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<  Design concepts  ~  Games are Not Rules (etc.)

rinku
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 9:55 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
Hi guys! This is in reply to: https://www2.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8701199&postID=8865369120368327309

Okays, you asked "So it's a historical oversight that chess, soccer and poker are not in the Louvre?"

The easiest way to reply to that is: is Brothers Karamazov in the Louvre? The Louvre is an art gallery museum, it's designed for visual art, so why would games or novels or even music be a part of it? Most of what that museum holds are paintings and sculpture. Of course games are not paintings or sculpture.

As for the more general question of why I consider poker, soccer, chess etc. to be art, I can't really find a good summary entry in my LiveJournal I could point you to, so I'll write a quick summary here, but keep in mind this is quick, and I've thought about it much more than I can indicate here:

- Art's role is epistemological, and related to how our mind works in concepts (universals/abstractions). Something seen as beautiful or artistic is seen as such because it's a concrete expression of something universal, a particular standing in for and making coherent all particulars.

- Art is when someone creates something concrete which embodies or represents or makes clear something universal, and as such it plays a crucial epistemological role, as such art's a tool only possible to beings which can think conceptually. Art is the inverse of philosophy: philosophy seeks to explain the particular in terms of the universal, art expresses the universal in terms of the particular. Both play complementary roles.

- For clarity, the way I'm using the term art isn't the same as "good art" which it's usually used as, for purposes of this summary all art is art, no matter how bad; Harry Potter and Weird Al Yankovic are just as much art as Shakespeare and Mozart, just at a lower or cruder level, dealing with less abstract universals, but still dealing with universals.

- The different forms of art vary in medium. Drawings and paintings and sculpture can express universals visually; stories and poetry can express them in terms of language, music in terms of sound and rhythm, and so on. The medium of games is not "rules" exactly, but mathematics. Just as our brains have special areas for vision, hearing, and language, it has a special area for mathematics, and mathematical universals are those that games focus on. For instance, chess focuses on geometrical universals, orthogonal and diagonal movement in a 2D plane; to play chess is to better appreciate certain aspects of those universals, just as to read Aesop's fables is to better appreciate certain aspects of human morality.

Again, just a quick summary, one day I'll write something more streamlined.
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Michael
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 11:05 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Thank you for clarifying that. Your reference to literature and music is to the point. But my reference to the Louvre was not be taken literally. What I meant was that, while the work of Dostoevsky and Mozart is generally regarded as "art", chess, poker and soccer are not.

It also strikes me now that, unlike those artworks, those games do not have authors. But that may be because of their age. There are many ancient artefacts that are regarded as artworks even though we do not know the name of the author. Then again, we do not doubt for a second that there was an author. We just don't know his name. As far as I know, the games you mention do not have authors. If this is correct, perhaps they are more similar to folk tales than to art. Folk tales also deal with the universal issues that you talk about, but they are generally not considered to be artistic. Unless a specific author creates a specific version of them.

It seems to me that you are using a linguistic trick when you connect the universality of mathematics with the universality of the subject matter of art. Art is about human life, no matter how universal it is. Mathematics is a tool that may help us understand some aspects of life, but it is by no means on the same level of depth and meaning as things like god, love, compassion, and all the other "universal" themes that art is about.

Anyway, let's not get sidetracked in a universal discussion here.

This was about the expressiveness of gameplay, wasn't it?
I want to summarize my thought about this in a blog post soon because our stance in casu has been one of the controversial points in our Realtime Art Manifesto and because I think The Marriage proves our point, without intending to do so.

To summarize, we basically follow Chris Crawford on this issue. We agree with him that interactivity is the essential unique element of computers and that therefore it should be at the core of any artworks made with this technology. We also agree with him that games are far too limited to achieve any kind of serious expressiveness ("too little verbs"), that we need to have the courage to step out of the game format and deal with interactivity in a much more raw form, closer to the CPU so the speak. In the case of Mr. Crawford, these ideas lead him to the creation of a new form for literature. Storytron is all about rules, but they are grammatical rules and behaviour rules, not game rules. Whether it will lead to interesting art works remains to be seen, but the potential is definitely there.

