Friday, February 15, 2013

The Experience of Art

I should have learned by now: never announce an article that is not yet written. I will not answer (for now) the questions raised at the end of my last article. I want to write about videogames, but strangely every time I begin an article on the subject, I struggle with my ideas and come back to what I’m more comfortable with: cinema, authors, nature of art, Spielberg, etc. Maybe all those numerous re-definitions of what games are (or not) are confusing me, and now I just can’t grasp the concept anymore? I don’t know, but for now, I have an article on my favorite subject, criticism, which is going to lead, hopefully, to another one on videogame criticism, and we will then be a little closer to the subject – but it’s another not-yet-written text, so I’m not going to promise anything…

If it wasn’t clear already: I come to cinema and videogames through the perspective of art. Without directly addressing the “videogame as art” question, I’ll just say that I believe all videogames have the potential to be art, and in the end it’s all that matters. Likewise, not all movies can be described as artworks, but cinema has the potential to produce artworks, so for me all movies should be considered on that level. I don’t even understand what would be the point of doing otherwise, unless you have a very low opinion of criticism and just want to know where to invest your entertainment money. I guess many people are looking just for that, a consumer’s guide, but they’re the ones we should convince that there is more to cinema and videogames than a good way to spend some time. And I guess, also, that for most people this consumer’s guide approach makes more sense with videogames: after all, the first thing we associate with games is “fun”, as if there’s nothing else to look for in a game, or rather as if everything else is tangential to the “fun” factor (it’s partly true for cinema also, but we’re more accustomed to the idea of movies as something more than pure entertainment). Videogames are still struggling to be considered as a “serious” expressive medium, but in order to achieve this, the first step would be to offer good criticism; we have to prove that we can write about games seriously before we can convince an outsider of their value. All this has been said before in the last decade, and it’s not difficult nowadays to find meaningful videogame criticism, but I think we still lack a proper theoretical framing akin to what was auteurism for cinema, something that could reach outside of the (relatively) small videogame community. One could argue that this is exactly what New Games Journalism did in 2004, and while it is undeniable that Kieron Gillen’s manifesto inspired some important pieces of videogame criticism, I’m not sure it really helped to show how videogames can be important for people who are not a New Games Journalist.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Author as Style

What is an author? Or rather: how does the idea of “author” fit into an interpretation of a work of art?


Let’s begin by the obvious: The Death of the Author, by Roland Barthes, published in 1968, a famous essay arguing against intentionalism, or what we can call biographical criticism, i.e. interpretation relying on the author’s intentions, or what we know of the author’s life. For Barthes, on the contrary, the coherence of a text comes first and foremost from the reader, who provides its meaning to the text, the author himself being nothing more than the person who happens to write the text. This person, the artist, the facts of his social life or his opinions expressed outside of his texts, all this is trivial, only the work itself matters (although the context of its publication is still important). Analysis must then concentrate on the writing itself, on the style, because “the language speaks, not the author”. But then, what about my two articles on Spielberg, which tried to define him as an author? Surely I must think Spielberg is able to impose his will, or his intentions, on his creation, because what would be the point of analyzing his whole body of work if the fact that these movies were all made by an individual who goes by the name of Steven Spielberg is ultimately irrelevant? And, if we follow the logic of anti-intentionalism to its extreme, if we effectively kill the notion of author in interpretation, how can we even make the difference between a man-made work of art and a pile of garbage aimlessly thrown together by the wind, since both of them are created without intention?