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Episode 27

The Indoor Kids

Are Videogames Art? (with…

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The Indoor Kids #27: Are Videogames Art? (with Film Crit Hulk)

The Indoor Kids fortify their walls & reinforce their chairs, because Film Crit Hulk (badassdigest.com) stops by to discuss the most ultimatest topic of all: Are videogames art? Don’t worry; we don’t get pretentious. (OK, we do a little bit.) HULK PONTIFICATE!

SPOILERS:

Gears of War 3 (1:02:40 – 1:03:48)
Red Dead Redemption (1:06:00 – 1:07:28)
LA Noir (1:13:45 – 1:14:55)

Follow @indoorkids, @kumailn, and @thegynomite on Twitter!

And email us at theindoorkidspodcast@gmail.com!

Special thanks to Carvin for supplying us with the equipment we need to record this podcast! Check out Carvin.com for more information on recording equipment, guitars, amps and more!

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127 comments

  • DANIEL G – PART OF THE PROBLEM WITH HEAVY RAIN IS THAT WHILE IT REALLY DOES TRY TO PUSH THE FORM, THERE ARE SO MANY LITTLE EXTRANEOUS THINGS THAT ADD TO THE COMPLICATION OF “NARRATIVE.” GOOD NARRATIVES ARE OFTEN FOCUSED AND TIGHT, SO SOMETIMES THE ABILITY TO DO “ANYTHING” WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT APPLY TO THE STORY CAN BE A BIT OF AN OBSTACLE. IF THAT MAKES SENSE?

    JOSHUA – IT TOTALLY OKAY IF YOU HAVE DIFFERENT DEFINITION OF ART! THE MAIN THINK HULK WANT FOSTER IS CRITICAL THINKING AND SPECIFIC TERMS. WHICH MEANS COMING UP WITH YOUR OWN DEFINITIONS WHICH HELP MAKE GAMES A MORE THOUGHTFUL, INTERESTING EXPERIENCE!

    SANDERMAN – THAT’S A GREAT EXTRACREDITZ EPISODE. AND HULK RETURN HULK-SIZED HUG TO YOU!

    GABBOMATIC – YEAH IT AN INTERESTING QUESTION. HULK THINK PORTAL 2 DID A LOT OF INTERESTING THINGS WITH THEIR SENSE OF STORYTELLING, CHARACTERIZATION, AND NARRATIVE. AND THERE WERE SOME REALLY NICE THEMES AT WORK. CATHERINE IS ONE OF THE FEW HULK NOT GOTTEN TO PLAY YET!

  • @Meatrepeat
    I think the issue is something that goes to the art of video games: is it art or is it design? This is the split. Of course something can be both and really be interesting as both. But design implies functionality and praticality whereas art is not trapped by functionality or practicality. I believe video games are more akin to how we talk about architecture. It is built as a place where people dwell and habitate and accomplish goals. It has a purpose, rather than an aesthetic. Architecture is defined as being good when it is: (from http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?GoodArchitecture)

    Robust – lacking bugs and tolerant of external faults
    Maintainable – easy to maintain and extend
    Useful – utility, beyond the immediate need (due to flexibility and extensibility)
    Scalable – ability to grow in capacity, not in features
    Common Vision – direction, strategy
    Agile – simple and “elegant” enough to refactor easily; flexible
    Extensible – ability to grow in features or in depth
    Responsive – performance now and after adding features or expanding scale

    …and I think this would be a better way of looking at video games, through an architectural lens rather than an artistic lens, in order to create challenging and engaging games.

  • @Gabbomatic

    I wouldn’t say it’s an all or nothing dichotomy. It’s just hard. It takes a lot of thoughtfulness about the implications of the interactions you’re asking the audience to take part in and how they align with the thematic experience you’re crafting. It takes practice and discussion and experimentation and risk. All of which become easier with age as a medium.

    @garyancheta

    I completely agree with the idea that games don’t need to be art. I think it’s a problem with a lot of discussion about art is the inherent implication that being art = good. I feel like that’s the driving force behind people’s refusal to define art, as if to denote what art can be is to limit what is “good” or “worthwhile.” Art is simply a cultural form that a medium can take. It’s a valuable form in our cultural spectrum, and one worth pursuing, but it’s far from the end all be all of quality or importance.

