On Auteurship in Games – and what makes them art. Clint Hocking, creator of Far Cry 2 and one of my favorite developers lays his view of game design and his worldview on the line:

Every other artistic medium is authored in the traditional sense: the message passes down from author to audience through the medium. But games (as we know) are different. Input is expression, and when players input their expression it passes back into the medium, where it feeds back against predictions the author(s) made about the kinds of things players might express (never reaching the author directly).

In McLuhan-ian terms the message of all (okay, most) other media is that the Author is ‘above’ and ‘primary’ and that meaning and art ‘declines’ from His Wisdom and Grace. The message of games is that the Author has ‘recused’ Himself and that he has willingly set himself outside the system of his work so that meaning and art can ‘incline’ from the Player.

That’s, like, the most beautiful thing ever.

It gets even more interesting, candid and relevant for this particular blog after that part. If you’re interested in the artistic validity of video games and how Christians should think about it, this (as well as the New York Times article he references) should give you something to chew on for a few weeks, months, or years.

1 Comment

  1. Every other artistic medium is authored in the traditional sense: the message passes down from author to audience through the medium. But games (as we know) are different.

    <emphatically>No, they are not</emphatically> The only difference is in the immediacy of audience input.

    Hocking either grossly misunderstands other mediums and the place of authorial intent vs. reader experience or he’s playing coy for the sake of being different from his industry cohorts (who are still industry even if they are indie). And his only error does not lie wholly in the province of audience input. He messes up when he talks about auteur-driven games vs. corporocratically-generated games. He probably blows it elsewhere too but I didn’t have the time or patience to look for it.

    Let’s take the first. Audience input. If post-structural literary crit has given us anything, it’s the idea that the author/reader relationship is far more complex than our forefathers had imagined. My vote still goes in for an essentially structured matrix, but one that allows (and demands) a level of complexity unchartable. So here’s a couple charts.

    Hocking’s view of, say, books and movies (at least as represented in that article):

    Author > Meaning > Medium > Meaning > Audience

    His view of games would then look something like this:

    Author > Meaning > Medium <--Meaning--> Audience

    Where meaning is pushed back onto the medium and then transferred again to the audience through continued participation. That’s fine, because really, that’s what’s happening. The problem is: the exact same thing is happening with books and art and movies and music. The reader/audience is far from a passive receptacle for the authorial intended meaning. Pretending for a minute that there were works out there of a single authorial influence and pretending that there was a perfect medium for conveying that singular author’s intent, the message would still be muddled because of audience input. This isn’t a phenomenon unique to gaming (although gaming promises and relies upon such input more brazenly).

    Take for instance the ancient cliche: This song has special meaning for me because when I first heard it I was [at a particular stage of my life] and was [feeling a particular emotion strongly] and now whenever I hear the song it reminds me of that. Like how regardless of Rivers Cuomo’s intent, “Undone (The Sweater Song)” will always be a working late with Brandon kind of song. Because due to my user input, the song’s meaning to me changed. Auteur be damned.

    As far as medium as art goes, we always favour the examples in which it is most clear that single guiding vision has produced the work. This is the case with books, movies, and music as well. Citizen Kane is Orson Welles’ despite the hand of Mankewicz and all the actors and everyone else because his vision as a director was so overwhelming. Fellini’s movies are Fellini’s. Leone’s are Leone’s. To the extent that a single author has control over the end product, that product is more considered art by the consumer. That’s why a Nike shoe is not really considered art.

    Still, there’s no such thing as a single author for any work.

    Citizen Kane, despite Welles’ power as a director and actor, is the creative product of hundreds, all investing their own sense of meaning into the final cultural artifact. The latest work by Murakami is the product of himself as well as his editors—and in English, of his translators. Even the lone auteur, working entirely by himself produces something that is the product of his conscious self, his subconscious self, his culture, his time, and his circumstance. And each adds their own meaning into his work.

    So then with multiple authors pushing meaning into a single cultural product that is interpreted, reinterpreted, and has additional meaning post-it-noted upon it, talk of a game’s meaning in relation to its art becomes less and less important. As well, talk of game as a unique medium becomes less and less valuable. Gaming’s peculiarity is not one of type but merely one of degree. As if Crime and Punishment weren’t every bit a Choose Your Own Adventure as Braid or Modern Warfare 2.

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