Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Break in Character; Criticism of Video Games and Art

Going away from my stereotypical moaning about day to day life, or my fascination with Java (perhaps some form of madness, but it's too early to tell), I'm going to be talking about something that I find quite interesting.

Warning: this article won't contain any pictures. I can't guarantee it will be short, either. Read on at your own peril.

There's been a thing over the Internet for the past few months, which I won't get into the specifics of because it really helps no-one, that is apparently campaigning for, well, various things. I wouldn't exactly say it's succeeding at any of them, but a core principle is that it rejects the criticism of video games as an art form.

Distressingly, I've seen this opinion thrown about my old haunts across the Web, and it becomes very hard to have a mature debate on the subject. Other people get mad, I get mad, it gets to be a mess. You're on the Internet, you know the drill. People don't seem to grasp the concept that art isn't perfect. This mantra of "the developer's intent must be preserved".


Criticism drives progress. If we never changed anything, we'd never progress as a species. To hold, say, Call of Duty: Black Ops up as a shining example of video game art (it's an example, just an example, haha) . . . but prevent criticism from affecting that product, or future products? What progress are we making there?

People throw out the example of novels as art that hasn't been changed, so "how dare you change video games". Well, for starters, a novel changes about a bazillion times before it makes it to the editor, nevermind the iterations after that before it makes print. So to claim that criticism doesn't affect a novel's creative process is . . . flat out wrong. People also use the literal form - actual artwork. The problem here is that a piece of artwork is static. Once created, you don't generally go back and scrawl all over it (notable and famous exceptions exist, of course). You incorporate your mistakes and progress going forwards. Your pieces get better, or your style changes. You improve as a painter / sketch artist / you name it.

None of this works as a comparison with video games. I mean, it might work if a video game was released and then never touched again, and developers never patched their product. But the same people who are shouting about preserving the artistic intent of the creators . . . also demand post-release support. They vilify developers who, for whatever reason, don't patch the game to these users' specific likings. Balance patches, content patches, bug fixes. Arguments about whether a specific mechanic is bugged or if the developer simply intended it to work that way (with a liberal amount of 'well that way is stupid they should fix it' thrown in for good measure). I'm not singling out a single forum here, or community, or even a user. I see it all over. Heck, I used to be particularly guilty of it myself. Thankfully, with much less free time to spend on forums, I don't get dragged down in so many arguments. Certainly, barely any about that horrific entity known as game balance.

So games 'have' to be supported. The games therefore change, often with feedback from the community around that game.

But the 'artistic vision' is beyond reproach? This really isn't a consistent argument, is it?

And yet people think it is. People get so angry over the reload time of a fictional gun in a futurstic shooter and demand the developer change it to suit them. But when people get angry, or offended, over the inclusion of a volatile piece of worldbuilding? Their offense isn't important enough to warrant a change.

Weird, isn't it? Especially when you consider this specific example (that's exploded over the Internet recently) has been generated by a member of the community, and isn't a part of the artistic vision of the developers in the slightest.

An increasing lack of sound logic, right there. Games need to change in face of legitimate criticism, in order to reach the same heights that older art forms have reached. Only by making games better can we actually call them 'art' in the first place.


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