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Author Topic: In Defense of Notgames  (Read 10779 times)
[Chris] Dale

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« on: March 05, 2013, 10:22:45 PM »

I have no intention of making this forum a soapbox for my personal blog, but nonetheless I have a new post that would be of interest to this crowd; I attempt an analytical defense of the concept of notgames as videogames proper. My own humble attempt to stave off the criticsm "that's not even a game!"

I have a feeling my writing is terribly disorganized and doesn't reference enough to this community specifically, so constructive criticism is encouraged! Thank you!
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"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

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« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2013, 01:34:01 PM »

A few notes on your text, Chris, coming from someone who agrees with the basic premise behind this reasoning.

Quote
My work is cut out for me: the name videogames, as descriptive instead of prescriptive, seemed apt enough for 50 years of the medium. The very earliest videogames, from Tennis for Two and Spacewar! up to Colossal Cave Adventure (which challenges the designation “video”, if not “game”) were explicit in their gameplay structure.

Colossal Cave Adventure, as many of the text-based programs created before and after it, do not challenge the "video" designation at all. That comes as a viewpoint which is characteristic of an age of advanced graphical - pictorial - representations; but the presence of scrolling text with which the user can interact is respective only to the manipulation of images allowed by a screen display, and could hardly - if at all - be attained with any other medium in similar characteristics, certainly not with ink and paper. Related as these things may be, Advent is not a gamebook. In fact it represents a very sizable technological leap, that of preparing computer systems to operate with textual interfaces, as opposed to strictly numeric ones - I underline the term "interface" here.

The origin of the term "video game" is not properly analyzed here, either. One of the most probable origins for the term may have been Baer's research materials and the patent he tried to register, since the goal of his invention was to create games - distractions, interactive pastimes - on a video display, namely the Television. We can say to some extent that the birth of what we today call video games springs from a few engineer's desire to revert or convert available technology into allowing an experience both interactive and markedly ludic. Baer wanted to manipulate the commonest of video displays, the television, to enable viewers to take a participatory stance, though in his mind he always used the word "games" which is perfectly correct in the case of his Brown Box.

I agree that the word no longer suits the diversity and range it comprises, that it is now more than ever before stretching to its limits and, hopefully, close to bursting. As you point out, Cinema, deriving originally from "registering movement", is far more accurate nonetheless since it was further refined into "movement" alone or referring to "moving pictures", which encompasses a much more ample variety of objects in its ambiguity than "videogame" does, on cause of the specificity of both halves of this portmanteau. When Kenji Eno developed Real Sound: Kaze no Regret he made neither use of video nor did he create anything but a sound novel, a non-visual form of Interactive Fiction. However we choose to look at it, the term "video" is altogether inapplicable. And this took place sixteen years ago - I say it so you can understand the advanced age of the questions you pose.

As for the subject of whether or not we can call IF a videogame genre, it's rather open to dispute though my own research has led me to believe that it isn't, solely in what pertains to its potential; although in real terms we do speak of a field overly attached to video games, more so than to the realms of written fiction (or literature).

Quote
This suggests another characteristic: interactivity. It does not, I believe, stretch the imagination to suggest that videogames are unique among the arts in their interactivty (...)

I'm surprised that you presuppose videogames as art form. You are on the one hand attempting to dissect the definition and question it throughout the text but make no issue of considering it an art form beforehand. Such a consideration should follow this reasoning, perhaps, not precede it. At this point, I'm afraid I was forced to bring my reading of the text to an end, Sir.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2013, 01:37:42 PM by Bruno de Figueiredo » Logged
[Chris] Dale

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« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2013, 04:15:40 PM »

I suggested that video was challenged by Colossal Cave Adventure because of just such a thing as Real Sound: Kaze no regret. Colossal Cave Adventure could easily exist without a visual component, even if it has one in its normal form. My suggestion was not that text isn't visual - it was that language can be communicated in ways apart from text.

