8-BIT ART HISTORY
Originally Created in 1995,
Recreated and Reprinted 2012
Chroma-graphic C-Prints on Archival Paper,
109cm x 182cm (30" x 72")
Edition of 5
All images Copyright © Andrew R. Hutchison 1995 - 2013
8-Bit Art History
8-Bit computer imagery began in the early 1980's and developed well into the 1990's. In modern computer architectural language 8-Bit integers (the blocks or cubes that make up the image) are measured at 1 octet squared, are the foundation for the computer made and based imagery.
This design format was the first viewed on, at that early point, the new desk-top computers, bought for personal use, that we had began to see in schools, at work and on the desks of anybody who was able to afford them. It was a brand new world. And a brand new way of making images. A format or design process that inundated my childhood with this new type of image. There were a possibility of just 256 colours. But that seemed like that was enough for us at that time. It was the newest of art forms I had ever seen.
When I was in elementary school, better computers where arriving. It was pretty amazing time. Back then I would quite often stay after school to check out these new machines a little closer. I was fascinated. I'd play rudimentary games, or maybe type something out, but the most enlightening aspect of these new computers were what they were calling at the time.... Computer Graphics programs.
You could make, or really to be more accurate, code a 'computer drawing'. It was a unique, time consuming and fascinating art form for my young eyes to take in and wok on. The process allowed you to break down images into a much simpler form. To look at and create new things, aspects that are now on unique planes, and are of a different and new perspective. Essentially making, what I thought at least as a analog form of cubism. The images in the 8-Bit Art History Series are based upon and plays with some of these very early comments and critiques made on and into modern art, art history and the history and formulation of early digital imagery.
THE ART OF VIDEO GAMES
Are video games art? That question has sparked heated debates among those within the art world gaming sphere for the better part of the last two decades.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York has weighed in by establishing a collection dedicated to showcasing the best in video game design and aesthetics.
"Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe," reads the MOMA literature on their recent show. They emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects--from the elegance of the code to the design of the player's behaviour--that pertain to the interaction based design.
A work of art is one person's reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition.
Visitors to the Museum of Modern Art can see Pac-Man displayed alongside Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, as New York’s premier Modern Art Gallery has officially decided video games can be called art. Video games have become an important cultural, artistic form of expression in society. They could become one of the most important forms of artistic expression in the next century. The people who apply themselves to the craft of making video games, view themselves as artists, because they absolutely are. It is an amalgam of many traditional forms of art.
The argument that video games could be art was boosted in the US last year when the Supreme Court ruled they were like other works of art and their right to free speech should be protected under the First Amendment.
The MOMA show is just the latest in a series of validations from the high art community acknowledging that video games stand next to the best in art and are taking their place. The shift has been gradual over the past 15 years, but those taking positions of influence now are those who grew up with video games.
The most cursory look at video games raises several interesting issues that have yet to receive any consideration in the philosophy of art, such as: If video-games are art, what kind of art are they? Are they more closely related to film, or are they similar to performance arts? Perhaps they are more akin to competitive sports and games like diving and chess? Can we even define “video game” or “game”? We often say that video games are interactive, but what is interactivity and what are the effects of interactivity on eliciting emotional responses from players?
In some sectors of academia video games have recently become a subject of attention: a few MFA programs exist to train artists in the technology used in game development and Ph.D. Programs devoted to the study of video games and interactive media, such as the program at Georgia Tech, are starting to pop up. Within the past few years, a handful of books have been published on video game theory. Although some philosophers have begun writing on issues dealing with video games, philosophers of art have completely ignored the subject.
The primary question for philosophical aesthetics is whether some video games should be considered as art. When looking at recent examples, it is apparent that video games have moved far beyond the primitive state of “Pong.” Today, games such as “Grand Theft Auto” and “Assassins' Creed” structure themselves around elaborate narratives that may take upwards of twenty+ hours to complete. Even if one lacks first-hand experience playing a game, a superficial glance reveals the narrative complexity that would prompt several movies to be made based on video games. Though one may say that many video games lack artistic value, the same can be said for some products of any art-form without calling the value of the whole enterprise into question. Perhaps it is best if we approach the medium’s current state as similar to that of film in the late 19th century: we can see a continuum from the relatively primitive Lumière actualities such as “Arrival of the Train” to the fully-realized promise of the art-form that is obvious only decades later in the works of Fritz Lang.
