Thought of the day

Video games are to old people today as rock and roll was to old people in 1955.

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A distorted image of the police?

Apparently the Swiss and German have organized Christian police associations. They recently sent off a complaint to video game makers, signaling out one specific developer, The Darkness II:

The groups expressed concern that minors and young people were playing violent games and forming an unreasonable hatred of the police through a distorted image of who they were and what they did. They objected to financial gain through what they called “idealized violence” and called for publishers and politicians to pull out of the business in an attempt to prevent real world violence, particularly towards police officers.

“What a man soweth, that shall he also reap!” read the letter, quoting Galatians 6:7 from the Bible and adding an exclamation point for emphasis.

There are a number of ways game makers, specifically the makers of The Darkness II (2K), could counter this claim. They could point out that there is no evidence that video games make young people hate the police or turn to violence. They could also point out that shows like Cops do a heck of a job of painting police as perfect angels who virtually always catch the criminal (because we know there certainly are no fat cops out there who can easily be out run). They could even point out that while no one should hate the police, officers are human and they do make mistakes; we should always have an eye on them. But none of these tactics constitute real slap-downs. And, after all, with such a silly, paternalistic organization whining about such a silly non-issue, shouldn’t there be a discussion-ending rebuke? Something that ought to really embarrass the whiners? I think so, and that’s why I am so satisfied with their response:

“There are no police officers in the game,” replied 2K.

Supreme Court: Video games are art

Siding with reality, the Supreme Court has ruled against California in a decision regarding the status of video games:

Video games are art, and they deserve the exact same First Amendment protections as books, comics, plays and all the rest, the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday in a ruling about the sale of violent video games in California.

California had tried to argue that video games are inherently different from these other mediums because they are “interactive.” So if a kid has to pick up a controller and hit the B button — over and over again until he starts to get thumb arthritis — to kill a person in a video game, that’s different from reading about a similar murder, the state said.

The high court didn’t buy that argument, however.

I was reminded recently that this case was coming to a head and I wondered to myself how ‘Justice’ Scalia would rule. After a little consideration, I surmised he would come down in favor of the gaming industry. He often makes poor decisions based upon little to nothing, but this case was just too obvious for him to get wrong:

“Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

So not only does the interactive medium not make video games fundamentally different than things like music and literature (in terms of being art), it actually is a feature which helps to define it as art. Everyone has been telling this to California all along, but I’m glad the Supreme Court could articulate it so well.

And as much as I dislike Scalia, I’ve always thought he was a decent writer, sometimes even humorous. He doesn’t fail to deliver here:

That’s all well and good. But the most fun to be had in this potentially dry court opinion is when Scalia starts writing about how gory old-school stories are, too. He’s trying to make the point that stories have included violence for as long as there have been stories.

The examples are pretty hilarious:

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed,” he writes.

Then there’s this:

“Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.”

And, finally, if that wasn’t enough eye-related violence for you:

“High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake.”

Well done, sir. Now excuse me while I go snipe some Elites.

Feminism, men, and video games

In my run-in with a few caricature feminists last year, I disagreed over something pretty simple. There was a picture of two fat women next to an article about fat women and medical care on CNN. The caricature feminist, Suzanne Franks, said that it was a sexist picture because it didn’t show their faces, instead only focusing on their “boobs and vagina”. Several people, including myself, pointed out that it would be wildly inappropriate to feature their faces, and besides, the article was about fat people. The objectification was on fatness, not women per se. For that I was deemed horrifically sexist; I clearly must hate all women. In fact, I was accused of only disagreeing because the blogger was a woman. In reality, I actually had assumed she was a man. A small part of the reason is that most bloggers are men, but there was also this reason:

As I (audaciously!) explained in previous posts, I never said my assumption (that the post was by a man) was good or bad. What’s more, I was also going on the fact that Franks looks like a man with long hair in her picture. I didn’t originally raise that point for the sake of not being so crude, but if she’s going to hammer on the point, then that’s what’s going to happen.

So in my effort not to be insulting of her face, I had to say I had an assumption I knew wouldn’t going over well where I was. But I figured I had at least won the point: If I assumed the blogger was a male, then I couldn’t possibly be disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing with a woman. Of course, actually addressing that point would be embarrassing; people don’t like to admit when they’re wrong on the Internet. Instead, everyone focused on the fact that I had such a crazy! assumption in the first place. I freely admitted that it wasn’t a great assumption to have, even if most bloggers actually are male, but that didn’t really matter to anyone. Assumptions?! YOU HATE [whatever that person likes]!!!

