Saturday, 25 February 2012

ART IS A FLACCID PENIS: the Death of the Brindle Blog

When my brother John asked me if I would write an article for his video games blog (“asked” being used here as an uncommon but technically correct synonym as listed in Webster's New World Thesaurus for “viciously and cold-heartedly blackmailed with certain ill-gotten photographs”), I was all too happy to oblige him. When I in turn sought permission to write an article about whether games are art or not, he said “don't take the fucking piss jimmy you know the rules argybargy wot wot pip pip” and some other British things that I'm pretty sure mean “yes, please do.”

No one can accuse little Jimmy Brindle of misjudging an audience, and I know nothing moistens your cuntflaps like a self-legitimizing exploration of the question Are games art? Some may argue that we’ve settled this debate already, the lot of us coming away with our heels dug into our preferred answers. But while it’s generally agreed that games have the capacity to be legitimate art, the theoretical concerns underpinning that debate - what legitimacy looks like for games, who confers it, and what relation it has to other artforms - did not die but instead reassembled themselves in a new popular resurgence of ludology vs narratology (i.e. ‘ontologically suspect formalism vs something else apparently about emotions,’ a debate about aesthetic quality now stumbling across the blogosphere in the sheepskin of a methodological debate academia settled five years ago).

Let me tell you, I've seen a fair share of art in my time and I may even venture to say that I know ‘some things’ about art. Clearly, games are things that are generally art-shaped, and sometimes they even come in art flavour – but are they art? And how do we find out? Current methods have their own problems. Formalism raises questions: what precisely is form in games? Do you talk about the game as an artifact or an experience? Who is the player you talk about? It all only gets get more confusing once you’ve decided you’re a ‘narratologist’ (i.e. aforementioned ‘something else’) and voluntarily barred yourself from using the word ‘rules’ or other such specifying terms when trying to tackle these big questions. What is art about, exactly? Great themes? Emotional response? Good luck with that.

You might be frustrated with definitions that follow these patterns, but here at the Brindle Brothers online video game blog we don’t tolerate that kind of nonsense. Instead, I believe there is an easier answer: by examining things that aren’t games but are definitively art, we can find a satisfactory definition that will transition seamlessly to video games discourse. Talking about things that aren’t games should thus be our first step when we talk about games.

Not pictured: Art
But we must be judicious. Take cut-scenes: they look kind of like films, and films are art. Films also sometimes have explosions, as do games, so are games art? The answer, of course, is a resounding ‘no’ – the question was deliberately flawed for the sake of demonstration because everyone knows that explosions are not art. We need something better.

Luckily, my definition addresses what is truly valuable and truly definitive about all art. It isn’t limp (so to speak) wristed emotions or formalism but a instead a hard (again, so to speak) line by which to truly measure a work for its legitimacy as art. The cleverer among you might’ve discerned where this is going from the links that you followed to get here, the URL, the pictures you saw when you scrolled down to check if the article was too long to be worth your time, or even the article title. That’s very nice for you. For the benefit of our more unperceptive readers, however, let’s proceed with a visual demonstration:

This is art.


Let’s take a closer look.



This is art.


Let’s take a closer look.



This is art.


Let’s take a closer look.


Let’s take a closer look.



Behold:



Now, I don’t want to be crude, but there may still be some of you who still haven’t quite spotted the central theme. “Pixellation?” you may be asking. “Helvetica?” Others have hung on in quiet, desolate hope that I’m speaking metaphorically and are patiently waiting for an explanation (it’s okay, I’m sure this will end well for you). Let me spell it out for you: Art is a flaccid penis.

Almost, but lacking a crucial element.
When was the last time a video game allowed you the sweet, unmatched delight of enjoying in any capacity a flaccid penis? When was the last time a game simulated the breathtaking exhilaration found in the experience of watching a man’s unengorged genitals bouncing gently with his gait? Even games that beg you desperately to take them seriously like a drunk ex on your doorstep at 3AM don’t afford you these rare pleasures. Heavy Rain only shows you tits, you know. So why is it that games have so stubbornly avoided the one thing that would give them legitimacy as art? In consideration of a target demographic for whom confused sex-negative feelings bordering on burgeoning misogyny apparently constitute an actual selling point – the same demographic responsible for nearly all google searches beginning with “is it gay if” – you might say that game designers simply don’t have the… guts to broach this subject. But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe the rigid genre categories that the industry pounds out and the blood-throbbing violence they so emphatically thrust in our faces don’t allow any room for these gentler, nobler concerns. Maybe the absence of the flaccid penis in this medium is not simply evidence that games have merely shied away from becoming art, but that games themselves are in fact incompatible with art. Indeed, can art ever truly exist without a flaccid penis? I don’t know, why don’t you ask Shakespeare?





