ART vs. INDUSTRY

or

WHAT DO YOU VALUE IN VIDEOGAMES

Over in the [games we are playing thread](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/2287-the-thread-in-which-we-discuss-the-videogames-we-are-playing-in-the-year-2023/2455) the conversation veered off into discussing the artistic/cultural merit of gaming and what folks look for from the medium of games.

Much of the discussion focused on Nintendo and how the larger gaming industry/fanbase elevates their work as being the best in the medium. Some folks felt Nintendo games are mediocre pop-culture fluff with little to say, produced simply as a crass consumer product. Other folks see their games as well crafted experiences that focus on the game/play aspects of the medium. There was much more nuance and thoughts throughout - this is just a quick summary off the top of my head.

It got me thinking about the medium of games, what I value as far as the nebulous and relative ideas of game-feel, mechanics, systems, narrative and purpose. As well as how games tie into capitalism and what they bring as an artistic medium. I will post my thoughts later.

I play games for a story. Games are an interactive medium, so my caveat is I would prefer it if my games' rulesets and mechanics informed the narrative.

But I also enjoy *Video Games™*. I'll hoot and holler at Libble Rabble.

As for how art intertwines with capitalism, I don't believe I have any profound thoughts there. I may have a unique perspective as I am an artist for a living, but the long and short of it is that it complicates all things. From the creative process itself, to discussions. Some art would not have been made at all if it weren't for capitalism *(Hold on!)*, but that is usually down to the "benevolence" of someone in a suit if they perceive a project to be profitable. That isn't an endorsement, it is an indictment.

i suspect the line is a little blurry - i find that i construct narratives when i‘m playing a more gamey game. my partner and i play chess from time to time, and i usually build a little story in my head about the strategies i’m using. i've found myself doing this in, like, wave race 64 too. and i wonder if the micro-moments of focused play in games like that are, in themselves, small narratives; will i make this jump? will i weave through these obstacles successfully? if i fail, can i recover, and what does that emotional response say about me as a racer?

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@“HyggeState”#p140041 I would prefer it if my games’ rulesets and mechanics informed the narrative.

agreed with this wholeheartedly! not sure if this is quite the same thing, but i think about this with respect to jrpgs a lot, particularly with grinding. i've started to see the repetitive rhythm of battling and leveling up to be an intrinsic part of those games' storytelling and character building mechanisms, so that when games try to do away with grinding, it always feels like something gets lost. (i had this experience very vividly with _chrono cross_, which is a game i absolutely love but sort of don't like.) those mechanics enhance the smaller aspects of its narrative - party cohesion, internal growth - so that the larger parts of the game can actually come across.

The benevolence of someone in a suit, as @HyggeState put it, has just replaced the benevolence of patrons like the house of Medici. Even if artists suffer for their art, we still require “the market” to bring it to our attention, as was the case with Van Gogh. Then, there are those that don’t suffer for their art and do not require benevolence. Those types tend to have parents with Wikipedia pages.

This is to say the question of art and money is unavoidable when it comes to any serious discussion, but it is also a spectrum with different shades. Video games, on the whole, are more colored with money that other forms of art because video games are expensive to make. The question then becomes if we should forgive them for that.

When I started playing video games seriously again, I was very narrative focused and motivated. I just wanted a really good story. As I played more and more games, I realized that I wasn’t getting that part of me fulfilled in the same way as I did when reading books or watching movies. Video games can tell very good stories, but most do so only accidentally.

Now, what I look for most in video games is a unique experience. The best example of this is that Yakuza feeling, the most artful example would be Nier. Hopefully that explains the unique experience. What’s also included in that are games that are just fun and kinda vibey and nice to play for an hour after work sometimes, like Dark Souls.

I should also admit I don’t have a PC so I’m locked out of a lot of games that are more intentional.

In what ways does the commercial value/motivation of a game impact your perception/engagement/enjoyment of a game?

I think this really is a hugely personal thing that can completely matter to one person and not at all matter to another. It seems like broader views on the morality of systems of capital can drive people to think it is wrong in some ways to engage in highly commercial games. I think that tendency is a bit unfortunate, because I feel like the “interesting shapes” within games are worth considering no matter what baggage they’re nested within (with exceptions for what I would call extremes).