Games, in their most strict definition, on the other hand, do not have this potential, in my opinion. The rules of games are, by definition, too strict to allow for essential elements of the artistic experience like interpretation and ambiguity. As a result, game rules, while abstract, can only express the particular, not the universal. And because of their abstraction, they can only express the particlar in extremely broad terms. Which is a good definition of banality.

So yes, sure you can make art with game rules. But it will be art of the most banal sort. The kind of art you find in a mental institution, that tells you more about the author's psychology than about universal human themes. There are people who are really into this sort of thing, so by all means... Just don't make any "Louvre" claims.
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rinku
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 12:03 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
Thanks for the reply!

I actually don't know of many people who would say that folktales or even that chess is not art, and I've done a lot of reading in the field of aesthetics, so I find that part of your reply surprising. European culture is different from American though, they have different conceptions of what art is, so that may be why.

Anyway, I'm sure those games and I'm sure folktales have authors, they didn't just rise spontaneously out of the fabric of culture, they had particular people who organized them, even though their names are not remembered and even though there may have been many of them across many generations, but they're still individual people.

What do you mean by not on the same level of depth? To me, mathematical beauty is pretty powerful, just as powerful as the beauty of love etc. -- so it's not a linguistic trick, I just genuinely find mathematical universals to be just as beautiful as human universals.

Also, I don't think all art is about human life, all art is about something that is important to human life, but it's not all just self-reflective of or specific to humanity. For instance, imagine other intelligent species besides humans that think in concepts, have values and complex lives very different from our own, and have some sort of emotion but that would also be very different from our own. They would probably find some value in human art, and we'd probably find some value in their art, because a lot of art deals with isn't specific to any particular species. So it's not just specificness to humanity that makes something artistic, it's something that's universal to everything, and mathematics is likely just as universal to intelligent species as compassion is, perhaps even more universal.

I didn't think this was about the expressiveness of gameplay, no. Your comments on this are interesting but I didn't think that was the topic. I still think you're seeing games as rules, but they're more than that, as the topic of this thread was meant to express. For example, poker is not just the rules that make up poker. Poker deals with themes of keeping a "poker face" -- of not letting other people know what cards you are holding. There are strong themes of diplomacy and deception there, even if you ignore the mathematical themes of poker.

I don't get the difference you're indicating between grammatical and behavior rules and game rules; what distinguishes them? What do you mean by those terms?

I wouldn't say that there are people who are into games and people who are not -- *everyone* plays games. They may play them in different degrees, and different kinds, but I've never known anyone who hasn't ever played a game, even if it's just a crossword puzzle or tag or hide and go seek (all wonderfully artistic games btw). Because virtually every human who was ever born has played a game, I don't think it makes sense to say that games are banal, there's obviously something important about them if they're so widespread and exist in every culture.
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rinku
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 12:13 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
Oh, and since you brought up Crawford, I should also mention that I think my position is almost perfectly in line with his writings. He does believe that games are the "candy" or "baby" form of interactive art and that a true interactive art will arise which will be to games what Brothers K is to Harry Potter, and I believe that as well. I've no problem with saying that games are not deep, but I just have a problem with saying that they don't do what art does. People have gained as much value from games throughout human history as they have from stories, poetry, painting, music, and so on; games are a major a part of people's lives and always have been, and they have deep meaning and truth to them just as the other art forms do.

