So hey! Look at that! There’s a film critic – none other than CHUD.com’s Devin Faraci – tearing into the whole “games as art” debate and, wouldn’t you know, he’s agin it! (that’s “against” for you youthful ageists out there)
Here’s a brief quote from the mud-slinging rant:
Are games art? The answer I have for that is no.
Are narrative games actually subsets of cinema with a gimmick layer of ‘game’ as opposed to games with a gimmick layer of cinema? The answer I have for that is yes, in the same way infomercials and music videos are.
You could follow this link and read the thousands of words Faraci has put to page on the subject, but those few sentences up there really sum up the meat of his meandering polemic. And I cry foul. Been doing that a lot lately, it seems.
Look, everyone is entitled to their opinion. My art may not be your art, and vice versa. I’m not here to defend the medium. Frankly, it does just fine defending itself with the plenty of available object examples. What I am here to do is suggest that Faraci, in his role as a film-focused critic, may not be the most informed voice speaking out on this subject.
Let’s look at things through the lens (no pun intended) of a hypothetical. Game Critic A is wildly successful at what he does. He’s been working in the industry for about a decade and he’s been playing games obsessively for more than twice that. He also enjoys going to the movies. It’s fun to watch as Iron Man or Batman do their heroic thing in the never-ending fight against evil.
One morning, Game Critic A wakes up troubled. He went to a screening of Watchmen yesterday, and he came back confused and angry. Whatever it was that rattled him so, it’s spurred him to take up the virtual pen and write a blog post railing against the value of film as art. He references Watchmen and The Dark Knight, and then throws in a couple mentions of Citizen Kane because of it’s iconic presence in the history of film. He’s a great writer, so he weaves a pretty compelling argument against ‘film as art.’
It ultimately turns out to be a rambling joke of a blog post that makes very little sense because, at the end of the day, Game Critic A really has no firm grasp of the formal constructs which make up a film. Sure he likes movies. But he doesn’t understand the implications that Citizen Kane’s release had in establishing the camera as an analogue to the painter’s brush or the writer’s pen. Nor does he appreciate D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as a formative moment in narrative cinema. In short, Game Critic A’s love for popcorn blockbusters, gross-out comedies and rom-com date movies don’t really qualify him to make grand statements about the overall value of the film medium as art. End hypothetical.
Such is the case with Faraci. He claims in his rant that he is a lifelong gamer. That’s probably true. At this point, most folks aged 40 or under have picked up some level of hands-on gaming experience as they’ve grown. In the world we now live in, it is no easier to escape video games than it is to escape film, TV and music.
So Faraci has some experience. He has at least played GTA IV, Fallout 3, Braid, Left 4 Dead, Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Oblivion, Assassin’s Creed, BioShock and Crackdown (among others). According to his Achievement list on Xbox Live anyway. Clearly this is someone who appreciates modern video games on some level.
However, it’s also clear that Faraci’s understanding of the video game medium doesn’t extend too far below the surface. I now point to another excerpt from his rant:
It is important for me to finally interject my value judgment here on narrative games as cinema. I think they’re all various levels of bad art. I’ve never played a video game that was as good as even a mediocre movie, or a fairly readable book. The next level of argument, should one take my suggestion that narrative cinematic games are just a bastard form of cinema, is that one of them is high art. Art with a big A. The examples I’ve seen given – BioShock, Braid, etc – seem to me like holding up a Danielle Steele book as the paragon of literature. These may be pretty, possibly even involving, but they’re all essentially stupid (and using Braid because of its art design and classical sounding music is like holding up a romance novel because of its gothic title lettering). I don’t think there’s been a narrative game that’s exceeded the level of depth and emotion that you get in an average Nic Cage science fiction thriller, for instance. Even the deepest are shallow, feature paper thin characters, uninvolving storylines and often rotten dialogue. I’ll be honest: in my opinion the last few Grand Theft Auto games are the ones that come closest to be decent cinema.
Let’s put aside the fact that Faraci does indeed refer to narrative games as “various levels of bad art” here despite his earlier contention that games are not, in fact, art. I gave you that big chunk of text up there for context, but really, I just want to focus on this one little bit: “using Braid because of its art design and classical sounding music is like holding up a romance novel because of its gothic title lettering.”
To you serious gamer-folk out there, the people who have given careful thought to meaning, symbolism and formal design in games: do you need any further proof that this man is fundamentally ill-qualified to discuss the value of games as art? As more thoughtful analyses have long since illustrated, Braid has quite a bit going on beneath the surface-level presentation. Sure the art design is lovely and the music fits in nicely with the gameplay, but the real defenders of Braid’s artistic value are plugging a little deeper to prove their point, into the text, the meaning behind it and how it’s all informing/informed by the gameplay.
And so we come to the point of this latest Rambling. Faraci may be an accomplished film critic, but that doesn’t make him an authority on video games. As such, his mud-slinging rant is dangerously irresponsible for exposing the film-loving readers of CHUD to such a misinformed set of opinions.
What say you, game-loving readers? Do you see any merit to Faraci’s long-winded babble? Personally, I’ve come to simply accept that games are art and sort out the fine points of that idea in my writing. How about y’all? Do you even consider ‘games as art’ a valid “debate” anymore? Or have we – the community and the medium alike – evolved past that, to the point that it is simply accepted?