Normally I’d try to avoid explaining my process for blogging, but I think there’s some significance in this being the third time I’m writing this specific article. Recently, I discovered my words neck deep in theory, experience, and definitions, and that bothered me more than usual. As specific as definitions can be, I’m finding it increasingly difficult for an art-audience to take my word for it, because they often have their own already (this could could very well be a cop-out on my part, but bear with me a moment). That isn’t to suggest that my word precedes any others, they’re just informed opinions after all. I work with some of the most sincere artists every week and their potential impresses me all the time. It is an academic field we’re in, so it’s only natural we form different opinions with the same skill sets. I’ve come to appreciate that though, more so than trying to resolve my own insecurities by rejecting a decent argument, only to be delivered in some tired inebriated state. It’s reached a point, where I’m left being OK with an individual explaining themselves and not responding as I often might, not to prevent offending someone, but to avoid walking on a sheet of ice in a manner of speaking. It’s exhausting to say the least, mentally. The scope of some things are bit much for me to sincerely relate to when they begin to write-off the very fabric of creativity. In some odd way, though, it brought me back to this thought:
Steam services games, as the gallery does art.
I’m narrowly avoiding explaining why or why not games qualify as being art, artistic, or culturally acceptable (hence the preface above), because that’s not as relevant as might seem for my purposes here. The best I can do is seek another appreciation for why games are meaningful — why that might make any sense in the first place. Hopefully, we can make this fast.
The general experience, or perhaps ideal in this case, of going to a gallery showing might go somewhat like this: You see some showing is advertised, most often with a theme to boot. The gallery will have art on display, for you to inspect, observe, read an artist’s statement, name, and title of piece. Sometimes the work will have the availability to be bought, or a price already decided on. At a show opening, you’ll often have a lot of show-goers to mingle with each other, discuss the works, and, if they’re fortunate enough, meet the artist/s.
Steam has a similar flow to it: You might see a game is on sale on Steam. Maybe you already have the program, or want a game that utilizes the interface and service. There are games for sale, browsing, demoing, and discussing. You can see what other people might think about it, see something about the developer. You can instantly talk with people experiencing the games on Steam live, ask them about it, and even join them if the game supports multiple players. You can set up chat rooms to talk in a group, and can see the history of someone else’s time spent in playing in different ways.
Steam does something that the gallery does not though, and this is what I believe signifies it as something more than simple-minded folly, and not purely entertainment (although, that’s not the worst thing in the world, really :D). The participant, the “show-goer”, the player, the customer, can influence tweaks and changes to a game already “on-the-wall” and have the opportunity to provide a game with more experiences, or entirely different one — made possible through the provision of “gaming-engines”, or tools that developers themselves use to make a respective game. Sure, modifications and content generators have been around for quite a while in the gaming industry, while proving effective for both enjoyment, artistic, and purely professional reasons. The relevance of Steam is how it advertises such creations among its own established products – and how it involves the community to participate in a positive way. Steam gives me some sort of hope for what art can accept, that definitions themselves are not so black and white as language might suggest they are. It siphons respect from what we’d usually see as an “untouchable image” of sorts and shares it with the community, giving them the chance to be appreciated as much as the experiences themselves.
Most anything joyous fades when there is no one, or nothing, to be joyful with. Many gamers have bad memories of Steam when it first launched, and the technical baggage it brought on board for the launch of Half-Life 2, but I feel it has come a long way towards an invaluable device inexperienced developers, and players, have at their disposal. It makes all this cross-time zone dialogue on play a bit more tangible than it presents itself at times. Community is obviously central to the survival of anything larger than itself, and whether or not that thing is declared “Art”, whether or not it is well wasted hours, having a hand in finding when it works is a satisfying sort of challenge, and I like that. Time spent in any sort of engine room, is time I don’t want back.