The chance to go to a conference and talk with really smart people always has its fallout. In talking with Ian he referred back to a presentation made by John Sharp, Michael Nitsche and Ian Bogost at the Art History of Games conference a while back. I am using this article as a point of reference from this session and all quotes will come from it unless otherwise noted.
They refer to the art of games falling into three realms, visual, art of the world and in game design or even player performance. I understand the desire to dissect this because I have been having issues dealing with games that I think are simply fantastic and full of merit but are not themselves art.
In looking for work that we will show in Learn to Play, I am looking for something that challenges the medium and creates art through the strength of the formalistic fundamental quality of games … play. That is I am not looking for a work of visual art, be it drawing, sculpture or otherwise, those can certainly function as art on their own and there is no need for a game in that case. Most of what I see that fits the bill expresses itself through the interaction of the rules or through the function of play with the player. That is to say that if you don’t play it you probably won’t get it. Finally the experience is an aesthetic or meaningful one.
That is the same to me as saying that every 3d object in the world is not a work of sculpture, neither is every action a performance. Every game is not a reflection of art, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Art is so contentious, and dealing with what is functionally a young new medium makes it more so. Film took many years to evolve and find it’s voice, and to be recognized as a form of art (both photography and moving pictures).
Okay, this is rough and not very substantial, but it is a beginning. If a game is art it is because the whole game is art, not because some of its assets are art, or beautiful. To say otherwise would be like saying the video of a walk-through of a museum is art because everything pictured is art.
Finally there is a game that is so simple and elegant (but not without its flaws) that I think we are going to have to pass on. The game “are you a werewolf” is a variant on mafia and is an exceedingly social game which relies on interaction between the people who play it. However, even with the beautiful mechanism and the ability to bring people together it doesn’t hit the mark. Werewolf just is not art.
Duchamp may say otherwise, and when I was typing that I am just begging to be told that I am wrong. So there are a body of fantastic games that we just cannot include, by that standard there is also a body of art that we can’t include either because it is not a game.