doubt it


Not pictured: Art
This object, perennially caught in the light of artistic vision, in fact embodies art itself. In it we can see with utmost clarity examples of those things touted as the purest pleasures of the intellectual: emotion; meaning; themes, indeed, great themes – human frailty; ambiguity; beauty. The effort that our humanity compels us to expend, and its futility – in the end or, as the case may be, simply to begin with. Certainly, it was a mark of the maturation of our species when cave painting subject matter progressed from vulgar, strapping priapism to restrained sophistication and virtue: a progression wherein we can see the very birth of art, and trace from that point its lifespan across history. Beginning with antiquity’s idealized vision of the phallus – as seen in myth, sculpture, and genitalia-shaped perfume jars – the stage was set for Medieval piety expressed through Christ’s holy member, and later the well-documented Rennaissance-era classical fanboyism coupled with new-found anatomical fascination. Spanning eras and mediums, from the most celebrated poets and playwrights who first plucked our heartstrings with their stirring descriptions of those dangly bits all the way up to and including the 20th century and film (indeed, while Citizen Kane is commonly cited as the defining artistic moment of film we here at the Brindle Brothers contend the distinction actually belongs to the first flaccid dick that made its mushroom stamp on celluloid): the flaccid penis stretches across art with such elasticity, grasps at it with such prehensility – maybe flaccid penises are not just evidence of art, not merely the consummate example of all those peripheral qualities associated with art, but are themselves Art.

Kojima is a suggestive master.
Some of you may have your objections. Your tear-stained, mascara-smeared accusations of arbitrary method. I know. If I may, I’d like to address those accusations preemptively: my method examines art across genres, cultures, and centuries to find an important recurring characteristic (flaccid penises, in case you’ve forgotten) and extrapolated that it is the defining quality of art. In using a characteristic that can be objectively identified, I’ve entirely dispensed with the fallacious (so to spea–you know what, never mind) tactics of relying on airy-fairy subjective qualities in favor of a more cut-and-dry approach. What legitimacy is to be found in an argument that relies heavily on vague nonsense like ‘love’ or ‘the sublime’ (both subsidiary qualities of a flaccid penis, mind you) as a defining characteristic? Or one that uses a formalist quality built on questionable ontologies instead? Even if your lot is in with the rather more sensible category of definitions that require all art to display to the maximum extent a meaningful relation between parts of the text and the whole, I would counter with the stunningly obvious observation that – as in the case of the flaccid penis – a deliberate disconnect between the part and the hole is still a meaningful relation.

In light of such irrefutable proof that games are not art, I would like to propose – nay, I will strictly enforce a moratorium on all amateur games criticism which analyzes games as if they were art until conclusive evidence arises to prove me wrong. Yeah, that’s right: the jig’s up. No more delicate dissections of Flower and its serenity. No more Shakepeare-referencing explorations of first person perspectives that you lifted directly and in cold blood from your sibling’s notes down to the specific anecdote used therein. No more unicorns, or marriages, or gardens, or anything else that can be expressed ludicly. And no more Brindle Blog. I’ll shut you down, John.

After all: art is, as Oscar Wilde once said, something that is quite useless. I know a thing or two about Oscar Wilde, and I believe he would perhaps be the first of all people to agree with me that a flaccid penis is a thing of absolutely no use to anyone. And that’s art.

10 comments:

  1. Jimmy, this is not what we agreed on

    ReplyDelete
  2. There's also one in GTA:IV The Lost and the Damned. Sorry...

    ReplyDelete
  3. What about the flaccid penises of those who hold the controllers?

    ReplyDelete
  4. A flaccid penis is still good for peeing. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  5. The thing is, there are at most two, three games coming out every year that are truly good, disregarding any hype and initial enthusiasm. Then most games follow very narrow guidelines determined by the industry. And even those which are experimental in some way, and don't just follow the most basic game needs, have some element which is not that good (often writing) or are otherwise an extremely limited experience. It's just natural that the outcrop of games that you could hold up and declare unqualifiedly as masterpieces to any sceptic is very small. The art-like experiences, that is experiences that sort of resemble but also complement our experiences in films and books, are only experienced by those who already enjoy games and who are not deterred by all the game-ness. It makes it hard for the medium to be fully acknowledged and for designers to really shine.
    I don't think it leads anywhere to disregard the simple fact there are qualitative differences between what at least might be art and what is just a bit of fun or mediocre. It's also pointless to go into a complete subjectivism, as there are still better chances to actively create something that convinces a large number of sceptics and people interested in better experiences, than to rely on pure coincidence, which is in the end only the lowest common denominator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well actually, art is subjective, so a game that you might not like, someone else considers a masterpiece. Following are a list of games I consider to be art:

      Shadow of the Colossus
      Bastion
      Eternal Sonata
      Okami
      Anything made by Bethesda...
      Superman 64... (ok that was a joke)

      Delete