Saturday, March 28, 2015

Are Video Games Art? Part 5: Conclusion


What qualifies as art is bound to be an eternal point of contention, as there is no clear definition and judgements are entirely subjective. However, when reflecting on the dictionary definition that art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”, an informed individual experienced with the medium would be hard pressed to exclude video games. If any modern media, such as cinema or television, is to be considered art than video games must be afforded that status as well. If the purist wants to stick to archaic and antiquated definitions of art in the classical sense, the rest of us can rest easy knowing that such small-mindedness is soon destined to go the way of the dinosaurs.

In a discussion concerning the “cinema of the future”, Alfred Hitchcock once stated that a roller coaster could be considered art and that its architect could be identified as its “director”, for that person meticulously planned the pace and experience of the ride and fine-tuned it to evoke the maximum amount of emotion from its participants. The architect “directs” the ride for the “audience” on board. While this is an abstract and controversial theory, it does fit into that definition of art as an expression of skill and imagination that is produced to be appreciated for its emotional power. In this case, the very experience itself is a creative endeavor. Whether or not one agrees with this interpretation, it just goes to show how open-ended such analysis can be.

Even with all of their innovation and high-tech wizardry, video games remain (and will begin to be seen more and more as) a traditional medium. They are crafted and directed by skilled artists and passionate craftsmen, are composed of visuals with the same basic aesthetics as a film or painting, and most of the time act in service to classical narratives and stories. Mario may not have the scholarly status of Mona Lisa yet but it is impossible to know what generations decades, and even centuries, from now will reflect back on as the artifacts of our culture. Space Invaders could very well be heralded as the advent of science fiction in interactive electronic media.


Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3D Printing @ Your Library!


The Mississippi Valley Library District now offers 3D printing!  You can pick up a copy of the 3D printing policy and procedures at each library center.  If you'd like to set up a printing session or if you have questions not covered by the policy & procedures, please call Kyla in Collinsville at 618-344-1112 or Katie in Fairmont City at 618-482-3966.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Are Video Games Art? Part 4: The Best Presentations in Video Games



Some games are so creatively stunning and visually imaginative that they can be recognized as championing  their own “art house” or “auteur” dimension of the medium. If games like Call of Duty represent the Michael Bay end of the presentation spectrum in gaming, than titles such as Katamari Damacy can be said to follow aspirations more in the vein of a Wes Anderson. These games are generally made on a lower budget than the blockbuster franchises and are targeted towards a niche audience. Appreciation for them may require a more refined gaming palette but for those able to enjoy them, they offer expressions as inspired as one will find in any medium while being endowed with characteristics unique to their field.

Okami

Okami is as drop dead beautiful of a game as you will find, despite the fact that it was developed by a relatively small studio with a modest budget in the sixth-generation of consoles. Okami utilizes a cel-shaded, watercolor style visual style in tribute to the Japanese animation technique known as ink wash painting. The lovingly crafted visuals compliment the plot which is steeped in Japanese history and folklore. Although it had limited commercial success, Okami continues to be hailed by critics as a masterpiece.


Shadow of the Colossus / Ico


In the discussion of video games as art, perhaps no other title is brought up as frequently as Shadow of the Colossus. Proponents of the case often cite the game as the lead example in their argument. In Roger Ebert’s previously mentioned foray into the debate, he singled out Shadows of the Colossus as the game most frequently recommended to him and the one that he should “probably begin with”. The game’s visual style is bleak and minimalist and features very little of the flair found in something like Okami or even Mario. Still, the game’s world is one of immense beauty and wonder and the gigantic titular colossus are quite literally awe-inspiring. Ico is the spiritual successor to Shadow of the Colossus and utilizes the same desolate and minimalist visual style, emphasizing subtle beauty with light and shadow over bombastic style or glamour.


Psychonauts

Psychonauts is a surreal experience that doesn’t shy away from presenting itself as the Salvador Dali of video games. The game’s  illusory, dream-like world is one of pure imagination and the strange, macabre slant of the presentation is potent enough to curl Tim Burton’s hair. While on the surface Psychonauts seems comparable to other 3D platformers such as Mario or Sonic, the game’s unique personality and off-the-wall style set it apart and define it as a true work of vision and expression.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night


Castlevania: Symphony of the Night may not look as gorgeous as it did when it released in 1997 but, overall, the sprite based visual style is as well represented here as in any other game in history. The character models are bold and distinct and the gothic, saturated backgrounds are both eye-catching and immersive. Unlike other games in the series, nearly the entirety of Symphony of the Night takes place in Dracula’s castle, so all of the developer’s resources and imaginations are realized to make a truly magical and haunting locale. The music is often a hybrid of heavy metal, techno, and classical and is integral to the identity of the castle and game itself.


