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Games As Art // Art Shouldn’t Be Passive

I didn’t mean to go quiet for quite that long. Oops.

In any case, I would now like to blather about something. So blather I shall. In my free time, instead of gaming, I am studying, and this studying is mainly concerned with Art History. It’s been a fantastic journey so far, but when I need a break from thinking about Sacred Art, I start thinking about the various models of ‘Video Games as Art’, or I even try and apply the principles I’m learning about to video games directly.

The current two chapters (it’s an online course) that I have just engaged with focus on two related aspects of sacred art – ‘Art as the Bible of the Poor‘ and ‘Gothic Architecture‘. The variety of approaches that historians of architecture take is truly fascinating, how they must effortlessly pass from analysing materials, floor plans and structural components, to analysing the functions and uses that those constructed spaces were intended to house, shape and ornament. The deftness with which the author of this chapter deals with such a wide (but focused) subject matter, and range of evidence, takes my breath away. It slightly makes me despair of ever being a writer of that calibre.

But then writing is a craft, an art, in and of itself, is it not?

Any, I digress. The frameworks the analysis make use of are perhaps appropriate to the analysis of games as well. I don’t really have the time to write a full on paper on this, but let me briefly touch on one framework that my OU course has taught me.

Firstly, when it comes to religious art, one can take several approaches when it comes to assessing the purpose of a piece of art (in it’s original context)

  • Instruction – examples of the right way to live
  • Memory – invoking a memory of a historic event, personage or myth and making it live again
  • Meditative – much religious art was designed to aid on the meditation of certain concepts or realities
  • provoke an empathic response (for devotional purposes)

This is a very brief, reference lacking, and probably slightly wrong summation of some of the frameworks through which the functions, purpose and forms of early religious art can be understood. However, the first thing that springs out at me is that the art in question is not passive for the viewer.

When people talk about ‘Video Games as Art’, one of the phrases I often see is that Video Games are more ‘active and participatory’ than other forms of ‘high art’. On a shallow level (and purely individual) level, this is indeed correct. But I think that the theoretical analysis that religious art is subject to reveals that art is not truly that passive or straightforwardly consumed.

By appealing to the frameworks used by historians to analyse Art, I think there is greater scope for analysing Video Games, and ultimately more room for the craft of Game Development to be seen as Art.wallfragment1

I’ll probably continue meanderingly blogging about this! It makes me happy, but as I’ve just spent 6 hours studying I’m not able to brain more coherently than this, so instead I’ll leave you with this lovely overview of an exhibit that was on earlierthis year, in which Dan Hernandezcombines video game mythology with the aesthetics of religious panel paintings and murals. The header image for this blog is his ‘Untitled Wall Fragment’ – I really wish I could buy prints of his work!

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