The question of videogames and art come up all the time. The question is actually a silly one, since whether or not they’re art is based on definition. So lets ignore that!
So way way back, I played Passage(I’ll be nice to link these stupid games). The game made groan in pain. Boring, with childish symbolism and no sophistication. On one hand I could say it’s a slight bit clever, but it was tepid and hardly enlightening. Apparently some people have had better mileage with it and the game became a big deal.
Really as I see it, people were just proud the retarded child drew a pretty picture.
The real sad backlash of this is what it’s done to the indy community. Between Passage and anything by Cactus, the independant game community gets the message of “If you put no effort into something and make a vague attempt at symbolism, you are clever and art making art!”
That’s not art! and if it is art, it’s TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE BAD ART. Thats the type of art that makes you say “These folks are hacks!” not “Wow look at this sophisticated medium”! They are doing a DISSERVICE to the medium, impressing no one but themselves, creating a circle jerk that produces even less then a real circle jerk! Amazing. Here are two examples I want to go over.
Seven Minutes: So pretty much a vague IWBTG ripoff of sorts, that replaces clever traps and humor, as well as polished ideas with… a vague Adam and Eve metaphor?
So you start in a room with a light in it. Some head (God) tells you not to touch the light(Forbidden Fruit). Upon touching it, GiantHEad tells you what a slap dick you are and if you want to have true enlightenment you will see the world end in Seven Minutes. So thats like, the break of innocence from the bible. So you spend Seven Minute running like hell to get through an ill inspired maze.
So the game is just meh in general. Nothing to cry over! BUT WAIT! if you touch the light and STAND IN PLACE FOR SEVEN MINUTES, GIANT HEAD CONGRATULATES YOU FOR YOUR ENLIGHTENMENT… and… makes you a God with him? It’s really quite insulting.
It’s I Wanna Be The Guy if Cactus made it, pretty much. Only some other dude made it. Maybe is other games are better but he seems hung up on giant heads. Whatever.
Execution: This is a game where you shoot a guy. THATS IT. You load the game up, it tells you to DO THE RIGHT THING. Game starts and you got a gun scope and a guy tied to a post with no context. You pull the trigger and he dies. CONGRATS! You lost! You fag!
So you load the game back up and GASP HES STILL DEAD! Your actions have consequences! He is dead forever! …. or until you edit your registry. Which I did so I could kill him twice. Regardless. So the game is trying to teach you that actions have consequences and permenance. of course, anyone knows this. We are ingrained to know this. This knowledge is one of those things that make us better then lower animals. Kids know this for sure once they break their first toy. We may forget from time to time, but this is not how you remind people.
So what makes this funnier, is… why is he tied up? Did you kidnap him and decide to execute him? Is he a terrorist or something who killed babies? Are you just placing the responisiblity on someone else like a coward? The game is wrought with stupidy. For an unsubtle as Passage is, it’s metaphor at least holds up under some scrutiny.
What real art does is not take a slogan, phrase or idea and repackage it in a way that just says it differently. It must support the message. It must support it in a way that makes us realize something new. Art isn’t easy really. Schindler’s List isn’t sad or touching or enlightening because it says “Man it sucks to be a jew during the Holocaust”! It gives a insight through characterization and example. It gives real emotion. Brenda Brathwaite made a boardgame called Train which people slowly realize they’re transporting jews for execution. Now, I’m not sure if that is good (it could easily be hammer-anvil symbolism, but from what I hear the rules are written in a way to try and make people get invested in the act to a degree. Either way I withhold judgement). This game came out of a ‘pseudo game’ she made, which I find more interesting.
Her daughter had learned about the Middle Passage in school and couldn’t quite understand why it was so horrible. Sounded like a pleasent cruise to her! So Brenda made up a little game with prototyping pieces she had laying around that simulated it and had her daughter play. They had little pieces of different sizes, grouped in families. When the ships left, families got broken up between the ship. As time went on in the game, it became clear that there wasn’t enough food for everyone to make it.
Her daughter cried because the game taught her something she didn’t understand by approaching it from a unique angle. Granted this was a quick little game for an 8 year old (or however hold she is), so it’s not quite developed art, but it approaches it from the right direction. The hard part is doing this for intelligent folk and without being totally lame about it. Current Indy Game makers don’t even seem to be trying. They’re either like me, making actual games that are fun, or making shitty pixel art second grade metaphors.
Game maker Zarathustra referred to these as Sadlets (Like applets, only sad!). Please. Don’t make anymore. Either make a real game or have some sophistication. Or better yet, do both! you’ll be a better man then me!
edit: Turns out someone on destructoid beat me too this a few days ago with a FANTASTIC Post on the matter. Lemme thank Logo for giving me these too links, which I highly recommend.