The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was one of the most successful and popular games of all time, so when Nintendo decided to go with a bold new animation style for its next-gen successor, the move was predictably controversial. Originally, Nintendo had demonstrated a hyper-realistic trailer of what the next Zelda title could look like on the new hardware (the Gamecube), which famously caused some super fans to weep openly with joy. When the final product was finally revealed to be The Wind Waker, it sported a  hyper-stylized, cel-shaded look more similar to a Saturday morning cartoon than the realism powerhouse epic that fans were expecting. On release, the game overcame immense scepticism and naysaying to cement itself as worthy of the franchise’s pedigree. Now, The Wind Waker is revered as an artistic milestone in gaming and is arguably the poster child for the influential power of style and presentation on expression in the medium.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Are Video Games Art? Part 3: The Best Productions in Video Games

   


    Video games have the same basic creative elements as movies. Mise-en-scene and music are just as integral to the experience of a game as they are to a film. A game might have a great story, or a fun gameplay idea, but without a worthwhile production it isn’t going to make much of an impression outside of its niche target audience. Blockbuster games are the work of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dedicated craftsmen and often work with sky high budgets comparable to the biggest Hollywood films. Whether or not the game nature of a title supersedes its artistic value, there is no denying that gaming has produced some of the most stunning and memorable visual and audio productions over the last few decades.

Call of Duty

    Once upon a time, Call of Duty was a relatively modest franchise targeted at history buffs  and the kind of kids who grew up playing with army men figures. Then, with the advent of competitive online gaming and the release of the “Modern Warfare” sub-series, the franchise exploded into the most popular title in gaming. Since that rocket like ascent, each entry has strived to outdo the last by making itself more of a spectacle and ratcheting up the production values to ever greater heights. The series has become known for its over the top scripted moments that usually play out like a Van Damme or Bruce Willis movie. Call of Duty is the popcorn blockbuster production of video games and shows no signs of slowing down in its quest to be the “wow” experience in home media.

Final Fantasy

   In a lot of ways, the Final Fantasy series is the alumni of games taking themselves seriously. These imaginative epics began as ordinary enough fantasy fodder but over the years have carved out an identity entirely their own. Taking pieces of science fiction, anime, cyberpunk, and usually featuring themes embedded with politics and religion, the Final Fantasy series is one of the most distinct (and copied) brands in gaming history. The series is also greatly renown for its outstanding music, which are probably the most beloved scores in gaming not in a Nintendo franchise.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

   The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is everything that someone who grew up reading (or watching) The Lord of the Rings could want in a game. Playing this massive, sprawling, fantasy behemoth is like stepping directly into the world of Tolkien or Rowling. The gigantic game world is so big, that to just walk from one side to the other, without stopping for combat or any other distraction, could take more than an hour. Skyrim is a “free roam” game, meaning that while there is a central storyline to follow, players can explore the world at their own leisure, perform sidequests, and experience all the wonder packed in every deep forest and hidden cave as they like. This element of freedom means that no two players will ever have the exact same experience with the game. And if you don’t think the production is something to be marvelled at, just wait until you hike one of the highest mountains and look out across the limitless landscape below that you can actually explore every nook and cranny of.

Journey/ Limbo/ Braid

   Great productions aren’t limited to astronomical budgets. A strong trend of “Indie” games has been gaining steam over the last few years, thanks in large part to the digital marketplaces on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Clever and creative games like Journey and Limbo utilize artistic sensibilities to craft experiences more concerned with expression and emotion than explosions or epic scale. Many of these games are essentially puzzle games but their unique and inspired presentations have moved those gamers keen enough to have undergone them as well as any mega franchise could ever hope to.

Destiny

   Building on the studio’s previous work with the Halo franchise, Destiny is the penultimate pinnacle of science fiction in video games. While the game’s narrative has rightfully faced its share of criticism for being bland and unoriginal, the game world of Destiny is as jaw dropping as anything  anyone can experience in and up to this eighth-generation of video game consoles. Every component of the production oozes with professionalism (and money). Anyone who loves Star Wars or Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars owes it to themselves to experience the world of Destiny at least once.

   Gaming has come a long way in just the last decade and nowhere is this more apparent than in the production value of the titles. The 8-bit pixel Mario and his dial-tone theme song will live forever but the true potential of games as mainstream media has only recently been unlocked. As the technology continues to evolve, production capabilities will only improve. Anyone who has been in the same room as a PS4 or Xbox One knows how close graphics have already come to reality, so the opportunities going forward are even more exciting and limitless. More than any other media, video games have the capacity to change and grow, so there is no saying what groundbreaking directions the medium may embark down in the future. 

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Community Services @ Your Library

Did you know that the library offers access to a variety of community services?  Here's a sampling of what we offer:

And that's just what's happening in March!  Please feel free to drop in or give us a call at 618-344-1112 to learn more about what the library can do for you.