Skip to main content

In The Pursuit Of Art

Art Is

What is art? Don't even bother trying to universally define it, it is a word that has come to mean just about anything you can imagine. However, in the travels of my inner Internet nomad yesterday, my own personal definition coalesced in my head, trailed off my fingers, and onto a comment thread somewhere:
"Art is the betterment of thought through the invention of the truly novel."
It's a nice definition in that it explains not only the what of art but the why of it: truly novel things are needed to challenge our conventional thinking, lest the lack of stimuli cause us to fall into a rut of the same old ideas, and the artist emerges as an inventor dedicated to this task.

It also settles quite definitively what I find right or wrong with particular instances of art: when it is not very novel, it has little or no value to the human mind as stimuli, it's bad at being art.

There was once a point where I considered art a trivial waste of time.  That is no longer the case: if exposure to an artist's invention, novel new stimuli, brings about a change of mind that leads to new practical inventions, then the artist is an essential component of human progress.

Art and Games

Famous film critic Roger Ebert wrote that games cannot be art, though he later recanted on the grounds that he is hardly an authority as to what a game really is. I would say that he was simply off target in an important regard: as pertains to art, games are merely a medium.

What unique artistic property do games bring as a medium? It is not that they convey an experience - all art does this. Nor is it unique that games can tell a story - books and film do this as well. The unique thing about games is that you play them.

Playing games props up an additional dimension in that you can feel closer to an experience and a story, true, but the important thing to consider as games being a medium of art is each individual game must offer a unique play experience to be novel. How they play is the foremost way in which games differentiate from each-other.

Games which are clones are not particularly good at being art because they have lost too much of their novelty.  Without a unique play experience from a game they have already played, the players' minds are not introduced to the most important kind of new stimuli a game can bring, it is not advanced significantly.

It's little wonder that many players say they hate clones. It's little wonder that gaming as a medium seems significantly lessened now that imitation seems to be the rule.

Art, Games, and Me

These things are what my previous games have come to resemble thus far: Real time strategy games with their point and click interfaces. Role-playing games with their cursor navigation. Persistent accumulation of levels and gear for the sake of more accumulation. I thought I was doing people a favor by sticking to tried-and-true mechanics, but I just couldn't bring myself to finish them.

Now, I've come to understand why. I've been there before, I've even seen them combined, it's old hat. In drawing inspiration from games of the past, I ended up creating something that was too similar to them. I've accidentally been creating clones. When my muse realizes this, it recognizes bad art, it leaves me, my motivation dies. I was wondering where it went, now I know.

Then the solution is simple, is it not? Abandon the idea of the tried-and-true interface. Try something new. Make it novel. Make it change the way people think. Teaching an overgrown calculator to be "fun" is easy in comparison to my chosen task.


Mike W. said…
Haha I never thought about it quite like that. Though I still think there is a little value to be had in clones and their guarantee of a decent experience - which one should expect with a $60 price tag! Still, it's food for thought about the design of the next game I make!

Popular posts from this blog

Resonant Induction Really Grinds My Gears... In A Good Way

From about 2pm yesterday until 8pm today, I've been dabbling with my latest custom mod mix for Minecraft 1.6.4, which is this time very much Universal Electricity focused.
Aside from the usual GUI enhancers and Somnia, the primary contenders in this mix were:
Calclavia Core - Of course: this is the base of the Universal Electricity system.Resonant Induction - This seems to be largely focused on increasingly more advanced methods of refining ores divided across 4 ages of technological progression.  It also includes some really cool things such as assembly lines.  I'll primarily be talking about just a few blocks out of this mod today.Atomic Science - A mod dedicated to generating more of those lovely universal electricity volts via the power of splitting the atom.  Build your own nuclear reactor!  Deal with nuclear meltdowns!  You maniac!ICBM - A mod dedicated to generating more destruction using those lovely universal electricity volts (and more than a little gunpowder), it cer…

Empyrion Vrs Space Engineers: A Different Kind Of Space Race

In my quest for more compelling virtual worlds, I have been watching Empyrion: Galactic Survival a lot this bizarro weekend, mostly via the Angry Joe Show twitch stream.  What I have concluded from my observations is Empyrion is following in Space Engineers' shadow, but it is nevertheless threatening the elder game due to a greater feature set (the modding scene notwithstanding).

Empyrion is made in Unity, whereas Space Engineers is built on a custom engine.  While this does put Empyrion at a disadvantage when it comes to conceptual flexibility, its developers nevertheless have a substantial advantage when it comes to adding features due to a savings of time spent that would have gone into developing their own engine.  Examples include:
Planets.  Empyrion already has planets and space to explore between them, whereas in Space Engineers planets are in the works but still awhile away (so you just have asteroid fields to scavenge).Enemies.  Space Engineers' survival mode boasts onl…

Greasing The Grind: Adding Lasting Appeal To Virtual World Sandboxes

Game design, being about entertainment, is not as much science as art.  We're coming up with interesting things that the human mind likes to chew on that "taste" good to it.  Different people find different things, "Fun," and a game designer is tasked with coming up with fun, appealing things.  As pertains to virtual world sandboxes, I identified three of them.

Challenge Appeal.

Dwarf Fortress and Fortresscraft Evolved have the same end game appeal preservation mechanic: wealth equals threat.  The more money your Dwarf Fortress is worth, the bigger the baddies who will come for you, including a bunch of snobby useless nobles who do nothing but push dwarves around and eat.  The more energy you make in Fortresscraft Evolved, the more and bigger bugs come to shut down your base.  Rimworld does something a little different based off of which AI Storyteller you choose, but it generally adds time to your wealth accumulation when deciding what kind of threats to throw a…