Also, I was fairly up front at the beginning of this article that I do not consider the question of whether videogames are art one worthy of serious discussion; I can see no legitimate objections to that status. I might cite the works of Grant Tavinor or Chris Bateman, but that seems entirely unecessary to me. I vaguely address the claim in the About page, where I cite Monroe Beardsley's aesthetic definition of art: art being something created intending to satisfy the aesthetic interest, so-called. Under this definition it would seem baseless to deny this to videogames.

As for the specific origin of the phrase videogame, I don't think it is terribly pertinent to the discussion. Anyone might have coined it, and whoever they might have been would be equally wrong. Though it is perhaops of academic interest, it seems improbable to me that the term's origin should be relevant to accuracy.

One other reason I did not argue that videogames are an artform is I did not believe anyone who would read my blog would need to be convinced of this; and it seems to me that aesthetics and criticism are rather dependent on art, and therefore my blog would have no reason even to exist if videogames were not art.

However, thank you for your time and feedback; it is much appreciated!
« Last Edit: March 06, 2013, 04:23:03 PM by [Chris] Dale » Logged

"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

Call me Dale Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2013, 05:54:16 PM »

Thank you Sir, it was my pleasure and is my pleasure still.

The origin of the term is in this case a sizable contributor to the origin of the conception itself, one might say, and as such it is always advisable to seek the root, which isn't at all a tangential aspect insofar as this discussion is concerned. Then again, this is my method or approach and it needn't be yours, I agree.

Certainly, Crowther's game could exist in such an aural interface without the need of written text, with no changes to its content, if the experience itself would be an entirely different one and that is by no means irrelevant. Someone who has read a book and listened to an audiobook can denote the differences, though I wish not to embark on a qualitative appreciation of each, let alone size the one against the other. I argue only that text is a visual element, that Colossal Cave Adventure was created bearing such a realization in mind, and that nothing about it challenges the "video" definition since "video" (which is not equivalent to pictorial as I emphasized earlier) was precisely that which once enabled it to be.

Surely you simplify the question of artistic aspirations and that of video games' own merits. The issue at hand cannot be decided with merely the (questionable) theory originating from proponents of that premise - especially those whose only recognized field of expertise is videogames or philosophy; let alone with an appropriation of Monroe that never wrote a single word - not to my knowledge - on the subject we now discuss. Truly, I see no hint of any artistic worth in any of Bateman's own creations, most of which bordering on the appalling, although I concede that, like most hypothesis weaved in that direction, it presents the question of art as an unrealized potential of this largely industrial or artisanal medium. That, nonetheless, is an altogether different question I contemplate with much greater pleasure.

Not to mention that Monroe's is nowhere near a definite interpretation of the purpose and nature of art, seen as that is far more complex than he could ever objectively simplify - which, I believe, was in no small part his intention. I can accept that your subjective view is inclined to pair with such a conception of art, with such a conception of video games as objects whose aesthetic prowess qualify them as being art. Such is drawn far beyond the boundaries of my intolerance, you see.

But when you write and pose a question such as the validity of the term "videogame", you're addressing one of the key elements of that dreadful "games as art" argument - indeed, what are "videogames" to begin with, what artifacts or groups of artifacts does the word refer to? Is it meant to be an equally subjective demarcation, even though the term is arguably very precise in what it refers to? It's not an academic fool's errand to exercise such caution nor to seek a secure foothold before climbing ahead into further considerations.

Aesthetics - in the sense we now employ the word - and criticism - idem - possess great affinity for the arts; they're characteristic of the arts, plausibly enough, albeit not exclusive to them. Aesthetics can be correlated, and it is often, with design for instance; criticism's focus, in its turn, is even wider at that.
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[Chris] Dale

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« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2013, 06:30:50 PM »

The experiential difference between text and speech is conceded.

