Time.

Michaël Samyn, November 2, 2012

I’m starting to believe that some critics from outside of the game industry were onto something when they intuited that videogames couldn’t really be art because of their interactivity. They felt that a certain passivity was required for that special art effect to take place. From experience, I cannot but confirm this. But this passivity doesn’t exclude interactivity as such. What we really need is time.

I have never felt that deeply moving aesthetic joy by casually passing by a work of art hanging on the wall. Or by listening to a piece of music while engaged in another absorbing activity. I need to calm down, slow down, take my time and concentrate. Only then does the art work release its magic.

There’s a lot of moments in Bientôt l’été when nothing happens. You’re just walking. Or sometimes just standing or sitting. But during this time of physical passivity, I feel my brain and heart working. They are exploring the work and being absorbed by it, in a manner that does not happen while being active, but that does linger for quite a while after the moment of passivity.

The problem of the outside critics is not that the interactivity as such is preventing them from being moved by the videogame. It’s that the design of the game does not allow them any time to take it all in, to process what is happening, to stretch out their emotional antennas and sense the atmosphere. This is especially problematic for people who are not used to playing games, for whom even the simplest controls require attention.

To some extent, this is a design mistake. At least in so far as the designer was hoping to provoke this deep artistic pleasure. There is an explicit assumption in the game community that the art effect of a game should be generated by the interactivity, by the game design, by the active engagement with the game’s mechanics and rule sets. Maybe this works for very experienced players. Probably because, through their high skill level, the engagement with the mechanical level does not require all their concentration.

A lot of the joy that art gives me comes from observing my own reactions to the piece. To wonder about why I feel this way or that when looking or listening to this or that, I need time. Time when I do nothing. Time to allow the emotions and thoughts to grow and wash over me, like the waves on a beach.

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