An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Posts tagged ‘Art’

Video Games are both Art, and Culturally Relevant

Some time ago, Roger Ebert, the famous film critic, came out with an article that caused a lot of buzz both in the world of gaming, and in the world of art.  There is a clear divide on this topic, and it is interesting that there are people out there who are actually examining this critically.  It is inspiring to see people who take what is going on right now in culture and art as seriously as they do.

Now of course, there are people with no real opinion.  Internet trolls who simply want to complain about things.  However, there have been other people who have had very measured responses to Ebert’s article.  He contends that video games can never be art.  I am a hardcore gamer, but I will take the measured approach.

Can a video game be compared to a great film?  No.  But here’s the thing – can a great film be compared to a great book?  No.  That’s a fact.  Books will always be better than film.  If one is going to look at a medium and judge its artistic merit to what it can’t compare to, then, truly, nothing is art.  Can a description of a place in a book be compared to a great piece of nature in painting or tapestry?  No, it can’t.  There are some amazing descriptions in some great books, but it still doesn’t compare to great paintings.

So, what can be said for the argument of if video games are art or not?  Well, the first thing is that one has to come to a consensus on at least a couple of issues.  The first is – what makes something art.  Kellee Santiago made a great video at TEDxUSC about this.  Great art is something that creates an emotional reaction and an emotional connection with the viewer, reader, etc.

Are there any games that have produced an emotional reaction?  I think there are.  Take a look at the newest edition to thatgamecompany’s lineup – Journey.  This game is what I would want a good short film to be.  The visuals in this game are perfect, absolutely perfect.  They are flawless.  There is an emotional simplicity about the story, the same way that early Disney films were.  Plus, this game did something that most people would think impossible for a culture who demands immediacy – made people care about a character who said nothing, and for a plot that was totally vague.

This game sold fast, and the reception of the audience and critics was amazing.  A simple yet beautiful concept, and it was delivered perfectly.  It was the most basic, yet most ambitious project of thatgamecompany.

Next up, let’s examine the game Batman: Arkham City.  This game was the tipping point for me in the debate if superheroes are this generation’s version of Greek mythological heroes.  The issues presented in this game were incredible.  The ethical dilemmas of Batman and the often harsh view of him throughout this game was beyond engaging.  It was theatrically incredible.  Everything about this game was what one would expect from a great piece of film.  I have made, and will defend, claims that I think this game is better than The Dark Knight.

Now don’t get me wrong, that was an incredible film.  But this game had so much more engagement.  For one thing, the dilemmas of Batman were so much better explored in this game.  He is facing his own mortality, yet to kill the Joker, he views death as a small price to pay.  He is willing to let all of the inmates of Arkham City get killed so that he can go after the woman he loves.  He has gotten to the point where he will brutally assault people who won’t give him what he wants.  He won’t kill, but everything up to that point is fair game.  You really get the sense that he has gotten to the point where views violence as the only solution.  Much more than in The Dark Knight, you question if Batman is the hero or the villain.  He even (spoiler alert) at the end admits that even though the Joker kills and destroys everything he touches, he would still save him.  Implying that those two actually need each other.  And Mark Hamill’s final role as The Joker was simply incredible.  The best that has ever been done on the small screen.  He will never, ever be topped.

Another game to examine is a new one that is coming out – BEYOND: Two Souls.  One can’t even touch the cinematic presentation.  In fact, that is one area that Ebert will never be able to argue video games artistry.  Visuals in most all games that come out now are simply amazing.  But here, there is a definite cinematic presentation.  When Quantic Dreams is making it, you know that it has to be good.  Heavy Rain was an incredible game that was easily comparable to a good film.

Now look, you can argue there is bias on my part, since I am a gamer.  You can argue that I am simply making these claims because I don’t want to accept that games aren’t comparable with great forms of art.  Well, depending on how you look at it.  But the fact is that they are, in fact, art.

Not only are they art, but they are also culture.  They are a significant part of modern culture.  One of the reasons that video games are where they are today is because of the culture surrounding them.  We grew up with games.  Gamers who played low-on-plot, high-on-action games when they were younger wanted their games to mature with them.  And they have.  And they still are.

