Tag Archives: art

Indiecade review and highlights

That’s it, Indiecade is over. This is my second conference ever, the first one was GDC earlier this year. A comparison feels apropos.

First of all, the average quality of the speakers at Indiecade does not quite match the incredibly high standards of GDC. But the mood is a different thing entirely. The mood at Indiecade was all about fun. It’s a lot more relaxed. There are much, much fewer people and they seem to be here much more to be here and a lot less because their profession or obligations dictate that they should. Not to say that GDC wasn’t fun and interesting, but the overall “vibe” was more directed, focused. People came to accomplish something and did it. Indiecade was about trying, wandering, discovering, not knowing what to expect.

At GDC, I carefully planned where I wanted to go. At Indiecade, I let myself follow some sort of flow. Some things seemed utterly pointless while some were nothing short of astonishing. There were astonishing things at GDC as well, of course, but the difference was that at Indiecade, the astonishment came without warning, at any time, in any context. Be it about games, technology, general information or just who happened to be in the audience at the time.

Gorogoa, by Jason Roberts

The first wow moment of Indiecade for me was the incredible Gorogoa. It’s a graphical adventure with a mechanic like no other. The innovative nature of its gameplay leaves Loom in the dust. It’s beautiful, moving, fascinating, engaging, surprising and a lot of other good things. It’s, on the other hand, not close to finish and, at the time of writing, quite a bit buggy. The goal of Gorogoa is, apparently, to help a young boy defeat a monster that’s ravaging a city. In order to do this, the boy seems to want to collect color-coded MacGuffins. Nothing too original so far. What makes the game magical is that rather than control a character or his environment, the sets in the game are made of Photoshop or animation cell-like layers and the player gets to re-arrange them to reshape the world, changing the meaning of each shape as it shifts contexts and the meaning of the resulting image. The graphical style of the game is like a nineteenth century engraving, delicate, detailed, organic and understated. It’s a work that could only exist in its medium and that pushes the limits of what I, for one, would have considered within the realm of a single person’s imagination.

Still, I find Gorogoa somehow reminiscent of the experimental works of the French comic book artist, Marc-Antoine Matthieu. Particularly his Julius-Corentin Acquefacques, prisonnier des rêves series as well as his stand-along comic Le Dessin.

Renga, by Wallfour

On Saturday night, I saw a hundred people play Renga by Wallfour. Wallfour, with Renga, has solved what I believe to be a huge problem with many users sending input to a single screen in a way that’s easy to understand: they used laser pointers. A hundred people joined forces to interact with a single using nothing other than laser pointers. The whole experience was fun and riveting. They used a perfect mix of technology and, of all things, stage know-how and dramatic structure.

Super Hexagon, by Terry Cavanagh

Everyone at Indiecade seemed to be playing Super Hexagon, an extremely simple game that got me hooked even though I’m still not sure why. The gameplay is ridiculously simple but irresistibly engaging.

Prom Week screenshotProm Week and more

The final highlight I want to address here is a project that I believe has a huge future in entertainment in many ways: Prom Week. It was not, however, a surprise because I had tried it before. What was a hugh surprise was that I got to meet Aaron Reed, author of what is probably the most remarkable work of interactive fiction in existence so far, Blue Lacuna. There’s a saying: “don’t meet your heroes.” The meaning is supposed to be, “they’ll never live up to your expectations.” In this case it meant, “He will well beyond your wildest expectations and you’ll make a complete fool of yourself in front of him. Or feel like you did.”

Prom Week has a new interface, which is a huge improvement on the old release. I got to speak with Prom Week team member Ben Samuel whose enthusiasm was infectious. He told me a bit about the engine. I still have high hopes for their engine Comme Il Faut, even though, apparently, it is not available for independent distribution quite yet.

Sill, my main takeaway from Indiecade was to have actually met the author of Blue Lacuna, which, to my great shame, I haven’t finished yet. I should really get done with that.

Are Video Games Art? (part 1)

This question is asked more and more around me. Whether or not video games are art is a point often brought up in both Yahtzee Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation and the excellent video column from the same site, Extra Credits. I had no clear intention to actually give a final answer to this question when I began this first post. At first, I just wanted to take the question apart to, as it were, see what it is made of. After doing that I did come to the answer: “Are video games are? Definitely maybe. Or perhaps certainly probably. It depends.”

