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Values and Interactive Art

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Eiuol
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I have thoughts of the beginnings of a way of creating meaningful video games, particularly art games in the vein of Oblivion (sorta) or Bioshock. I have thought of employing what I call a meta value system to create artistic games, but since it is heavily involved with personal values, I felt it appropriate to ask for opinions here rather than just in game design communities. Since a value is what one acts to gain or keep, it is fitting with any interactive medium where an observer acts, so it is not an "aesthetic theory" (I'm not sure if that's the best term to use) limited only to video games.

This is something I wrote (with modifications) a few months ago:

In a virtual reality, other value systems may be used without real-world repercussions. A player is able to murder a person for saying the wrong word without going to jail. If this decision is contrary to player’s actual value system, the player is using a meta value system (MVS). Since no one holds an identical value system of another person in real life, any value system in a game can be called an MVS. All people are thinkers to some extent, so they will constantly wonder “what if”, particularly regarding an interactive or artistic medium. In real life, people think “what if” but cannot truly test out their thoughts without breaking laws or some existing code of ethics that they may currently hold. But in a game, being immoral according to one’s standard of morality or just acting different will not have any real or long-lasting effects. Consequences of these actions can be understood beyond the immediate point in time, so the MVS can be used as an ethical testing system. Testing out a “what if” in a meaningful way is best done in an interactive medium. The ability to use an MVS is one of the major reasons why a player will play a game, since it is both a means intellectual exercise and entertainment.

In order to test out what ifs, the player must begin by devising a value system. The value system consists of individual values and how to acquire those values. Usually, the player will begin to devise their value system based on some initial choices, such as a choice between being a magic class or a defensive class. At this point, a value has been merely chosen. No integrated system has been created. But this choice can lead to other thoughts: “So I picked a thief class. Maybe I could act like an irrational criminal. I know this is bad, but maybe I’ll find out why this is bad. Or maybe I’ll be a self-righteous thief, trying to get back at ‘the man’ for what he stole from me. What would happen if I lived by either value system?”

Once a player is posed a choice for a particular course of action, a system of values is formed. It is formed through an active thinking process: “I have the option to destroy a camp of orcs and get a massive amount of gold. I need weapons. I’m a thief class. I thought about being an irrational criminal, and it sounds like that’d be fun, so that is how I will play the game. I’ll go and steal some weapons just because I can.” This is where the framework of an MVS begins. It is a relationship between values and how to acquire them. It is the ultimate “what if” testing system.

Again, this is just the beginnings of developing an idea I have, so I'd like to know if anyone disagrees or has opinions in general on "interactive mediums and values" or my MVS.

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The first thing that comes to my mind is that you may have to ditch a class system altogether. In every RPG I've played, choosing a class only means that you have almost no choice at all in character development. Using your example, if I choose thief class, then my traits/attributes/skills will likely be balanced towards stealth and deception. I won't be powerful enough to beat people in battles, thereby securing their loot (weapons, gold). I'll have to steal. To me, this sounds like a pretty easy way to get through the game, especially if I can steal from shops owned by NPCs (non-player characters). So, in an effort to reach level 70 (thereby 'winning'), I just choose thief class for convenience. If we go back to the beginning, and I choose thief class because I am, in reality, a person of questionable ethics, I have no way to 'change my ways' when I realize stealing is bad after I've invested months into getting my character up to level 30.

On the other hand, if I was playing a game where I was free to become a thief by making the necessary choices, well now it gets interesting. All things equal, I have to make the decision to steal some loot from another person who may have earned by investing hours and hours of their actual life in 'grinding'. Now, I'm really experimenting with another value system.

It's a very interesting idea, Louie. I hope you keep developing it.

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The first thing that comes to my mind is that you may have to ditch a class system altogether.

I agree with this. I think the characters played must have a well developed system of values rather than just a class focusing on certain inherent abilities and stats. It must be clear to the player what ethical (or lack therof) system is being used. The player should be compelled to act in a certain manner based upon how the character operates. The player in a sense is an actor, playing a part and working towards a particular objective. This objective is determined by the designer who should be thinking like a novelist: having all events lead to some climax. It is fine to set a specific objective for the player, because the writer/designer of the game should have a strong grasp on what would interest a player to explore the presented value system. The player may not necessarily find out anything new, but they may be able to concretize cause and effect from a different or new perspective. Concretizing abstract principles is in fact what Objectivist aesthetic theory says is the purpose of (good) art, so it seems that an MVS is the way to go in making any interactive art. I'd be interested if anyone has anything to say about interactivity in mediums such as theater.

The designer should not even consider the player's existing values unless they are creating an open ended game like Oblivion. In this sort of game, the player has to make all decisions on their own with objectives that are set personally. In this case, it may be valid to consider if the player's chosen value system is boring or no more desire to explore the MVS. The solution, I think, is provide plenty of varying scenarios in which to apply an MVS.

