Computer Games is a medium that is criticized for being immature and adolescent. Games are seen as being full of violence, escapism, and lacking any maturity. As an avid fan, investor in a computer games company, and an amateur philosopher, I wondered why do Computer Games get saddled with these labels.
After some thinking, I feel that there are three related reasons:
1) Computer Games are relatively new form of entertainment and communication medium.
2) And because of #1, Computer Games possess its fair share of adolescent content.
3) And because of #2, Computer Games do not possess the sophisticated traits consistent with Art.
So let’s start with the first reason. My read of 20th century history is that all new entertainment mediums start off being criticized for being frivolous.
When Movies were first created, they were seen to be superfluous compared to theater. The first movies were not documentaries, but skin flicks that were used in various naughty arcades. Movies started off as pure bawdy entertainment, but now are considered a fantastic medium for communicating stories, news, and imagination.
The first Comic Books were just pulp fiction stories set to pictures. The subject matter was rarely mature with partially clothed women and muscular supermen, but now we see a the rise of Graphic Novels which use the art form to communicate new ideas and possibilities.
Music’s purpose is multifaceted, but its beginnings are thought to be used for dancing and entertainment. Even today there are some forms of music that are not taken seriously because it is intentionally juvenile. Yet, we see sophisticated forms of music that stretches across time and place.
Even ancient literature is full of fantastic episodes and ridiculous characters that it would be impossible to call sophisticated. Check out the Epic of Gilgamesh for an example of this.? These first writings were fantastic and legendary with the intention to entertain and inspire. Writing’s ability to entertain and communicate is what makes literature continue to be compelling.
The point here is that all mediums have their warts and blemishes. They each possess the potential to be Art or pure crass entertainment.
Movies, Music, and Literature all have early manifestations that are less than reputable, so we need to cut Computer Games some slack. Computer Games have only been around since the 1950s and has seen immense growth. Of course, there continues to be lots of questionable subject matter and game play methods, but there is lots of experimenting going on to expand what games are capable of.
Just like how other mediums had to go through an ‘immature’ phase in the beginning (this appears to be due to the innate sense of play is found in humans and other mammals) Computer Games are going through the same thing. And like other mediums, we can expect Computer Games to be become more “Sophisticated” as its audience demands it.
And when this audience demands this, we will find Computer Games starting to be considered sophisticated enough to be Art.
Now my use of the term ‘Sophisticated’, does not mean complex nor well designed (which the best games are). My definition of ‘Sophisticated’ is that both the viewer and object possesses a shared, cultivated intellectual worldliness.
When both viewer and object possess this, we have Art. To be Art means that there exists an intimate connection between subject and viewer. And this connection only exists if both possess a similar level of maturity.
Great graphics or outstanding game design can be something we all can marvel at. In of themselves, they are rightfully considered to be a form of Art, but that does not mean that the completed Computer Game is Art. The Computer Gaming audience needs to demand that their medium possess the cultivated intellectual worldliness that defines sophistication and Art, and with a few exceptions, this is not happening very much.
To help Computer Game developers and players figure out how to bring their medium to a level of Art I am providing some characteristics to help define what exactly is intellectual worldliness/sophistication/Art:
- Self-Control; a personal restraint that avoids consequences for lack of control.
- Stability; a stable personality that recognizes that relationships are important.
- Independence; an ability to self-regulate oneself and balances the tensions of autonomy, liberty, and collective values.
- Seriousness; an ability to deal with life in a serious manner where death and suffering are treated as real.
- Responsibility; an accountability, commitment, and reliability for one’s own actions with a consequence for not taking responsibility..
- Method/Tact; an ability to be patient, think ahead, and plan for the future, plus a clear consequence for not planning.
- Endurance; an ability and willingness to cope with difficulties that present themselves. (Tends to be well represented in most games, especially grindfests)
- Experience; where breadth of mind and understanding about topics and themes such as politics and relationships gives the player an advantage.
- Objectivity; possessing a perspective and realism that allows one to see and contrast different viewpoints. (Ultima VI did a little of this)
- Ability to Prioritize; knowing how to determine what is necessary at the place and time. (Games tend to do this well)
- Awareness; an ability to understand emotions and subtle issues.
- Maturity; comfort to include topics such as emotions, sexuality, gender, work, purpose, philosophy, politics, history, parody/irony/humor, etc.
For the most part, Computer Games possess few of these traits which is why I agree they are not currently at the sophisticated level of Art we can see in painting, literature, music, etc.
Only when Computer Games possess some to all of these sophisticated qualities and the audience is able to appreciate it, then Computer Games can finally be evaluated as a sophisticated form of Art. Until then, both Computer Game developers and fans needs to carry on the work of pushing the boundaries of the gaming experience.