09 Mar New Media Art in Gaming? By Eric H. Whang
Can games have meaning beyond its context of entertainment? In the past, I never considered game development as a possible aspect of creating new media art. Indeed, many games created share no commonalities with the principles of new media art. The fact that games contain digitally-rendered content alone is not sufficient for their admittance into the art world. However, according to Christiane Paul, a renowned new media artist and curator, “games are an important part of [new media] art’s history in that early on they explored many of the paradigms that are now common in interactive art” (Paul 197). So, what constitutes a game that is also a piece of new media artwork? This is a serious and provocative question for me to consider, as my final group project in my new media class involves the creation of a piece of new media art with playful, game-like tendencies.
For a game to be considered as a piece of new media art, it would have to encapsulate the concepts of this art form—“responsive, interactive, and a medium in its own right,” as described by my professor, Mary Flanagan. Although the meanings of these concepts are not clearly defined, my study of various pieces of new media art and ideas over the past eight weeks have allowed me to obtain a general understanding as to what these concepts suggest. While it is true that new media art often uses digital and technological mediums to create electronic-related works, what truly makes this category of art independent and different from other types of art lies in the creative results of employing these digital technologies. In other words, the “art” of new media does not lie solely with the fact that digital technologies are employed, but with the way in which these technologies are used and the works created by these technologies. The method in which digital technologies are employed then become the medium of the artists in conveying their messages, thereby giving credence to the concept of new media art being “a medium in its own right.” Also, new media art elicits a type of interactivity and responsiveness from participants that is not found in other forms of art. Due to their technological nature, many new media art forms are able to bring participants to a higher level of interactivity through the responsiveness of the art pieces to the participants’ actions. For example, many new media artworks physically involve participants in some action that can affect what the art piece reveals. This type of interaction and responsiveness adds another layer of meaning for participants and provides wholly unique experiences.
In the context of my group project, we must address the issue of whether or not “playfulness” belongs in new media art. There is no concrete rule that states that art must be serious, and hence I believe that “playfulness” not only belongs in new media art with game-like qualities, but in fact can improve the depth of participants’ experiences with the art piece. First of all, playfulness serves as a point of interest and attraction for participants. After all, who would want to spend their time on a game-like new media art piece that is boring and lacks any entertainment value? However, this playfulness is not solely for entertainment, and must also incorporate the new media ideas discussed above in order to make the game meaningful in the context of an artwork.
Although we are creating the game through a program called “Processing”, the program itself does not make the game a new media art piece—it is the way in which we use “Processing” that makes our game valid as art. In our game, the participant is able to control a worm and navigate it along pages of text drawn from popular sources of literature. The worm eats whichever words it comes into contact with. This ability to control the worm within our work exhibits the interactivity principle in new media art. The objective for the participant is to identify thematically or emotionally charged words and avoid eating those, while clearing the page of all other words, which are considered neutral. If the participant guides the worm into consuming too many thematically and emotionally charged words, the worm will be visibly upset, and the participant will eventually lose the game. This shows the responsiveness aspect of our work: the worm responds to the actions of the participant. Assuming that the participant is able to successfully navigate the worm in consuming all the neutral words, the page will be left only with thematically and emotionally charged words. And this brings us to our intention as new media artists: to have participants think deeply about words and their meanings. During the process of guiding the worm in consuming words, the participants have to carefully consider what certain words mean to them in order to correctly judge which words they should leave behind and which they should eliminate. That in itself already forces the participants to delve deep into their thoughts to make judgments regarding the meaning of words. Additionally, after they have cleared a level, they will once again see the words they have guided the worm to avoid in the first place, but now those are the only words left, without neutral words to serve as distractions. By having only thematically and emotionally charged words left over on the pages, the participants can observe connections among the words they have avoided. Since the game has increasing levels of difficulty in terms of vocabulary and concepts presented, the participant is able to compare the power of simple words versus complex words and decide whether the complexity of words determines the strength of their meanings. It may be that participants find simple words to elicit more intense themes or emotions than complex words, or vice versa. Hence, the “art” in our game is its ability to encourage participants to examine the deeper meanings behind words, and this is made possible through the playfulness created by the game’s interactivity and responsiveness with the participants. This makes playfulness an integral part of our new media “game”.
Flanagan, Mary. “Final Blog Posts.” Message to the author. 26 Feb. 2012. E-mail.
Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003. Print.