Saturday, March 31, 2007

How can games be Art?

Whether or not games can be considered art causes a lot of contention.
Article on Gamasutra
Games Are Art
Roger Ebert's article

My opinion, obviously, is that they ARE, for the following reasons:
1. They can be judged as good or bad.
2. They can indirectly express to the user's what is not expressible through direct explanation.
3. They can effect a user's emotional state.
4. They can have subtext, as in more depth that appears on the surface.

(I realized I wrote the above definitions with "observer" initially, and I had to change all those words to "user".)

One of the arguments against games being art, according to Roger Ebert and some others, is that they do not have complete authorial direction; the author does not have complete control over what happens. I guess it seems to him that every time a form of media becomes briefly interactive, then it ceases to be art and briefly becomes something else, becoming art again once the interaction phase is over. But, I want to ignore any arguments about that here and instead try to figure out what parts of a game (if its even okay to consider them separately) can contribute to the artistic value of the whole game.

Traditional Storytelling
Games can and do have excellent stories, comparable or better than anything seen in film, books or television. This type of art is well-known, and telling it through a game's viewpoint is very interesting. Examples of this include The Dreamfall series and God of War, both of which are well-known for their story-telling ability. As games grow up, they begin to find unique ways to tell stories. The Half-Life series is famous for this, telling the entire story with no narrative explanation from the first-person viewpoint as events are happening.

Interactive Storytelling
This is a new form to gaming, essentially derived from Choose-Your-Own-Adventures, but much more flexible. Good examples include The Wing Commander series and Deus Ex. These both have branching storylines with multiple endings. There is a lot of academic work in this field, which I keep track of at a blog called Grand Text Auto.

Traditional Audiovisual Aesthetics

This is what is usually shown in the form of screenshots. I, personally, think that this work is very admirable but effort could be expended much better elsewhere. Still, there are some very beautiful games out there, such as Myst or Riven or Shadow of the Colossus. Unfortunately, when a game is advertised, this is usually the only part of the game that the consumer sees.

Formal Rule Sets
This is where games started long ago. Chess is a good example, so are modern RPGs, or the MMORPG Eve Online, which has over 30,000 players and a persistent virtual economy. Games that have too much emphasis on this part of their design tend to only be attractive to a small audience, something the predominantly science and engineering background male games industry struggles with. I'd also like to extend the idea of formal rule sets not just to slow-paced RPGs but also to faster-paced First-Person Shooters. When you are fighting in an FPS, your thinking can be quite advanced, for example:
"The enemy has a Covenant turrent placed behind the rock and there are three grunts with sticky plasma grenades. I can't drive my Warthog in because they'll stick me so maybe I'll drive a Ghost over and ditch it while equipping a needler so as to take out the Gold Elite. I'll save my only frag grenade to turn over the turret and take the dead Gold Elite's plasma gun to take out the remaining grunts."

Fertile Area for Emergent Gameplay
When a game has formal rule sets, but there are no clear goals, emergent gameplay occurs. This is a bit of a buzzword in the games industry right now. Anything by Will Wright is an excellent example of this (Sim City, Sim Life, Sim Earth, The Sims, upcoming Spore). These are really fun, and they have a very wide audience appeal.

The Action-Response Relationship with the User

This is the way in which the game (on whatever platform) responds to user input. Of all the above-mentioned experiences, this is unique to electronic interactive media, and what I'm really interested in. This is the same effect as improvised interactive theatre, where the user is playing a role. Through this method, games can do amazing things, like explore the nature of experience and sanity. Advanced interactive storytelling is also possible, such as with Facade. Examples of this are rare, but they are becoming more common. The best example I could find is a game called Eternal Darkness:Sanity's Requiem where there is a "sanity meter" which depletes during gameplay. As the sanity of the player gets lower and lower, strange things happen in the game world, and the fourth wall is broken with terrifying effect.

The reason why I find games so attractive is that they have so many different ways to express themselves, and I think we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I am a Superhero

Your results:
You are Iron Man

Inventor. Businessman. Genius.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero am I?" quiz...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Home Base

This is, possibly, one of my most favourite film shorts of all time.

I'm not sure if it appeals to me personally alot, or what. My favourite actor is the mother, but in my opinion the script is genius.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Brain damage turns man into human chameleon

What a fascinating article.

This leads to alot of interesting discussions of acting, role-playing and identity crises.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Bar-worthy conversation

It was St. Patrick's day. I had finished several Bailey's on the Rock, three cans of Guiness, two black velvets, two Toucan Breakfasts and seven episodes of Arrested Development. The group decided to stop by at QP for some pool. Naturally, the combination of the bodily abuse I was giving myself now and the payback from Player's last night led to the deterioration of my mental and physical state. I began to subconsciously ask questions like:

"Should I go home and go to sleep?"

This would have turned out to be a mistake, based on events that would happen later in the night.

