Love is not a dead topic in contemporary art, how about in the video game industry?
Written by Lorenzo Pigozzo on May 28th, 2014
The Missing Love Story
The maturity of the medium, my own maturity.
I think the interactive medium is at the very same point figurative arts were at the end of the nineteenth century, big changes in the air, a lot of people (that history books will easily forget about) find all the different stuff too pretentious, too cerebral, too complicated. And I wrote different, not experimental. I feel this big friction whenever I talk with people outside the community of experimenters (that is a small portion of the community of indie developers), that time when the elite detached from the majority, art’s topics and artists’ lines of reasoning start tangling and a sort of separation between art and craft emerges. The increasingly tendency to cover more and more intimate topics. To tell your, and only yours story you have to find your own way of narrating, and in fact it seems like in the past few years we all discovered how deep narrative studies can get.
A couple of months ago I was working on a gig featuring some of the traditional songs (mid-late 20th century is now traditional, right?) from my city and region. We’ve had a lot of good singer/songwriters in the past decades and people all around the country still know and appreciate them. During rehearsal I noticed that nine out of ten songs we were playing narrated about love, the end of a love, what love is, how to break one’s heart, and so on… It’s like it was a big obsession at that time. That made me think about this forgotten topic, or at least forgotten in the video games medium, compared to other media. At the beginning I thought that music was just better than any other art form for depicting love, but that’s just incorrect in too many ways.
Looking a little bit around the web for people that talks about this I could find very little, and sometimes something quite preoccupying. Sentences like: A little bit of practice before real world interactions can always be helpful, the writer was talking about a dating simulator. Treating video games as something that can be useful, as an activity you perform in order to get better at something, lowers them to the same status of a 4 miles run after work, and I don’t think any dating simulator ever helped someone “getting better at real life”, but even if they did I would like to think that video games are more than that. I invite you all to read Paolo Pedercini’s take on serious games here, I totally agree with him and it’s totally linked with this. Creating culture is something else, and video games do that as much as every other art form.
We’re still in that phase of amazement for what you can do, like when the first flat moving images appeared in front of human eyes. Back at that time looking at a greyscale train speeding toward you on a screen was sufficient to make you scream, now people scream because virtual blood looks like real blood, or because some statistics say that introducing game mechanics bring this or that benefit in their business. Every medium had that initial exaltation for its technical potential, like with the late 19th century medical cinematography or Lumière brothers’ thoughts about the future of cinema. It’s easy to forget that the medium and its content are two separated things. I mean, language is a good vehicle for incredibly interesting informations, this doesn’t prevent me to say a lot of dumb things every Saturday night (not to talk about any other weekday). So, am I tired of the exaltation of the medium per se? Yes, totally. I’m tired of self-referentiality. I’ve had enough of “how clever this is” amazement, I want to play a video game that unsettles me, that talks to my inner self rather than with my conscious part. This may be the Ludic Century but I’m starting to think that, even if I love games, it’s not a good thing, it’s just a fact. It would be extremely naïve to think that video games will save us all because they’ll help us express what we couldn’t express in the past. Someone said, do games for yourselves. I would like to be more selective: do games for what makes you human.
So, is this a random rant? Yes… and no. I feel I’m changing, my perspective is changing. I dived into video games and now I’m emerging with some ideas from the inside I could never have thought of before. I saw amazing things floating on a dirty sea, now I need a shower. I think I’ll forget the goal oriented experience, I want to transcend goals as much as I wish Tale of Tails didn’t implement the scoring system in Luxuria Superbia. I find that ambiguous, some elements of the game communicate me a message about love, love with an AI, love as patience and giving, on the other hand the scoring system gives it a hint of a teenager sexual skills related point of view on such topic, I don’t like it. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just misunderstanding, I will ask them why they implemented it at the next GDC Europe if I get a chance. For sure they’re among the few that give us a chance to open an artistic debate on the content of their production, and even if they made a game I don’t appreciate, I would always thank them to walk that path.
Love in contemporary art is not a dead topic, take a look at The Progress of Love, (still) no video games in there but definitely something worth a look. This is my invitation to broaden our horizon and try to push video games inside the bigger cultural context, in the ongoing debates in the art world instead of keeping us self-referential. Because the medium will never justify its content.