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Re: Art: Wanna Get Technical

by Gary King

(This editorial is a direct response to Alex Weitzman's "Art: Wanna Get Technical?" It was initially e-mailed to him, so excuse the directed voice)

First, 'fine' art is also art 'of notable merit', according to the Oxford Dictionary. While 'fine art' is as you described it (and I was aware of the difference between fine and performing arts), it is possible to classify something as art and not 'fine' art.

Do boy bands contribute something worthwhile to their medium? No - everything that they 'create' suffers from extreme banality, and the difference between nSync, the Backstreet Boys, LFO, [insert boy band here] is practically nothing. To an uneducated listener, if a radio station were to play a back-to-back romp of boy band music, without stopping for band identification, it's forseeable that the listener would believe all the songs were by the same band! Because boy bands fail to distinguish themselves creatively, they truly do fail to contribute something worthwhile to their medium. I was trained as a 'fine artist', and the first rule we learned was that it can be aesthetically awful, but it is 'fine' art as long as it embodies you. It is possible for 'fine' art to be bad, look putrid, or even scare people away; however, it is impossible for 'fine' art to be a soulless, carbon copy of what has been done before, even if you were the original artist.

Second, as I made perfectly clear in my editorial - it was a conjecture on my part to believe that Jack Kroll would agree that creative efforts are put into video games. That small fact alone should classify them as art on anyone's metric, although not 'fine' art. If anything, the work that goes into making sure that Kasumi bounces properly in Dead or Alive 2 is art, although of the vaudeville persuasion.

Third, don't misunderstand me. There are plenty of games that I absolutely adore that I wouldn't classify as 'fine' art, because ... they have been done before! Soul Calibur, one of my favorite fighting games, would fail to qualify as 'fine' art, because it fails to completely distinguish itself from past work. Tobal No. 1 begat Tobal 2, Tobal 2 begat Dead or Alive. Dead or Alive begat Dead or Alive 2 and Soul Calibur. And I'm certain that Tobal No. 1 has its own lineage. Any video game that can be traced as a direct descent from genetically identical ancestors fails to contribute to the video game genre, because it's primary ancestor was the original contributor!

If you are looking for an example of a recent fighting game that would qualify as 'fine' art, I would suggest Bushido Blade. It offered a completely new look at the ways fighting games can work, and while it succeeded in many regards, failed in others. That is what true 'fine' art is. Not the progressive evolution of a base work to perfection, but the creation of an entirely new base work.

My inclusion of a number of RPGs as 'fine' art also does not contradict my argument, because, while the mechanics have minimal variations between games, the current development of RPGs does not focus on the mechanics. On the same grounds that novels and movies qualify as 'fine' art, despite the fact that you read every novel by flipping pages, or that you watch every movie by sitting down, RPGs can qualify by allowing the player to experience a wholly new story every time. Because there are obvious thematic differences between 'Final Fantasy VII' and all of its earlier (and later) siblings, it is quite safe to say that 'Final Fantasy VII' does contribute to the video game medium in a way that has not been done before. This is the only fair metric to determine whether something is 'fine' art and not simply common art.

The bar for 'fine' art is set quite high - if you truly wish to consider yourself one with Shakespeare, Beethoven, Picasso, Dali, Delacroix, and all of the many great artists, you must contribute something to your medium that exhumes not just creativity, but also originality. The games that reach the pedestal for 'fine' art will be those that don't simply rehash the same experience with an updated engine every year or two. Unfortunately, Mr. Kroll was correct when he commented that the vast majority of video games fail to do this. I doubt anyone could reasonably argue that Dead or Alive 2 is creatively unique from Dead or Alive.

My final point still stands - all games can reach the pedestal of 'fine' art, but one of the greatest deterrents is the industry. The desire for creative expression and experimentation is no match for Tecmo's or Namco's desire for profit. Corporate suits decide what is made and what isn't, and it is up to us as the evangelists of the video game players of the world to let the people making decisions know that we want, and will support, experimentation in our video games.

Perhaps the condascending tone with which I treat Metal Gear Solid is a direct result of the praise it has gotten as a shining example of what games can be. MGS does rise to the level of 'fine' art; however, MGS isn't what video games can be - it's a step in that direction. There are plenty of ways to convey deep messages - 'nuclear weapons are bad' is so trite it's sickening. Games following in Metal Gear Solid's wake should be willing to try more complicated plot devices, and allow their message to be something other than the most agreed upon proclamation in the world. One thing that you will notice quite a lot of modern art does that most video games (Xenogears and Final Fantasy Tactics not included) fail to do is to divide people. Just put a sexual or homoerotic message into a painting or sculpture, and you will soon be the subject of a massive national conflict - witness what happened recently in New York. The whole reason to include a message is to touch someone on a cerebral level, and perhaps convince them of the validity of your viewpoint... no one needs to be convinced that nuclear weapons are bad; however, there is plenty of fodder being given to us by the modern political world (Proposition 22, separation of church and state, Proposition 21, morality and honesty by public officials, etc.) where there is a huge division. Video game messages should be drawn from these - the inflammatory topics - rather than the easy ones.

Original Editorial: Art: Wanna Get Technical?

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