Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TEDx USC: Kellee Santiago and Videogames as a Potentially Sophisticated Artform

Kellee Santiago is the co-founder of thatgamecompany and former Interactive Media graduate student at USC. Her excellent talk centered on the old debate of whether videogames are Art, or at least, can be Art. She showcased a few examples, including a game where the player gets to be the cult leader Dave Coresh, as well as her company's new downloadable PS3 game, Flower, where the player is the wind blowing flower petals over grassy hills. (Nice!)

I'm not sure she entirely made her point though I agree with it. Yes, videogames CAN be Art. Yes, we could be at the early stages of the Art form like we were with cave paintings or early live action shots of film. But I believe Truely artful games are a rarity still not because the medium is primitive. It's because most Game Designers are not truly great. In fact, most get their jobs by starting out as game testers who play the particular games being produced over and over again. This would be like Chefs becoming chefs by eating a particular food over and over. Granted, well acclaimed animation directors at Pixar DO watch old classics over and over, but a large breadth of them, not just the ones they worked on previously. And granted, there are IMHO some truly great Game Designers out there or now part of History. Will Wright, Peter Molyneaux, Shigeru Miyamoto, Keita Takahashi, Richard Garriott, Dani Bunten Berry, Sid Meier many more I don't know about, and perhaps the folks at thatgamecompany will be among them too.

One thought I had while watching: Is an edited screen capture of a game still a game? Or is it a form of cinema? (Indeed, there exists a spin-off artform based on videogame engines called Machinima, with its props, sets and actors based on game art but its grammar based on film conventions.)

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posted by Brian at 3:38 PM


Blogger Keith said...

I was in the audiences of Kellee Santiago's speech and your post confirms my worst fears. Kellee chose to dismiss the entire history up to her as "cave paintings." After the talk she confirmed there really was no art in games prior to Braid, Flow and Flower. She admitted there were "crude attempts" but nothing real.

Whether or not something is art is subject to debate and by definition, a subjective determination. However, had she referenced the original discussion with Clive Barker from which she extracted her thesis, she would have found many references to games which were in fact art and a definition more apropos than the one found on Wikipedia.

My fear was that people outside the business would believe what she said. Now, I read your post where you feel you can write off game designers. I don't want to assume you are outside the business, but that statement certainly makes it look like you are.

Please don't throw stones at my business until you take the time to learn how it works. And please give my business more respect than to think one semi articulate, wikipedia quoting discussion from a zealous young "artist" gives you license to do so.

March 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Hi Keith,

I appreciate your comments. I am sorry you believe my post was somehow "throwing stones at your business" or naively encouraging some unsatisfactory definition of gaming from Wikipedia (which we both know is only as only as good as its contributors).

Quite the opposite, I have been a fan and follower of the industry and Art of videogames most of my life, starting with Apple II and Atari games, arcade games, platform, portable. The early days of Activision, as far as i know the first 3rd party console gaming company, of EA, of Broderbund and Sierra. I've always been interested in the artistry of the individuals who make great games something much more apparent, in my opinion, with earlier game companies. My heroes are the ones who think in terms of gameplay, design, and engineering -- not necessarily tie ratios and marketing demographics.

While I'm not currently involved in the gaming industry, I have worked in visual FX and many folks close to me have told me both the thrills and the horrors of working in it. It with these perspectives I write -- both praising and criticizing the Art and industry we call Videogames.

In this case, I criticized Santiago's speech for not making the case well that there ARE great examples of Artful Videogames preceding hers. I certainly agree with you there are. Likewise, I stand by my statements about most game designers not being great. There are quite a few really good ones, but a lot more mediocre at best. The gaming industry as a whole would do well to foster more creativity like Nintendo does (smaller teams, interdisciplinary training), if Art is the goal. (Whether that's good for business is another matter.)

Anyways, I am subscribing to your blog now and enjoy your perspective.

March 31, 2009  

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