March 3, 2012 by chrisklamb
Can art be games? A very interesting question posed by Andy Chalk of Escapistmagazine.com. His article takes a look at a number of interesting ‘games’ to determine what is a game and what is art. He opens with a brief discussion of Petri Purho’s 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness, which is an intriguing experiment, on what constitutes a game. Basically it is a loading bar that that runs for 4 minutes and 33 seconds and while it is counting down, it scans the Internet for other instances of the game playing. If it encounters another, it cancels the countdown for both, effectively causing a game over. The goal of Purho was to explore what defines a game. Chalk goes on to discuss how this was not the first game to explore “video game artistry” and a developer called Tale of Tales, who developed a game called The Graveyard. This game (because it much more resembles a game). The player controls an old woman, and the only place to go is apparently a bench in front of a mausoleum. You sit there for a period of time, then you leave, and the game ends. One of the reviewers states, according to Chalk that “it’s more like exploring a painting than an actual game.” Again Chalk continues to move on to art game after art game, such as two of Jason Rohrer’s games: Between and Passage. He claims that Passage is more like a game than Minutes because it contains actual game mechanics, he also claims that (like Minutes) the goal is to provoke thought. Art games have often not done terribly well commercially, except for those of Jenova Chen. While studying at University of Southern California, along with his roommate he created both Cloud and Flow. Flow actually garnered attention from Sony and was enhanced and sold through their Playstation Network. With the success of this game he was able to cobble together That Game Company and create Flower. Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica wrote on its aesthetics and how it is a niche game and not for everyone. It requires a certain person willing to imagine and focus on the game’s imagery. Chalk notes that Chen’s games have a certain quality that most other art games lack. And oddly enough it’s that “they are games first and foremost, with goal-oriented mechanics that give people a reason to play beyond just a vaguely-defined sense of artistic vision.” “Pure” art games belittle their gameplay and in effect their entertainment value in pursuit of the creators vision. Chalk ends on a philosophical note questioning whether or not art games should belong in a separate genre or whether we should expand our view of games into something bigger. He states “You can play it. Or not. Does that make it a game?”
I believe that a separate genre should be an option due to the ever expanding market which has recently included indie games as its own genre. Although it could also be argued that a number of recent indie games could be qualifies as art games, such as Braid and LIMBO, even though they are independent games. Another note is that most if not all “art games” are independent relying on downloads in order to profit. The most prominent aspects of the “enjoyability” of these games is the gameplay. The gameplay ranges widely in the amount of actual control the player has: from simply waiting in Minutes to controlling the wind in Flower. Art games remain relatively hit or miss on commercial success, even though it is still relatively small compared to triple A titles.