Art, Gart, Gaga, Phooey.

I have been watching Nathan Barley recently, co-penned by a couple of my favourite comedians, Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris. The character, Nathan Barley, is described in the source material as a 'Cunt', partly for his dependence on his parents to fund self-indulgent, 'provocative', 'nu-media' art projects, and partly because of his attempts to explain away his misogynistic misdemeanors by pretending he was trying to be 'provocative' or 'ironic'. I don't want to be Nathan Barley, but I have to consider my situation (living at home off my parents' charity to make a game which may or may not go anywhere because it's a bit artsy) and realize that I am at the peak of a slippery slope (although fortunately, I'm a game designer, so I don't have to worry about inappropriate behavior toward women – just court injunctions).

I watched the show, and read the original TV Go Home comedy synopses, and saw a little bit of myself in the character. I worry that what we're doing with the whole games-as-art bandwagon could be construed as overreaching artistic pretentiousness, doing more harm to the medium than good. I worry that sometimes vanity gets the better of us – that we aspire to make art for reasons other than the implicit joy of creating – the fame, or the glory. But then I remember that game designers just don't get famous, to the extent that to the people I know in rural Devon, I'm already the most famous game designer they've ever heard of.

I mention this character, because he seems salient in light of recent Super Columbine Massacre events. Super Columbine Massacre has been talked about a lot, recently... possibly to death. Talking about it more seems unnecessary, as there has been endless (interesting) coverage of the subject.

As far as I can tell, it boils down to this: designers (including myself) want games to be respected as an artistic medium, even though there's really not enough quality literature for the general public to be able to accept it as such. Because of this lack of evident art, we're scared the medium will be killed in utero by big business and public closed-mindedness, and scramble to defend it with the only weapon we have to hand: rhetoric.

SCM really presses the issue, and tests our ability to defend the medium: however badly crafted it may be, it makes some interesting points (though, from what I've read of the game, I strain to believe they are all completely intentional), so we defend it, not so much on its own terms, but because it represents, to us, the entire concept of games represented as works of art.

As a result, lots of rather intelligent people are defending it in order to make a stand for games as an artistic medium – its provocative subject matter is bringing a lot of interest, after all, so it's a great chance to publicize this concept of “games as art” which seems alien to your mum's friends, or anyone outside this tiny circle. It reminds me of a scene in Nathan Barley, actually.

In Nathan Barley (S1E05), the editor of a fictional magazine called “SugarApe” (called “Jonatton Yeah?”) decides to print a fashion spread of lots of underage girls being interfered with. In the episode, it causes a London-wide shock, and sees the editor being interviewed on the news (by an off-screen Charlie Brooker). Jonatton feigns indifference to his actions, arguing that people shouldn't be shocked, and that if they're shocked, they're uncultured idiots for being shocked. Brooker asks why the editor can't understand the offense caused. Jonatton replies “Did you read it? All of it? Even this bit in the spine? The bit where it says 'all models are 7 years older than their stated age.'?” He looks at Brooker with a smarmy smile and the interview ends. You can tell by his shit-faced grin that he's thinking “free press”.

The Super Columbine Massacre incident seems to follow similar lines: the strategic grabbing for attention, the (understandably) shocked reaction from the public, and the Emperor's New Clothes defense. Oh, and if someone points out that we're defending a shock-tactic game, we get to say things like "Well, I see interesting stuff in it, even if it's not intentional" or "Nah, it's not a great game, but then, art doesn't need to be good" or "It's not about the game, it's about the medium" or other expressions of embarassed foot shuffling.

I'm not saying SCM is (or isn't) art. I'm not interested in whether it's a good game-qua-game. I don't think it particularly hurts or hinders public acceptance of games as an artistic medium more or less than any other piece of work. I understand why people defend it (even though it's a bit shit in of itself), though the insight they bring to the game says more about themselves than the developers. It'd all be alright if it was really making an interesting statement (I can't make my mind up on whether it is or not, and whether being intentional really matters). However, the art of provocation doesn't really care whether or not you have an insightful point to make.