As for the question as to why people do not consider games art, that's only a recent Western thing I'd say, although it's also in Aristotle (he doesn't mention games in the Poetics, although he does deal with them elsewhere, which probably is the origin of the idea that games are not a part of the fine arts) -- I'd guess that if you want to most ancient civilizations and asked if games, painting, music, and drama had anything in common, if it made sense to classify them all as different branches of the same thing, most people would say yes.
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Michael
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 1:13 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Next time I meet an ancient civilisation, I'll ask them about games. I hope we have a language in common. Laughing
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Michael
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 11:06 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I'm sorry. That was mean of me. Twisted Evil

I was just a bit taken back by how you start by aknowledging the difference between American and European culture but then go on to make bold statements about things that are universal throughout the galaxy. There is absolutely no proof for these claims and last time I checked, the very concept of cultural universality has no grounds in reality. This is based on belief, not fact. And you can't really argue about belief. You have yours and I have mine.

That being said, I find it interesting that you seem to make a distinction between games and their rules. Could you expand on this a little bit?
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rinku
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 6:15 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
I didn't think it was mean, no worries.

Still, to claim that there is no such thing as cultural universality is to claim there is no such thing as human nature, which is just as hard to prove (if not moreso) as the claim that there is cultural universality.

Okay, the distinction I make is this: a painting is not just a bunch of paint on a canvas, and a novel is not just a bunch of words on paper. To say a game is just its rules is like saying a painting is just acrylic or oils or a novel is just a bunch of letters in sequence. It's true, but it's reductionist, saying a game is just rules tells you as much as saying a novel is just letters of the alphabet. A novel isn't the letters, it's the organization and the meaning behind those letters; same deal with games, they're the organization and meaning of the rules, not the rules themelves.
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rinku
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 6:21 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
Also, the field of anthropology is all about how there are clear constants across most cultures. Of course there are major differences, but all cultures that have been studied have had certain things in common; all play games, all listen to music, all have some sort of mythology, etc. -- I don't see how I was saying anything controversial or even bold. It's of course possible that there have been human cultures without music, games, or stories, but empirically those aspects of culture (and some others) are universal.
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Michael
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 2:01 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
rinku wrote:
saying a game is just rules tells you as much as saying a novel is just letters of the alphabet

I disagree that game rules are the building blocks of contemporary computer games. In fact, I think I enjoy almost every other aspect of games more than their rules. And that doesn't mean I prefer movies. On the contrary! Games are only a subset of what can be done with interactive media. I love games, don't get me wrong. They're fun and all that. I just would hate to see us limit interactive technology to what we can accomplish with game rules. There's much much more out there!
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rinku
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 7:16 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
I agree completely, but we weren't really talking about contemporary computer games, we were talking about classical games such as chess, soccer, and poker. The "building block" as you put it of those games is the rule.

Computer games contain elements of games, visual art, music, and many other arts, and as such are larger than classical games; they combine several forms of art into something new, in the same way that opera is something new which combines drama and music.

Some computer games focus more on visuals, some focus more on story, most focus more on the game aspect, few use *all* parts of it in tandem correctly, but the potential is there.

(But again, I caution against even the term "building block". Letters are not the building block of novels, they're just its medium; the building block of novels is the character, the event, the setting, the moral ideas, the beginning and the end, etc., not the letter. Likewise rules are not the building block of (classical or computer) games, the building block is the goal, the strategy, the technique, the process, and so on, not the rule.)
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rinku
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 7:22 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
Actually I don't even think that character is one of the building blocks of novels now that I think about it: it doesn't make sense to say that art even has building blocks, it's more accurate to say that language is the material into which novels are engraved, rules are the material into which games are engraved, etc. -- it's not that what the artist does is to take parts, craft larger parts, and combine them into a whole, I think it's more that the artist takes a flexible, vague whole and leaves a more precise, tangible impression on it.
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Michael
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 10:18 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
It's funny how quickly any discussion devolves into a linguistic one. Very Happy

I have been talking about computer games from the very beginning, however, in my own convoluted way. My main point is that computer games are very very different from older games. And that the continuous reduction by game researchers and developers of computer games to games is simplistic and to a large extent besides the point. I believe that the current success of games does not come from some sort of global infantilisation that suddenly makes humans desire to play games more than ever. I believe that it comes from the capacity of games to present something that people already appreciated in a new way.