I can see how the specific & historical account of the origin of the term "video game" would be of use in the analysis of why the medium evolved along gamic lines, but it doesn't change whether it makes sense to classify videogames and notgames as a single medium, which is the basis of the article. In this sense at least, the medium to which all extant and hypothetical videogames belong is considered to be one of objective boundaries, which we are to discover through analysis. This realism of this model may be in question, but for this simple purpose I think it suffices. It may be that the interplay of Baer's personal vision to the market as a whole was integral in steering the medium to where we now see it, but charting and explicating that process was at best a minor goal of the article, as I don't believe that process can be said to have any effect on whether notgames count as videogames, because, as I have said, I don't think that story can change what counts as videogames.

While it is nearly certain that Beardsley never discussed videogames, in his article explicating his definition of art, it seems that one of his specific goals in this definition was that it should serve us as art evolves beyond its conceptions at the time; thus I do not believe his definition is less useful to us.

I do not doubt that Bateman's games are themselves fairly conventional; his preferences in games is fairly conventional. I refer to his arguments as a philosopher of art, such as in Imaginary Games; I do not even particularly find much to like in what I know of that argument; suffice it to say that multiple arguments that videogames are art exist, and at least some of them are worth consideration.

Finally, it seems we are talking somewhat at cross-purposes. For my own part, I have never bought into merit-based definitions of art; and the tradition in which I am writing, Western analytic aesthetics, has sought to distance themselves from such definitions since the 1950s. Indeed, a dissatisfaction with contemporary, evaluative definitions of art seems to have led to the very birth of modern Western aesthetics. I do not mean to argue that the evaluative view is objectively wrong--it is certainly consistent with popular usage--nor indeed without its uses, but I do not count analytic philosophy among its uses, and such philosophy is my goal here.

As regards subjectivity: well, in the modern schools of analytic aesthetics, very little in the arts is considered to be subjective. Demarcations of type, definitions of art and artforms, and in many cases even evaluations of quality are considered to be objective, or at least attempts at an objectivity. This method appeals to me, even if perhaps it is misguided.

There is a great gulf between how artists, critics (in most cases), and philosophers view art. I am inclined to agree with the philosophers, but maybe they're just the best at rhetoric.
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"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

Call me Dale Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2013, 02:51:28 PM »


While it is nearly certain that Beardsley never discussed videogames, in his article explicating his definition of art, it seems that one of his specific goals in this definition was that it should serve us as art evolves beyond its conceptions at the time; thus I do not believe his definition is less useful to us.


Monroe Beardsley can be very useful today, I concur. His name is a valuable reminder of an intellectual movement which laid the carpet for postmodernism and a long tradition of North-American moderation in academia - he sought to conquer the middle ground between emerging extremes in art appreciation, in different continents to wit, rendering for the purpose that which I find to be a specious and narrow-minded establishing of art's (lowest) common denominator: aesthetics. The allegation itself, I emphasize in his defense, is contained within not only the context of his works which cannot be erased altogether, but also the context of his times; and is in great part a reaction to the pragmatic reforms witnessed in modern art and the theories of men such as Marcel Duchamps. My best assessment is, alas, that it bears only residual significance when applied to the contention of "digital games" as an indisputable form of art.

In fact I'd suggest once again that the argument of "aesthetics" is equally applicable - often applied, and legitimately so - to the field of industrial design for one. Such a claim, as that which you quote in your blog, allows for an acceptance of a designer alarm clock radio as a work of art; the design of a roller coaster wagon a work of art; taking Le Corbusier and his Bauhaus brethren to lackadaisical extremes. But having been made in a certain context, one which is known to us, it is exceeded by those innovations, in this case technological, which Beardsley himself could neither predict let alone fathom. Such is the limit of any vague and all-encompassing theory or attempt at a law, axiom or definition: it is bound to be opened to exceptions and, most importantly, to be weakened in its own reason and value with the passage of time. Very few maxims, if any, have persevered the unanticipated. Even though I find Kant's axiological approach quite interesting, but they too have been the object of dispute and not all of which unreasonable as you're no doubt aware, this regarding the matter of subjectivity.