Before we go any further, I really need to point out that I am not an artist. I don’t create art. I am not an art expert; I am not an art dealer. I’m just somehow interested and curious about the matter. Any inaccuracy one may find in this post will be welcome, as long as it is somehow constructive.

Art and entertainment

So, before jumping to conclusions, let’s carefully consider the question. It reminds me, first of all, of a line in Federico Fellini’s , when, running after the main character, movie director Guido Anselmi, played by Marcello Mastroianni, a critic asks, “Is cinema art or entertainment?” My first reaction to that question is: how is art not entertainment.

That last question may seem rhetorical in tone. I really don’t mean it that way. I ask it that way as sneaky entrapment to those who like to accuse someone asking this of being philistine by bringing up the very possibility that art and entertainment are the exact same thing. Phrased differently, “How is art not entertainment” could mean, “Art is just a form of entertainment.” Some would pounce on that sentence to accuse the one saying it (in this case me) of being a philistine. If that is what you thought, I’m on to you.*

What I really meant was, “In what way is art not entertainment?” There is a part of entertainment in art. People are willing to pay to enjoy it. Some pay to own works of art, but if you pay to go to a museum, or to go to the symphony or to a rock concert, chances are that one of the many roles of that act is to relieve you of some amount of boredom. That is one way to define entertainment. I’m not denying that art is much more than that. I’m actually stating it outright: art is much more than that. But some works of art, particularly works of art that are structured around a narrative, certainly comprise elements of both.

A designer friend of mine once asked me, “Do you know what the difference is between art and design.” I gave the correct answer without an instant of hesitation: “No, I don’t know.” He told me it was that design adds an aesthetic to something that already has a practical purpose and that art has no reason to be other than itself. For example, if your computer is beautiful and sleek, it’s design. If you keep it on a shelf long after it’s become obsolete because it’s just so beautiful, it’s art. (I have an Mac G4 cube I keep that way.) Another example, if a urinal is well designed, it has a simple aesthetic that doesn’t clash with its purpose. If a urinal is in a museum under the name, “Fountain,” chances are it would be in bad taste to actually go ahead and use it.

Why do I bring that up? In part because according to the definition I just gave, design and art are exclusive from one another. Even if they use the same techniques and tools, one cannot be both one and the other. Note that this definition is not absolute. You may choose to consider that design is subsection of art, but that wouldn’t really change much: there would still be a dichotomy, just not the same one. In that case, some works of art would clearly be in the subsection “design” and some would not.

When it comes to art and entertainment, I would argue that there is, on the contrary, a gigantic overlap. If one takes films like the aforementioned or Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, there will be, I hope, little objection to their being called works of art. So here, I’m asking: is their artistic aspect and their entertainment aspect parallel? Or are the two different aspects of one thing? Or, if I were to put in a corny, proverbial way, two sides of one coin?

Not a definition of art

So, are video games art? If any of you at this stage are thinking, “Wait a second, you’ve given examples of works of art, and you’ve defined design and entertainment but not art! You sneaky weasel! Why have you not defined art yet?” Then, I defer to your good judgement. I don’t think that any definition of art can be made both wide enough to accommodate all instances of art in the world and at the same time narrow enough to actually keep any sort of relevance.

So where does this leave me? This time I’ll defer to Freud and psychoanalysis in general, where one of the main elements that contribute to classifying a neurosis as pathological is its lack of social acceptability. If you are particularly vain and insecure, it may be a form of neurosis, but it may not be pathological. If you have a strong compulsion to take off all of your clothes in all of public places, it is.

The aspect of that definition that relies on context fits my point about art. What art is, too, depends on context. Would Andy Warhol’s cans of soup have been art in the nineteenth century? How about during the Italian fifteenth century renaissance? Let’s take another example and say that Kazimir Malevich‘s Black Square fell in a time machine and fall into fifteenth century Italy then someone finds  the painting and claims it as his own. Would his contemporaries be impressed? Would they consider it art? It’s unlikely that it would have been considered so outside of its context. This is an example — however crude may it be — of how art is dependent on context and on social acceptance. In some cases, art may even depend on social rejection. When Duchamp made a urinal into a work of art in 1917, part of artistic gesture was that it was scandalous. Nowadays, scandal is in many ways integrated into the concept of artistic merit. When an artist tries to be scandalous, we consider that it’s part of what artist are and we let it to the more conservative groups to be offended by saying that any deviation from the most conventional definition of how one should lead one’s life in “not art.” In any of those cases, the constant is a strong link to a social context.