Friday, August 27, 2010

Over Games?... or Over Tale of Tales?

Timeline, for your convenience:

1) Tale of Tales gives a presentation at the "Art History of Games" conference in February... people kind of care but also not, because Sleep is Death is dominating the news cycle instead.

2) Everyone plays Sleep is Death for a little while... and now no one is. It was cool while it lasted. Next!

3) ToT publish a full web version of their talk, "Over Games," formatted all nicely with pictures and inflammatory poststructuralist language. People link to it a while ago. Someone links to it again, more recently.

4) Cactus is angry.

5) No one looks at ToT's more recent talk from June, "Let's Make Art With Games!" that's much more productive, inclusive and kind of back pedals on some of the crazier things they said in the earlier presentation.

Edit: 6) ToT and Cactus kiss and make-up. ToT says they were being inflammatory on purpose or something, for a museum audience! It's our fault for assuming that they meant what they said!... even though this is, like, the tenth time they've said stuff like this.

(bento_smile, who makes some delightful notgames-ish games, sums it up well: "It just struck me, that the impression notgames gives is one of reducing the scope of games, rather than broadening it.")

I agree, it sounds like a really counter-intuitive design philosophy.

My take?

Well, a lot of the TIGSource people are right: Tale of Tales is important and interesting... but also kind of not. Their conception of video games seems really narrow, perhaps out of necessity in order to target it effectively in their crazy dogmatic manifestos.

Their work has "no rules?" I'm sorry, but Vanitas has very specific rules about interaction and manages to be really boring...

In this lovely iPhone "tool," you have to close the box to refresh it. You can't explicitly control the contents of the box. You acquire stars based on some arbitrary rule that ToT programmed. This is structured interaction, but a poor and meaningless structure that doesn't really leverage interactivity. They strapped a slot machine to a still-life; I don't know what that adds, if anything. These are rules... really bad rules. There's no escape from rules; there are only good rules and bad rules.

The Endless Forest has rules too (there is gravity; you control a deer; you can't speak) but the interaction is interesting because it's multiplayer / social and the rules are good. The Graveyard has its own share of rules, the most insane but also genius one being "exit the game by walking back to the entrance." (Fatale I'll ignore because it's basically a really boring screensaver). And The Path is explicitly game-like. All that work of ToT? I love and think it's genuinely valuable.

Rules create engineered structures. Engineered structures are artificial; they are art. (Look, I can play with etymology too! Wheee!) Art can be useful. Rules can be art.

I feel like ToT is like a really talented child celebrity: much genius in what they do, but their warped sense of reality and lack of a childhood has rendered them immature, lashing out at a community that largely wants to accept them and listen to them.

So give them the attention they crave.

Maybe they'll take that as a signal to go back to making stuff that's actually good.