Is this art? Is this not art? How can we tell really? Art is ever present in our lives but also so subjective. To one a particular piece of production is great art and to another it's just rubbish. My guess is that we can never come to any universal definition of what is art, but to me, art is much more in the process, in how we do things, than in the result of that process.
When is it art?
To me, we create art when we do something for the sake of doing it. In these cases, we are most likely to be driven by the desire to express something; a feeling, pain, joy, a message or a reflection... The process is highly internalized and comes from deep inside ourselves. If we are not driven by these internal motivations, then we are driven by external ones like peer pressure, engagements with others, the need to make money, hunger...
In these cases, not only does our motivations come from external sources, but we also look OUT for cues about what we should do; how do people react? What other production has been successful? What do experts think about this particular technique? Etc..
Art comes from deep inside and, in this matter, I believe that the only person that can really judge if a production is art or not, is the artist that produced it in the first place. This is why I will here look at two of my own productions (follow the links below to try the games).
Play Finding my Heart
My own process
The last two games I've created are widely different in their design but mostly in the process by which I came to designing them. One is art and the other is not. I'll briefly explain how I came to design both of those games and then I'll talk more about the result of my work.
Process 1: Finding my Heart
Finding my Heart is an example of a production that came from deep inside. The only motivation to doing the project was to do the project. I felt like doing a small, simple adventure game and the idea of playing with and using emotions as part of the story came to me very quickly. I wrote a scenario and knew instantly that I would create this game. I didnt went through any market study, I didnt looked at other successful games, I didnt CARED about other games. I just wanted to do that one game because I thought it was the right thing to do at the moment.
Process 2: MegaDrill
After completing and distributing Finding my Heart, I was slightly frustrated that it did not made much money. It did not seemed like a good way to actually make a living so I went on to look at popular games, in search of a sort of "gold mine". The games that caught my attention were "Shopping Cart Hero" and, more importantly, "Learn to Fly". The idea is very simple: go as far as you can, upgrade, try again. I played with that concept until I came upon the idea of going deeper underground instead of further away. This felt different enough to be original. I applied the upgrading concept very faithfully to what I had seen and threw a bunch of rewarding mechanics (grabbing money and collecting trophies) to keep the player hooked. I was set. The motivations here were mainly to make money and get a widely successful game (but mostly to make money). I looked outside to what people liked as much as possible and tried to provide.
Quite simply, the results for both games are exactly what I had first envisioned: Finding my Heart is a beautiful game that I'm very proud of and MegaDrill pays the bills. But I'm not particularly proud of MegaDrill. Sure, it is a good, very polished game and the monetary rewards are great and will allow me to produce more games, but it is not something personal to me. It doesnt come anywhere close to the love I have for Finding my Heart.
I think it also shows in the public's reception: the comments for MegaDrill are very generic while the comments for Finding my Heart are often very personal (going from a deep hatred for the game to a profound appreciation). This is very encouraging, as it means that a genuine work of art, while it may not have the same market presence as a purely commercial game, has the power to make a deep impact in the viewers. That alone is a strong incentive for me to go back to make games that are meaningful to me and not only "market studied" designs.
Game CAN be art. If this short analysis of my early work does not prove it to the world, at least it deeply convinces me of it. This is what I'm looking for. If I had to go through life making games for the sake of making money, I'd probably drop it all and go find something better to do (like becoming a lawyer or a doctor). But I have the soul of an artist and I found that games can have a real impact on the players. This fuels my drive to continue in this path.
As a closure, here is a player's comment on Finding my Heart:
So this is kinda ironic... While play this my girl started complaining that I spend to much time on the computer and not with her. I never was able to finish the game as she kicked me out. While at a friend's place later that night I started playing it again. I guess it's now time to copy what happened in this game...