  • If a painting of a flower is art, how is the video game FLOWER not art? (Unless said painting is not considered art, because its “thematic messages” are not “created in a conscious manner.”)

    I’m not sure how people who love video games enough to devote so much of their lives to them can be so reductive and dismissive.

    Bummer.

  • Do Videogames need to be art? I think the fundamental problem is the idea that experience and “doing something” is why videogames have problems with the artistic definition. There is a functionality, whether it is based on commercial needs or aesthetic choice, to video games that many artforms do not have. Writing only needs to be read. Paintings only need to be seen.

    Is riding a ride at a theme park rides art? Is playing sports consider art? Are dice and paper RPGs art? Sure they have can have artistic dressing. Disney has awesome rides that use tricks of stage and screen. Sports utilize giant arenas or taped footage of games can seem very artistic. D&D has wonderful graphics and intricate rules structures. But does that make it art?

    Videogames uses an amalgamation of sports, themed environments, and dice/paper statistics. It feels like it isn’t artistic, but rather a type of mental athletics.

    But just so you know, there are some interesting “serious games” that might be considered artistic. Just do a search (ian boghost is one of the main guys behind the serious games movement). Another interesting idea behind this game-as-art is Gonzalo Frasco’s “Ephemeral Games: is it barbaric to design video games after Auschwitz” (http://www.ludology.org/articles/ephemeralFRASCA.pdf)

  • So from what everyone’s been saying, it seems like giving into the ‘language of experience’ versus the ‘pursuit of thematic experience’ is an all-or-nothing thing, which no developers so far have been able to work around.

    Maybe the fact that ‘fight things’ is the primary gameplay goal of the vast majority of games has something to do with why this has been so difficult? I mean, it seems pretty hard to tie pretty much any theme to gameplay when the gameplay objective is ‘kill everything all the time’. That doesn’t really lend itself well to anything but the most horrible of messages.

    I can’t think of many recent mainstream games that have tried this. Maybe Portal 2 or Catherine?

  • I really dont like to use the argument “It’s just a videogame…” because it belittles the potential in videogames. James and the crew from @ExtraCreditz said it best in an episode, which I dont remember the title of unfortunatly. (Extra Creditz is a great show with inspiring insights, definatly deserves a watch if you havent heard of it.)

    If we say that “Its just a videogame..” we take away the possibilty of it becoming MORE than “just a videogame…” The videogame should be able to stand on its own when debated and criticised, like any other piece of art.

    (Again, what I wrote would be alot better in the words of @ExtraCreditz but its a start. If anyone remembers or finds the episode Im refering to, HULK SIZED HUG TO YOU!)

  • Not my favorite pod cast you guys have released. I do like it has me thinking.

    I like that you try to define art, but not sure I agree with it. I fear art may have the same defination of obscenity. You know it when you see it. I don’t think a game has become art.

    Mass Effect (1 & 2), Red Dead Redemption, and Bioshock have been the closest.

    I was also one of your fans that thought you said vaginomyte.

    Oh you guys got me into play Skyrim. You bastards. Now go check out Mass Effect.

  • @Gabbomatic

    Concerning Stanley’s Parable, I think you touched on the sweet spot, and one of my criticism’s of the Hulk’s argument in the episode. He mentions the fact that art really isn’t about engendering an experience, and while I can agree with that, I’d argue that the language of video games, and interaction as a larger medium is entirely about that.

    Experience is pretty much the language of video games. The problem of games like Stanley’s Parable and even Braid (one of primary criticisms of Braid actually) is their abandonment of the language of experience in the in the pursuit of a thematic message. Braid does this spectacularly by placing a boatload of rather purple prose entirely outside the reach of the experience created by the game’s interaction.

    I think the adage holds true– ”Show, don’t tell.”

  • GREAT COMMENT MEAT REPEAT!

    AND GABBOMATIC, THE STANLY PARABLE IS A REALLY, REALLY GREAT MOD THAT PUSHES BOUNDARIES AND MODELS OF WHAT GAMES STRIVE FOR. IT EXACTLY THE KIND OF THING MORE FOLKS SHOULD BE DOING AND HULK THINK A LOT MORE GAMES SHOULD EMULATE. LESS IN THE MECHANICS, BUT MORE IN THE MEANING AND THE SORT OF MEDITATIVE TONE IT STRIVES FOR.

