Limbo

The Birth of the Eighth Art

Video games

There are five ancient arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry. These can be grouped as three Rhythms of Space (or plastic arts) and two Rhythms of Time. The Rhythms of Space comprise architecture, sculpture, and painting. Whereas the Rhythms of Time are music and poetry.

Ricciotto Canudo (1877–1923), Italian film theoretician, added dance as a Rhythm of Time, the Sixth Art. He then came to call cinema the Seventh Art.

I am not an intellectual… I read it all on Wikipedia… Still, I believe that video games are a new art — the Eighth Art.

Paraphrasing Ricciotto Canudo: video games are a conciliation of the Rhythms of Space and the Rhythms of Time, with the addition of Game Design, or Interaction.

How so

It may be argued that video game is a collection of other forms of art. And indeed it is. In video games, you can find architecture, sculpture, painting, music and poetry, as well as other forms or art, such as literary art.

Interestingly, the majority of these artworks are done digitally. The painter is in fact an artist that uses a graphic tablet rather than a brush and a computer screen in lieu of a canvas.

However the same may be argued of cinema. Cinema also comprises many forms of art! Needless to say, cinema makes ample use of music, the performing arts, and other modalities of art.

There must be something else that adds to the other forms of art for something to be cinema. Andrei Tarkovsky called cinema the art of sculpting the time. According to him, it was specific of cinema the art of selectively recording the passage of time with a camera. The artist is the director, and they are the one who decides the mise-en-scène, the duration, the light, among other things.

Is there something that video games add to other forms of art that makes it unique? Again, a parallel can be drawn with cinema.

Granted, video games also have a mise-en-scène. And before you tell me that it is the visual art that decides what is part of it, let me go ahead and say that the composition of the mise-en-scène depends not only on what was graphically produced, but the unique moment at which the game is in. Which, in turn, is a product of programming and the result if your interacting with it. The beauty of the mise-en-scène in video games is that most of time it is unique to each player.

Take the screenshot below. It is the frozen fraction of time in the game.

The Last of Us™ Remastered

The possibility of the scene was devised by the artist, just like a play or a poem. The end result of the scene is as fickle and unique as the result of an actor at the theater or the voice of the person who is reciting the poem.

Now compare these two:

The Last of Us™ Remastered, two different pictures in the same location in the game

As visually stunning as these screenshot may be, it cannot be reduced to solely a visual artwork. The reason for this is that what defines the final result was not just the visual art, but also the exact position of the sprites and all visual elements. And the responsible for this was both the program and the person who was playing the game. You can see that the two pictures might exist in a gameplay.

This scene could not exist if the the developer had not programmed the game to behave the way it does and to comprise the elements that compose the scene.

Consider the game a unit and the final result of all this components together. The fact that all those forms of art are together composing a unit, and that they were carefully chosen and devised with this unit in mind by a single mind — the director — also points to the final result as a work of art. The act of putting thought into choosing all those pieces and putting them together resembles the work of a movie director.

The most important point is that the end result could not exist otherwise, and it is capable of communicating emotions, transmitting catharsis, telling a story, rehearsing human condition, or making you laugh.

Art critics, meet Game Design

Being in the forefront of technology and needing a computer program to bring video games to life are elements that are particular to video games and cause confusion. Most conventional art critics are ignorant of how computer programming works, which adds to the confusion.

In addition to music, writing, and art concept, a new manifestation of art that is unique to video games is game design. Game design is the intellectual conception of all other artistic pieces in the video game as a single unit — from music score to concept art — plus the Interactive Reasoning required to add interactivity, which is almost unique to video games. Please note that the concept of game design contains interactivity.

We can call Game Design the art of devising the interactivity, with the creation of the rules that govern that environment and the objectives of the interaction. But note that interactivity is not unique to video games, because other Interactive Media also make use of it, such as websites. Even YouTube videos can be interactive. What makes video games different is the depth of Game Design, with plenty of visual arts which depends on a large component of Interactivity. Even simple games, such as Pac Man has a very large component of Interactivity. Although it is a simple game, how you interact in Pac Man is a large component of your experience in the game.

Regarding game design, it is not unique to video games either. It may be any type of game, such as table games. Therefore, what makes video games video games is game design with computer interactivity. Not game design alone. And not interactivity alone. The sum of both.

Within game design, there are several disciplines:

  • World design
  • System design
  • Content design
  • Game writing
  • Level design
  • User interface design
  • Audio design

In my opinion, Level design is the intersection of architecture, sculpture, and game design. For me, Demon’s Souls / Dark Souls / Bloodborne is the perfect trifecta of excellent level design. Devising how each location in the game connects to the other was a major intellectual achievement.