So that brings me to a recent post by PZ. He talks about some new book that says 21st century men are immature and not living up to any real standards. The reason? Feminism, of course! It’s clearly a stupid premise.* However, just as stupid is the claim PZ makes that men aren’t growing up for the intrinsic reason that they are men. If there’s a problem with this generation, it isn’t just with one sex or the other. (Not that I think there’s something horrid about this generation: PZ is an old guy, so he’s falling into the trap into which most every old person before him has fallen – he thinks young people suck and we didn’t have to walk 15 miles in the snow to get to school just so we could get our daily whipping!)

But his unusually muddled post aside, several of the commenters take the time to mention video games when talking about immature men. Jadehawk had this to say:

meh. I don’t mind the non-marrying, non-settling down sort of man. I don’t even mind the video-game playing, spending all night on the internet type. In fact, I’ve got one of those at home.

It’s the entitled douchebags I mind. Those who think all women are supposed to play mommy for them.

While I’m glad Jadehawk (look at me, not assuming his or her sex!) took the time to differentiate between these type of men, I still really hate the association between video games and the immaturity PZ discussed. It’s just an ugly assumption. And aren’t assumptions like that just shitty? They were when I made them about Franks being male.

But on video games: first of all, video gamers are nearly split 50/50 between male and female today. Second, if someone goes on and on about the acting or the storyline or the plot twists or the cinematography of a movie, why, that’s just an avid movie goer; that person really appreciates a form of art. But video games? Nah. That’s just childish baby-baby stuff. It’s totally different because, um, well, uh, um, um, um, it just is, okay?!

You know, I don’t think my points here are too crazy. 1) The connection between feminism causing immaturity in men is just as nebulous as the connection between men and some magical intrinsic immaturity. 2) The assumptions we make, while almost always more common and with more impact from the dominant side, are often a fault. 3) Video gamers are composed of an ever-increasing even mixture of men and women, neither of which is immature for wanting to have some virtual fun.

But I’m sure that’s horribly fucking sexist in someone’s eyes.

*According to the comment section on the post, it looks like that isn’t really the premise of the book. The website reporting it, WorldNutDaily, seems to have given things their own spin.

Red Dead Redemption

I finally broke down and got a 360. I have no idea how Ebert could be so ignorant. This is nothing but art.

PZ and Ebert are wrong

It’s fairly rare that I disagree with PZ Myers. He’s pretty spot on about a lot of things. Of course, that doesn’t mean I think everything he says is gold. But regardless, most anything he writes or says matches most anything I have said, will say, or at least think. Roger Ebert, on the other hand, likes a lot of crappy movies. For instance, Last Days was just an awful, awful, awful piece of garbage. But Ebert gave it a very high rating. Or take the horror-porn movie Saw:

That said, “Saw” is well made and acted, and does what it does about as well as it could be expected to.

The one point of Saw that really stood out to me – aside from the boredom it induced – was how poorly acted some of the scenes were. The scene where the doctor sawed through his foot? That was perhaps the worst individual acting moment for any major release that entire year.

But despite some errors of taste, I usually like Ebert. He hates creationism and all its science-hating silliness, and he recognizes the simple mindedness of the Republican party, so it’s tough to go against him sometimes. However, he has recently written a piece which is totally unacceptable. On this I am against Ebert.

Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.

What stirs me to return to the subject? I was urged by a reader, Mark Johns, to consider a video of a TED talk given at USC by Kellee Santiago, a designer and producer of video games. I did so. I warmed to Santiago immediately. She is bright, confident, persuasive. But she is mistaken.

I generally stopped playing video games many years ago. It isn’t that I decided to go down that pretentious I’m-too-mature-for-this-stuff route. I actually played too much at times, getting far too worked up over unimportant issues (e.g., Halo 2 – not to mention the fact that the people running the game, Bungie, loved to let players boot each other for “betrayals” even when no such thing had occurred; it got too annoying sometimes). It was just time for me to take a break. I still play when the opportunity presents itself because I still find video games fun, and I might one day relatively soon invest in some system, but right now I have other interests.

