Are Video Games Art?

This is my final blog in this series and I will not attempt to provide any direct examples to my argument; I am not an avid “gamer”. One of the most contentious and perhaps provocative questions asked in my “Computing and the Arts” course was, “Are video games art?” The dissenting view of Roger Ebert was presented, however I found his argument as a shortsighted, pseudo-intellectual elitist point of view. His main point appears to revolve around the supposition that the inherent interaction of a player making various choices can and will disconnect the player for whatever artistic message a game designer attempts artistically. I find this argument to be ludicrous; it is those very choices that can make video games art.
            While I cannot point to a specific example of a video game being art, I can point to the fact that many images, music and themes can be found in video games, and their inclusion is a developers attempt to convey feelings, thought and perhaps some thematic message. As I attempted to point out in my first blog entry, Leo Tolstoy made quite a few arguments as to what is and what is not art. One of Tolstoy’s points was that art is one of the few things that connect humans at some point in most of our lives, sometimes “infectiously”. While Mr. Ebert believes that films can be or are art, is the fact that videos games are interactive take away from the human connection that Tolstoy refers to? I think not. In fact, I believe that interactivity can raise the standard of connection, and someday may even surpass motion pictures. In fact, I view Mr. Ebert’s motion pictures as an industry that is too static and without the potential of variance that dynamic arts such as jazz, or other performing arts can realize… especially with audience interaction.
            With the expansion of computers, communications technologies and real time interaction becoming a reality, I believe that video games will become more communicative of emotion, thought and various aesthetic properties. I have heard classical music in the background during some of the games they play. I have seen individuals become emotionally distraught at the loss or death of a character and others jubilant and the success of a quest or the redemption of some goal. The interactivity inherent in video games causes the viewer/gamer to become more emotionally connected with what he is trying to accomplish. That connection may not be direct to a developer, but it is direct to the developer’s intent and design for his or her game.
            I would not suggest that interactivity is the sole definition of art, there is a subjective nature that most can agree with when it comes to the definition of art. Roger Ebert is entitled to his subjective opinion. I am also not making the argument that I know of any games I would currently consider art, however, I believe there is a very real potential for a great piece of video game art, if one doesn’t already exist.

Musique Concrete

Musique Concréte has roots firmly grounded in an analog history with Pierre Shaefer’s development and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s popularization of the art. These men are not the only ones to manipulate sounds to create a musically artistic expression and become famous for it. György Ligeti also utilized the unusual sonic art in much of his work. Mr Ligeti is especially known for his association with Stanley Kubrick and his work on various pieces in the soundtracks of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “The Shining” and “Eyes Wide Shut”.
            Overall, I am not a big fan of Musique Concréte in and of itself, but I believe it can make a VERY effective tool when used in conjunction with theatre, moving pictures, or as ambient music for other visual presentations. For any of us who have watched either “The Shining” or “2001: A Space Odeyssey”; we know the effect of the underlying Ligeti soundtracks in particularly tense, confusing, anxious and terrifying moments. Those examples alone verify the effectiveness as Musique Concréte as an artform in and of itself, but I believe it is more effective when used in conjunction with visualization.
            György Ligeti’s composition "Glissandi", is probably his most famous Musique Concréte piece, maybe even more well known in art and music circles than his pieces associated with Stanley Kubrick films. Personally, I find the music interesting, but not overly successful in imparting much feeling, other than a sense of space aliens possibly being in the area, and a sense of disjointedness or wrongness. To me, it just doesn’t seem right.

Computer Graphics

To many people in their 20’s or younger, one of the standards they use judging a good video game, animated movie, or even live action movies that have unreal or seemingly impossible images intertwined is the accuracy, vividness and believability of the computer graphics used. Less than 40 years ago, these types of graphics weren’t even dreamed about. Computer processing was still in its youth, and prior to the mid-1980’s it was almost unheard of for individuals to have a “home” computer. Computers had been around for a couple of decades previous, but even the thought of people even possibly owning a home computer didn’t become practical until the mid 1960’s to mid 1970’s. Personally, I didn’t see an actual computer until high school in the early 1980’s. What I remember from that experience definitely wasn’t the realism of the computer’s graphics.
            The first computer I actually saw had a monochrome (green) screen and had a cassette tape drive for memory. I also remember that in a programming class, the students were trying to create the image of a little tank, and make it move. Around this same timeframe, the video games “Space Invaders” and “Asteroids” were cutting edge, but the difficulty for high school students “programming” anything was almost unheard of. As time went on, I learned quite a bit more about computers, although I probably still do not possess the knowledge that many of today’s high school students take for granted. Today’s computer graphics have remarkable history.
Oscilloscopes, used by the U.S. military were used to reproduce images representing aircraft and surface (naval) vessels. The military found value in this technology and invested in further development. As a result of this development, researchers found other applications that computer graphics could potentially influence. Eventually those early days of the oscilloscopes evolved into monochrome cathode ray tubes, which would eventually find small use in early home computers. Increased potential for home computers and the ability for a game to be programmed into a “home” computer were realized in 1975.
In 1974, Richard, Eric, and Scott Adams designed one of the first, if not the first, 16-bit home computer, and in 1975, Scott Adams wrote what may be considered the first “home” video graphics game. We have come so far in such a relatively short period of time; we have moved from static stars, Klingons represented by a “C”, and the Enterprise represented by an “E”, to today’s computer graphics that can be embedded into a movie scene where live actors seem to interact with images created by a computer. I still wonder where all this technology will go.

