooling zombie followers, there are those who deny that interactive media could ever be true art. They say it in the same tone of voice that was used to say Rock and Roll wasn’t art, that movies weren’t art, that TV wasn’t art, and even that computer animation isn’t art—never realizing that their prejudice for innovation makes them look like a bunch of elitist douchenozzles.

Plus seriously, I don’t really think too many have actually played video games since they were pumping quarters into Tempest and Q-bert.

Usually I don’t give two shits or a fuck (land-bound or flying) about the divide between what the great white man’s phallus ivory tower thinks is art and what they don’t. They serve a narrow aesthetic at best (too busy patting themselves on the back for their open minded, post-colonial theses to notice how predominately—almost overwhelmingly—white and middle class they usually are). But at worst, they seem to be ever stuck in an endless cycle of praising the prior generation’s ingenuity as “the right way to do art.”

And generally if they want to keep to themselves, I'm okay with that.  If they want to lock themselves in their cloistered halls, turn their discussions into exclusionary circle jerks, pat themselves on the back for having it all figured out, appoint themselves the guardians of the bourgeois aesthetic, hate the art and artists of each generation (who—bafflingly—end up going on being canonized in the next), and then scratch their heads that no one (outside of academics) seems to give a shit what they say about art, that’s their business.

Today is a little different, though. You see, not so very long ago, I watched one of these snide academics tell a friend named Jessica that her MFA in game design—an MFA not officially offered by the university, and an MFA she designed herself by cobbling together classes in computer art, 3-D art, graphic design, literary theory, and film—was little more than a piece of paper and that her lifelong pursuit to bring artistic merit to video games was futile, as they would never be respected as true art.

Today, I’m feeling a little feisty.

“These…video games,” he said (and yes, you have to give it that sneering little pause to get the timber just right), “simply don’t have the ability to be real art. They’re fun. They’re entertaining. Some of them are very pretty. My son plays this one on the X-box that I swear is just like being there. But they’re not real art. Understand that good art actually does have a definition.  It’s not completely subjective—the people that say things like that usually haven’t studied art, but I know you have, so you know this. The composite of the elements has to support a directed vision.  There has to be a theme that is enhanced by the technical aspects of the art form itself.  Video games just don’t have that.  They are just….games.”

For me, all he did was prove he was a complete status-quo-loving tool, without an original thought in his institutional skull for what art even is. It takes a particular kind of disingenuous idiocy not to be aware of how closely developments in art have tracked with developments in technology throughout history. Even if you missed things like the proliferation of literacy and writing after the invention of the Guttenberg Press or the popularity of longer fiction tracking almost exactly with the technological cost of printing, and even if you were unaware of how the 20th century’s technological developments changed art with everything from amplified music, to film, to television, you would have to be straight up fucking asleep not to notice that computers are changing every art medium they touch. From CGI, to computer animation, to auto-tuning, to the entire MDA movement in canvas art. The very idea that video games couldn’t be art is patently absurd.

But he got under my friend’s skin, and he made wonder if she was wasting her life. I even saw a tear while she pretended to be concentrating on her Denny’s fries.

“Jess, these are the same guys who thought theater could never be high art—it was mindless entertainment for the masses. It was ‘fun.’ And then in 1589 my boy, Billy, wrote a little ditty called The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  He made them all look pretty damned stupid.”

I stole one of her fries.  "Okay, maybe they're not the EXACT same guys..."

“I wish,” she said, “there was just a game that could just…end this debate. Just one game. That’s all it would take. If one game could be high art, they would have to admit that the potential is there for the whole medium.”

[Read the rest of my multi-part article at Ace of Geeks.]

3 comments:

  1. Read the whole thing. You deserve a medal.

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  2. Clicked on a tag after writing my last comment, 'cause I wanted a quick look at what you had been doing 'as a writer' lately. Which is to say, I know this post is out of date, but here are three responses to it I have today:

    1) Have you been following the feminism meets video games kerfluffle recently? (One of my favorite things I saw was someone who had been wearing a Bioshock Infinite shirt at a coffeeshop and some guy presumed to tell her that she probably hadn't actually played it, so she told him the ending. Which had a followup comment of a woman who had a similar experience except he followed up with 'maybe your boyfriend told you that' so she followed up with the fact that she wrote the game.)

    2) Video games are also a job market for writers these days. Have you ever considered it?

    3) My friend Astrid has been working on her PhD and has been doing some really interesting things recently involving the line between 'art' and 'game', although not in a traditional 'video game' sort of way. Check out her Redemption Machines project from last year: http://www.astridbin.com/the-redemption-machines/

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    1. I have been following the kerfluffle. I'm glad some of the non-radical elements within gaming have been joining in the castigation of the toxic misogyny.

      I'm doing my own writing, and I'm pretty busy with that. Most days there's still more on my plate than I can handle.

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