Monday, March 10, 2014

Are Roleplaying Games...Art? Part 3: The RPG Medium

Caveat: To the Art Theory adherents - as I tried to address in Part 1 & 2 regarding my own biases and discussing Art Theory, I am not approaching this from an Art Theory stand point.

  1. I find Art Theory too narrow a definition and not practical; the discussion if rpgs are art or not would be over by now if I was using Art Theory. If you are an Art Theory adherent - you're right, rpgs are not art. But neither are most disciplines/mediums that we consider a part of the arts actually art under Art Theory.
  2. My approach is based more on how Art Education approaches the arts (nominally in the USA and more specifically the West Coast of Northern California and Portland, Oregon) where many different mediums are considered art (dance, music, theater, film, etc) and visual art is called out as a distinct discipline of the arts.

It is under the Art Education approach to the arts that I see room for rpgs. In Art Education, medium is important to establishing an art discipline, thus the subject of our next blog entry.

Are Roleplaying Games...Art? Part 3: The RPG Medium

What is the medium of RPGs?

With many visual arts, it is the body of artwork created. There are various mediums. Paintings, illustrations, graphic design, ceramics, sculpture. The list goes on. The distinction with visual art under Art Education is that the art is appreciated visually.

This has raised some heated discussion with the introduction of digital multimedia. Is digital multimedia a separate discipline or does it fall under the visual art domain.

With my experience, there is a division for digital multimedia. One is art that is created solely for its visual aesthetic. This artwork falls under the domain of the visual arts. Then there is digital work that incorporates other senses as a part of the experience.

This isn't a new discussion. Film has long been fought over in the schools. Some consider it to under visual art. Others see it as a natural extension of theater. Yet even others argue that film, especially with the use of digital tools, falls under its own category.

I believe a body of artwork is essential in defining art. It raises interesting questions with dance, and music, and theater. These disciplines have experienced a vast change with the ability to record. Back before being able to record anything for prosperity, the creators of music and plays, the composers and playwrights, were the superstars of their disciplines. It hasn't been till the 20th century that the actual performers musicians and actors have eclipsed the creators, becoming celebrities and rock stars.

And even before that, it wasn't until the Renaissance and ensuing Enlightment that anyone was even given credit for their creations.

In examining RPGs and trying to define its medium within the context of a body of work, it creates some interesting points.

When talking about RPGs as art, everyone I converse with seems to bring up the act of play. Everyone is focused on what happens at the table.

Yet RPGS do not have a means really to record and disperse actual plays. People are known to write up actual plays, but these are usually edited events of play at the table. It is a step away from the play, like a review or a critique. We all talk about those great players or GMs we have had the pleasure to game with, but we have no real means to recognize and acknowledge these various rpgers beyond our own subjective experience.  In our hobby, we have no rewards for Best Player or Best GM. Most people admit that an actual recording, either audio or in video, would be boring and tedious to watch. The subjective moment, the experience, of RPGs is an interactive experience enjoyed by those at the table. Like a good inside joke, you just had to have been there.

Since play at the table is so extremely subjective and beyond the real means of recording for a body of work,I argue that the real medium of RPGs is not the play. The play is the experience of RPGs, similar to watching a movie, listening to music, or looking at art. RPGs are slightly more complex in that the experience of the medium is interactive.

I believe that the medium of RPGs is the actual game itself. The designer is the artist. The better designed game, ideally the better experience had in play at the table. By making the medium the game, we can now actually examine, review, and experience a body of work from a creator.

Next up: Are Roleplaying Games...Art? Part 4: A Working Definition

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