Virtual Reality

As computers have made exponential gains in power, and expanded range of peripherals has helped to contribute to increasing interactivity and rising potential for personal immersion into another reality, or virtual reality. Computers by their nature require some type of input, from a keyboard, mouse, or even a video camera. As this technology has improved, video games have become more interactive, generating increased sales in games like Nintendo’s Wii and the Xbox Kinect. Virtual reality makes for some interesting possibilities into art, especially interactive art.
            DE PROXÉMICA” is a video installation that appears to interact with not only one, but potentially multiple viewers. The installation seems to detect a viewer’s distance in space, and time, in relation to multiple prerecorded images of several people. Depending on how close the active observer gets to the people in the image, the recorded people appear to react to the closeness of the watcher. Some of the prerecorded people appear to get antagonistic, while other only appear to glace at and make note there is someone near them. The interactivity of these spectators and the life-size images of the installation seem fairly dynamic and do produce a type of virtual reality in an artistic setting. The different reactions of the prerecorded images tend to lead one to ponder the wisdom of approaching certain people, while some that appear harmless may seem to desire a fight, while others society might consider strange or weird, react in minimal degrees.
            The one reaction I tended to find interesting was the man sitting with his face in his hands, when a person would get close he would raise his face out of his hands, revealing clown makeup or whiteface; while he may not have indicated aggression, the image seemed to express anxiety. The effect was essentially creepy. The video I saw of this piece only displayed perhaps ten or eleven images that display varying degrees of response, but each was fairly unique and probably induced to elicit different emotions and responses from the viewing audience. There also appears to be some sort of randomness to the project, although it may be due to the limited video I could find. It appears possible that after the “train” passes and the program resets, the images may appear by themselves or with another prerecorded image that had not been viewed previously. The piece also suggest that the same person’s image can and will have different responses to how the interacting viewer moves. The effect gives the idea they might have individual backgrounds than provide different responses to differences in proximity and speed of a spectator. DE PROXÉMICA is an interesting piece to say the least.

Net Art... (or net.art)... or NET.ART. ... or...

When my “Computing and the Arts” class covered the “NET.ART” topic, it quickly became my least favorite topic we had covered, or would cover. Vuk Cosic was credited with being one of the prominent members of the “Net Art” movement, as well as Mark Amerika. I have a background that makes me suspicious of what these individual produce on their websites, due to their tendency to utilize blind links, hypertext and sites that generally don’t follow “normal” organization or format. I guess that is really the point of their view of “Net Art.” That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Anyway, when I search Wikipedia another name stood out to me for some reason, Heath Bunting. I’m still not sure why his name stood out, but his irational.org still has me reeling with his “_readme.htm.”
            When I decided to check out the “read me” file, I was taken to a web page that was titled, “Own, Be Owned Or Remain Invisible.” At the top was a hyper-banner with text bouncing around that would take you to “art.teleportacia.org”; I think it would anyway, I won’t click on it. I told you before; I don’t trust sites like these. When continue down the page, there appears to be text, but probably 95% of the words are hyper-text, and it doesn’t really make much logical sense. Again, I believe that may be the point, or part of the point at least. Whenever I see sites similar to this one, I tend to be very suspicious, and leery about moving the mouse or clicking on anything, as these site could potentially be rife with things bad for your computer or bad for security in general. However, I believe that many of the proponents of “Net Art” are mostly making a point that the World Wide Web and the “net” are potentially confusing mediums that can be rampant with unseen or highly visible dangers.

