The “Gaming as Art” Debate Settled

Follow me for a moment or two or ten:

  • Story telling is the closest video gaming will get to “art” as we know it
  • All art, especially storytelling, is a process of sharing – it is an outward energy
  • Gameplay, the verb in video gaming, is really all about reaching, fostering and maintaining Flow
  • Flow is an internal growth process
  • Flow is possible (required?) to create art in the artist, as opposed to…
  • …the beholder/consumer of art is not in flow when reacting to art. (Notable exception to this is when consumer has an expertise in the art and can experience flow when consuming the art while applying that expertise.)

Flow is, by definition, the focus of 100% of the gamer’s attention, therefore this is no “room” in the attention span to be emotionally impacted by a story going on around the Flow. For example: just as a mountain climber in deep Flow to get to the top of the mountain can not break their thoughts with daydreams of how great it will be to reach the top (or terrible to fall off the mountain and die) so a gamer can not be distracted by the internal moral struggles of the character while immersed in gameplay.

So… art is not (generally) related to a consumer being in Flow. That is: art consumption and gameplay Flow can not, by these definitions exist in the same players thoughts at the same time.

Yet… games seems somehow “artistic.” See: 10 artists who use video gaming

Now, here’s a question: when was the last time “art” was truly redefined? Duchamp? Abstract expressionism? Maybe Warhol? Certainly not since. Aren’t we due?

Maybe, to the generation after mine: the art that we all agree is in games, the art that wraps around Flow (with motivation before the fact and reward afterwards) is enough to force a redefinition…. think about how cool it would be if it was taken for granted that generating Flow during consumption was considered as artistic an expression as falling into Flow when creating art?

Personally, when I think game designers accept these tenants (or something like them) we will begin to see and accept stories that wrap around a Flow experience as completely legitimate and unique art form.

“…I think it’s a dream to think that there will be some renaissance, some incredible simultaneous tear through which truly emotionally impactful games will flow forth like rain over scorched earth. Rather, this will be a slow, deliberate process of incremental change.”

Ian Bogost 2003

It may take a while but some of us working and thinking about it can help this “deliberate process of incremental change” take a few steps down the road.

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