Games as Lit. 101 - Counterpoint: "Interactivity Invalidates Art" -

Games as Lit. 101 – Counterpoint: “Interactivity Invalidates Art”

Games As Literature
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This week, in a special segment called Counterpoint, we take on one of the biggest arguments against the status of video games as an art form: the claim that interactivity cannot exist in art.

Arcade Academy, by Pixel Head –


If you want to know which games we’ll be talking about in the future, take a look at the episode schedule:

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  1. Y'know, these are some of the least-viewed videos on your channel, but they're the ones I enjoy most. Theory is so much fun.

  2. when you put it like that, it does make one think just how fundamently different the story for a movie/tv show needs to be than a video game story. though a video games plot can be as linear as a movie, like viewtiful joe's plot, or the plot of a Metroid game (unless you count different post game screen shots of samus posing in a skin tight morph suit as "drasticly diverging story paths") but yeah, its a real shame more people aren't watching the videos. great production quality, great talking stuff, its just grate. like cheese. because both this & cheese are yummy

  3. Obviously, the term "Art" doesn't, shouldn't, and maybe can't have a strict definition. Attempting to define the word "Art" is part of the artistic process. Traditionally, "games" (e.g. chess) seemed to be very different from "art" (e.g. opera), so they were treated differently. We still hold to those notions somewhat. I think you're right that "interactivity" is a key sticking point for many because it seems "wrong" somehow. For me, though, the key is intent. Is the work intended to be art? Is the creator trying to draw from the large, vague conceptions of art during the creative process? I don't consider a game like "Super Mario Bros." art, but I do consider a game like "Shadow of the Colossus" art. It is difficult to say why, but the why has something to do with intent.

  4. How about when you are playing something like half life when an important scene could be happening, but the player is left to their own devices and could be jumping around the room picking up objects and throwing them around the room like a lunatic. Surely this detracts from the intentions of the creators in some way?

  5. To what extent does the intention to create art make something art? Or lack of intention invalidate, etc. For example, I consider Imperialism II to be a candidate for being art. Its mechanics conspire to perfectly create a player experience space that inevitably leads to the conclusion that European colonialism drove internal European economic development (whether you agree with this conclusion or not – the point is that the game argues this with every system at its disposal). But did the game's designers intend to produce a game with a thesis? I don't know. How important is that?

  6. watched this after i replied on your last comment, saying "your argument is invalid because your understanding of interactity is wrong." is ironcly very similiar to what i said about your bioshock – ayn rand video and yet still wrong.
    If the outcome of my actions is always the same then why is there the need for those actions in the first place? They have no meaning and since the players actions and playskill can wastly change the mood / expereince influence how the following story parts are percieved if not skipped completly (!) they do not serve the story in a helpfull way.
    Take away mona lisas mysterious smile, take away an eye take away the background take anything away you want and see how it influence the piece as a whole, it's a stupid question i know because it will inevitably change the work and make it something else. Now take away the vindictor gun from mass effect, how about dragon age armor for mass effect (?) how about Grunt –> he get's replaced with someone else in ME3 -> he is meaningless.
    another good example
    Take away the scene in Terminator 2 where they take out the inhibitor chip from Arnold (it's only in the direcots cut) and you drasticly change the ending and how we persive T-800 suicide, Take away the shootout with the police at cyberdyne's research lab and you wouldn't complete the redemption arch of Miles.
    And finaly take away everything after Maurader Shield in ME3 and pretend Shepard dies, and you get a wastly better story. 😀

  7. Old video, but this did make me think of the whole genre of performance art. Such as Marina Abramovich's "Rhythm 0". The [option of] interactivity of the piece was the only way it was going to work.

    (A warning though, reading about how people treated her during the performance might make you squirm. It was definitely a traumatizing yet revealing experience for Marina and about how ugly human beings can be.)

    As a slightly less heavy/dark example, I'm also thinking about things like Choose Your Own Adventure books- where, again, the interactivity is pretty much the point to their existence. And there is also artistry in that.

