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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Video Games Cure Cancer

It's true. Here in my secret volcano lair I've got a crack team of mad scientists and they've shown that ever since I've been playing video games, I don't have a lick of cancer. Not a lick, I tell you. Unfortunately those quacks also say that it causes ADD and creates a verbal syndrome wherein the person will involuntarily make obscenely geeky references at the drop of a hat ... so what do they know.

Seriously, it seems like everyone has a statement about what video games can or can't do these days. I could riff off a long series of links pointing to how a 486 processor taught someone to draw or that an Atari 2600 made them question their sexuality or how a GameCube turned a neighbor's son into a terrible android assassin from the future, but I'm too tired just from reading all these claims in the first place.

The one thing that seems consistent is that people are reading into video games whatever they want. Gamers advocate that games either have a minimal effect or completely positive ones, whereas the witchhunters more conservative views suggest that they create violence where there previously was none. Thankfully, the science is almost utterly inconclusive and mostly contradictory ... so we can look forward to debating about this for a really good long time.

My humble opinion is pretty simple. I have a long standing contention that video games are art. I've dabbled in photography, poetry, digital art, and writing in both short story format and even a novel (extremely bad and unpublished ... but at least it's long). I've been programming on and off since I was kid. I started doing Unreal mods as a serious habit a few years ago. I've been gaming since before people played them at home. From my perspective - video games are art. The act of constructing them is similar to constructing poetry or a novel, the act of playing them is similar to going to a movie or listening to a concert. People get hung up on how technical video games are ... but they forget just how technical it is to create art in the first place. People like to think of art is merely an explosive force, but without technical knowledge - be it grammar, woodworking, lighting or whatever - that force would never find a way to be seen or heard.

I can't quite admit that video games are art in one hand and try to say they have no effect on a person with the other. Art is supposed to have an effect on you. It should be able to make you happy or angry or thoughtful or remorseful. Good art should help educate you, realize more of the world around and think about the world that could be around you. Of course some art is more appropriate for some audiences more than others. By itself, art isn't going to make someone a smarter person, or a better person, or a more criminal person - but it will always be a component. Violent people can always revel in violent art which might aggravate them. Hate Metal anyone? At the same time, art can be something which helps generations to understand themselves ... even if the material itself is riddled with violent acts. Shakespeare anyone?

Art isn't going to save the world, or destroy it. Art's simply a byproduct of our lives. By giving it too much credit or too much blame will undoubtably be missing the point. People can learn from it. People can react to it. People can practice their reading skills, their logic skills and sometimes even their artistic skill with it. Art can reinforce bad ideas just as well as good ideas. This is because it's not a babysitter, or a teacher, or a sageful advisor. It's just art.

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