Cellular Automata

          When many attempt to describe Cellular Automata, John Conway’s “The Game of Life” appears most often as a starting example. As with many examples of Generative Art, there is some basic algorithm used to produce some sort of automated semblance of some aspect of life or artificial life. Along with John Conway’s game, there are others who have tried to simulate or emulate viruses, insect behavior, and other illustrations of some microcosm of a system or behavior found in life and nature. Erwin Driessens & Maria Verstappen attempted to create a version of, what I believe to be, a colorful exploration into three-dimensional space, although I believe the program is actually only two-dimensional..
Driessens & Verstappen’s “Ima Traveller” is based on a recurring division of a cell, into four separate cells, each with a distinct color. As each cell divides, the colors reproduced are based on probabilistic variations based on the original cell it split or multiplied from. Once viewed, the recursion appears to go into every direction, creating a feeling of moving through a type of colorful “space.” The feeling tends to make a viewer feel they are travelling in any direction, without borders, and perhaps without limits, other than what is created by the variation of color.
When I first viewed the “movie” example, like I was looking into a microscope that was zooming in on some globular piece of matter. Once the view got to the glob, or perhaps it was meant to be a cell of some sort, it no longer looked as though I was zooming in. It looked as though I was moving through an ever expanding space, not bound by limits of the glob. The effect was a feeling of smallness or insignificance in the face of something that appeared so small but was infinite within. To me, the effect is quite impressive, especially since this work was created around 1998 or 1999.


Fractal Art

I would like to preface this entry by saying this may not be an example of Fractal Art in the truest definition, and that I am not a “tree hugger,” but I find the work of Chris Jordan to be extremely impressive and provocative. I was first exposed to his work in a previous semester in a natural science course I took at the University of Arizona. Many of Chris Jordan’s pieces are produced by photographs, etchings, or other items, and after compiling hundreds, thousands or even millions of images reconstituting them into a larger image that may not seem to reflect what the cumulative images represent. Many of his pieces are a statement on human consumption and the waste that can occur with such consumption, or the image may represent what he perceives as positive organizations toward his vision of the natural environment and it’s peoples, as in “E Pluribus Unum.”
            In “E Pluribus Unum,” Chris Jordan etched the names of a million organizations dedicated to social justice, the environment, preservation of diverse cultures, and the like (it looks like more than a million when you zoom into the image). To me, this piece suggests many aspects of what Mr. Jordan may perceive about these organizations. The image (which is actually 24 by 24 feet) is circular, like the world it may represent. The list of names all come together to form distinct patterns within the circle that appear to create algorithmic or fractal pieces of a much greater whole (you really have to zoom in to get the full effect). I highly recommend visiting Mr. Jordan’s online gallery and checking out the “Running the Numbers” and “Running the Numbers II” series. Be sure to zoom in and out and pay attention to the comments below the various works.


Cybernenic Art

When Norbert Wiener coined the term Cybernetics, I tend to doubt he had Cybernetic Art as the foremost reason for coining the term. While I believe while Mr. Weiner had a very large vision of cybernetics as the basis or foundation of controlling systems through feedback, I doubt he envisioned the artistic results that resulted from an artist’s concept of interaction and promotion with a work of art. Nicolas Shöffer, Les Levine and Ken Rinaldo are probably some of the more famous artists to utilize the concept of cybernetics, interaction and feedback in works of art. In my opinion, one of the most interesting pieces I have found was created by an artist, originally from China, Wen-Ying Tsai, who was influenced heavily in mechanical engineering, painting and sculpture in the United States.
            In 1991 displayed his cybernetic sculpture “Desert Spring” and won the ARTEC Grandprix. The piece takes some elements for his earlier work and focuses more on a self-regulating relationship of the sculpture and its environment. In concept, it appears similar to the concepts of Ken Rinaldo’s “Autopoesis,” “Desert spring” was created and displayed almost a decade before Ken Rinaldo’s piece. When a viewer enters the display space, “Desert Spring” senses the disruption of its normal tranquil state through infra red and audio sensors and begins to “destabilize from normal relaxed undulations to excited rapid palpatations.” The work appears to focus on natural behavior versus disturbed or disrupted behavior. The piece only returns to its tranquil state when the observer or observers leave the space.
            Personally, I find the concept of the work to be almost a base of “Autopoesis,” while being more pleasing in appearance at the same time. Granted, it is probably not as technically intricate and complex, but I like the display and installation being in a darkened room with the brilliance of the sculptures color accented by light; I believe it makes one focus on the piece rather than being overwhelmed by the view of multitudes of robotic arms hanging from the ceiling in a stark white room. I believe the main focus on interaction or feedback of sensing the watchers presence and the works’ disruption from normal behavior or stasis to be pretty much the same.

