The Philosophy, Art, and Social Influence of games
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J T
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Game Rules as Art

by J T Wed Jan 28, 2015 6:54 pm

It has almost been 10 years since Roger Ebert famously proclaimed that video games can never be art, which he later clarified to mean high art. Central to his point, and one of the most difficult aspects to argue against Ebert with, was that games require rules and rules are not art.

I recently stumbled across this article from 2006, which I think actually makes a compelling case for the notion that game rules themselves can indeed make poignant statements, even with something as basic as the rules of chess (which Ebert proclaimed could have artistic pieces, but not be art as a game).

Anyway, here's the article, I know games as art is a bit of a tired debate at this point, but it's so rare that anyone actually illustrates how game design and rules are essential to the art form.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/article ... les-as-Art
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by jp1 Wed Jan 28, 2015 7:33 pm

I don't get that concept. The rules are not predefined, and as such they are part of the expression of the game's creator. If anything the rules could further be an expression of art as you are experiencing the media as the creator intended. Movies, music, painting, everything really has rules in some way or another. It is only if the rules are imposed on the process of creating the "art" that it would impede the process as far as I'm concerned.
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by dsheinem Wed Jan 28, 2015 11:03 pm

J T wrote:It has almost been 10 years since Roger Ebert famously proclaimed that video games can never be art, which he later clarified to mean high art. Central to his point, and one of the most difficult aspects to argue against Ebert with, was that games require rules and rules are not art.

I recently stumbled across this article from 2006, which I think actually makes a compelling case for the notion that game rules themselves can indeed make poignant statements, even with something as basic as the rules of chess (which Ebert proclaimed could have artistic pieces, but not be art as a game).

Anyway, here's the article, I know games as art is a bit of a tired debate at this point, but it's so rare that anyone actually illustrates how game design and rules are essential to the art form.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/article ... les-as-Art


I can't recommend Ian Bogost's take on this question in "How to Do Things With Video Games" enough. It follows a similar logic but is much more eloquent, in my opinion. It has basically helped me form my own opinion/answer to the general "are games art?" question and to the more interesting "what games are good art?" question...

If you don't have a copy of the book, a quick web search for the pdf will pull up some copies. Specifically I am referring to chapter 1: "Art". It is a 10-page read, and one that explores this topic (and the ideas in JT's link) in a very compelling fashion.
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by Exhuminator Wed Jan 28, 2015 11:49 pm

Great topic. I love stuff like this.


I would like to have a clear definition of what Ebert was trying to say with the "having rules means it's not art" statement. Before I give my own. Just to be sure I'm not misunderstanding his intent.
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by J T Thu Jan 29, 2015 12:13 am

dsheinem wrote:I can't recommend Ian Bogost's take on this question in "How to Do Things With Video Games" enough. It follows a similar logic but is much more eloquent, in my opinion.


I have this in my amazon wishlist already (probably because you recommended it in the past), but now I'm more excited to read it.
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by J T Thu Jan 29, 2015 12:34 am

Exhuminator wrote:Great topic. I love stuff like this.


I would like to have a clear definition of what Ebert was trying to say with the "having rules means it's not art" statement. Before I give my own. Just to be sure I'm not misunderstanding his intent.


Here are a few of the key articles he blog posts he wrote. I still couldn't find his original statement.
http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journa ... -vs-barker
http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journa ... ver-be-art
http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journa ... on-my-lawn

My understanding of the basic premise he put forth is that the music of a video game can be high art, the graphics of a video game can be high art, the story of a video game can be high art, but the game itself cannot. There is nothing artistic about establishing a goal for a win state, and the rules by which that goal can be achieved. Thus, a chessboard can be high art if expertly crafted, but chess the game cannot.

What is interesting about this article is that it explains how the chosen rules can be a statement about society/human nature/whatever. Even in chess, the fact that the king is very powerful and protected and has mobility in whatever direction he wants (slowly of course), and can only be killed by being cornered and restricting him from the freedom his power grants him. That is a statement about social structure that exists because of how social roles are modeled in the game of chess. Of course, not all rule sets are artful, but that one is.

A video game can have even more complex rule systems than chess, which can even change over time or when triggered by specific events. The experience of playing the game within the rule sets with the given gameplay mechanics, can be an emotionally evocative in and of itself, and the experience is only amplified in the further synergy of music, graphics, and story. What's important for the artform though is that the gameplay mechanics and game rules work together with these other artistic elements in a holistic artful experience that wouldn't be possible in any other medium.
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by Exhuminator Thu Jan 29, 2015 10:57 am

I think Ebert missed the big picture. I will explain.

Ebert said that the individual elements of a video game can be high art. I agree, as a game is made of different types of artistic media melded together, such as graphics, music and sound effects, writing, etc. A video game is a melting pot of artistic elements, yes. But what is the "game" itself? Just a container then for these things that is sequentially played out as a series of rules? With the rules culminating in the ultimate goal being "to win"?

"There is nothing artistic about establishing a goal for a win state, and the rules by which that goal can be achieved." -Ebert logic.

There is where I take issue, because in that regard Ebert is minimizing what a game does to something as simple as, "you play a sequence of rules to reach the end and win the game". I could do the same thing to his beloved film medium by saying, "you watch a sequence of events to reach the end and see the credits". Which could culminate in me saying, "There is nothing artistic about establishing a running sequence of events to arrive at the ending credits, and the cinematography by which that end can be reached." In both instances one is focusing on purely technical merits without adhering to the human experience aspect.

Do we watch a movie to see the ending credits? No. We watch a movie to see a story, hear some music, feel some emotions, and walk away with an experience. Many video games also have stories, music, emotional stuff, but that's not where the art of a video game lies.

So do we play a video game to simply "win"? No. We play a video game to revel in the impetus of our will challenged against the circumstances by which the game presents itself, and thus converting our perception to match the needs of the game's avatar. That sort of thing could be labeled as "performance art". Can performance art not be "high art"? Well certainly it can, be it in dance, acting, or portraying the actions of an onscreen avatar by sheer impetus of will. And that is why a game can be challenging. If you play as a space marine in a video game but you die constantly, well you're space marine performance art sucks in that game.

Ebert had it half right in understanding that video games consist of multiple types of art. But to diminish what you do in a video game as simply "following rules" shows an obvious ignorance of the ultimate art a game offers. A video game is an interactive canvas, but it is an incomplete picture. When the player takes up the brush (okay controller) and finishes the scene, that's when the art of the game becomes tangible. The player thereby is not only experiencing the art, but in the act of performing art themselves they are also the game's final artist.
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by Erik_Twice Thu Jan 29, 2015 12:20 pm

Ebert simply thought that artistic intent and interactivity are incompatible. He explicitely says that games have no artistic intent in one of his articles, I think it was the one in which he said that he would burn all videogames ever made to save Huckleberry Finn...

Really, the guy had bone to pick about video games. He went out of his way in many of his reviews to insult the medium, diminish it or just be a dick to games he had never played. I don't know if he felt threatened, insecure or just wanted to push his weight around but the way he approached the topic was absolutely moronic and a dissapointing low for him.
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by Erik_Twice Thu Jan 29, 2015 12:21 pm

I admit, though, that this topic baffles me. Can games even exist without rules? I don't think one can separate the rules from the game because the game grows out of them!
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Re: Game Rules as Art

by Exhuminator Thu Jan 29, 2015 12:36 pm

I do not understand how Ebert believed film doesn't have its own rules of engagement.

I believe the man was simply out of his element.
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