Video Games, Art, and Objective Standards – Conclusions

Video Games, Art, and Objective Standards is an exhaustive look at video games, the ambiguities of art, and how they come to rest on objective standards – though maybe not in the way you were thinking. This series intends to show video games are a unique medium that deserves a special criteria and methodological examination. This is part and parcel of my theology as well. I invite you to leave comments on any section below!

If video games are not art, then they are something better.

– Richard Terrell, Critical Gaming Network

From an exclusivist view on any side, video games are misrepresented in both their content and their essential elements. The idea of video games as “an experience” solves the problems of both sides. Instead of isolation, narratives and rules exist in collaboration to create a unique “experience” within a particular work, both with the artistic intent of the developers and the reception of the players.

If one is emphasized over the other, inevitably problems emerge; however, if each finds use within its own particular video game context where relevant, then higher criticism and evaluation of games as “art” and discovering those “experiences” becomes a joy and a pleasure. Rather than creating artistic classism, video games as a relatively new medium can find their foothold as a novel form of expression operating under rules that create “an experience” in the players and developers.

One speaks here, however, with a cautious optimism; has any video game, thus far, created “an experience” that rivals the socially transformative effects of great literature or film? Do any video games create an “an experience” in the way that a superlative game of chess between two experts can provide? It is difficult to assess, given video games provoke entirely different reactions and experience from players, as well as the relative infancy of the medium. We don’t know their potential, nor do we obtain a rigorous categorization of these intensely complex things.

As for now, this analysis of video games from an experiential aesthetic remains a preliminary theoretical construct that has not found full application for the most part. Regardless, its groundwork should be a fruitful place for the general public and game studies scholarship alike to begin in their study of video games.

Electronic interaction, media, and social environments are created at a rapid pace in modern culture; to not integrate video games into the realm of “real” experience does not speak to the digitized realms and qualities of the modern era.

So do we arrive where we started. We have developed a theoretical framework by which to judge games as an art form (if not something greater), willing to stand up to institutionalized forms of criticism while analyzing games from the unique intersection of the game and the player through interaction, the foundational principle of any successful venture into this medium.

Like the Bible, we do not speak of some vague notions of experience or ideas, but a concrete document that we can analyze as a community. Obviously, we will share our analysis, expose it to rigorous criticism, and then adopt further critique. This will not only help us to understand video games as they exist now, but also to improve them in the future.

The current state of games journalism and criticism, whether by laypeople or academics in their field of study, remains woefully inadequate to the task. Several writers provide me with hope, however, that true game analysis can arise.

Richard Terrell’s Critical Gaming Network, as my first example, contains a wealth of theoretical data on the subject of games as games, specifically developing a critical vocabulary by which to discuss them. Exhaustive in its breadth and scope with a focus on interactivity, the glossary alone suffices to make one gasp at the enormity of it all, to realize what we do not know and how we can define accurately that seeming ineffable set of qualities that separates a “great” game from a merely good one. I myself haven’t begun to plumb Terrell’s site, and I hope to dig further in the future.

I also find encouragement in Daniel Johnson’s blog Daniel Primed. His writing, derived in part from Terrell’s vocabulary, focuses on specific games in long-form analysis of their constituent parts. He gives evidence for his claims throughout his essays, and it’s difficult to disagree with that level of dedication. I implore you to take a cursory glance at his new book Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4 as an expression of “game analysis”.

I would hope, someday, that video games might become a tool for Christians to both expand their theological horizons and to express the wonder of the Christian Gospel. Christian art, and more culturally significant works, emerged out of a Christian culture; how much more could people filled with the Holy Spirit invest wholly and utterly into the potential of games, and video games in particular?

Let us hope they will transcend traditional modes of art and literature and become something more, perhaps a vital companion to the work of Scripture.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Hey Zachery,

    Thanks for acknowledging the work that Richard and I are doing. The two of us are currently hold a weekly game design discussion group that you might be interested in. If so, just let me know. This is the first time I’ve come across your site, so I’ll do a bit of reading, I think.

    All the best,
    Daniel

    • Zachery Oliver

      Ah, no problem! I am always looking for interesting video game writing, and people are apparently taking up the mantle. I find both your work rather exhausting, in a good way, so I figured I’d purchase your book and read it over the Christmas break.

      My primary focus is Christian theology, of course, but the site tends to revolve around issues of game design and mechanics in my writing. I find the longer that I am writing about video games. the more I must get technical about it.

      I’m still not sure about that “half-real” thing though.

      • Thanks. I hope that you enjoy the book. What aren’t you sure about with “half-real”?

        • Zachery Oliver

          I quite understand the concept, and Juul’s way of handling it as a basis for his theorizing. I just don’t think “half-real” is very clear at all. Others can explain this much better than I, I’m sure: http://insomnia.ac/commentary/the_simulacrum_is_true/