I hadn't even thought of having an MMO mimic real life in the sense that stealing will actually permanently remove the item from a player's inventory. It is a great example of player-driven value exploration, as opposed to designer-driven.

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I hadn't even thought of having an MMO mimic real life in the sense that stealing will actually permanently remove the item from a player's inventory. It is a great example of player-driven value exploration, as opposed to designer-driven.

A good game would have as little player-driven value exploration as possible. That sort of thing is better suited for real life. In virtual environments, the player should be led to make choices of a certain nature. Otherwise the game is no longer art, and instead becomes negative-reinforcement addiction.

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Games aren't properly art to begin with (although the classier modern ones contain craploads of individual artworks that are stitched together by the underlying game mechanics into a huge orchestra of awesome). This is because the interactive aspect (which is what makes it a GAME as opposed to, say, a novel or movie) isn't art.

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This is because the interactive aspect (which is what makes it a GAME as opposed to, say, a novel or movie) isn't art.

I would certainly say that most games are not art, but I think any interactive medium is capable of being art. The issue, going off what ZSorensen said, is minimizing player-driven value exploration, otherwise there is no actual artist involved. While it is important to recognize that a player in a "sandbox" game like Oblivion requires a system in which they can employ an MVS, all games that are to be art require a specific MVS that a player follows. So even if it's cool for an MMO to allow actual stealing and allows for an effective usage of an MVS, it does not necessarily mean the MMO is art.

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This is because the interactive aspect (which is what makes it a GAME as opposed to, say, a novel or movie) isn't art.

Interactivity is not contrary to the definition of art. Video games offer a calculated, deterministic reaction to each action performed in-game. If the reactions were purely stochastic, then the resultant game would not only suck - it would not be art. Interactive media, i.e. video games and certain web-based projects, are most certainly art, as long as each action performed by the player delivers a reaction that is rational and consistent, i.e. through algorithmic processes and generative adaptation. Does Ayn Rand's Night of January 16th cease to be art as soon as the open-ended finale begins? Allowing the viewer to make decisions that impact the outcome of the performance is a decision formulated by the viewer's unique experiences, yet no good game is passive in nature (leaving all the control in the hands of the player). The rules, boundaries, and the logic utilized for deterministic calculations, are all part of the construction of the video game world, and are similar to the artistic objects used in literature, films, and television shows to arrive to a reasonable conclusion.

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"Are games are art?" is similar to asking "are books art?" Just as Atlas Shrugged is art while a telephone book or a textbook is not, a game is art or not depending on what it is about and how it is composed. Games that are not art would include poker, chess, Tetris and Bejeweled. Games that are art include Oblivion, Fallout 3, Civilization (the series). Just as in the case of books, the difference is the selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.

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Personally, I'm burned out on "social media," web 2.0, and the phrase "interactive art," because of the excessive flame wars, trolling, and the like. And I'm leery of "interactive art" because it reminds me of the scene in THE FOUNTAINHEAD, where the other architects "express their individuality" on Cortland Homes. Art, in the Objectivist sense, is a personal endeavor, first and foremost.

But if I were to make a case for interactive art...

I used to love the CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books when I was young...I think they make a case for "interactive art," since there is a story involved...(Rand argued that films were art primarily because of the story, which provides the integrator for the other elements.) The interactivity, in this case, is a type of game, a precursor to the story-driven video games we have now, and it's a game that involves...value judgements. Consider this one (description from Wikipedia):

"One book, Inside UFO 54-40, revolved around the search for a paradise that no one can actively reach; one of the pages in the book describes the player finding the paradise and living happily ever after, although none of the choices in the book led to that page. The ending could only be found by disregarding the rules and going through the book at random. Upon finding the ending, the reader is congratulated for realizing how to find paradise. Although it appears that this ending is not actually mistake but was actually designed that way, and thus makes the book into a Moral Story stating that if you think outside the box, and do not blindly follow the rules then you'll achieve Paradise."

There's actually a precedence for this in Rand's own work, her "gimmick" in NIGHT OF JANUARY SIXTEENTH play, where the jury is selected from the audience, who actually "vote" guilty or not guilty, so it's easy to see a story-driven interactive video game as an extension of this. And it's not the same as the situation in THE FOUNTAINHEAD, since the participants are invited, and the creator still has control over his creation. Maybe it could be argued, as well, that the interactivity functions as a "division of labor" similar to the performing arts...

Edited by spaceplayer
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  • 2 months later...

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing these questions by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on reasoned...eveloped by the Russian-American philosopher and novelist,

Ayn Rand , was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her best-selling novels and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism....

(1905–1982). Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness; that individual persons are in direct contact with this reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic; that the proper moral

Moral

A moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim...

purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy. A variety of philosophical, religious, psychological and biological approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources....

or rational self-interest; that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights Classical liberalism is a political ideology that developed by the middle of the nineteenth century in England, western Europe, and the Americas, which provided a coherent vision of how society should be organized. Central to the classical liberalism of the nineteenth century is a commitment to...

, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism; and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally.

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