Treating Games as Art
Being in Two Cults: What Can Improv Learn from Larp?
Michael Such

Mark Durkan writes:

“One point I would make, coming from a visual arts perspective, is that it is, IMO, dangerous to spend too much time trying to justify a cultural practice as art. Whether it is larp or improv, I feel both those communities benefit more from understanding the values inherent to them rather than measuring them up to an arts discourse. Of course it’s important to learn from and be influenced by other areas but hoping to validate a cultural practice by aligning it to art might have the unintended consequence of hampering the development of that practice by holding it up to a heritage of sophisticated, complicated, sometimes contradictory and nearly always hierarchical value systems.

One other distinction I would make, is that larp in particular provides a multiplicity of understandings and values that a lot of artforms don’t. In this instance it is possible to have an agenda by the designer that can be disregarded or undermined by the player(s) and everybody is simultaneously required to collaboratively contribute to determine the value. Some socially engaged contemporary art practice deals with this, but larp has a jump start on this, practically if not necessarily theoretically.”

I sort of agree with this critique but feel there isn’t an equally eloquent way of making the point I want to convey.

I think I’m actually someone who secret has an unhealthy belief in the hierarchical value of arts discourse. I guess it comes from having a desk job and wanting to one of the “cool kids.” This is also a clamour I recognise in the improv and larp scenes. We do want to be one of the cool (recognised) kids.

So in using the word “art” I’m hopefully more trying to talk about conveying ideas than legitimacy of practice. If you make a poorly designed game which you only play with two other people but you all have fun then great. Please do that more. I personally enjoy amateurish performance which does something interesting more than something which has had all the life polished off it.

At the same time if you are making performance I think not treating it as art is sometimes a cop-out. Or more I mean considering what ideas the performance conveys. A lot of movies which present themselves as “just comedy” or “just entertainment” but convey harmful ideas. E.g. this study or the hero-centric world view presented by a lot of action movies.