Learn the Different Categories of Game Art
At this point in “Challenging Assumptions: On Art and Videogames”, you may be a bit confused. I know my head was spinning at this stage in Works of Game. Remember though that John Sharp is still laying out the roadmap for this conceptual journey, and that’ll we’ll be diving deeper into each nuance soon. Just hold on a bit longer as we explore the three classification of games Sharp creates that will help us see the different intentions of artists and game makers.
I’ll state them here and we can tackle each one individually later. For Sharp, there are games, artgames, and game art.
Sharp illustrates his idea of a game with one of the greatest ever crafted: Super Mario Bros. It’s primary intention was creating a pleasurable play experience in the hopes to entertain people.
Furthermore, it possesses a victory condition, player resistance, and a play space. These basic traits are all that are required for Sharp’s game category. Everything else is secondary to the gameplay, and Super Mario Bros.’s universal appeal is due to its expert gameplay and supreme game feel.
(I actually disagree slightly with Sharp’s definition of a game, and you can too! But that’s a conversation you and I will have on Twitter, not now.)
The puzzle-platformer Braid fits neatly into Sharp’s artgames. This game is the product of game makers with “artistic intentions” who use “the language and idiom of games and their play as a medium for expression.”
(Sharp, however, gives no definition of ‘artistic intentions’ outside of the words “medium of expression”, keeping things slightly nebulous and certainly subjective.)
The core game mechanic allows players to rewind time and undo mistakes they’ve made in their gameplay. Nevertheless, the story ultimately pins the main character into a conundrum that their time manipulating abilities cannot correct.
Through play, Braid shows us that some problems are simply too big to fix and are outside of our control. The game is both a ludic play-space, and also a place where players reflect on time and regret. In the end, artgames employ the core quality of games, interactivity, to create reflection and revelation.
The last work, Super Mario Trilogy by Myfanwy Ashmore, exemplifies the last classification, game art. Sharp explains for us the set of three mods to the original Super Mario Bros that comprise the collection. In one titled Mario Battle No.1, Mario runs on an endless plane devoid of anything until the timer kills him. In the second titled Mario Doing Time, an insurmountable wall keeps Mario in place until time again kills him. Thirdly, in Mario is Drowning, Mario swims underwater with no purpose.
This unique approach to games is indicative of game art. As Sharp says, “put simply, game art is art made of games.” In this class of games, the game itself is merely a raw material by which the art is created. It is no different than the very paint an artist uses on a canvas. This outlook follows closely with famous thinkers and convention-defying artists such as Pollock and Duchamp. To them, plumbing and house painting were as relevant to their art as game making is to game artists.
Therein lie the three categories of games that are created when different communities approach the same medium. Games exist for entertainment, artgames attempt to synthesize those conventions with expression, and game art sees it all as a means to an end. With our knowledge of affordances, and our understanding of these categories, we will move forward with John Sharp in “Challenging Assumptions: On Art and Videogames” as we work our way through Work of Game.
(I’ll leave you with one minor frustration I had with this section. Nowhere in the chapter did we have a single definition of art accompanying the many categories Sharp creates. This parallels my irritation when I see pundits and fans alike toss the A-word around online without any clear foundation of what it means. Without its elucidation, I feel like the rest can easily be swept away. We’ll see if this gets cleared up later.)
All ideas in this article were pulled from Works of Game: On Aesthetics of Game and Art. More specifically, the introductory chapter.
Edited by Malia Hamilton