I would argue that not only are video games an art medium, but they are also a cultural medium.  It is time for the prudish scholarly types to stop being stubborn and accept that video games are a part of both communities.  I think that gaming designers took what Ebert said as a challenge.  Like he said – make a game that could be compared to a film.  And they have succeeded.  Since he is a movie buff, and has admitted his bias, he will never own up to it, but it’s the truth.

Something to think about.

Lefty and Music

Several of the people that I keep in touch with saw the post where I reviewed the performance here in Anchorage by the jazz musician, Chris Botti.  They found it kind of odd that that is what we were writing a review about, and more specifically that I seemed to have been incredibly amazed by this concert.  In the interest of explaining things, I thought that I would touch on why this concert was something that I was so glad to be able to see.  This going to be a rather personal post, which isn’t something that we do often, but it was needed to be discussed.

The love of music that I have goes back almost to the beginning of my life.  The first Disney film that I ever saw was “Fantasia.”  It was a work of cinematic mastery, and remains my second-favorite film to date.  It’s ironic that for their third film, Disney did something so absolutely different from everything that they had done before.  And not only that, but this film wasn’t really made for kids.  There were parts that they could enjoy, but to be honest, this film was made almost entirely for adults.

For those who haven’t seen it, Fantasia is a film that combines beautiful classical music with artistry.  There is almost no speaking, aside from the host.  It is pure expression, and the beauty of it is beyond words.  It is, by far, Disney’s best animated film.  But from seeing that film, at the age that I saw it, I was able to get an appreciation for great music.  Complex harmonies, the chords all working together to form the artistic vision, the mass of instruments that had made this creation, I didn’t know what any of those things were when I was a little kid.  But I could see the beauty of the music that I was able to hear and see.  It forever changed the way that I look at music, and how it has had an effect on life.

I think that you can get a glimpse of what a culture is like during a time period exclusively by looking at its music.  Forget the politics, forget the economy, all you need to see in order to determine the state of a culture is to see what music that it creates.  So, the question becomes – what do you see now?  Well, unlike the 60’s and 70’s, where you saw rebellion and deep love, today we see conformity, the need to be up to the horribly low standards, a complete lack of emotional intimacy with the words.  The power of singers like John Lennon, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain is replaced by the emotionless drek of singers like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.  Never singing about the hard parts.  Love is easy, available, and life is awesome.  Such lies, but we are meant to stomach it.  And let’s not even get started about the fact that nobody seems to have any appreciation for wordless music, which gets its passion from the chords it plays and the instruments playing it.

Probably the only disappointment about Botti’s concert was that I was one of about 20 people in that packed auditorium who was in my own age group.  The bulk of the people in that room were middle-aged to senior.  Botti is a young artist, trying to play to a style that is young.  It should have had a much younger audience.  But it didn’t.  It had so few.  The lack of love for music that we are seeing in the modern culture is truly heart-breaking, because music is something that has absolute power.

The Beatles effectively ruled the world.  When Igor Stravinsky wrote his ballet, the Rite of Spring, it was so controversial that he was driven out of town with the threat of death on his heels.  Music has challenged leaders and ways of thinking, as it should.  Like the written word, it should be about more than just entertaining people.  Millions of neurons fire every single day, and the more you think, the more connections are made through this process.  With our new culture of brainless entertainment, it becoming increasingly clear that good taste is falling through in favor of something that is bright and loud.

If nothing else that I have said means anything to any of you, please take this away – the love of great music should be uniting our culture, and instead, while the Botti concert did sell out, and that is awesome beyond words, it should be selling out by the young.  The youth should have beaten the old people there, with a stick.  Oh yeah, I went there.

Music is power.  Music is passion.  Music is art and it is beauty and it is everything that makes our culture work.  The culture of America is dying, and this is sad beyond belief.  Botti touched on this when he said that one of his favorite places to go was Poland, because of their deep respect for musical artistry.  He was even asked to go there and perform in honor of Frederic Chopin.

We need our culture back.  Though that may be too much to ask.

Peace out,

Lefty

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