Generative Art

            Brian Eno is probably one of the best known Generative artists of our time; many may not know his name, but have probably heard some of his music, whether designed, performed or produced. Brian Eno was approached by Microsoft in 1994 to compose music for the Windows 95 project. The six-second long Windows start-up “tune” was the result of his work. In recent years, Mr. Eno has collaborated with other and performed and produced with musical products and he is often referred to as the creator or father of ambient music. Brian Eno partnered with Peter Chilvers and produced the iPhone application “Bloom” as a result.
            Bloom is an application that appears to have generative properties in that there appears to be parameters established for a range of notes and tones that can be created and played by an individual touching the iPhone screen. I do not have an iPhone and cannot try this application out for myself, or give a full review of the capabilities for the application. I can say that various clips that can be found on YouTube, and I found the concept to be interesting, to say the least. Bloom appears to have two basic modes to use: “Listen” and “Create.” I’m assuming the “Listen” mode generates some type of randomized music that might remind one of wind chimes on a synthesized piano, and that the music shouldn’t be identical to any music previously heard through the application. The “Create” mode appears to replicate a user’s touch of the iPhone screen to notes that are played, repeated several times as the note or series of notes fades away, and accompanied by some colorful graphic displays of various colors appearing and fading at the points the screen was touched.
            If I had an iPhone, this might be one of the few applications I would try and acquire. In the “Create” mode, I doubt anyone could accurately duplicate a tune or melody; each note produced by a touch might only be a few pixels of separation, if not only one pixel per note. It would appear that no matter how hard one tried, short of actually recording a creation, an exact replication could not be reproduced. In a world where some have said all the great music has already been written, Bloom could stand as a beginning to widespread personal access to a simple and easy to use generative music creator.


Algorithmic Art

One of the first computational art concepts we were presented was the concept of Algorithmic Art. Almost immediately, at least to my mind, computer graphics the might remind a person of a Spirograph image might come to mind. Algorithmic art is essentially art that is generated by some type of automated process. The concept of Algorithmic Art often focuses more on the process or rules given and followed to create an artistic piece.
            Vlatco Ceric is an example of an algorithmic artist that creates not only graphics, but sculptures as well. On Mr. Ceric’s website, one can see part of the process, and final installations, of at least two of his sculpture pieces. Matrix is my favorite example of algorithmic sculpture, primarily due to the “final installation” image. The work, to me suggests a strange dichotomy between not only an algorithm and nature, but between man and nature.
            The final installation of Matrix, to me, shows man seems insignificance in relation to the vastness and complexity of nature. Matrix, by itself, reminds me of a city created by man. The city appears complex when it is focused on. However, when a city is contemplated in a greater sense with the world surrounding it, a city seems regular and perhaps simple. The pieces of wood used to create the piece appear to only be of two sizes, arranged in an algorithmic pattern, but the wood and its grain also suggest that not all pieces are identical. When the final product is installed within view of a forest it shows where man’s civilization has come from and, perhaps, it is not an improvement from where we came. Below is an image the final installation of Matrix, 2006, by Vlatko Ceric.



I decided to switch my college major from Computer Science (C Sc) to an Information Science, Technology and Arts (ISTA) Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in the summer of 2010. I was a bit disillusioned at my ability, or lack thereof, in the Computer Science courses, and was very interested when the recently established School of Information Science, Technology and Art (SISTA) announced it would be offering both BA and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees. I had been with computers and applications related to my former employment in the military and civilian realms for quite a few years, and I was intrigued by the concept of how information was processed, disseminated and retrieved for quite some time. One of the things that keyed me off as this program being different was the addition of to last word of SISTA and ISTA, Arts. In my youth, I also had an interest in Theatre Arts (which, by the way, is my minor). As far back as I can recall, science and art had always seemed to be mutually exclusive. One might use a computer to generate a piece of art, but as I have come to learn that information, science and art may not always be enmeshed, they are not exclusive of each other.
I ended up taking just about every ISTA course available the fall semester, but one proved to be one of my favorites at the University of Arizona (UA); ISTA 301, Computing and the Arts. I expected the course to be focused on how computers influenced or generated art, but came to learn much more. Yes, there was a bit about computers and computer art, but the class ended up being more about the “concepts” of computing and how they have influenced art. There was also quite a bit of presentation and discussion on the idea and perception of “art” itself.
When people think of the definition of art, many things may come to mind: paintings, sculpture, photography, theatre, music, dance, literature, and perhaps other forms or sub-forms. Some common thoughts are that art has an aesthetic quality, or it conveys the emotions of the artist at the time the artist creates a piece. Another common opinion is that art is a highly subjective idea, and I believe it is. In my opinion, Leo Tolstoy communicated the greatest concept of art when he suggested that “art lifts man from his personal life into the universal life.” To me, this suggests that while art can be a very personal thing, subjective, it ties all man together through some universal thread, objective. This notion also implies that art is a thread common to all peoples that is not merely aesthetic, although it often possesses this quality, but it conveys and ties all man together through emotions, intellect and perhaps some spiritual medium. To my knowledge, no other being possesses the ability to create and appreciate art in its many forms, except perhaps God. Animals have been said to “create art”, but I believe this is not the case, as other animals receive nothing intrinsic from a piece created by another animal, even of the same species. Though each of us may have subjective thoughts on what is or is not art, but generally, we agree that on some level true art expresses some feeling or thought to another human being, and that fact shows man’s art joins all mankind together to varying degrees.
Through this blog, I will attempt to provide further thoughts and perhaps some insight into various examples of art as it relates to the concept of “Computing and the Arts.”