So there's a debate, now about the meaning of video games. Ian Bogost draws heavily from Marshall McLuhan and (months before Ledonne) states:
When we acknowledge videogames as a medium, the notion of a monolithic games industry, which creates a few kinds of games for a few kinds of players, stops making any sense. As does the idea of a demographic category called “gamers” who are the ones who play these games. The point is not whether games qualify as art or not. Nor whether games are useful tools or not. Rather, the point is that there are lots of other things people can and do accomplish with videogames.Rohrer responds a bit more passionately (and unfortunately to the detriment of his argument I would say) in his mock conversation between Roger Ebert, himself, and Clive Barker. Overall the argument is a little plodding, but it's going in the right direction.
But if the player of the game is rightfully the co-artist, and a given gameplay experience... is the work, then couldn't that particular gameplay instance be a work of high art in itself? If we continue down this track, we might conclude that the games themselves are not art, but instead tools that have the potential of producing art experiences for their users.Rohrer is pointing out that there is a process inherant to the creation of art, and that the "artist" is distinguished from other agents by her participation in the events unfoling. Here's where the conversation becomes more interesting, to my mind, and shows what Bogost has failed to discuss in his "End of Gamers" argument. And unfortunatley for Bogost the connection is right there in his argument.
In his argument he calls for abandoning the idea of the "gamer" as a class of people for whom video games are made because games are used for entertainment. He points out a game that is a recreation of historical events in Australia and then I had my "a ha," moment: what's so enjoyable about recreation?
Is there a common thread that ties Doom 3 players, Katamari Damacy players, Braid players, and Civil War reenactors?
What does it mean to re-create in the context of video game play? If Nietzsche is right about the will to return, do we evaluate a video game that has limited replay ability in the same way that we evaluate a game that is infinitely different with each play?
I'd like to read more phenomenology of video games....
But Rohrer spends too much time trying to make an argument that sounds like, "movies have come to be seen as art and video games are like movies, so it must be art." Maybe it's because he's "speaking" with Roger Ebert; but even if he were able to make the argument stick he does a disservice to his medium by trying to make the medium look like another medium. No one who is half serious would try to argue that paintings are like photographs and so they should be judged with the same criteria. Video games are not like cinema, at least not "good" video games and "good" movies. They are constitutionally similar butI would argue that they are not tethered to the same problems.
The problem of cinema, as Peter Greenway has pointed out, is that it continues to be tethered to the written word. Movies must make sense in the same way that written narratives or they are simply no good. People just assume that first the movie has a script and then the movie is made. But are video games similarly limited?
Rohrer just misses the boat on this point when he says:
...[Y]ou must acknowledge that some form of audience collaboration is necessary for an art experience.... Some films ... demand quite a bit of participation, leaving the audience hanging at the end with unanswered questions....Couldn't we say that the very best art films are the ones that rely on the most heavy lifting from the audience? .... However, if we push too far in that direction, can't we cross the line? I mean, if we start pulling audience members up on stage with the actors, we end up with a real mess.Rohrer is of course forgetting that Pirandello did exactly that with his Six Characters in Search of an Author. Granted, it was not well-received at first, but 70 years later people continue to reproduce (rip-off) this work and it's still considered fresh.
The assumption that living itself is not an aesthetic act is what makes this debate about video games so difficult to listen to and why it always sounds so tinny. From Ames and Hall's Zhongyong:
Creativity involves both the realization of the focal self and of the field of events, the realization of both particular and context. Self-actualization is a focal process that draws upon an aggregate field of human experience....Human realization is achieved not by whole-hearted participation in communal life forms but by life in community that forms one whole-heartedly. (32-33)If we think about a community of video game players we begin to see something more telling about the very conservative nature of video games because video game players are so conservative. I think that Rohrer is right, people don't want to be given total freedom in a video game, that's why Mario Paint never sold well; perhaps also why Nintendo's new Wii Music game is doing to poorly. Video game players mostly want their recreation time to be mostly masturbatory recreations of the ordered lives they live when not playing video games.
The perfect image of this masturbatory nature of most video games comes from, surpise to none I'm sure, The Sims. I had someone very close to me create a game where the house was set up exactly like their own house with the same number of parents and children in the house with the same personality types. Surprise! In their game their sim sat in the house and played video games while the rest of the people went about their lives. Recreational recreation.