Artist Intent Does Not Matter

Note – this article is an opinion piece by BBPCGC member Joel McCoy. It does not reflect the views of the group as a whole.

Content creators have to look at their work from every conceptual angle.

As an art major, critique was a constant presence. Think of it like creative boot camp. They tear down your preconceived sensibilities, and they attempt to reconstruct you as a critic. It sounds harsh, but this process was immensely useful. My career does not involve creating high art on a daily basis. A critical eye, though, can help avoid unpleasant interactions with all kinds of consumers.

The participant’s interaction is the most important artistic element. For example, if an artist takes a photograph of a naked woman with the intention of making an uplifting statement on self-esteem issues and the viewing public is instead outraged by it, then the artist’s intentions have failed.

This doesn’t mean that creators should stop trying to put meaning into their work. What it does mean is that they have to consider ALL meanings before releasing something for public consumption. Had the artist in my example taken a more critical look at his photograph, he would have rejected it himself and gone back to the drawing board.

Are games art? Roger Ebert (my favorite movie critic) once stated emphatically that games contained art, but they definitely were not art. He placed them squarely in the “entertainment” category. Why entertainment can’t be art is not entirely clear to me. Merriam-Webster says art is “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” Sounds good to me, although I would disagree on the inclusion of the word “beautiful.”

People tend to debate a game’s artiness based on the writing, story telling, and presentation. The art in many of my favorite games is not in the storytelling aspects. It’s found in interaction. That’s what makes games of all kinds artistically unique from other media where the viewer is only a receptacle.

Anyone who has finished Dark Souls would say the experience is exhilarating. Many painters would love to have the magical formula to replicate those feelings.

There is a lot of discussion going on right now about gaming’s cultural influence. Whether we like it or not, the video game industry has become the dominant form of entertainment. Gamers cannot have argued with the late Roger Ebert in favor of gaming’s status as art, and then later argue that games have no impact on society.

Art is a product of it’s time. Birth of a Nation was a vile film, but it was also an important one. We can critique its blatant racism and still recognize it as a good piece of art. On the surface it seems unfair to discuss Lara Croft’s backside now, but we can do so and still recognize Tomb Raider as a great game. We can also recognize that it may have been even better art without objectification.

The burden has to fall on game developers to critique their work accordingly. The revelation that the gaming public is digesting their work in sophisticated ways seems to have taken them by surprise. Their responsibility is now greater than it was when they were just creating cool stuff in their garages.

Whether these are conscious decisions discussed in design meetings is irrelevant. Game development technicalities are irrelevant. All that matters is how players consume the product. Their intent does not matter.

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