The 10th Art

Welcome to The 10th Art. Just so you know, Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m Ben, a UK gamer whoâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s mad about all things gaming and this is my Insidepulse debut. Fan mail much appreciated, though signed photos arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t available just yet. Anyhow, back to reality. â┚¬Å”Artâ┚¬Â I hear you say. What has â┚¬Å”artâ┚¬Â got to do with video games? Thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s what I hear a lot of people say. Personally, I donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t understand it. In his book Trigger Happy: The Inner Life of Video Games author Steven Poole quotes the following:

â┚¬Å”Since the Athenian Greeks and Confucian Chinese tradition has held that there are six distinct arts: music, poetry, architecture, painting, dance and sculpture. Frederic Diberder, author of â┚¬Å”Lâ┚¬â”žÂ¢Univers Des Jeux Videoâ┚¬Â added TV, cinema and graphic novels (comics) to that list and subsequently declared video games the 10th art.â┚¬Â

If you think about it, games are not only incredibly imaginative, but also tremendously artistic. There are obvious elements of artistic skill, such as the plot or the character design, but really it goes far deeper than that. People can happily look at a painted landscape and appreciate the art involved. Imagine the skill required to not just draw a landscape but to create one in an interactive 3D environment. Not only have you got the artists creating the textures and sculpting the physical features, but also thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s programmers devising ways for your console to manage that information so that youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re able to play the game within it. Landscapes are living, breathing entities so to make them realistic, game landscapes have to be the same.

On the face of it this means animated elements like plants or wildlife. However, to be totally convincing you also need a believable physics engine governing the laws that control the environment. Computer programming and physics engines may not traditionally be regarded as art, but why is this? Is it not an artistic accomplishment to design an interactive and believable environment that can allow players to displace themselves, to believe they are in another place or another time, even to be other people? Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s what books have been doing since the dawn of the written word but games can do it in a way matched by no other medium.

I challenge anyone to play something like Super Mario Sunshine or Grand Theft Auto Vice City and argue that the immersive environment is not an artistic achievement. I still hum tunes from Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda today even though I havenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t played these games regularly for well over ten years. The vibrancy of graphics and tremendous character design in Nintendo titles is surely artistic endeavour at its most joyous and lively? Another argument I often hear when discussing the subject is that games are made for money; they are a business. Of course they are. But does an artist not sell their work? Do galleries not charge visitors to view art? Even if they donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t, then they manage to secure funds from other sources. All large-scale art is business in todayâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s day and age and whilst this may present some questions of ideals it doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t lessen the art itself. The fact that games cost ÃÆ'”šÃ‚£40 is certainly not a barrier for their consideration as art.

Yet when was the last time you read anything in the mainstream press about the artistic merits of video games? In fact, I doubt you ever have. Despite the fact that millions of people around the world play games everyday itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s still not fully accepted as a mainstream pursuit. Thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not to say that the industry doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t get coverage. The Nintendo and Playstation brands are now as recognisable as Ford or Nokia but gaming is not yet on an equal footing. Only this week games have been all over the press here in England, though unfortunately for reasons that are very undesirable.

This week 17-year-old Warren Leblanc pleaded guilty to the murder of Stefan Pakeerah. He had beaten his victim with a claw hammer and stabbed him repeatedly after luring him to a local park to rob him. Warren was reportedly â┚¬Å”obsessedâ┚¬Â with Rockstarâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s ultra violent Manhunt, a title that encourages you to kill your adversaries in the goriest manner possible. Stefanâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s father, Patrick, is quoted as saying:

“In my opinion, I think this game has contributed to Stefan’s death so games like this should not be sold to minors, or anybody for that matter,”

As a result both GAME and Dixons, both major chains on the UK high street, have currently withdrawn the title from their shelves. There are several elements concerning this whole affair that veer from worrying to utterly ludicrous. Spearheading this ridiculous media backlash is of course the arrogant super right-wing newspaper The Daily Mail. So quick is the Mail to pass judgement, to take the moral high ground, even though itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s own behaviour has been utterly abhorrent for years. Were we to live by the standards which they preach our society would be a totalitarian regime, bereft of freedom or choice. So sure are they of their dated and often borderline racist views that they would happily impose them upon all. The Daily Mail is quick to blame a video game for the death of a child, yet they omit to question several far more fundamental factors.

For starters, at no stage have the parents faced question for the fact that their 17-year-old son was playing an 18-rated game. Now, Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m not one for censorship. I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of choice. Am I saying that young children should be allowed to play Manhunt? No, I suppose not. But I watching 18-rated horror flicks when I was 14, stealing my mateâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s dadâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s porn when I was 13 and beating people up in video games before I was 10. Has this made me a murderer? A sexual deviant? No.

Kids are not stupid, they can tell the difference between right and wrong. Letâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not forget that there has never been a proven link between video games and violence, no more than there has between books or films and violence. During my days of studying psychology I remember a study in which kids were made to watch three car accidents on the TV. At a very early age children were easily able to recognise that each accident had different connotations. They could tell that a car accident on the news had real consequences for real people, an accident in a soap opera had fictional consequences for fictional people and that a cartoon crash had no consequences for any people.

So what good does it do to ban Manhunt? Surely if anything needs to be addressed itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s the upbringing of Leblanc. Some people have called for the banning of all violent games, but that is stupid. Art is a reflection of society and the world can be a pretty shitty place. There is murder, rape, violence and war, and whilst these are terrible things simply ignoring them will not make them go away. The world is both beautiful and evil, and art must reflect both extremes. Yes, there are violent games, but there are also many many non-violent games, despite what The Daily Mail may have you believe. After all, people were killing each other long before video games were ever around.

It is simply implausible that a balanced youngster could sit down for a session of gaming and emerge a killer. The notion is totally ridiculous. Whatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s far more possible is that a disturbed youngster who has suffered neglect and experienced a very unstable and inappropriate upbringing may be far more influenced by violent imagery than a child raised in a stable and loving environment. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m a pacifist yet I still play war games. Why? Because I know that shooting fictional people with fictional bullets in a fictional world harms absolutely no one. What is far more dangerous is the misguided extremist ramblings of a mainstream newspaper that really should be taking a more responsible and balanced view on the subject. The only thing The Daily Mail has really accomplished, other than to spread misconception and misunderstanding, is to ensure that sales of Manhunt rocket. My day job is working for a video games distributor in outer London. The moment GAME withdrew Manhunt from sale literally every phone call I took was from shop owners trying to restock after selling out. How cool are you going to be at school if you spent last night playing the game? Very, I would have imagined.

We cannot forget that the video games industry is still in its infancy. When the cinescope (the moving image or cinema) first appeared people claimed that it could never threaten the dominance of the theatre. When the TV first appeared it was believed that it could never rival the dominance of the big screen. Now that games have appeared some people are of course threatened. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s natural for the ignorant to be afraid on the unknown, but itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not just that. Revenue from gaming is growing every year so itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s understandable for other industries to be threatened. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s only after gaming has been truly accepted and has found its place alongside other industries that the situation will be calm enough to allow for learned discussions and balanced critique. What a great time that will be. Gaming has so much to offer, whether youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re discussing the amazing interactivity and freedom of GTA, the beauty of Ico, the uniqueness of Katamari Damashii, the superb design of Half Life, the humour of Parappa The Rapper, the atmosphere of Chronicles of Riddick, the amazing experience of Rez or the simply astonishing physics of Pro Evolution Soccer 3. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m a proud gamer and I really hope that one day you will be too.