Games, as a member of new media, have been changing from just technical piece to hybrid piece of new culture and media phenomena. It is important to identify and recognize the artistic quality of games in order to stimulate the development of art and media in this generation. It can also help to discover game as a more powerful tool of art, hence higher quality games would be created. In this paper, games are discussed in general according to its relationship with culture, expressiveness, and the artists’ intention.
In the abstract of Computer Games as Works of Art, the author noted that computer games as a candidate to be regarded as art, just like any other kinds of medium, have already developed a significant heterogeneous tradition. It should be emphasized that not all games can be regarded as art. It is similar to music, movie, literature, and drawing: a song is a song and it is not necessarily a work of art. There are elements within the work, which make it a work of art. Games have an increasing advantage as a candidate because more and more ideas have been brought into games, not just with the technological advance, but also with the rapid growing size of audiences and developers. Game as art is catching more attention with its artistic nature and potential. Even though most games are commercial and market driven, these properties do not obstruct games to be regarded as art. Work of art can be functional and commercial.
Novels are not just collection of words, and neither do games. Narrative is a powerful form of representation in fine art practice. Contemporary and new media artists have been working on questioning traditional representational modes and boundaries to create new ones. New media, including web art, interactive video and more forms of media, ironize, layer and subvert the standard tropes of the norm with artists’ cultural self-consciousness. It is not just a straight forward narrative of a story or fact. An interactive piece, the DR.K-project, opens a narrative landscape with audiences’ interaction instead of mimicking the existence of real nature. The use of interaction in narrative new media has an important role in contemporary art. Games, being even more immersive and interactive than most kinds of new media, are undoubtedly a more powerful tool in expressing the artists’ concepts and thoughts.
Heavy Rain, is an “interactive movie psychological thriller video game” developed by Quantic Dream and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It delivers more than typical interactive drama to the audience. A real message embedded in the game by the developer is to be thought and questioned by the player: “How far you are willing to go to save someone you love?”. With the latest graphic technology and immersive gameplay, the players are emotionally attached to the story as well as the character they are controlling in the virtual game environment. The developer can deliver more directly the message and meaning to the player than traditional medium that artists use.
It is remarkable that the expressiveness of a game can be stronger than everyone ever imagines. In Final Fantasy VII back in 1997, a role-playing-game developed by Square (now Square Enix), the story and the fantasy world create a phenomenal dramatic effect to its players. The game follows a traditional type of play which typical RPG games offer. A player plays as a character in the game and goes for an adventure in the fantasy world created by the developer. In the journey, the player stays and grows up with a team of several characters, overcomes hard times defeating powerful monsters and bad guys together, solves mysterious puzzle, and reaches the end of the story eventually. However at a point in the story, a major female character Aerith Gainsborough dies according to dramatic arrangement by the script writer. Many fans of the game burst into tears at that point, because after all the journey and memorable time they spent with Aerith, they have already built up an unbreakable emotional attachment with the character. It was the first time the general public discovered the potential expressiveness of games, because before that, no one dared to kill a major female character in an RPG game.
The nature of games which a player can participate in a narrative environment makes games potentially more powerful in expressiveness than traditional types of art, but the idea of the audience’s participation is not new. The Cut Piece by Yoko Ono is one of the remarkable influential forms of art which relies heavily on the audience’s participation. Just like cut piece as an evolved form of drama performance, games can be considered as an evolved form of film, from which the player shifts from spectator to active participant. In addition, games are having more to possibility compare to performance art because of the replayability. Games can be open system, a higher form of narrative than linear narrative. The experience and the story of a game can be retold in varies ways.
Relationship with Culture
Games are generally cultural products. Many games reflect the present and past culture. Even in a simple game like Kick the Boss, the developers are expressing their irresistible resentfulness to their (and everyone else’s) boss and the general dissatisfaction of the working class in the current culture. In the game, a player can beat a dummy featuring anyone’s boss in various ways with the “weapons” provided in the game. The weapons are mostly stationary commonly found in today’s offices and weapons such as landmines, missiles, grenades and machine guns. This game, disregarding its commercial elements, can be regarded as a work within the popular culture, potentially pop art.