At the same time, if games were stripped of any commercial link, I wonder what elements of what is broadly considered ‘QoL’ would fall away, and what would remain. How would the evolution of games look with those pieces being taken out? Would things go in a substantively different direction?

about grinding in jrpgs generally: I‘ve thought a little about this too and to me what they offer is a sense of space and duration, which give the player room just kind of inhabit the game. This is also why I can’t play a jrpg that‘s not menu and preferably turn based; you lose the abstraction so you’re forced to engage with the nonsense. Chasing “realism” rather than abstraction isn‘t often a good move. Like some of these HP and damage numbers: they stop meaning anything once they’re routinely into 4 figures

About mass production and entrenched consumer expectations: one way that's useful to think about this is (I apologize in advance for what I'm about to say) literary criticism. Thinking particularly of Wolgang Iser who had this concept of "culinary" vs "literary" fiction. He didn't mean a distinction between "high" and "low" art, but in the capacity of a work or in this case a game to surprise and the player and keep them on insecure footing, because that way they're active in configuring the work. So "culinary" fiction or video game wouldn't be a bad thing, but it's something familiar and even often very well made that is reliably satisfying. Nothing wrong with that and it's understandable people seek it out, especially when $69.99 is on the line.

"literary" would be something that has rough edges or challenges, and then is ultimately meaningful in a different and novel way. So that I think would be like these odd, cryptic 8 and 16 bit games that we talked about in the other thread, or something maybe more deliberately meant to challenge like _Oiκoςpiel_ for example. Then of course the definition of what's "normal" and easily digestible can shift. It happens now to be the nintendo empire of slime, which is why you see games like _Undertale_ take shape as they do: appreciative of the foundational works but meant to subvert, because that's where "the stuff" is in that case

Its an interesting discussion to continue but I‘m hesitant to participate because of the tone it took. I don’t even disagree with the core of the argument. @yeso @MoH @rejj and some others, I feel, came off as dismissive of the deep thinking others have done about the kinds of games they like. It feels incredibly belittling to me to be told “what you like is unworthy of serious consideration,” no matter how many times it‘s coupled with "it’s ok you like it.“ I've given a lot of serious thought to LoZ, or why some character movement feels fun and I found spending that time personally enriching and enlightening of this hobby I enjoy. When people shared some of their own thinking on these aspects, it was either shot down as a demonstration of the larger issue about media being articulated, or met with a ”but surely that doesn‘t mean it’s any good."

Look, I get that the point is about the industry at large and how the culture around it has ended up idolizing these certain kinds of games/aspects of games (like player/game interface). I'm just saying I'm disinclined to share my insight when it's met like this, and I bet others are too. I'm not accusing anyone of personally insulting me or anyone else, and of course it's always fine to express that Nintendo games are bad, but I do think we could do better at conducting a more inviting and nuanced conversation than we have been.

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@“RubySunrise”#p140060 “what you like is unworthy of serious consideration,” no matter how many times it’s coupled with “it’s ok you like it.”

I was saying this because I believe it (the it's ok part), not because I'm trying to inoculate myself against being a mean guy or whatever. There's a difference between the idiosyncratic, personal reasons people have for "liking" something and outsize, unreasoned claims that those things are "important." Those claims of "importance" aren't coming from people here and I think it was clear that that's where I was aiming.

I’m sorry to hear I came across that way, that wasn’t my intention at all. I think that opposing views and pushback are necessary for any sort of deep thinking to be done, but I also realize that a friendly forum might not be the best place to achieve that.

I hope it’s accepted as sincere that I would be genuinely interested in what you (or anyone) has to say. Sometimes bantz and pithiness can make good faith talkin seem like bad faith arguments, so I appreciate your honesty it calling me out there.

I want to spend more time than I have with a more thoughtful reply, but I at least can start with this:

This thread is already an improvement, and I thank @tomjonjon for pivoting to approach the topic with transparent curiosity.

I'm afraid to keep relitigating yesterday's discussion because it just doesn't seem all that important when this thread exists and I don't want to turn this thread into a debrief.

Thank you for clarifying and listening @"MoH"#p140063 @"yeso"#p140062.

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@“RubySunrise”#p140060 met with a “but surely that doesn’t mean it’s any good.”