But I didn't. I left my friends at the pool table, and turned to something that I do often in a social bar environment. I wander, and begin to the speak to the first person who makes and holds significant eye contact. I actually found many groups that I knew this night, and wandered around and through them, causing the occasional laugh, or hugging or shaking hands or remembering names.

Then I settled on a really good one introduced to myself by my good friend Kelsey Benning; and this is where the meat comes in.

Some how the phrase "Green with Envy" came up. It occurred to me that there are seven deadly sins, and seven colours in the traditional high school rainbow. Our goal was to find a 1-1 relation between colours and deadly sins, preferably which would fill in the phrase

"Colour with Deadly Sin"

We looked for cases where the association would "seem" right, not for any sort of formal meaning. And so we came up with:

Red Rage
Orange Gluttony
Yellow Sloth
Green Envy
Blue Greed
Indigo Lust
Violet Pride

Green and Envy were pretty obvious. Yellow was associated with cowardice, and Sloth. Orange came to mean candy wrappers or something, hence Gluttony. Blue was Greed because of conservatism or something (Blue is the colour of the conservatives in Canada). Red was a toss-up between Rage and Lust, but it eventually went to Rage because it fit the phrase "Red with Rage" better. Violet came to be associated with gay Pride. Finally, leaving Lust with Indigo, which I justify as the colour your genitalia turn after hours of rough sex.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Idea Factory

My wall is slowly getting covered with 8 1/2 by 11s, scrawling in messy blue pens with hastily done drawings. Where something isn't big enough to be committed to lined paper, it becomes a post-it note: sometimes nothing more than a pun or an interesting re-spelling, sometimes a whole bunch of meaning condensed to the one word on the vulnerable piece of sticky paper.

I have ideas coming out the wazoo now. Most of them are getting committed to paper; the ones that don't have the same light after 24 hours are thrown away and destroyed. The best of them start being implemented. The absolute best, even just barely, might stand a chance of being finished.


ps. Dear Metal Gear Solid 3,

You lose. Your overly-long and valueless cut scenes, your lack of camera control and your absolute absence of decent character development has turned you against me. I don't care what your reviewers say - you're self-involved and, at worse, you don't seem to be much of an actual game.

We're breaking up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Discovery: Grammatical Group

While over a discussion with my linguist/awesome/web programmer friend Eric Akaoka, I discovered the most interesting thing.

He was going about correcting people on the proper use of the plural form of words, which is completely normal for him.

Octopus -> Octopi
Uterus -> Uteri
Clitoris -> Clitorises

Clitoris turned out to be a bit confusing, since most people expected the plural to be Clitori, but Eric corrected us that it was, in fact, Clitorises. For it to be the way we expected, the word would have had to be "Clitorus" with the -us ending.

Suddenly it hit me.

I turned to Eric, and asked
"So, what's the plural of 'us' then?"

There was a few seconds of silence, and then we realized that we had discovered something beautiful:

The plural of I is US, and the plural of US is I. Mathematically speaking, {I, us} is a group under the "plural" operation.


plural(I) = Us
plural(Us) = I

also, the product plural*plural is the identity operator.
i.e. plural(plural(I)) = (plural*plural)(I) = I


Monday, March 05, 2007


So, I'm sorting through some of the final tech stuff for Deviants, and I come across this wonderful piece of stupid art, by this guy named Mondrian.

I'm sure you have all seen stuff like this before. Now to learn more about who this was, I turned as I always do to wikipedia. It turns out Mondrian had a rival painter around the same time period, named Doesburg. They even had a very serious split over a period of a few years. Let's take a look at Doesburg's paintings, shall we:


On close inspection, they are NOT, in fact, the same! Allow me to quote from this wikipedia article:

"During 1924 the two men had disagreements, which eventually lead to a (temporary) split in the same year. The exact reason of this split has been a point among art historians; usually the divergent ideas about the directions of the lines in the paintings have been named as the primary reason: Mondrian never accepted diagonals, whereas Doesburg insisted on the diagonal's dynamic aspects, and indeed featured it in his art. However, Mondrian accepted some concepts of diagonals, such as in his "Lozenge" paintings, where the canvas was rotated 45 degrees, while still maintaining horizontal lines."


Back to work.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Deviants Next Week

Its weeks like these when I'm unconsciously making deals with Father Time.

The Deviants opens next week. I wrote, acted and designed the set. This is one of the moments when you are throwing yourself out there, and in the last minute you question whether you're really just full of shit. I think that's healthy. I think that this production has made me grow so much as a writer, actor and member of a creative group. Although its the most stressed I've ever been, I realize that this is the sort of stuff I want to do for the rest of my life.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Super Columbine Massacre RPG

An excellent column in The Escapist on satire, violence in videogames, videogames not getting the same treatment as other art forms and the meaning of experiencing something.

For the record, I have not played the game mentioned in the title, but after reading the article I kind of want to.