By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
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By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
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By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
William Henry Fox Talbot launched modern photography when he developed his negative-positive process, which he called “the art of fixing a shadow.” That was 1839, and the optical curiosity of the “sun picture” was on its way to becoming the dominant visual medium, joining the realm of fine arts along the way as photographers moved beyond pure documentation to capturing and communicating ideas and feeling. Film followed, and the 20th century fell under the spell of moving images and a roving camera. Then came video games. Newcomers still, the game industry has already eclipsed movies as an economic force. But culturally, their mark remains elusive. Many artists have investigated the medium — the Whitney, the SF MOMA, and the Mass MOCA have all mounted exhibitions about interactive digital art — but video games rarely aspire to art. Nic Kelman says that’s changing. His book, Video Game Art, argues, through images and short essays, that games are making the transition from technological novelty to meaningful art form.
L.A. WEEKLY:The focus of your book is more about the art in the games than the games as art.
NIC KELMAN: That’s true of the images, but the text goes deeper. I tried to situate games in context with the other arts — how they’re similar, and deserve to be treated as such, as well as how they’re unique because of the interactivity.
At E3 last year, there was a show called “Into the Pixel,” where large photographic stills of concept art from games were produced, framed and presented gallery-style. Alone on the wall, however, the images were boring. Derivative, comic-book stuff. The art outside of the gaming experience itself didn’t seem to stand up.
Yes, but you could say the same thing about film, 99 percent of which is derivative imagery and wouldn’t make sense in a gallery either. Look at some of the best design in video games — the colossi in Shadow of the Colossus, or the character design in Psychonauts — that you’re not seeing anywhere else. One of the points of the book is that we’re on the verge of games coming into their own as a medium. Breakthroughs are happening. It’s one game in 50, yes, but that ratio exists in any art form.
How does technology fit in? Because when I was a kid, the advances were obvious and immediately apparent. Now, there’s so much capacity, developers don’t know what to do with it. A new platform comes out, and games aren’t necessarily better.
Since 64-bit technology, games could be truly three-dimensional. And so now you can do anything visually. What’s interesting is that it means the burden shifts to narrative. Visuals are easy; it’s execution that’s hard.
Halois a good example. The design of that game — the consistent visual realm, the feeling, even the physics — was better than most sci-fi movies in recent memory.
Absolutely. What non-gamers don’t understand is that if you play an action game these days, it’s 10 times better than seeing any action film.
AlthoughHalo’s story was its weakest part, it is hugely popular because it’s such a superior game, and fun —
I don’t agree on that one. The story in Halo was pretty good from a sci-fi perspective. The Halo itself, the Flood — these were interesting story points. It’s genre, it’s sci-fi — it’s not Faulkner — and it was pretty good in that context.
I just couldn’t get into it, I guess. And maybe that’s part of a larger point, which is that I don’t think I’ve ever been emotionally convinced by a video game.
I’m not sure that watching Halo’s narrative, as you would a movie, would be so great. But when you add in the interactive elements and immersion, you then get that emotional effect that games have on people. The best example is probably horror games. I know so many people, myself included, who are completely unaffected by horror movies but can’t get through a Silent Hill game because it’s too scary. Horror is showing that games have the potential to exploit that fundamental connection. And that hints at the emotional potential for what you might consider art. It’s just a matter of getting around to it.
I remember being really into the firstAlone in the Darkgame. That was genuinely scary. The story was borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft. We stayed up all night playing. Intensely focused, but kind of terrified. In the same way you’d stay up all night reading Lovecraft.
Genre stuff works best now because of game structure. All games are basically The Odyssey. A protagonist overcomes a series of increasingly difficult obstacles. There’s a creature at the end. So the medium sort of lends itself to genre narratives as opposed to dramatic narratives.
Driven by character development and plot and ?relationships.
Right — but the artificial intelligence isn’t there yet to do that in a game.
That may be why massively multiplayer games are so popular, because in a sense, they’re character-driven.
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