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Art-Game vs Game-Art

Context & Theory2 min read emerge whenever the observer self-limits play experience (Wikipedia)

The following post is an overview of some (brief) background research into a pressing issue we've been tackling. Namely, our understanding of what constitutes art in video games, and what it means to consitute a game. We go about this by first presenting our initial glance into art in video games, then discuss where our issues arise, and attempt to give an outline of some preliminary answers.

Artistic Video Games

Banner Art

Left to right: Utopia (1981), Ori and the Blind Forest (2015), Smash TV (1990)

In our research we came across an exhibition by the Smithsonian in 2012 called The Art of Video Games. We reviewed these games and found that they were primarily focused on the visual-artistic representations of sprites, entities, words, lands etc. A select example of these games are shown in the header images.

What makes it Art

While these games are captivating, and aesthetically beautiful both in their time, and in the present day their architecture doesn't seem to be complimentary with our ideas of pursuing conceptual, and physical links across the screen boundary. A little more research led us to the term "Game-Art" to describe their character. Some further examples of this can be found here.

We asked what separates our somewhat more familiar "art" world from these video games? This could be the advent of a "reflection experience" Díaz, Carlos Mauricio Castaño (2015). Following the chain of thought led us to the distinction and realm of the Art-Game.

What makes it a Game

Taking the field of art-theory in these art-games we see mentions of the distinction between now the addition of the "game" element to the "art". The term "game" is so loaded that it surely obscures interpretation of what must even be designed to be considered as a game. Notions of competition, win-state, triviality come to front. Perhaps the "game" component of art-game is an unnecessary restriction on the experience. What if we deemed it something more like "Interactive virtual experience" or the like? Where is the distinction between this and interactive art. I consistently feel like the idea of a “game" devalues the idea of the experience to this triviality. Could we call it a game is the win-state in inaction? Do you still "play"?

Here we're able to find examples of games already tackling this issue from the more entertainment side with the Non-game. But these still address the first concept of competition or win-state.

Let's think of some concepts which make up a game then, a bottom up approach. Shortly we have rules, game mechanics, goals, play, environment, players. Take any one of these away and we still have a game. How much can we remove and be left with the same definition? Surely this design restriction is a semantic or superficial distinction. Perhaps, just as with art, the choice to see something as a game really is up to the perceived intention of the presenter (sounds like WarGames to me). We should not however preclude the "game" experience from occurring outside of this context, just as someone can have an artistic experience without the object of the experience being "art", for instance Braid a game where your concepts of danger and time are turned on their head in the form of a game mechanic.

Parting thoughts

One of the key differences we found in art-games vs art is the amount of effort that is required from the user to reach the goals of the artist. Where something like a painting, requires only that you passively consume it upon your own time, a game demands a higher level of attention. We should be humble in rewarding that attention, and careful not to exploit it, such as is the case with the gamification of the world.

Braid Art

Braid (2008) showing the game concept before and after painting

All images are sources from their respective wikipedia pages.

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