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!

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