    Anyways, I just wanted to add a few supporting arguments/examples to your conclusion.

  8. There are two other ways of deviating from the designed purpose of a piece of art.

    First you can interpret the themes/message of the piece differently than the creator intended, deliberately or by accident. This isn't completely out of the hands of the creator, they could for instance have characters discuss the lessons they learned from the events if a story, or something analogous. Off hand, I don't see any straightforward differences in the degree games are open to this form of deviation any more than other art forms.

    The second form of deviation is essentially mistakes in putting the design into practice. You might see a typo in a book that ruins the mood of a scene or a scratch in a painting. But bugs in a game theoretically allow drastically different events than the intended design.

    Now that I'm thinking about it I see a third kind I had initially lumped in with the second. I'm thinking of the very different play you'll see during a glitchless speed run (glitchless just to seperate it from sense 2), the z-machine version of Tetris, or the hiking club in GTA5. These are all behaviors within the intended constraints of the system, but at least sometimes they are well outside the behavior expected or intended by the creator.

    I can't think off hand of examples outside games of the third sense, though I hope someone can. But I find it harder to believe that other media are as open to this third sense if deviation. I think it could even be argued that one of the forces in the evolution of game design is pushing back the bounds in which the game is able to surprise both the player and the developer, though the latter might only be true for a handful of people.

  9. Liked the mention of Mass Effect and cats!!! I hope you take a deeper look at Mass Effect in the future. I like your perspective on games and their unique artform.

  10. If i'm understanding you, your argument in defense of games as art is essentially that the developers have an intention for the game, and as long as the player is playing within these intentions then the developer has achieved their goal. But I think there is a segment among gamers who believe that this is in fact a limitation of existing games that the medium should try to move beyond. I would not describe myself as one of these people, so I hope I'm not stereotyping them too much, but it's a major school of thought I've seen among gamers. These people enjoy games with complex system but no goals except those which the player creates for themself. To them, emergent gameplay is the ultimate expression of gaming. They are drawn to games like Minecraft, Skyrim, GTA, and Eve Online. For these gamers, the developer is less like an artists and more like an art supply company, giving the games the tools with which to create their own art. You touch on games like this, but I think you brush it off too lightly.

  11. Thing is that any game itself has it is boundaries in which player gets opportunity to operate only the way it was planned, of course there is some exceptions (games that generates specific things in a randomized way but even those has it basis). If there would possibility for a player to do things that were not programmed in the game, then it might be some kind of magic.

  12. I don't know if you can categorise Ebert's flat out ignorance a "misunderstanding". The guy wasn't willing to even consider the notion that video games are art or could "become" art. Using the interactive nature of games as an argument is ridiculous, because there's been all different kinds of interactive art. Also what about collaborative art? Ebert talks about "the artists' vision" but with movies for example, who is the artist? The writer? Director? Actors? Also you can interpret different meanings from a work of art regardless of the author's intent or vision. I know I'm not saying anything new and I'm definitely not disagreeing with your points. But I feel like a lot of gamers' anger was justified. Because his opinion was formed from smug elitism rather than academic exploration. I would have loved to sit him down, make him play Okami, then stare him in the eyes and dare him to then tell me "videogames can never be art."

    Admittedly….I might still have some unresolved anger to work through….

  13. Love what your doing here with this series. Video games are a fantastic new art form that deserves to be taken seriously.

  14. Jesper Juul said Games are structured artificial struggle that are an interactive complexity: computer games can not ever be of Art as graphics does not matter.

  15. Perhaps this is just my misunderstanding, but based on the quotes you've presented from Roger Ebert in this video, it sounds like he believes art has meaning imbued in it by the creator of said art, not by the audience. This would seem to go completely against the Death of the Author concept that is near ubiquitous in literary criticism, which states that the artist's intent is not relevant. What matters is what content is actually available in the art itself, and the audience's interpretation of that content.

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