Friday, June 29, 2012

GAME PLAY Artist Interview: Richard Lovejoy ("Rock, Paper, Scissors")

When people say video games aren’t art I tend to refer them to Every Day the Same Dream if I'm in a good mood.  If I'm not in a good mood I usually mutter to myself, often tripping and spilling whatever beverage is in my hand.  (Note, I always have a beverage in hand for just such occasions.) 

An obstacle in the general acceptance of video games as an art form is that they are often thought of as toys.  Actually, I think the big thing holding them back from being accepted as art is that there is an assumption from a lot of mainstream gaming companies that the only people who play video games are young men.  As a result, the video game market gets deluged with sexist, childish crap that isn't anything close to art at all (this is something comic books also struggle with.)  Which is a shame, because there is so much you can do with a game that you can't do with any other art form.  When you think about early games like Adventure or even Pong, people would gather around and watch someone playing these games (in the case of Adventure, large groups of people would be working out the puzzles together, and telling the person manning the keyboard what to type down.)  That was a promising start, and I don't know what happened or why video games got as derailed as they did, but the mainstream did go astray.  And now, rather than "video games are art" being a generally accepted statement, you have to make an argument.  Which is a shame, because all that energy you spend making an argument about why video games are art could be better spent creating or playing a video game that is art.

My most emotional reaction elicited by a game was the sheer excitement of pulling the cloth map out of the Ultima V box...  Or the sadistic glee I felt after finally figuring out how to turn Mannanan into a cat (you can bet I kicked him plenty of times.)  It might have also been the sadness I felt after watching the Kilrathi blow up the Tiger's Claw in Wing Commander II, or even the sense of accomplishment I felt after I united both sides of Xeen.  I think I have a lot of more.  Do you want to hear them?  Hey, where are you going!  Get back here!  I wasn't done reminiscing.  GET OFF MY DAMN LAWN!  Oh, wait, I just told you to keep running.  Sigh.

I discovered the merit of video games as a theatrical medium after writing a play in the style of an old Sierra adventure game.  Chris Chappell and I were drunk, reminiscing about those old EGA adventure titles, and how bizarre their plot structures were when you thought about the events as literally occuring.  Adventure Quest (which was in the inaugural Game Play Festival) was born out of that.  It is currently published here:  (cough, cough.)

True or False: video games are now more culturally important than they were in the past. I think this is actually a deceptive question.  The answer is obviously true, but it is more complicated than that.  Video games are more prevalent than they were in the past, but I don't know if they're necessarily more "culturally important" now.  It really depends on what you mean by "cultural importance."  I think in the late 70s, early 80s, they were very cutting edge and new (and thus important.)  I feel as though a lot of video games today are the creation of large firms (as opposed to passionate individuals) and as a result they're marketed, focus group'd and committee'd to death.  To me this makes them less "culturally important" than they could be, in the same way that new sitcom with a tired premise is probably less culturally important than, say, the latest Soderbergh film.  Of course, that could just be my own bias interpreting "cultural importance" as being something with an attempt at substence when, in fact, you could make the case that something like Friends is more culturally important than The Honeycomb Trilogy (even though the Honeycomb Trilogy was brilliant and Friends was arguably rubbish, it still affected society and culture 'at large' more than the Honeycomb Trilogy.)  It depends on whether or not you think things that are cotton candy entertainment are "cultural."  Which, I suppose, they are... Maybe I'm overthinking this.  I mean, heck, McDonalds could be considered "cultural" since it is, in fact, part of our culture.  Now, to focus back on video games, Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2, which was crowd sourced is, to me, culturally important on multiple levels.  We're definitely in a transitory moment, and the old business models are crumbling.  I think there's a real opportunity for video games to be "cultural pioneers" again and it starts with wresting control of the medium from corporations and putting it back in the hands of the actual artists.  Don't get me wrong - corporations SHOULD have a hand in art.  When big companies provide corporate assistance to things like the NEA, or donate money to theaters to keep them running and capable of paying artists for their work: that's a good thing.  Patronage is great for the arts.  But video games aren't treated like part of the arts, they're treated like commodity.  And that holds them back from being culturally important in the way that only art can be.  I don't want video games to be culturally important in the same manner that bottled water or summer blockbusters are.  I want them to be culturally important in the same manner that theater, film, and television is culturally important.  And when I say theater, I mean everything from Broadway to Indy theater.  When I say film, I mean everything from the aforementioned summer blockbuster to the microbudget mumblecore art house flick.  I want video game companies to be patrons for video game artists - the Brian Fargo's and Roberta Williams's of the world.  So, yes, TRUE.  I mean, this festival exists, right?

Richard Lovejoy is the author of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The show runs July 7 28, 2012. Tickets can be purchased here.

No comments: