The Art of Video Games – Three Voices

“The Art of Video Games,” opens March 16 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. and is accompanied by a book of the same title. Chris Melissinos  is interviewed by Emma Mustich at Salon. See here for the full interview. The following excerpt is related to authorship and  agency in interactive media. It reactivates an older argument about reader centred viewpont but here in relation to the playing of video games.

I am not sure about the term voice being used here? Voice would suggest output but is the player outputting content? I guess they are if you could interpret them as playing the story to themselves or to others (other players) with whom they interact via networked games. There is also the ‘over the shoulder’ spectator who affects the actions of the player as they narrate, jusdge and suggest play options on the fly – often a primary source of frustration for the player.

One premise of the exhibition is that each player experiences a particular game in his or her own way. What’s the role of the user in creating this sort of art?

This question ties directly into something that I call the “three voices of video games.” It’s what separates video games, as an art form, from any other form of art.

The first voice is that of the designer or author. Somebody who is crafting a world, an experience, an expression and point of view — something they want to say through their game. What they want to say could range from a message that is socially reflected to something that is just designed to entertain and delight or enthrall.

The second voice is that of the game itself. The mechanics of the game, the possibilities faced, how you interact with that environment as it’s presented to you … all this is that second voice. But none of it becomes art until it’s played. And that’s where the voice of the player, the third voice, comes in.

We, as players, bring to the experience our own moral code, our own experiences, our own desires and tastes; what comes out of the experience is very personal and unique for every single person who plays the same game. Contrast this to the way people experience books or movies. If you and I watched Episode 5 of “Star Wars,” which is of course, the best one, you might say “Do you remember this one scene?” and I’d say, “Yes, I remember that scene.” It is a shared experience that really does not deviate from the author’s intent. But with a video game, it’s different. You and I could both be playing “Uncharted,” and you might say, “Did you explore this one area?” And I could say, “No, I explored this area instead.” But we still both arrived, at the end of the game, at the same place the author intended. So video games allow the authority of an author to remain, while still allowing for this lateral exploration by the players themselves, within that narrative arc. That’s what’s different about video games; that’s what makes them so compelling as an art form.