Video Games, Art, and Objective Standards – Preliminary Objections (2)

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!

Pictured: ART.

Pictured: ART.

What you are doing here is totally missing the point of both games and art. We remember those games because of what they meant to us, and we remember others’ responses to those games, because it meant something to them.

Remembrance alone can’t possibly be a good barometer for the success of said games. How does one quantify said meaning? Anything could mean anything to anyone. Twilight, Larry the Cable Guy, and Raphael certainly deserve consideration as equals, surely? Urinals should give someone in the world an emotional reaction! Each one has created memories in those people, and some derive meaning from their works. Larry the Cable Guy’s ironic nihilism towards Southerners strike me as quite meaningful. Twilight’s Mormon commentary on the need for chastity and the dangers of sexual promiscuity rings a note throughout history – it is merely one in a long line of humanity’s greatest works. I have no means by which to criticize such sentiments, no tools of understanding. Art becomes the domain of all who have the basic cognizance to label something as such.

We live in a time where low culture becomes high culture, where “things I like” almost directly becomes “art”. That is certainly NOT how the process should work, yet it does. If remembrance of games and our subjective response becomes the standard, why bother giving the things labels? Nearly anything on earth that has been created by humankind can offer that same sort of meaning and experience if I declare it as such.

And, let’s be honest with ourselves: not a single game has, nor may it ever, reach the heights of civilization’s greatest works. Why would you rather play Braid than read Shakespeare, for example? Is there even a smidgen of real comparison? I suppose you could say they are different mediums, but we don’t even have the time or perspective neccessary to understand games as art, let alone distinguish between “throwaway” and “meaningful”!

Even classic works are known not merely because of their brilliance but because of the impact they had on those around them. this is self-evident.

Self-evidence is very difficult to prove, in any case. Even though it appear self-evident, for example, that there exist a sensate world outside of my mind, that’s not necessarily a guarantee of its existence. Like David Hume said, we cannot actually detect gravity and causation; rather, we’re merely perceiving correlation and regularity. Sense experience is not reliable, and far be it from us to say that it is. Causation and correlation are entirely different things. That something made an impact on someone doesn’t make it artistic by nature of an emotional response; anything could provide that same experience. Whatever proved overwhelmingly popular or unpopular at any particular time in history may not stand the test of time, but some may. In addition, this would, again, render works of art a casualty of time and chance, not a genuine insight into human nature. That would render “art” as “the winners of history”, rather than things genuinely meaningful or important per se.

What is good art? All of it! Because it is an act of creation, a work that responds to our inherent need to create. Some works are less good than others, but they are all good, and personally I am glad that such a wide range of games are allowed to exist without having to hold them all up to the same standard. The art world in general understands this as well.

This is overly broad. If art is “good” by definition, that’s completely redundant. Then art = good, and what’s the purpose of the word then? It’s inherently meaningless. Let’s just say “this is good” and leave it at that. But then, what is good? Once again, we’ve reached the point of explanation without an answer. And how do we know something is “good” or “less good”, than other art? What standard do we have to base that opinion?

I am glad there are a wide range of artistic works, surely, but I think we should be careful to make broad statements like this. Intact dilation and extraction is a fascinating procedure, isn’t it? In it, a doctor uses various chemicals to widen the lens of the womb over a period of days. Then, at the proper time, the doctor uses forceps to extract the legs of the fetus out of the womb, and then basically tear the whole thing apart. To make sure no residue remains, it requires a great deal of work. Now, we might say, is this an act of creation?

Yes, in its own way; abortion, and the various devices that allows its possibility, show a wonderful degree of human ingenuity and craftsmanship. It speaks to our inner need to create devices which hold meaning and purpose. Perhaps my reaction is, at best, entirely negative. I may consider abortion a sin of the highest order and this example a distasteful argument, but I can’t help but recognize that the human imagination at work – even unto its darkest projects. Abortion’s an art, from some subjective perspective. As are the designs of guns, implements of death, war’s bloody canvass, etc.

Here is yet another juncture for standards. We don’t even have to judge them by the same standard; we could have them by genre, by type, etc. There are certainly some games that perform the exact same task better than others, correct? Than why not, at the very least, categorize such games, see what works and does not work, and evaluate them on their merits rather than a subjective emotional response? This would become much more helpful to the community at large.

I wasn’t defining art, I was describing it. So subjective experience does not = art.

But that’s somewhat confusing, as it seems art was defined as a presupposition in many of the above. Obviously, any discussion of a word means we know what that word IS; otherwise, I could use another word to describe said thing. If art is partly one’s subjective response, but it’s also an objective thing in itself…that’s a logical contradiction. You can’t have your cake and eat it too; it is either objective or subjective. That we can only “describe” art and not know what it is makes “art” an ambiguous metaphysical object that I react to in a particular subjective way. Unfortunately, if it’s truly objective, then it’s perceptible to everyone; if it’s truly subjective, then everyone will see something different. Obviously, that’s not the case. Humanity created the term “art” and has defined it by identifying it.

The Bible is an inspired word of God, and so obviously it has intended and objective meanings and standards. Games are not that.

Again, taking the objecitivy of the world through Scripture seriously, this seems a passable objection. If we live in a world of objective morals standards, it makes no sense why something else would become subjective by lieu of wishful thinking.

The end result of these objections amounts to contradictions. If Christian believe in a God who sets an objective standard in place, surely we have enough faith in our creative abilities to both create, experience, and evaluate those works? To force subjectivity upon us at so early a juncture prevents human intellectual enterprise – you have stopped the questions before they have begun. Yet we find in Isaiah 40 that God does not stop our pursuits so easily:

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Any intellectual conundrum deserves constant reflection, rather than a de facto authority telling us that subjectivity and equality overtake all discussion of art. And I find it both comforting and encouraging that our God exists in this state. For, as we are created in His image, we desire knowledge and a desire to create; it is natural that the two meet.

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.