    AND HULK ADORE THE FINAL FANTASY SERIES AND WAS SO CRUSHED BY THE HUGE PROBLEMS OF FFXIII. SO SAD. ESPECIALLY BECAUSE HULK THOUGHT XII WAS GREAT!

  • Have you heard of the Stanley Parable, Hulk? It’s a Half-Life 2 mod that is also the best example of uniting gameplay and theme while also exploring the implication of complete interactivity in an art form. It completely fails in terms of “fun factor” though.

    It seems almost as though as games grow more complex, all the different elements of production and gameplay and theme become more difficult to manage, and keep coming short of becoming a completely cohesive whole… But you’ve said all that.

    Also my my heart skips a little whenever anyone rags on FFXIII. Thank you for that.

  • I agree with a lot of the proposed thematic definition of art in this episode. Looking into the development of other artforms (literature, music, visual arts), particularly in the twentieth century, I feel like the definition suggests a particular turning point for games as an artform in the future.

    Namely, when will we see a game that is considered good, or even great, by the standards of the medium, but is almost wholly unenjoyable? The core of game quality is so often perceived as the enjoyment of gameplay, to quote a mouldy gamepro– their “fun factor.” Yet you look to other established artforms, and I can think of plenty of examples of stellar works that I would hesitate to describe as enjoyable.

    I appreciate them, I contemplate them, I seek them out, but they are not “fun.” Instead, they are disquieting, thought-provoking, often very powerful works of art. Many times, they tingle with a thematic electricity that ripples through your spine, and haunts your consciousness.

    This isn’t to say anything that doesn’t upset you isn’t art, but to provide such an effect is so countermand to the stated purposes of commercial media that it can’t help but define the artistic capacities of a medium.

    If games can accomplish that (which is still up for debate, everything is certainly harder to manage in such a complex medium) then I think we will finally have a landmark to stand at and judge the development of artform, both looking at what came before and what is still yet to come.

  • THANKS JIM + HARDLYWALKEN +ODIN + SAMCVB! THAT MEAN LOT. AND YEAH THE DEFINITION OF ART MEAN TO BE BROAD AND FOR ALL MEDIUMS. IF ANYTHING HULK’S DEFINTION BENEFIT PAINTING AND SCULPTURE THE MOST.

    AND YOU EXACTLY RIGHT ON THE EBERT POINT. HULK REALLY LOVE GAMES AND THE ENTIRE HIGHFALUTIN DEFINITION RELLY JUST HAS THE INTENT OF MAKING BETTER, MORE PROFOUND GAMES. CHEERS ALL!

  • Another great episode. You guys made a lot of points i agree with, especially what bruce was saying about jrpgs. I used to love them, and now the only new rpgs i really like are american/canadian. Speaking of which, i just started skyrim this weekend, so that werewolf bit almost was a spoiler, Kumail.

  • I really like this episode. The show feels like it is opening up and becoming more nuanced. Thanks for letting Film Critic Hulk talk at length without interrupting him. Great job, team. I respect Film Critic Hulk’s take on Games as Art even if I disagree with it…unlike Ebert he actually plays and enjoys the medium he is critiquing. I am just astounded at how good this episode is. Approaching A Life Well Wasted in terms of quality.

  • HEY ALL! HULK THANK KUMAIL AND EMILY ONCE AGAIN FOR HAVING HULK’S NERVOUS, FLUSTERED BANNER PERSONA. HULK HOPE YOU ENJOY. AND DON’T WORRY FIZZLE, THE NARROW DEFINITION NOT MEANT TO BE LIMITING, BUT A PRACTICAL APPLICATION TO HELP CREATE BETTER WORK. IT NOT MEANT TO BE DISMISSING!

    HULK THANK ONCE AGAIN!

  • Wow, great episode. I can already sense this is going to be a very interesting show thread. You know it’s good when you hear that post modernism in video games or in genral is crap. Although I think a better line for the hulk would have been, “We have to have a definition or nothing happens, after all a circle is a circle JUST LIKE YOUR LOGIC” going from Banner to Hulk wouold have been funny.

  • I love how this film critic is forcing his narrow definition of what constitutes “art” in film onto other mediums. I’m only about 20 minutes in, but it’s already infuriating me. Hopefully it gets better