Video Games as Collaborative Art

By Hall, Stefan | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Video Games as Collaborative Art


Hall, Stefan, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


The Summer 2005 (Vol. 85, No. 2) issue of the Phi Kappa Phi Forum was devoted to the topic of computer games. Later in the same year, noted film critic Roger Ebert set off an intense debate among members of both the film and video game industries (which have an increasing association through shared digital resources as well as economic factors) by stating that video games are fundamentally inferior to film and literature as an artistic medium and that video games could never move "beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art." Inherent to Ebert's position is his basic definition of art, which is contained in his declaration that "Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control" ("Answer Man," 11-27-2005). While most respondents to Eben took him to task for his self-admitted unfamiliarity with the medium of video games, very few actually took a moment to address the issue of authorial control - primarily localized in the construction of narrative - that is at the root of Ebert's characterization of art.

The disruption of a unidirectional bequeathing of art from active creator to passive viewer through the objet d'art has been called into question in a number of ways. For example, authorial control is a notion which has been particularly challenged in the twentieth century, especially in the literary theory of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. Researchers into the history of moviegoing have investigated in what ways the audience reacts to (or interacts with) the films that they see, complicating the notion of viewer engagement.

More to the point, the performative aspects of art and its production have become increasingly important, from interactive multimedia projects to the entire field of performance art, which involves four basic elements: time, space, the performers body, and most notably, a relationship between performer and audience. While relationships between performers and their audiences seem obvious throughout the history of art - think about any singer, poet, or stage actor performing in front of a live crowd and how the crowd's reaction can in turn affect the artist - it is the advancement of the importance of the interactivity between artist(s) and audience(s) that has moved into prominence, where process is as much a part of the work as is the product itself. The component of interactivity noted here forms one of the core definitions of a video game.

In June 2007, Ebert's original sentiments about video games were revisited by noted dark fantasist Clive Barker, who in addition to writing short stories, novels, plays, and film scripts also illustrates his books, paints, publishes his own line of superhero comic books, and produced a line of character models through McFarlane Toys. Barker first entered the medium of video games with his 2001 release, Undying, and again this past October with Jericho. While neither game is a particularly noteworthy example to advance as a reason for validating video games as art, Barker is very enthusiastic about the potential for video games to have artistic merit by allowing their creators to collaborate on a multitude of design elements. …

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