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Feature: Making Games Art: The Designers' Manifesto

In a likely to be controversial manifesto, the veteran developers clustering around Project Horseshoe's invitation-only mini-conference listed problems and soluti
In a likely to be controversial manifesto, the veteran developers that cluster around the Project Horseshoe invitation-only mini-conference have produced a list of problems -- and solutions -- for video games' continuing strides towards the pantheon of great art. Consisting of industry notables such as legendary Infocom designer Steve Meretzky, Hidden Path Games executive producer Jeff Pobst, renowned game artist Jason Rohrer, and many more, Project Horseshoe is a unique conference inviting 50 experienced game designers to solve design's "toughest problems". The third annual Project Horseshoe, which occurred this past November, encouraged participants to discuss "the most over-analyzed, utterly cliche, pathetic, hopeless, but still highly-relevant problems in game design": How can games be promoted as art? "Look no further than your local newspaper's coverage of games -- more than likely, you have to look to the Technology section, not the Art section. In some cases, you might find coverage of games in a more general Entertainment section next to reviews for toys, TV shows, and Stephen King novels, but here we see games considered only as consumable pastimes, not as a serious cultural form. Games rarely grace the pages of middle-brow or high-brow publications. ... The first question to ask, of course, is 'Who cares?' Game designers already make good money just playing with play all day. Why be a prima donna whiner and blather about art? Do we really want game designers smashing their laptops on stage, slashing off their ears, or acting (even more) abusive at black tie galas? The Horseshoe group believes that promoting games as art would ultimately make for a wider variety and greater depth of games. Games would have a cohesive polish and vision. Games could go beyond genres, appealing to a wider group that could explore new forms of play. They would have more significance to people, truly impacting more lives. And games would actually sell better and live longer lives because they'd be more essential to a wider swath of society." Before tackling the problems that exist with accepting games as art, one must first identify where art lies in games. While one can appreciate the visuals and sounds of a game, the group argues that the art of games is found in the participatory play experience: "In this regard, games are perhaps akin to ballet or music written for orchestras. But there is an important distinction to be drawn here. Games differ from music or dance in that the game designer does not orchestrate. The game designer enables a play experience. Games produce meaning, but in a very unique way, a way that no other medium can. Game design is a second-order discipline, which differs from most every other expressive medium. Where the audience for film, painting, ballet and music consume the art passively, the audience of games is required to actively engage, to become an integral part in determining the substance and quality of their play experience. Using a phrase borrowed from Greg Costikyan, games are systems for the creation of endogenous meaning. Players create meaning through their actions within the play space created by the game designer. Within the space of possibility the game designer created, players can have a unique play experience enabled by the game designer. This is the art of game design. It is a unique quality amongst the fine arts." You can read the full feature, which discusses the three main obstacles for promoting games as art -- Image, Leadership, and Money -- as well as potential solutions (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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