The main thing I think that it has re-iterated is that provocation is possible in this medium just as much as any other (i.e. it's not proving very much that Postal hasn't). I hasten to add that there's nothing wrong with provocation, in of itself: When Chris Morris made the controversial Brass Eye Special, I think that his use of provocation was self evidently justified. It's just that the use of provocation has a high correlation with lazy attention seeking cunts.

    Are you, or someone close to you, a creator in a nascent medium looking to gain some fame and notoriety, and a week and a half of Internet coverage, but not willing to put in the thought, effort, and attention to detail to actually deserve it? Do you constantly look for the quickest shortcut to making a point, since that point has so little merit that it's not worth the time it takes away from your twice daily furious masturbation to ripper-hentai while Lincoln Park plays in the background, nestled amongst your almost exclusively nu-metal pirated MP3 play-list? Are you willing to use someone else's low brow, grade school tasteless humour to sensationalize your edgy film festival, even though the quality and intent of the work is dubious at best? Do you defend to the death (of anyone's interest) your life's calling to take the medium in new directions, even though that direction falls short of the stars and lands your work in an inescapable ghetto medium? In another life, would you be a holocaust denier? Does every person close to you worship the ground you walk on for your daring acts of artistic subversion, while you secretly die a little inside as you consider how these same acts have distanced you, and the medium itself, from society's acceptance as a whole? The Kilroy team would like to hear from you: 09181 412 165.


Personally, I don't feel we get to tell people that games are art. They have to decide for themselves. All we can do is aspire to create games which are self-evidently art, and hope that they are taken on those terms. It starts with us, and our intent to make more than just "Fun Products". "Otherwise", to quote Liono from Thundercats, "it's just words."


reconn said...

I feel that the need to justify ones own creative field to those who fail to grasp it often rises from insecurity.
It is only those who put Art onto a pedestal, those whose lives are bent around the existence and importance of pedestals, the judges, politicians -- those who snuggle into the down comforter of Bourgeois Art -- who would consider excluding any creative output from the Holy Writ title of Art.
I leave to others the decision whether this reading is more or less cynical than the alternate view, that perhaps they fail to grasp that the creation of a game is in fact a creative act, thinking perhaps that they are created by machine.
For how can art be alien to any act of human creation? Most who term themselves artists understand that art is a form of life and of language, and that the mediums they use -- from paint and pigment to grammar and phenom to bit and pixel -- are merely a receptacle.
Art is any activity undertaken with a consciousness toward its importance in a sea of information and communication, sorcery upon the mundane and manipulation of the symbol. The expression of the human turing machine upon the nested and recursive realities of its experience.

Bez said...
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Bez said...


"I feel that the need to justify ones own creative field to those who fail to grasp it often rises from insecurity."

I agree, and I hope I implied as much in my post. I try to take the whole thing less than seriously, since art seems natural... organic. It sorts itself out.

However, I refuse to be drawn into a "my definition of art" conversation. My mate Walter says we can move on a lot faster if we simply talk in terms of "expression". I think that's the smart move, the same way talking about "fun" in game design is tricky, since it's a loaded term - many different things to many different people.

(I deleted the comment above [which I made] because of a minor error, and I couldn't find an edit button because I am great at the internet)

Dave said...
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Dave said...

If it is art you shouldn't need to convince people it is. I suppose it will be art, when you don't have to argue to convince people it is. Until then its still just a game.

You work should be good enough to stand on its own merits, you don't need to be accepted as an artist. You should aspire to is being a great game creator, not an artist.


Don't kickme, you leper, ok ;)

.... and matrix too :D

Dave said...

Ah bollocks... thats what you said in the last paragraph.

Bez said...

Haha. Yeah. Really I just wanted to vent my boredom of games-as-art advocacy. I do think that it's important, and I've been doing my bit for years (and I've recently been feeling that feeling of "I knew the band before they were cool", so popularized is the concept). Personally, now I feel like I should be putting my money where my mouth is... show, rather than tell. And yeah, I don't believe that intending to make art instantly makes something art, or that not intending to make art stops something being art. We can, at best, aspire. I've got a good Hokuzai quote about that.

"Don't kickme, you leper, ok ;)"

Yeah, I should probably do a post about those things. They were certainly never intended as art, unless you want to call "Leper" post modern... for some reason. I think you'd really have to crow-bar it in, though!

(Is that Dave Hillier?)