Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Difference Between a Game and a Toy

IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN EVERYONE! Time to get serious. Put on your thinking caps and strap in your seat-belts everyone, I'm about to blow you away.

One of the major reasons Video Games are not respected as an art form right now is because most people do not understand what the word game actually means.

After all, when I say game, what pops into your head? Probably a picture like this:

Notice anything about that picture? Look at them. Those people. The snot nosed kids, and the father, who merely tolerates the toy.

Ok, that's not how I view that picture, but that is how a lot of people do. A lot of stuck up people think of games, as toys. That's a problem.

A game and a toy are not the same thing. The only object of a toy is to bring fun to the person playing with the toy. Having fun is not the main object of any game however. Games have a set objective. A way to win. The point of a game is to reach that set objective. Fun is generated in the process, but is not the point of the game.

For example, the board game, Clue. Yes, we're still talking about board games here people. The object of the game Clue is not to have fun. The object of the game is to figure out the murderer, the murder weapon, and the scene of the crime. If you move without rolling, or when it isn't your turn, you're not playing it. And when someone calls you out for doing so, would say "This is more fun, so this is the right way."? Of course not. You'd have to be an idiot to do that.

The same thing applies to all games. Rock, Paper, Scissors. The objective is to beat whatever the other person picks. If you say "No, it's more fun it paper beats scissors, so that's the right way." you are no longer playing a game.

The other quality a game needs, as opposed to a toy, is some sort of difficulty. Not high, but some form. For example, Tic-Tac-Toe. There is a pattern you can use while playing Tic-Tac-Toe, that, no matter where your opponent moves, will always end with either you winning, or in a draw. Once you learn that pattern, there's no challenge any more, and it stops being a game, and becomes a toy.

I know that sounds like a very cynical look at things, but I'm not saying games aren't fun. Games are a blast, but fun is not the objective. Seriously, have you ever seen a game where you look at the directions, and the only objective listed is "FUN!"? No. Because that's not a game.

Can toys be art? No, I don't think they can. Art is a way of an artist expressing himself, or to give the person experiencing the art an emotional response. With a toy, the only objective is fun.

But then can games be art? Absolutely. Are games art? Absolutely. Are all games art? Of course not. Are all books art? Are all movies art? Are all pictures art? No. Some are. Not all.

Art requires a certain level of complexity, that not all movies, games, books, or pictures reach. This is why toys can't be art. They're too simple. At the level of complexity they would require to be art, they morph into something else. Interactive sculptures, or games.

But video games are very complex now. Actual video games, that is, not toys that call themselves video games, such as Wii Music, or a lot of the shovelware out there. I'm talking about games like Portal. Portal gives an emotional response among people who play it, even if they don't always realize it. They always know why they're running. They're running because they need to escape the ever present GLaDOS. They need freedom. Ask someone why they are doing what they do in Portal, and usually they will tell you so they can escape, or if they know the ending already, so they can get to GLaDOS. So freedom or revenge. The game provokes these feelings in you, and as I said, art can either express the feelings of the artist, or provoke feelings within the user.

So are board games art? They can be, technically, I guess. Are they? Not really, no. They just aren't complex enough. They could be complex enough, it would be very tricky though, and I doubt it'll ever get that far.

Now, I'm not against toys. Toys are fine! Toys have their place! It's important to understand the difference between a game, and a toy though. Because one can be art, and one cannot. Each has it's place. Neither is better, per say, just different.

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