Friday, May 14, 2010

Going by What Works: Or, Judging a Book by Its Back Cover...

It all started with this little posting on the Atlantic. If you have time I highly recommend you read it then follow the rabbit hole that it presents. But in short the commentator was arguing against Roger Ebert's criticism against video games being medium of Art. He was in turn responding to a TED presentation asserting that very fact.

Now some of you know I hold some pretty strong opinions on these matters. I was thinking of writing some responses to any number of these articles, but I can't. There's just too many points to jump off of. But just for the sake of getting them off my chest, I'm going to rattle off a few comments:

1. Both the Atlantic article and the TED presentation annoy me just a little bit. Although the authors have the right rationale to pursue the point, the examples picked are really pretty flimsy in my mind... I especially disagree with the Wikipedia definition of Art that was used as the backbone of the TED presentation. I almost yelled at my computer screen when I read it the first time...

2. Roger Ebert is completely off-base in his criticisms against video games... but his snarky tone doesn't make me even want to argue against it. So I'm just gonna shrug, say he's wrong, and walk away.

Alright, now I've directly addressed those entries, but I'm not quite done yet. It's left me with a little more to think about.

How do you argue whether something is good art or not? Even side-stepping the challenge of agreeing on a single definition... let's just take a step back. I'd say it all comes down to the same question you'd ask of anything. Did it work?

In other words, when you looked at this alleged work of art, did it work? Did it do what it was supposed to? Once you start asking that question, then I think you're not only on to a feasible definition, but you've saved yourself from meaningless banter and gotten down to the question of why.

Looping this back to what I started with: I argue, quite assertively, that video games are Art. (Or rather, can be.) Why? Because I'm playing one right now that works.

I'm in the middle of a game right now (Persona, the Sin Megami Tensei Japanese RPG series) which does everything art should be doing.
-It inspires me to want to do things differently in my own life, to improve, strive, etc.
-It makes me reflect on themes in my life that go unnoticed sometimes.
-It generates empathetic feelings in me for the protagonists, their struggles, and wanting to know if they succeed in the end.
-It generates an aesthetic sense of wonder or fascination at the world it describes/creates.
-It also makes me uncomfortable at times because of it's edgy-ness, either when it hits too close to home, or takes the right idea and goes the wrong way.

I'd challenge anybody to take that list of pre-requisites and say that's not Art doing art's thing.

With that I rest my case. Not by dismantling the essays above, though I still could if somebody wanted to get into it, but by appealing to experience. I find in this case, and in a lot of cases with Art and Stories, it's just better that way.

So how about next time you judge a book, don't judge it by it's front cover, whether it looks like a novel, or a comic book, but judge it by the last page, or better yet, the back cover. Once you close it, take a second to see what it did to you.

Judge by that.

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