Let’s put this baby to bed right now.
By gaming, I mean the act of getting together with your friends and creating something at the table together, however it is that you enjoy doing so. By art, I mean the creation of something that has beauty and meaning, something that takes technique and craft to create.
When folks say that gaming is not art, they often say something either dismissive about their own gaming or try to make art into something that only snobs aspire to and intellectual shits attempt to create. I hate that we will dismiss our own games’ meaning and beauty and I hate that the word -art- can be twisted into something distant and awful.
In one thread I remember reading about this subject, one of the posters said something like, “What I do with my friends isn’t art, it is more like a punk band rocking out in a garage.” A punk band rocking out in a garage is fucking art and it is the exact kind of art that I would compare to gaming.
Gaming is absolutely the act of getting together with friends and rocking out, often loudly, often badly but since the only audience are the other people in the garage, it isn’t about the outside presentation but about the experience of it. Creating something that you can present to the people outside of the experience (despite what my love of AP posts might indicate) is not what gaming is about. This art is about creating something that stirs up the people who are directly involved.
Gaming is about frying your amplifiers and breaking a few guitar strings and hitting hard cords with friends so that the echo off the garage walls makes your eardrums hurt and to hell with the neighbors and to hell with anyone outside of the band who claims that your glorious noise is poorly wrought.
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I’d like to add to this argument by stating that Art is something that evokes a response in people. Sometimes, it’s a negative response. But, that is Art’s job. So, when we try to share our gaming experiences with others and they try to dismiss it as “geek speak” or “just a game” we are eliciting an (often) emotional response. These folks don’t get it: Not everyone gets Kandinsky. Certainly, not everyone gets modern dance or poetry or punk music.
But, our games are just as expressive, vested, and creative as any other art form. We just have a very small appreciative audience is all.
I would take it a step farther, Pete. When people do not get gaming or understand why a gaming experience was great, it doesn’t at all matter to the session’s status as art. The only audience that truly matters are the people sitting at the table.
Anyone else enjoying the session or taking it in and finding meaning in the ficion is just a bonus.
From my livejournal in January of this year:
RPG and Art
I think that it is undeniable that role-playing games constitute art in every sense of the word. The act of communally creating a story regardless of mechanical means underpinning it is clearly a work of
art. This thought is often abbreviated, however, whether out of embarrassment or an excess of ego.
First, let’s not be shy about calling it art. It is an art form and there are better and worse results as art. As with any art, the capacity of the resulting activity to amuse is not necessarily related to its quality. The capacity to entertain (cf. Eisenstein) perhaps more closely is. The capacity to expose ideas that otherwise may not be illuminated certainly is. To head off the obvious accusations of “badwrongfun” — yes, some fun is artless. You are not an evil or stupid person for enjoying that. But the fact that your dungeon crawl is great fun does not make it art and, more importantly, the fact that the medium can be used to create art does not make your dungeon crawl suck. My crappy doodling in the margins of crossword puzzles in not art either, but it is diverting. I will not defend it as art and I will not be offended if you make the claim that it is not art.
Second, let’s not mistake the medium for the message. Once someone (usually a game designer) gets it in their head that this passtime is sometimes art, they usually glom on to the idea that the game itself is art or (more insidious) that the game affects the whether or not art is created. Or affects its quality. I want to stand well apart from that idea. Not because I think system doesn’t matter (where system is defined largely as the rules as applied by the table — vaguer and proportionally less useful definitions exist) but rather because talking about the system is rather like discussing the qualities of cinema by focusing on lenses, film, and cameras.
The, art, you see, is in the play.
Now, when a film-maker sets out to make a great film there is no question that he selects his tools very specifically. But he selects them in the context of his goals. Not all tools are always useful and some turn out to be rarely useful indeed. But the art is in the finished product — the film itself — and not in the lens or the colour process.
And so I think that the art in role-playing games if firmly vested in the table itself — in play. And it is there. We have all experienced a thrill, a sense of awe, a rush of excitement, from a moment in play or, more rarely, from an entire session. When looking back over play notes from a multi-session campaign there is often a powerful emotional response to the story (though — and this is another essay — not from the reproduction of events but from the memory of the actual session that it evokes). This response is the giveaway that that we are dealing with art. And it happens sometimes in most games and all the time in none. More in some perhaps. Less in others. But always it is from play as influenced by system and not from system as represented in play. The storytelling is the artform. The people telling the stories are the artists.
Somewhere this feeds into increased narrative authority as a tool to get more out of sessions by inviting more of the table to be artists more of the time.
Let me chew on that for a while, Brad.
There’s something in there, we agree and then a spot where we part ways but I can’t quite put my finger on it. More on this later.
I point this out every time this topic comes around.
Most of the discussion of “Art or Not” is due to incompatible usage of English. You (Judd) start out by defining what you mean, but your readers or fellow conversationalists may not be open to that definition.
To play devils advocate, in formal mathematical logic we have advanced a definition and then supported it. But that definition is not the definition of art, it is art(1).
Other completely valid definitions
“something that takes superior skill to craft”
“Something unnecessary for survival”
“Something that conveys a non literal truth”
“things that are in an art museum”
So, if you want to be more clear, it may be better to say “When I play RPG’s they typically have beauty and meaning and require technique and craft.”
And leave the A word out
Well put, Josh. Thanks.
This is my new favorite link.
We’ve been having these discussions for hundreds of years and they’re not going to stop any time soon.
The more important question is: why does it matter if something is art or not? How would it change things if everyone agreed roleplaying was art?
Nice link, Jay. Thanks.
Yeah, sometimes a question get’s asked or something get’s posted and it is truly a waste of time. I am open to the idea that this is one of those times, without a doubt.
Before I post something, I need to ask, “How is this/will this/has this make my play better?” and in this case, semantic bullshit will not at all make it better. Something to think about.
Judd, I didn’t necessarily have an answer in mind when I asked those questions. Like, the answer isn’t necessarily: “It wouldn’t matter at all.” Maybe roleplaying would be less stigmatized if everyone thought it was art. Maybe we could get government grants to write games like they do in the Nordic countries.
But I generally think that “classificatory disputes” are obfuscating what people really want to talk about. Like: “Why don’t you respect what I do?” Or: “I really hate it when people act like pretentious douche-bags.”
Asking questions like “why does this matter?” and “what would be different if X?” are ways of getting at the underlying issues sometimes.
That was really beautifully put, Judd.
The same arguments, whatever the art.