It is required to modulate these factors in a more convincing manner if we're to take the premise of "games as art" more productively. I've long searched for an essay or thesis that could suit such needs - in fact attempted to compose one - if to no avail. In my own writing I use the arts as the source of countless parallels, given the palpable contiguity between both, but find it sensible to prevent them from mutually infusing one another. The recognition of each's merit is not even considered here, as it would likely cause me to feel lightheaded.

I do not subscribe to merit-based definitions of art, in fact I do not subscribe to a single, or perhaps not any definition of art at all. I recognize them and make all possible efforts to see beyond them. As an Art Historian, I always suggest others to first acquaint themselves with the arts, to expand their knowledge and understanding of them in the greatest depth and amplitude possible, making use of as much theory as needed though not accepting any as dogma or the last word on any given subject unless it refers to the flatly factual. Only the knowledge of art can drive one towards a sense or intuition which, once obtained, allows for a clearer view of these and other matters. I cannot prevent art from being defined or evaluated in the thousand ways or through multiple sensibilities, however they're obtained and matured. Whereas you speak of this premise as objective, I say it's merely the product of a certain - and manifestly contemporary - consensus. Art itself surpasses these newfangled conceptions by centuries.

As a closing comment, I would only say that I find it quite reasonable this notion of digital interactions as a rather salubrious field in which new expressions may flourish and we have certainly been shown how those can be achieved. But I refuse to recognize empty acreage as an orchard until I have a glimpse of the said orchard. Thank you for this edifying discussion, good Sir.
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[Chris] Dale

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« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2013, 03:22:22 PM »

Thank you, Mr de Figueiredo! I was worried my constant rebuttals were tiring you.

I think again we mistake each other's terminology; when I refer to aesthetics in the context of the aesthetic interest, I do not refer to anything so specific as beauty or design. I agree that under such a conception of aesthetics, a graphic designer would find himself an artist. But when I (and Beardsley) refer to the aesthetic interest, I refer to the broad and multitudinous ways in which a person might be moved, impressed, made to feel &c, by a work of art or otherwise (e.g. a sunset). If you did not misunderstand, and you believe this to be art's lowest common denominator, then I fear we will have little common ground on which to continue this discussion. The Beardsley distinction: an artwork is created for the specific purpose of causing such a reaction. With something made by a graphic designer, e.g. Amazon.com, it is plain to see that this was created to sell items over the internet; any attempt at exciting the aesthetic interest was a means to an end. This distinction is fuzzy, I agree. I don't believe Monroe Beardsley's definition is the end-all be-all of definitions; I cite it as my working definition, and this is because I know any true definition would be more nuanced. Nonetheless, I find its inclusiveness appealing, as I feel there is little to be gained from being cautious with what counts as art.

As for your second point, re: the fallow orchard, I am afraid I am not sure of your meaning. Are you to say, for instance, that some novels are art, and some are not? I suppose I recognize that this may not be a merit-based definition, but it is nonetheless a definition I would categorically reject. If perhaps you mean instead that the novel is not an art form until some particularly artistic novel comes along, and then all of the novels that ever were become art along with it, then...well, I should very much like to learn more of this theory!

However, I think we are at least in agreement that, though the field is lush and green, the orchard is nowhere in sight.
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"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

Call me Dale Smiley
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« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2013, 12:46:11 AM »

I've just returned from GDC. There are enough experiences recently released and in development that are amazing players that we can probably stop worrying about "that's not a game" comments.

The only defense remaining was immature gamers and threatened game developers, but I saw all sorts of praise for things this year that had no game elements whatsoever. I'd say your defense is good and we can move on to the next step. Smiley
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Michaël Samyn

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« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2013, 08:49:23 AM »

we can move on to the next step. Smiley

Yes, please! I'm tired of all these first steps.
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axcho

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« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2013, 04:54:23 AM »

Yes, finally! :p
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