This month’s Round Table sets as its topic “What would one of your favorite pieces of non-interactive art look like if it had been created as a game first?” This has proved to be the most challenging Round Table yet, attracting just two entries all month. I have spent almost the entire month struggling with the concept.
The problems I face are two-fold. Firstly, determining a “favourite piece of (non-interactive) art” is a herculean challenge for me. When I go to a gallery, I am seeking an experience beyond the rational – I do not greatly enjoy art that asks me to decode its puzzle, or otherwise rationally interact with it, to anywhere near the same degree that I enjoy a piece of art that transfixes me in a space beyond thought – an experience of emotion or transcendence that is wholly beyond conscious thought. That for me is the essence of great art.
This brings me to the second problem: can a game actually access the transcendent experience of what great art means to me? And I suspect, perhaps that it cannot. Although I have no favourite artworks, my favourite art movement is impressionism – the nineteenth century exploration of light as a form. Whereas the realism of earlier epochs had produced convincing simulacrums, the impressionists like Claude Monet, Cézanne, and post-impressionists like Vincent van Gogh were trying to access something beyond the real – they gave colour priority to line, they allowed the passage of time a foothold in the image, and they moved art into a new space where capturing the essence of a vista was more important than accurate representation.
Can there be an impressionist game? Certainly, we could make a game with an impressionistic art style. But would it really be an impressionist game? I find myself doubting this. The essence of what we mean by “game” is a formal system, and the formal is precisely what impressionism was rebelling against. Perhaps we could make an interactive impressionist experience, and some might call it a game, but this for me falls short of the challenge of this Round Table.
The two entrants that as of this time have come into the Round Table are interesting to examine in the light of my dilemma.
Jorge Albor looks at the idea of a videogame memorial – an idea I find fascinating. Since the purpose of a memorial is to commemorate, this goal can readily be transferred into the game space. By rendering the lives of those lost as “narrative puzzles”, Jorge suggests something that is clearly a game, but which manages the same artistic goals as a non-interactive memorial. (Whether the game memorial could attain the solemnity of some of the great memorials of the world is something I question – would the player of such a game memorial really experience the sense of loss, or would they simply entertain themselves with the puzzles?)
Gianfranco Berardi takes the Michelangelo painting The Last Judgement, from the Sistene Chapel, and gets at the heart of what the image was conveying, unpacking this in a game which reminds me of the 1980 art-game Deus Ex Machina for the ZX Spectrum, by Andrew Stagg – a life lead in games, from birth to death. Because the original artwork has a tangible goal, it becomes possible to bear upon the concept in the form of a game. I love the idea expressed in this piece that the judgement in question is not imposed from the outside, but one’s own judgement of oneself. The transition to game in this case is possible because the artwork in question is essentially didactic – it opens the door to conversion into game-form.
So following in this line of reasoning, could I get at the goal of impressionism, and render this in the form of a game? After a month of pondering this question, I find I have got nowhere. From the point of view of impressionism as a rebellion against the previously accepted forms, a direction could be found, but any non-game might be claimed to fulfil this goal. Unless I could find a way to capture the essence of the experience of an impressionist painting, I would feel I had failed to successfully make the transition.
Perhaps what this shows for me is that game design as a process is always for me a rational experience, while art for me is at its greatest when it transcends rational experience. And thus, perhaps my problem is not that there cannot be an impressionist game, but rather that an impressionist game is not something that I can personally conceive – it is in some sense beyond me. And that, perhaps, is precisely what I am looking for in art.
The opening image is Claude Monet's Water Lilies (1916).