Is game design different if an artist tries to make an interactive piece instead of when a developer makes art games?
Written by Lorenzo Pigozzo on July 16th, 2014
When an Artist Creates Games
Is game design different if an artist tries to make an interactive piece instead of when a developer makes art games? This is the question I’ve wondered about for a while. It’s not just a formal matter as it may seem, it’s about what’s worth to be defined as art in video games and what, well, it is not art and/or a video game at all.
One of my favourite video artists is Bill Viola, yeah, I’m not alone, he’s kind of a contemporary art star. From 2005 to 2007 he has developed with Tracy Fullerton and USC Game Innovation Lab a video game titled The Night Journey. Take a look at this 10-minute walk-through:
It reminded me in some way both Ed Key’s Proteus and thatgamecompany’s Journey, only… Well, quite different. There must be a reason why this art game got completely ignored, was it just a matter of bad timing for the game just didn’t even make it as a finalist at Independent Game Festival 2008? It makes you think how things have changed since then, doesn’t it? I still have some doubts about how the fact that this is a video game by an artist and not an art game by a video game developer could have influenced its tremendous lack of buzz, press coverage. I mean… This game doesn’t exist and it will never exist in game design history books even if it’s a quite interesting pioneering experiment, is it because nobody in the video game industry knows who Bill Viola is? Creating a community around the games you make is crucial and clearly this kind of job has never been made for The Night Journey, this may be one cause. On the other hand Bill Viola is not a niche artist nobody in the world knows, he represented US contemporary art more than once all around the world, he has been inside museums for way more than 30 years.
The thing is that museum audience and video games (even indie art games) audience are two completely different clusters of people. Maybe we’re just deceiving ourselves when we think the indie community as a community of people into art and all-round self-expression, inside the community there’s for sure a big interest into art games but that’s a niche inside the niche, and I’m afraid a lot of this people’s contact with contemporary art are only the digital interactive products such as the ones developed by Tale of Tale, Molleindustria and so on. My point is: we keep talking about video games as art but there’s still this big gap between the video game world and the contemporary art world, we need to fill it. This is what I’m talking about, I want more of Pippin Barr feat. Marina Abramović.
Justin McElroy of Joystiq defined the difference between a game and an art game as “the same [as that] between a sculpture and a building. Though a building/game can be aesthetically pleasing, an art game/sculpture is using its very structure to produce some kind of reaction”.
Viola began working to define the Night Journey with a research group from Intel, including Kevin Teixeira, in 1998. The specification written by Teixeira was a starting point for us at The Game Innovation Lab, providing goals for interactivity, visual concepts and scenarios. One important idea described in this early specification was “explorable video”, which became a touch stone for the team in creating the visual feel for the game. [Tracy Fullerton, Reflections on The Night Journey: an Experimental Video Game, 2009 – download pdf ]
In 1998 I was 13 and someone was already trying to do such a thing, now I’m 29 and we’re just starting to see a growing audience for this kind of things. Going to game events and meetup is cool and useful, let’s invite people from adjacent world too, let’s be part of adjacent worlds ourselves. When an artist makes an art game we all should care because out of the box perspectives are what this medium needs more than ever.