As I read through the discussion in the other thread I found this point interesting and a bit of a bummer as I felt like I could see the lines missing each other and people getting spurned. There was some communication not meeting around what was the “good/bad” scale being considered. My ultimate understanding was that it came down to a difference in the value of mechanics that do not serve some other expression of meaning or idea within the game. E.g. fluid character control.

I understand you (and others, me included) to be valuing those feelings inspired by something that could be described strictly as a piece of technology. The satisfaction of playing with a well made one of those metal puzzles. The object may be communicating very little, but the shape our mind takes as it engages with it is the actual object of interest. The other side seemed to express that there is a big missed opportunity to “do something more” in conveying an idea _via_ that metal puzzle, and only by attaining that does it meet the other bar of value.

This becomes then doubly challenging because the thing being valued by the first party is explicitly an internal state inspired by the game’s mechanics, not the mechanic itself - although that becomes the shorthand in discussing. Any statement that says something akin to “yeah but there should be more” absolutely will be heard as a delegitimizing of the internal experience being valued. Fold on top of that the way this whole discussion gets muddied when either party mis maps what is being valued - the smoothness of control itself or the mental state created by said controls.

I started by saying I found the topic interesting - what I mean here is that the question of “what kinds of mental shapes are worth valuing” is interesting for me to consider, specifically as a means of considering what “shapes” I haven’t yet explored. I do think it is incorrect for any person to lay claim that the mental experiences valued by one person or a population are “not actually good”, but can appreciate that there is a reasonable question of “what other mental shapes are being left aside by continually refining those of a certain type?”

Communication is challenging, not sure what I said here is helpful for anyone else’s thinking.

Mod voice:

One of the challenges of moderating is we don't often call out the exemplary behavior as we do when we need to step in and stop the unproductive behavior.

I'd like to specifically call out @"RubySunrise"#864 for being brave about posting how she is feeling and why. I'd also like to call out @"MoH"#1454 and @"yeso"#385 for responding with additional detail about where they were both coming from and apologizing and learning from the situation.

Great work. I'm personally glad each of you are on this forum.

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@“MDS-02”#p140066 not sure what I said here is helpful for anyone else’s thinking.

it is! I think you're articulating what I was trying to say with a lucidity I couldn't manage. Yeah, basically my concern isn't that individual people have an experience that differs from my own, but that the over-representation of the nintendo format and attendant economics/incentives are limiting.

@"antillese"#p140067 thank you, and while I join in your praise for @RubySunrise and @MoH, let the record show that technically I did not apologize or learn anything

:people_hugging:

on topic of discussion--video games (at least in the sphere we inhabit) are most commonly compared to other forms of art like books and movies. other times, they're compared to sports like baseball or chess. both are certainly valid.

as i'm looking out my window pondering @MDS-02 's post, i wonder what the conversation would look like if we grouped video games with something else entirely, like camping or woodcarving. these are simply two examples. when you camp, you are likely enjoying something made for you, meaning both hiking trails and camp sites. it still requires your input, and you still make your own narrative, but you are still partaking in a curated version of the world. likewise, when woodcarving, people tend to follow established project blueprints and best practices, but the end result is entirely their own. both of these activities also add meaning and fulfillment to your life in ways other things cannot. i then wonder if camping and woodcarving could be considered art, or if they would be better classified as technique. can one exist without the other? is there even a difference?

i don't know. at the very least, i hope this silly line of thought dispels the belief i have any pretensions about myself.

When you zoom out, everyone on the planet is immature widdle babies. ego is the microscopic distance between comparisons of individuals. the philosophical wisdom of a japanese elder being aware of this is part of the angle taken by miyazaki movies and nintendo games.

when I read these yeso-centric discussions, immediately I'm hopping to societal issues and the human condition in my replies. I've trashed so many drafted replies.