That said, I never especially considered the art work of video games; it played no role in my decision to play and then subsequent decision not to play. However, it certainly isn’t hard for any experienced gamer to look back on his gaming history and recognize all the works of art he played. Ebert, of course, does not play video games. He has little idea what is in them, even in his article indicating the common belief that shooting games are all mindless. I think the most obvious counter to that is Fatal Frame. In that game the player didn’t shoot with a gun, but rather a camera. All the principles of shooting, improving accessories, upgrading equipment, etc were present; the difference was superficial – it was still a shooter. But it was more than that. The player had to figure out a number of puzzles, actually read (a ton of) clues, and really pay attention to the story. And unlike Saw, it was actually scary. (In fact, when has any horror movie ever been scary?)

But more to the point, it relied on some actual history to a small extent, it created its own intense world, and it offered designs which were absolutely beautiful, especially for its time period. It certainly was art.

But Ebert isn’t the only one showing his age. PZ does the same with this quip.

Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting. It just doesn’t now, though.

These two guys clearly don’t know much about video games. Role playing games, or RPGs, are often defined by how much they can be replayed. I’ve played through Star Ocean: The Second Story more times than I can remember, logging several hundred hours. I’m sure Final Fantasy fans have done the same with their preferred series. Now with American-style, open-battle RPGs becoming more popular, more people are playing them, and they’re playing them again and again.

If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.

My grandmother used to love watching me play Super Mario Brothers at her house. And no, it was not a matter of her telling me something I wanted to hear. She would often encourage me to play even when I was already successfully occupying my time (e.g., not bugging anyone). And recording? Has PZ searched YouTube? People love to watch videos of what others have done. But more importantly than any of that is that the game itself is the art, not the act of playing the game. Think of going to an art gallery featuring, say, oil paintings. Just about everyone will agree that the place is filled with art, but no one is going to agree that watching people view all that art is itself art.

The problem in which PZ and Ebert find themselves is in defining art. Ebert, for example, cites Plato and his concerns over mimesis.

But is Plato’s any better? Does art grow better the more it imitates nature? My notion is that it grows better the more it improves or alters nature through an (sic) passage through what we might call the artist’s soul, or vision.

Plato’s definition of art sucks. He basically says mimesis, or the representation of some part of Nature as conveyed onto a canvas or likewise medium through the use of paints*, is bad because there is an ideal and then there are mere imitations. That is, there is an ideal concept of a table (or chair or TV or whatever). There can only be one ideal, but there can be many imitations. The first imitation is a table itself. This is once removed from the ideal (which, incidentally, comes from God for Plato). Then there is a painting of that imitation. Because this is twice removed from the ideal, it is of a lesser beauty – beauty is derived from ideals. All he’s saying is that nature is more beautiful than human imitations of it. Not such a grand point. And perhaps more importantly, he’s presuming the existence of God in his definition. Should there be no God – as Ebert believes – then there is no ideal concept. Without God, concepts can only be scaled subjectively.

I think a better definition of art comes from Morris Weitz. He points out that we cannot define art, but we can define aspects of it; we can see common themes. He cites Ludwig Wittgenstein who used the same point about games. There is no one thing which defines what a game is. A board? Dice? A goal? A winner? A loser? All these things are common and if one were to list out as many properties of games as possible there would be a lot of overlap. It is that overlap which helps us to recognize and define games. Weitz argues the same for art. Of course, this eventually runs into an infinite regress, but what doesn’t? And does that really matter if the definition is ultimately subjective anyway?

Using Weitz’s definition, I think video games share a number of properties with other forms of art, the already accepted forms. From here it becomes almost required that video games be defined as art because they have just too much overlap. Story lines overlap with what authors do all the time. Drawings overlap with painters. Cut scenes not only overlap with movie scenes, they virtually are movies.

In all these attempts to define art, however, the most important has been overlooked: the eye of the beholder. Art really does come down to the individual. A distinction should be made between a “work of art” and “artwork” so as to appreciate the difference between the artist and the observer, but when the normal connotations from “What is art?” are in use, the beholder is what matters. That is, a “work of art” should be viewed from the perspective of an artist; the effort, the labor, the love, the passion, the skills, etc, they all help to define something as art. But “artwork” is the product, the final presentation. This, given the very fact that there is presentation at all, places importance on the observer. This necessarily makes the definition of art subjective.

It’s difficult to see how someone can even begin to claim video games are not art – unless there is just a genuine disinterest in playing them in the first place, of course.

*This is verbatim from a past Philosophy of Aesthetics exam of mine, incidentally.

Update: But to be more concise, let us turn to Penny Arcade.

Thought of the day

Except I will be 1st.