The main tool for this complex art is computer programming, and the main artists are the game developers and director. Only humans could devise this artwork, and the process the doing so must be considered art.

Artertainment

Discussions about the definition of art have been present for as long as art has existed. The act of doing or admiring art is unified with the process of thinking itself and with technology. It seems like humans are the only animals that are capable of such complex thinking processes.

One could argue that all art is entertainment. The reverse is absolutely not true.

Another point that should be made clear is that eSports are sports just like athletic sports, and are very far from the notion of art. Naturally, a football player may consider it an art as much as anything else could be labeled as art, especially if it involves a very complex technical expertise. A surgeon may also consider their work art.

Playing video games is not art either. Nor is playing video game an actual contemplation of art. One can admire a video game and be touched by it as a unit. I will use the word touch to exemplify the act of taking notice of something valuable. It may be something good, bad, unique, or that causes an emotion, such as disgust, curiosity, anticipation, humor, etc. And I use the word unit to refer to a video game in total, containing all the other art forms within it, but also having an identity that differs from each of the separate art forms within it.

In an attempt of criticism, the person that critically appraised the game may dissect elements of the game (the unit) that made it touching: it may have been the music, the textures used to represent the fabric in the clothes of the characters, the choice of color palette, the realism of the leaves of grass, the suspense or an intelligently placed moment of anticipation, the acting of the mocap actors, the writing, the climax of the story, the creativity of the level design, etc. However, you may play a video game to entertain yourself without even noticing any of these things.

On the one hand, you do not need to be critical of anything. Art exists only when noticed, but it does not need to be noticed by you, specifically. On the other hand, being critical of video games also creates a desire for better games — a market, if you will. This is good for the game industry, and even better for the player, who will benefit from playing more creative and thought-out games.

My opinion is that the main thing is to be entertained above all, not to overthink. But if you do overthink, please share with me!

Art game as a genre of video game

Art game, arthouse game or auteur game. These are the terms used for the genre of games that were conceived with the care and attention that other types of art received and with the intention to be admired as any art work.

The existence of a genre that describes the gameplay as being mainly artistic touch is the overt proof that video games can be art.

Journey (Thatgamecompany, 2012), for PS3 and PS4, is an example of an auteur game which was lauded for its music score, composed by Austin Wintory. The soundtrack was awarded a GRAMMY for Best Soundtrack Score for Visual Media. The game has also been displayed in art exhibits, such as the 2012 Game Masters.

The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow, 2012), also for PS3 and PS4, is another great example.

That Dragon, Cancer (Numinous Games, 2016) is a more recent one, for Ouya, Microsoft Windows and OS X, based on the two parents experience of raising their son, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at twelve months old.

Hohokum (Honeyslug and Sony Santa Monica, 2014) is available for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

Other games worth mentioning:

  • Limbo (Playdead, 2010, PC/Xbox 360/PS3)
  • Nidhogg (Messhof, 2010, PC)
  • flOw (Thatgamecompany, 2006, PC)

The future will tell (even more than it already has)

The future will tell if video games will be praised as much as cinema is, given the many similarities between the two forms of expression. But it has already started.

The commencement of exhibition of video games at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York since 2012 was a landmark in the history of video games. In the exhibition curated by Paola Antonelli (Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture & Design as well as the Director of R&D at MoMA), video games were display as a painting or sculpture would. The games are permanent additions to the Architecture and Design Collection. I hope one day there will be a standalone collection for video games. Fourteen games were announced in November 2012, including Asteroids, Pong, Pac-Man, FlOw, and Portal.

Check out the full list here.

Also, the Smithsonian American Art Museum had an exhibition of video games entitled “The Art of Video Games”, from March 16 to September 30, 2012. The games displayed represent the forty-year evolution of video games from Atari to the PlayStation 3. A few of the games showed were Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, as well as Uncharted 2 and Heavy Rain, along with more games totaling eighty games.

See the games that were showed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in this link: [http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2012/games/winninggames.pdf].

Praise the artist!

I will finish this manifesto by thanking everyone involved in making video games and by thanking a few of my favorite video game directors, producers, and designers out there.

  • David Jones (Grand Theft Auto series)
  • Ed Boon (Mortal Kombat)
  • Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid series)
  • Hidetaka Myazaki (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne)
  • Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy)
  • Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness)
  • Markus Persson (Minecraft)
  • Neil Druckmann (The Last of Us)
  • Phil Fish (Fez)
  • Satoshi Tajiri (Pokémon)
  • Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario Bros., The Legend Of Zelda, Donkey Kong)
  • Sid Meier (Civilization)
  • Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy)
  • Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims)

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