Archive for December, 2010


Press Start To Make Arts

December 29, 2010

You probably have never heard of Ian Bogost, artist extraordinaire, until now: he is a man who has presumably become the latest figure in the “games as art” trend with his grand idea of portraying a kind of digital poetry through the stone-age technology of an Atari 2600. Spread over 4 game cartridges in total, Bogost has created a low-fi, slow-rolling group of “poems,” which at first glance are little more than simple sprites that hardly move—a teacup on a table designed to mimic winter’s bone; a tree with steadily descending leaves entitled “A Slow Year.” In the autumn season’s little game, you are given this instructional haiku:

“Magic hour tree

Breeze grows to gust, then recoils

Pile meets falling leaf.”

According to Bogost, “There’s a lot of these abstract games that don’t give you a surface level theme but allegorize or use symbolism in order to inspire exploration of some of large possibility space. Those things look a lot structurally like poetry to me.”

Bogost has made 25 of these cartridge sets and is selling each for $500.

Allow me to give my honest opinion of this situation: Ian Bogost is delusional.

Now, allow me to backtrack a bit into the central core for making this statement, explaining why Ian Bogost has existed on another dimension for the past few years.

Abstract art has always been a popular medium for expression, though more often than not it can come across as half-baked tripe. For the most part, the ambiguity seems less of a rebellion against the steelstrong “this is my allegory/moral lesson/political message; let none interpret this as pure aesthetic” mindset, and becomes more of a “I really don’t know where I want to take this work or where I want to go with these themes — so just take this set of parts and make your own thing. I am creatively vacant and I’m just going to mess with your head.” It is in this argument that the ambiguous, the open-ended, and the playful sometimes run headlong into the brick wall questions “why, where, how should this be relevant?” Yes, I realize that usually the modern (and acceptable) answer is that the journey is more important than the destination. I will agree, except on the count that a journey may consist of a zig-zagging tribulation down a poorly paved street. Meandering aimlessly up and down the aisles of your grocery store is not a journey; in that case, the destination–you know, wherever they stashed the Code Red–is way more important and pressing to discuss. Ian Bogost, unfortunately, doesn’t even know where the soda section is.

Games have been the center of a massive argument of heart-attack proportions as of late this year of our lord, 2010. Earlier on, Roger Ebert came out of the woodwork to patronize a community of frothing gamers and developers by claiming games cannot, and will never, be art. Of course, this was just a ridiculous statement in its own right, mainly for the fact that no one could really ever pin down the goddamn definition of art. If there was a concrete one, Ebert suggested it had more to do with painting, films, music, and particularly saucy chamber dancing than it did with poppin’ caps in people’s heads with big shiny Earthworm Jim blasters. This was his first mistake. His second mistake? Roger Ebert has said he has not, and will never, play a video game.

Why should I care whether Donkey Kong Country Returns, my newest Christmas gift, is considered on equal footing with da Vinci? Why, why, why should we care? If it gives you pleasure, then what’s the big deal? In the same vein as “time enjoyed is time well spent,” no one can really tell you what’s a waste of time and what isn’t. I still cannot understand why and when this entire argument of video games as art was needed, as though Mario being officially recognized as a national treasure will help you beat Bowser easily or something.

The same people who beat their brows mercilessly with indignation about this kind of heresy are probably the same kind of breed who place significance in their favorite musical group getting 10/10 from Pitchfork Media. Just earlier today I read a piece of music journalism that carried the same air of elitism I’ve come to expect from people who make a career of floundering an album review in trite, meandering words. Within, there was an explanation of why this idiot felt a touch of joy in the new Kanye West album getting a perfect score from the site, which of course means nothing whatsoever since the site regularly hands out A’s to horrible indie music. What do you care what some guy in the world’s most pretentious music ‘zine gave your favorite music artist? If it has any effect on your being at all, perhaps you’re too much of an impressionable being and you should turn in your “human” badge to live with the wolves.

My point is this: “art” can be full of it. It’s not always  a higher state of consciousness. Some of the stupidest bouts of creativity in the world has been shoveled away under the label of “art.” So why is it so important that video games reach this plateau?

It is true that art has given us great literature, visuals, sounds, and experiences. But it has also given us unspeakably bad books and movies and albums, as well as the smugness that follows each and every “artist” who simply feels the need to cover us in a mountain of his worth.

I have played Tale of Tales’ “The Path,” and came out of it with a truly remarkable sense of how innocence may be dashed across rocks, brains splattered along the tancrid mist of nature’s bounty. I’ve played Braid, a game misconstrued by millions in the ailing department of a narrative, yet I appreciate the mind-bending physics therein and the highly visceral snap-crackle-pop of the execution. And I’ve played Shadow Of The Colossus, treading lonely across chasms to complete the ultimate irony: a series of boss battles, and nothing more–and yet, I felt the deaths of the beasts moreso than any other game I played. But, I have also played Prototype, dropkicking helicopters and cutting pedestrians in half with huge blade appendages. And I sure as hell didn’t care whether it was highbrow or not–I was merely having fun, lost in another realm of possibilities.

Forget it; I’m playing Rock Band.