Sunday, February 22, 2009

Limits of art?

What message is beyond art?

This question is interesting on a general level. I would not directly label myself as an artist, maybe a musician or at least having had an income from writing, recording and engineering music. Everyone who is involved in making music has at least one leg in the artistic aspect of the art form. Even the guy who connects microphones to the recording technology is developing artistic skills. Once you leave the making of music and go to the business of selling music some people quit thinking they are artists, but really they are also involved with delivering the message to an audience, which is of some relevance to the experience of listening to the music.

I would believe the same can be said about movies, books, comics, oral tradition and everything else, and… games.

I can imagine quite well how to use music to convey almost any type of message. The exact meaning will be relatively irrelevant but the topic is up for grabs. The market for music would probably not be interested in paying for an opera about riding the bus, unless it is made by someone who is generally interesting for some other reason than the particular piece of work in question.

The same can be said for games. You can make a game which conveys a message about being a tree, it is not likely that the game will accurately make the player feel like a tree but I am sure a player can be made to identify with a tree. Raph Koster says he really wants games to be able to convey the feeling of being a tree, I don’t see that as very doable. But I do see a game where you pretend to feel like a tree, or maybe get to care about what the feelings you might have as a tree.

Is there a limit to the artist?

Does it require a Mozart to make classical music, or a young male to make a first person shooter? This really becomes more of an interesting topic when you aim at some specific resonance among the audience. I don’t see this as an existing restriction unless you try to impose severe limitations on the details of the production techniques involved.

Forcing Mozart to make a death metal song would probably not be a very good way to use his talent towards meeting a demand among a certain audience. However I am quite sure that Mozart would be able to entice this audience using more of his familiar tools if he put his mind to it. Well, back in the days. The direct problem with the game industry is that most have imposed severe limitations on their production techniques.

In most cases where you aim to remove these limitations you are quite likely to also remove every other chance of success you had. Understanding the abstract principles of making art is limited to relatively few people. This is also not an easily measured skill, its harder to use a theoretical measurement to measure a game artist than it is to use a theoretical test to measure the skills of a musician. Maybe someday this will change, but games will require a heavier effort than what it took to bring music to a level of theoretical measurement of accomplishment. Lucky us the productivity of the world has increased a bit the last 500 years or so, maybe I will see this development happen.

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