Quotation: Games as Artistic Engagement in Boundary-Free Universes

From a Metafilter thread discussing a Charlie Brooker article linking the raw elements of games and films (acting performances, storytelling, inventive technology) and (rightly) lamenting the quality of contemporary films, comes this insightful comment about how games and films are by nature actually very different animals:

When I watch a film like Seven Samurai, I like to pause and look at interesting scenes, or sometimes I rewind to re-watch certain moments, savoring their goodness. In a game like Deus Ex I will replay the whole game because I want to try a new angle on the narrative, on the role that I’ve created in my head. I don’t create roles for myself when watching a movie or reading a book, but I do when I’m playing a game.

Do you see what’s happening here? This article (like the ones before it, like many more to come) is yet another manifestation of a collective desire that many gamers share. It’s a desire to express something about video games. They’re not quite sure how to say it. Words like “art” and “serious” and “intelligent” get tossed around a lot, but end up holding little traction. Similarly, comparisons to other media like film and literature are made, but they don’t stick.

What they’re really trying to express is this:

For many gamers, gaming as a form of entertainment is more engaging, more challenging and more satisfying than most television, movies or books. They hardly watch TV or movies anymore, because they like playing games so much more.

They want this to mean that games are “art” or that the gaming industry has figured out what Hollywood hasn’t, or that the entertainment value on a game is more efficient than a book or a film.

What they (usually) fail to realize is that a game can’t possibly compare to a book or a film, and that the value of a game is not wholly in the finished product, but in fact the value of a game is only manifest in the playing of it.

It is participatory media, more akin to street theater than the silver screen. There’s a communal aspect, especially nowadays. All games are simulations of something: a set of boundaries and an opportunity to test those boundaries. Each player inhabits and defines these game worlds in significantly different ways, and that becomes an important part of the experience.

For a movie or a book, the world is basically complete. There are no boundaries to test because that’s not how these things work (unless you end up writing fanfic). In a film or a book you observe. In a game you also observe, but then you act, within the media itself. This is pretty unique to games, and perhaps some of the more ambitious performance art/gallery space.

In short: apples and oranges. It just turns out that there’s a larger group of people who have really come to prefer oranges and believe that oranges are now the future. This comparison does nothing to elevate oranges or to reduce the importance of apples in the future.

-jnrussell, via Metafilter

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