I personally don't consider older games to be works of art. They are games. Just games. And that's ok. But I do think there is a lot of potential in computer "games" to produce art, if it hasn't happened already.
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rinku
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:50 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
You haven't been clear about what this distinction between art and games is, could you elaborate? The only thing you mentioned is that real art deals with human themes and that games can't do that. As I mentioned, classic games do deal with human themes: poker with deception and keeping your hand secret. Chess has themes of conflict and war, soccer has themes of cooperation and teamwork. Those themes are there and they're strong, and playing those games helps you understand those themes just as well as watching a play about those themes. The authors of those games perhaps didn't intend to convey those themes when they created those games, but maybe they did. Besides, how does non-lyrical music contain universal human themes? Do you consider that art?

I really don't understand the position that, say, ancient Greeks watching an Aeschylus play or listening to a Sappho poem or re-telling an Aesop fable are engaged in art whereas when they played the Olympics or even played a dice game with each other that they were not. I don't see a difference between those two, the games they played conveyed universal themes between them just as much as the plays and poetry they watched and listened to.
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Michael
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 8:48 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Initially, the distinction I made was simply a historical one: as far as I can tell, games have not been regarded as an art form throughout history. Unlike painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature,theater and even film. If you tell me they have, then I rest my case because it was merely based on an intuitive assumption caused by reading the wrong art history books that never mention games and being taught by nitwit teachers who forgot to include games in their art history lessons.

I don't know about the Greeks, but I know that I haver personally never been moved as much by a match of chess as I have by a theater play or a piece of music. I admit that I don't know exactly why that is. And it may be personal. Perhaps you weep every time you roll the dice. But I don't.
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rinku
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 10:31 am Reply with quote
Joined: 14 Sep 2005 Posts: 128 Location: Paterson, NJ
I agree that games have not been considered art in Western culture. But part of my point is that other cultures do consider games art, or at least make no distinction between the type of thing that games are and the type of thing that painting, music, and theater are. Also, aesthetic theorists have attempted to exclude one or more of the so-called fine arts from art; there are many people who don't believe novels are art, or who don't believe music is art, maybe not as many as those who don't believe games are art, but there's really no universal agreement (outside of the university art classes) about what art is; the different positions within the philosophical / scholarly field of aesthetics diverge quite a bit, some would admit games, some wouldn't. And not just modern ones either, some (recent) historical philosophers believed games likes chess and soccer are art, like (if I remember correctly) Adorno.

If art is something which causes you to cry, melodramatic sob stories/movies, and even onions, would be more artistic than art which doesn't provoke crying. And no artwork makes you cry every page (that I know of), so it's unrealistic to expect games to do the same with every move in the game.

I do experience strong emotional reactions from games, not only computer games but also classical games. The emotional reaction isn't sadness or crying however, it's other emotions, such as elation and awe. But I can even say I've cried because of games -- when I was a child and lost a game for instance. But when I do roll a dice sometimes I do experience awe, yes. Certainly dice have taught me more about probability and even metaphysical determinism than any novel or painting ever has.

However, I'm not sure I believe the purpose of art is to produce strong emotional reactions, I see that more as a tool, an important tool, art uses to achieve its goal (which as I said I believe an epistemological role, the expression of a universal theme).

Anyway, I don't think there is a disagreement as long as you agree that games can express universal themes, because that's how I define art; it doesn't bother me that people use the word art for different things, to me, if you agree that games can express universal themes, we're in agreement that (non-computer) games provide an important if not essential role in culture.

Perhaps you value emotional evocation more than you value the expression of a universal theme, and perhaps you believe human-specific themes like love and compassion are more important to convey than scientific or mathematical themes like Occam's razor and exponential growth, and maybe you believe beauty is more than illustrative concretion of an important abstraction, but that's just priorities and preferences and definitions.

Sorry for the lengthy response, I need to condense my thoughts better.
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