Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Mirror is Hard to Hold

In this weeks NYT Week in Review Section an article questioning the meaning of current video games was published. The Shootout Over Hidden Meanings in Video Games

Here is a small snipit from the article. CLiCk above for full text.

If there’s a subject that’s as contentious as war itself, it might be a video game about war.

It’s been just over a week since the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the latest chapter in the popular video game series about a covert military agent named Solid Snake. And already, fans are exchanging rhetorical fusillades on the Internet, teasing out what the underlying political and philosophical messages of Metal Gear Solid 4 might be.

Encrypted within this discussion is a more sophisticated argument about the nascent medium of video games. Can it tell a story as satisfyingly as a work of cinema or literature?

Is the Sisyphean mission of Solid Snake — to rid the world of a robotic nuclear tank called Metal Gear — a parable about the futility of war or about its necessity? A critique of America’s domination of the global stage? A metaphor for the struggle between determinism and free will?

I'd like to offer a couple of points regarding transparency and new media. In our reading this week in Windows and Mirrors the idea that art can serve as meaning, specifically digital art, is proposed. One of the goals mentioned in the development of the computer medium was to create a transparent myth; to make something as real looking as possible. Mike used a great example in The Hulk. Some of the graphics where incredibly life like, from the rain falling off his shoulders to the moving shadows as his veins pulsed. If I didn't know that 10-feet-tall green men didn't exist I would have been convinced that he was a material being.

The same can be said for video games as they grow closer to videographic reality. With every passing year the graphics look as if we are controlling CNN video footage. The more life-like the graphics appear the easier it is to convey a convincing narrative, in my opinion. Ten years ago the graphics were not as good and therefore an easier time was had separating the game from reality. Now, with the complex artistry that is involved with the games, life-like becomes more closely achieved than ever before. If this is the case, doesn't the art imply subjectivity to a certain degree?

In Text Rain letters and parts of words would land on the silhouette of a person and funny sequences of nonsense would occur forcing the participant to find her own meaning. I would suggest that this is the case for all art. Even the most realistic art has a subjectivity about it when it comes to its interpretive meaning. Where one person might find Medal Gear Solid 4 too preachy when it comes to the sentiments of war, another could find no such meaning or perhaps just enough of a narrative regarding war. The point is, art is a difficult mirror to hold with regard to a culture as a whole because we may not like what we see and the image could continue to change on us.

1 comment:

Lance Strate said...

it's certainly the case that art in the west has shifted from the transparency that was characteristic of the Renaissance into increasingly more reflective works as we move from impressionism to cubism and abstract expression, to pop art and other modern and postmodern variations.