The Poetics of Gaming

In Aristotle's Poetics, he breaks the various artistic works of his time down to one very basic principle - they are all at their core imitations. The only differences are the medium in which they are conveyed, the subject of the imitation, and the mode of presentation. Differences in medium and subject matter are fairly self-explanatory, but I got caught for a minute on the third difference. Here's an example I think works: Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore and Twilight. Both share the same medium (prose), and the same subject matter (vampires and love). But the former is a comedy, and the latter is not (not intentionally, anyway). If you haven't read Bloodsucking Fiends, you really should. Its a laugh riot. If you haven't read Twilight, well... probably best to keep it that way. Ok ok, enough of the jabs at Twilight, that's not what I came here for.

Aristotle goes on to examine the progression of several art forms, and comes up with what he believed were the necessary steps to make them good. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, or even if you just think he's a stuffy long dead Greek, he does have a way of simplifying things to their basic roots. Every work of art does need these three elements. But enough with the boring philosophical stuff, lets talk about gaming!

A few weeks ago I had a conversation about video games with my mother. When I told her that eventually I would like to be involved in making them, she came back with the question "Don't you want to do something more meaningful with your life?", which started a discussion about video games as an art form. I know this topic is everywhere and there are lots of opinions on the subject, this being the Internet. But that conversation I had with my mom got me thinking. Eventually I got her to consider the idea that any video game had the three elements of imitation just like the works of famous painters or musicians. The medium is simply computer hardware instead of a canvas, so video games should be treated as an art form. But later I asked myself whether that was actually true. After all, if my mom was more versed in the library of games out there she could bring up 10 shovelware imitations of Nintendogs for ever one of my Shadow of the Colossus or Portal. So maybe games shouldn't be considered art. Unhappy with this conclusion, I kept thinking.

On the other hand, every medium has this problem. Probably the best example is film. There are hundreds of examples of great art in this medium, but there are thousands of bad films to choose from. So does that mean film is not an artistic medium? No. So why not games? I thought about it, and the conclusion I came to is this - its new. When the printing presses started churning out the first novels, I'm sure there were many detractors saying that this wasn't "real art", and yet now I bet no one will argue literature's place as a medium. Same with rock music, jazz music, talking films, and modern dance. They all went through the initial phase where people didn't take them seriously, and now its our turn. Games have to prove themselves to be an art form to the rest of the world. I know I'm not the first person to say this - its not exactly a radical conclusion, but its one worth repeating.

So how can we, the gamers, bring our medium out of the Cave and into the sunlight of Respectability? Well, not buying shovelware knockoffs of Nintendogs would be a good start. The more genuinely good games that come out, the closer we are. And that brings me to the question I want to analyze in this *blog* (I know that term is here to stay, but I still cringe.) What makes a game good? What elements contribute to that golden idol, the game that is also art? I don't know, but I want to find out. And what better way to do that than analyze aspects of games I'm playing? I'm not trying to make this a review site by any means, its just a few observations on game elements that contribute (or don't) to games finally being considered an art. Given my backlog of games, there will probably be a lot of RPGs as subject matter. Just a warning, but I promise to branch out.

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Poetics, he breaks the various artistic works of his time down to one very basic principle - they are all at their core imitations. The only differences are the medium in which they are conveyed, the subject of the imitation, and the mode of presentation. Differences in medium and subject matter are fairly self-explanatory, but I got caught for a minute on the third difference. Here's an example I think works: Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore and Twilight." data-share-imageurl="">

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