Unfortunately, there has been no sustained argument on either side of the video games as art debate. An early attempt to defend the notion of games as art can be found in Chris Crawford’s book 'The Art of Computer Game Design'. Although academics have not sustained the debate, the issue has remained active in court cases involving video games and the First Amendment. For instance, in American Amusement vs Kendrick, Richard Posner argues that video games should be given full First Amendment protection partly because they share themes with the history of literature and they often try to evoke similar emotional responses from their audiences. Although there have also been several journalistic attempts to declare video games outside the realm of art – and a comparable number of court cases in agreement – no one has carefully sorted out the issue. Making matters worse, the caliber of the debate is fairly low: most arguments against the video- games-as-art position merely repeat some form of the primitive entertainment-art distinction.
The most salient feature of the debate is the absence of the most common criticism of mass art – the passivity charge. Given the interactive nature of video games, there is simply no room for the charge of passivity. Video game players are anything but mentally or intellectually passive during typical game play. Video games are possibly the first co-creative, mechanically reproduced form of art: they are mass artworks shaped by audience input. Interactivity marks a crucial distinction between decidedly non-interactive mass art forms such as film, novels, and recorded music and new interactive mass art forms. Sadly, this important distinction has yet to be examined in any satisfactory manner with very little written or discussed on the subject of the relationship between Art and Play.
I'm of the first generation to grow up with computers and video games, we are about to come up on 40. We’re still playing video games. But we are also having children. We are approaching some semblance of middle-aged respectability (however reluctantly). The traditional institutions of business, government and culture are gradually becoming our own. One of us will eventually become the first President of the United States or Prime Minister of Canada to grow up playing video games, the way Bill Clinton represented the first generation to grow up listening to rock ’n’ roll. But we’re not quite there yet. In the meantime we can celebrate our favourite hobby’s successful assimilation into the mainstream of North American life.
Last year the Supreme Court conferred video games full First Amendment recognition as a protected form of human expression. Now the Smithsonian, the nation’s official education and research institute, has decreed our little bleeps and bloops worthy of its hallowed granite and marble, quite literally down the hall from paintings and sculptures that define the country’s cultural heritage.
“The Art of Video Games” exhibition does not represent the brash young cultural newcomer kicking in the doors of officialdom, belching loudly and declaring that he is taking over. Rather, it represents a humble penitent carefully putting on his least- threatening outfit and being allowed to take a place in the corner.
But hey, at least we’re through the door now. Once the grown-ups get used to having us in here, we can start to get frisky. There will be a time when museums spend brainpower putting together deeply intelligent exhibitions on representations of violence in video games or on depictions of women in the games of various cultures. Exhibitions will explore the emotional impact of modes of storytelling in games. In other words, museums will one day bring the same intellectual attention to the substantive meaning of video game exhibitions as they do for, say, painting exhibitions.
They're not ready for it yet, I guess though.
The Smithsonian exhibition presents four games for the PlayStation 2, the best-selling home game console in history, without mentioning the game that defined that machine, the profane and violent Grand Theft Auto III. In fact none of the Grand Theft Auto games (or the other masterpieces from Rockstar Games, Red Dead Redemption,etc.) were included. For an exhibition that claims to want to demonstrate the deep storytelling and characterization in games, their absence is quite unfathomable.
Likewise, it is easy to understand why the Smithsonian American Art Museum does not point out that half of the 80 featured games in the show were primarily made in Japan. There are actually more Japanese games than American games in the main part of the exhibition. (A few are Canadian and European productions.) This question of why American consumers have flocked to Japanese games when they turn up their noses to almost all cultural imports beyond British rock bands is not one that the museum appears eager to raise.
Yet these are all the cavils of someone who has spent decades playing video games. I recognize why this exhibition must be as it is: Video games are just now, finally, earning the validation of our parents’ generation. We have now seen our treasured game systems go from under the Christmas trees of our youth to under glass at the Museum.
And it feels so darn good.
All images Copyright © Andrew R. Hutchison 1995 - 2014