I think it's difficult to understand the argument because there doesn't seem to be any core issue, except that from yeso's perspective they can't understand why one would give nintendo games any prominence when from their perspective they are always directed at children. the fallacy there is pretty clear. it's all a matter of perspective and depending on yours, you could see things from numerous angles. if I am poking at yeso's breakdown then I'd say that the fallacy there is anyone giving prominence to nintendo games just isn't the type of mature you've laid out here. so the big names in gaming media are baby man children. the media is full of children in adult's clothing, problem solved! yeso, you can now sleep soundly at night. [our world is deeply corrupted.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl3H4vMqYNo&pp=ygUtaW4gYSBwZXJmZWN0IHdvcmxkIG1lbiBsaWtlIG1lIHdvdWxkbid0IGV4aXN0)

When I play Nintendo games nowadays, if they’re from the “beforetimes” before Nintendo starting censoring player input names to disallow curse words, I always name myself fuck. Usually in a Zelda game. In this sense, these were the last adult-friendly Nintendo games.

Talking about Nintendo specifically, I think a major aspect of @yeso‘s antipathy here is the aesthetics of their games. I mean, I love Mario Odyssey, but it looks like a children’s cartoon. And not just a children‘s cartoon, but one directed at pre-schoolers. So there’s a disconnect there between the mechanics that encourage dexterity and some lateral thinking, and the aesthetics which are suited for a baby game. I can ignore that and enjoy jumping around as Mario because it feels interesting to do, in the same way that I like moving my own body around to do stuff or watching people use their body to play sports, but then you take a step back and what is actually happening on–screen is you‘re fighting a giant cartoon bunny while a smaller bunny offers you friendly tips. Which, when you’re 59 years old like yeso is, feels demeaning and a little stupid.

The answer is not, of course, that Mario needs to be a bloody or mature game. I mean, @saddleblasters mentioned Katamari Damacy, also has a cartoon-adjacent artstyle, but it's a far cry from Youtube Kids baby stuff. It has a bit more of a unique, personal style with some rough edges, whereas Mario stuff looks completely lifeless.

On a different topic, I think making wider comparisons, like @MoH to woodworking and camping, or @TracyDMcGrath to chess or baseball, is the key to expanding the possibilities of games. I still watch people competitively play _Starcraft II_ and _Brood War_, which are games that came out decades ago, Those games are a lot more akin to something like Chess, to the point where the fact that they have narrative campaigns and aesthetics at all feels almost strange to me. I mean, I understand enjoying the single-player aspects in the same way as people enjoy Chess puzzles, but I don't think those games need a story at all.

Different formats of video games are analogous to completely different arts or crafts or activities. Which is fascinating and why it's interesting at all to talk about them. And I think, not to put words in his mouth, this is partially why @yeso is annoyed with the critical consensus around Nintendo games as the standard in a medium where god damn _anything_ is possible. Movie-like games, literature-like games, woodworking-like games, _Strand-type games!_

is the assertion that nintendo makes games for children and teens, and that this may limit their resonance with adults really controversial? I mean really? I know I talked about it in a facetious way at times yesterday (an attempt at humor, take my word for it or not) but what's the problem?

@“yeso”#p140084 i don‘t think so it’s controversial in that i agree with you. i also like nintendo games.

one of the bookstores i used to work at had a pretty big and renowned children's section. working there taught me that making things aimed toward children is not mutually exclusive with being good, meaningful, or artful. some of the children's authors and illustrators i met put great care and attention into their craft, with their hurdles being not unlike those of adult authors, sometimes even greater. a lot of children's books out there do not cut the quality mustard of course, but the same can be for most things with an adult audience. the danger, challenge, and subjectivity in all cases in discernment. as is a balanced diet.

i'm not saying anyone here is arguing against what i'm saying, it's just a thought that comes to mind based on an experience i had in my own life.

this has been and will continue to be a very cool conversation to participate in. i think nintendo is the most minor part of it.

I‘ll posit that anytime anyone (an individual or a corporation) tries to do anything that includes both kids and adults - like Nintendo is clearly trying to do here - it’s a situation where you kind of have to reduce to the least common denominator. Kids and adults can‘t generally do a lot of things anywhere close to the same skill level. If I play baseball with my kids, I’m not “playing baseball” in any recognizable way other than the fact we are both throwing, catching, hitting, and running in roughly the same proportions.

I genuinely think that Nintendo intends to design _Mario Wonder_ to be fun for both the under-15 crowd, and the 45-year-old crowd who has been literally playing Mario games for nearly 40 years now. Whether or not you think that's a cynical marketing position is perhaps the core of the issue. But families want to do things together, and those games are family fun in a way that many other games are simply not. And when I play them by myself, I enjoy them on a totally different level than with my kids.