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by Scott Juster

8 Sep 2011


For the video game community, summer is the season of reflection.  Players are still working through the dense stack of games released during the winter and spring, developers are toiling away on next fall’s big titles, and critics are trying to make sense of the medium as a whole.  Things slow down a little bit, which gives folks time to think about the bigger artistic and philosophical questions facing video games.

One can only stare into the endless abyss of competing philosophies for so long before becoming unhinged.  Thankfully, the changing seasons save us from consuming ourselves.  Mother nature announces the end of summer by turning the leaves gold and brown.  The video game industry does something similar by releasing the annual Madden installment.  Conversations about theory will soon give way to conversations about specific games: Will Gears of War 3 make us cry?  What will Journey teach us about companionship?  Is Apple eating Sony and Nintendo’s lunch?  New grist is added to the mill and converted into fuel for next summer’s existential evaluation.

Grappling with intractable questions of art and meaning is valuable, but exhausting.  Those that do it publicly expose themselves to potentially embarrassing corrections (just ask Roger Ebert).  As a rule, my wariness and caution tend to stop me from writing to much about The Nature of Art With a Capital “A,” but this week I’ll make an exception.  For those wishing to stay topside, here’s the simple version of my argument: notions of what constitute art have changed throughout history.  Because of this, asking whether art will change to accommodate video games is just as valid as asking whether video games can be art.  We would do well to remember that artistic strata are ultimately human constructions and are therefore malleable.

To those of you still with me: let’s talk about Shakespeare.

by G. Christopher Williams

7 Sep 2011


I’m pretty sure that I am on record (in one of the early episodes of the Moving Pixels podcast) as having said something along the lines of the idea that I believe that any discussions of video games being art really emerged alongside the evolution of more sophisticated storytelling in games.  In other words, no one was really talking about games being art as they were playing Combat on their Atari 2600 or as they were gobbling up ghosts in the arcade.  However, once games like Portal and Bioshock arrived the discussion began in earnest.

That being said, I have heard an insistence from a number of video game critics that it is only games with narratives that can be discussed as being art or as being artful.  After all, stories convey messages about the nature of the human condition or speak to relevant social issues and the like.  Tetris doesn’t say a whole lot about anything, right?

by Mark Filipowich

6 Sep 2011


Chrono Trigger. Enough said.

The title alone ought to evoke a wave of nostalgic appreciation. Its mechanics and its story are simple and straightforward but solid and effective. Its cast is memorable and interesting, the score is one of the best of the era, and even today, few games offer as much replay value. So imagine my horror when my girlfriend, a Legend of Zelda veteran, Bioware loyalist, and my long-time player 2, dismissed the game with a resounding “meh.”

To me it begged the question: in a medium so obsessed with moving forward as fast as possible without looking back, is there a place for classics? Chrono Trigger has been recognized as a classic time and again, but has it really aged well? Is nostalgia alone keeping it, and games like it, afloat? One of the reasons that games are beginning to gain credibility as an art form is that it now has a tradition, and Chrono Trigger has fit nicely in the video game canon since it was released (and re-released). But often “classic” in this medium means dated.

by Nick Dinicola

2 Sep 2011


Branching stories are popular in games, but they sometimes don’t make a lot of sense when the game is taken as a whole. Different endings and different outcomes of a choice reflect different themes, but even if each plot thread is meant to stand on its own, they don’t. By virtue of being in the same game, one plot thread affects our perception and interpretation of the other, and sometimes this can make for inconsistent characters and themes.

by Jorge Albor

1 Sep 2011


What better way to discuss some of the social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of death and dying than in a medium rife with demise? Our digital playground is strewn with corpses of both enemies and allies and filled with the memories of our own demise. Even the idea of spiritual transcendence is crudely mirrored by our avatars’ tendencies to revive and carry-on after any casualty. In games, death is commonplace and frequently trivial, and, thus, gaming provides a safe place to dissect some of our beliefs and assumptions about mortality. In real life, managing one’s feelings on such sensitive subjects can be quite difficult, particularly for young-adults. Channel 4 Education, the learning arm of the UK television broadcaster, and Preloaded, a London-based game studio, seek to help teens confront their own feelings about mortality with The End, a puzzle-platformer that normalizes death and creates a venue for discussing life, belief systems, and our eventual passing.

Since venturing into educational media, Channel 4 has shown no hesitation in broaching sensitive and risque subjects, from sex and drugs to the threat of a surveillance society, as they relate to youth. Death is both a biological and a deeply sociocultural phenomenon. The process of dying has long since left the home for the hospital, and as a result, our cultural attitudes towards death have altered drastically. For many, the subject remains taboo, something to be hidden away lest we give it strength. Although some cultural norms arise, belief systems and perceptions about death vary widely. Preloaded describes their interest in the subject as follows: “One debate we were particularly interested in was the approach to death, belief and science. Many children and teens in the UK have a secular upbringing, which can leave them feeling unsupported when trying to make sense of death outside of a religious viewpoint.”

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