In many game titles, culture references are heavily used as key references of features. In Asura’s Wraith by Capcom in 2012, myths and folk tales from Japan, China, South-Asia and somehow Western countries are brought into the game and mutated into new creative forms of story, characters and scenarios. In Frames and Games, the author stated that although fantasy may seem personal and idiosyncratic, fantasies are often socially constructed and are transformation of collective norms and values. It is not actually just technology advance and market trend that shape the content and the appearance of games, but also audiences and culture. Games are a reflection of the time being, just like many other kinds of forms of art. The subtle coherent of the culture in the real world and the virtual world is one of the keys that make many games immersive. The players in the games manipulate their identities and characters based on their own cognition, and at the same time manipulate the representational space of the game. Within this coherence, the player can do what they cannot do in the real world in the virtual designed world of fantasy. Because of this cliché of game design principle, games should be regarded, if not as works of art, at least as cultural products.
A game cannot be regarded as a work of art without the intention of the creator. Designers Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark created the Flower, a video game for PlayStation 3. Overwhelming violent and exaggerated visuals of common commercial game elements are taken away from the game. The player is brought into a beautiful relaxing natural world of nice skies, green grass fields and wonderful landscapes. The player plays as a cluster of flying petals, and flies around the environment to activate unblossomed flowers. An idea of changing and improving the environment situation is subtly embedded: the players feel good when they are renewing life that has been destroyed by industrialization. The designers also intended to induce a feeling of Zen to the players so that they feel relaxed and up-lifted mentally as they are playing the game or simply made happy. This game is well-received not only within the game industry but also general public and media as a form of “artistic game”. The company of the creators also launched several games with similar intentions, including Journeyand Flow. It is not the aesthetic quality of a game that makes it to be regarded as work of art, but the meaning and message the artists or the designers want to convey to the player that make it artistic.
Games are undoubtedly powerful, expressive, and cultural. Games, just like many other forms of new media, are changing and improving rapidly as a part of the contemporary movement. As the game market grows bigger and the demography is diversified, game developers extend their vision from technology and the visual to context, culture, psychology, and more complex forms of interaction, which essentially increase the artistic quality of the games themselves. The boundary between art and non-art has been blurred. It is rather not critical to distinguish what is art and what is not, but to recognize the potential of the media as a tool of art.
Chen, Jenova, and Nicholas Clark. Flower. Los Angeles, US: Thatgamecompany, 2009.
iBid. Flow. Los Angeles, US: Thatgamecompany, 2006.
Clark, Nicholas, Bryan Singh, and Chris Bell. Journey . Los Angeles, US: Thatgamecompany, 2012.
CyberConnect2, . Asura’s Wrath. Fukuoka, Japan: Capcom, 2012.
Feige, Daniel Martin. Computer Games and New Media Cultures. Netherlands: Springer Netherlands, 2012.
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Ndalianis, Angela. Hop on Pop. Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2002.
Ono, Yoko. Cut Piece. Kyoto, Japan: 1964.
Rickman, B. The Dr.K-Project. In Narrative Intelligence. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Eds., 2002.
Sakaguchi, Hironobu. Final Fantasy VII. Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo: Square, 1997.
Quantic Dream, . Heavy Rain. Paris, Frence: Sony Computer Entertainment, 2010.
 Michael Mateas, and Andrew Stern, The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology, (Cambridge, England: The MIT Press, 2006), chap. Interaction and Narrative.
 B Rickman, Narrative Intelligence, (Amsterdam, Netherlands: Eds., 2002), chap. DR.K-project.
 Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain, ( Paris, Frence: Sony Computer Entertainment, 2010).
 Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy VII, ( Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo: Square, 1997).
 Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, (Kyoto, Japan: 1964).
 Angela Ndalianis, Hop on Pop, (Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2002), chap. The Rules of the Game: Evil Dead II…Meet thy Doom.
 Game Hive, Kick the Boss, (Markham, Ontario, Canada: Game Hive, 2012).
 CyberConnect2, Asura’s Wrath, (Fukuoka, Japan: Capcom, 2012).
 Gary Alan Fine, The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology, (Cambridge, England: The MIT Press, 2006), chap. Frames and Games.
 Jenova Chen, and Nicholas Clark, Flower, (Los Angeles, US: Thatgamecompany, 2009).
 Nicholas Clark, Bryan Singh, and Chris Bell,Journey , (Los Angeles, US: Thatgamecompany, 2012).
 Jenova Chen, and Nicholas Clark, Flow, (Los Angeles, US: Thatgamecompany, 2006).
 Daniel Martin Feige, Computer Games and New Media Cultures, (Netherlands: Springer Netherlands, 2012), chap. Computer Games as Works of Art.