Defining the rules that bend the rules.

After reading a rather thought-provoking discussion on this MetaGame blog post, the definition of what a game is in my mind has been subjected to significant change. Take in mind, that I am not reffering to the discussion between me and Keith Burgon, but rather the discussion between Jorge Sousa and Ruicraveirinha.

“Sculpture and architecture, for instance, in which observants positioning and movement count as defining traits of the experience, irrevocably change the mental conceptualization of the artifact, both in its emotionally expressive and cognitive qualities. Though we may stand still, and not act, our eyes also interact through movement (we have tunnel vision, so we can never see see everything that we see at the same time), which is why even static, immutable objects like Mona Lisa or Metropolis can actually be very diferent artifacts in our minds, only on the account of our eyes having moved differently, having seen different parts at different moments, attracted to different points of interest, and the particular order of images out of which we built “Mona Lisa” and “Metropolis” actually changes our “perception” of what they “objectively” are.” -Ruicraveirinha
 

Ruicraveirinha said this in response to an article brought up by Jorge Sousa. In the article, Scott Juster states that the difference between high-brow and low-brow has been determined throughout history by how much the art work can change given interaction. The low-brow being interactive plays and high-brow being plays where the audience accepts the way the writer has made it. Ruicraveirinha basically says that games are not distinguished by the degree of interaction.

After reading this, I think the distinction between games and other art forms is that the game designer defines the system by which the audience’s interaction abides by. With architecture, the rules governing human movement and in turn mental conceptualization of the artifact are somewhat fixed. The rules governing human movement throughout a building are characterized by social hierarchy, functionality of the rooms, how the people are meant to move around the building, the activities that are conducted on the premises and of course, how the building and its rooms are spatially arranged. All of these systematic factors contribute to how a building is utilized and interpreted; social hierarchy determines whether your looking at a hotel from the penthouse or from the bottom floor. Functionality of the rooms determines which people observe certain parts of the building and when. How the people are meant to move around the building changes; how they must act when moving about(eg. idle in an elevator or carefully walking up stairs) and how they’re perspective changes when taking certain routes. The activities that are conducted on the premises changes the mood and overall tone by which the building is conceptualized. The spatial arrangement of the building changes what is visible by who, when and where.

All these concepts intertwine and cannot be negotiated with when designing a building(unless in the rare case of an experimental work of architecture). The additional parameters by which the architecture has to work with do change the way that these concepts operate and lowers the overall complexity of the art forms rules. If the guy-with-money says that the building has to be a government building that dwarfs all of the people who enter, spatial arrangement is limited to making large rooms and social hierarchy considerations are limited to making the big-wigs spatially higher and overseeing. The architect has to add these parameters that work with the rules governing interaction with buildings, in order to influence how the people conceptualize the building. The architect takes in mind how interactive the building is, but is powerless to change the rules.

That’s where games are distinct from other art-forms. Games aren’t an art-form that are defined by how the audience interacts with it. Games are the art of defining the rules by which the audience interacts with elements of the game, because a game cannot exist as rules alone. A game’s contention can be defined by the rules, for example Monopoly or Osmos, but those rules still need art assets which the player can interact with in accordance to the rules.By providing rules that differ from reality, the entire aesthetic content of the game changes. A great work of architecture is not a great work of level design, for example.

Games as a whole cannot be classified as high-brow or low-brow, only individual games themselves. The idea that high-brow and low-brow works are distinguished by how interaction changes their contention is still quite a valid idea. How Monopoly is mentally conceptualized doesn’t change much because of interaction. Monopoly still remains to be a game about ruthless capitalist acquisition. Therefore according to this idea, Monopoly is very high-brow.

Artistic Games or Interactive Art?

A lot of the things I have been hearing lately about the computer software industry seem to be centred around whether or not interactive mediums are evolving as a successful means of artistic expression. Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t and remaining stagnant, but either way there needs to be better clarification as to the differences between artistic games and interactive art.

What I’ve been hearing:

Systemic Emotion – Groping the Elephant

Dead Island Trailer and the Future of Games – Frictional Games

State of the Art: Teenage Wannabe and On the Tyranny of Fun – MetaGame

The Dragon Speech – Chris Crawford

Specific Violence – Fullbright

The Depths of Game Narrative -Darby McDevitt

Some of these articles are saying that games can’t provoke emotion as long as they are only focused on being fun or competitive (The Chris Crawford Speech and the Frictional blog). The MetaGame articles go as far to say that games can’t be art, because of the mere game mechanics of win/lose structures. The other two take no side of this idea, but they do still provide much reflection as to the state of games.

Currently I haven’t established my opinion as to which is more capable of provoking emotion. On one hand, artistic games can use the systematic thinking employed by the actual game to provoke, so far, limited emotional responses. On the other hand, artistic games are usually exposed to exploitation by the players trying to win. When the game mechanics are emphasized too much, the player cares less about the aesthetic part of the game. The characters are valued less for their human values and more for their place in game-play (As was mentioned in Systemic Emotion and The Dragon Speech). Some examples of Artistic Games would be; Mass Effect, Amnesia, Braid and Demon’s Souls.

Interactive Art is where the actual interaction with a piece is what gives it aesthetic value and emotional impact. These kinds of art have the nature of being more powerful, but this might just be because of the elements taken from other seasoned mediums (Heavy Rain for example, owes cinematography most of its success). One of the major drawbacks of this kind of artwork, is that the mainstream gaming audience doesn’t care much about these kinds of works. Many people would rate Heavy Rain as a bad game, because they expected it to be a game. Art works like these don’t have the same kind of engagement level as games, people approach them as games. Therefore they are criticized as games. Some examples of Interactive Art would be: Heavy Rain, Penumbra and Indigo Prophecy.

I don’t know which is more effective, but both kinds have the potential of striking a large variety of pallets. Maybe remaining limited to artistic games might increase the creative innovation, as Salvador Dalí once said;

“You know the worst thing is freedom. Freedom of any kind is the worst for creativity. You know, Dalí spent two months in jail in Spain, and these two months were the most enjoyable and happy in my life. Before my jail period, I was always nervous, anxious. I didn’t know if I should make a drawing, or perhaps make a poem, or go to the movies or the theatre, or catch a girl, or play with the boys. The people put me in jail, and my life became divine. Tremendous!” -Slavador Dalí