PlanetQuake Editorial: Is Quake 3 Art?
Is Quake 3 Art?
An insightful community member looks at the merit of Quake 3 as true Art.
— by Matt “DamageInc” Clark
A while back I found myself asking a very difficult question. Is Quake 3 art? My initial reaction was that of a resounding yes. I mean, how could it not be art? It seemed everything about my favorite game was a thing of beauty. The textures, the models, the map designs, it all never ceased to amaze me. Even the packaging was something to behold. I’ve even spoken with some people who consider the game code to be almost poetic. So it naturally stands to reason the Q3A is a form of art.
But upon closer inspection I discovered that this question doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. To understand this we will have to briefly examine some of the concepts and philosophies behind art. For one thing, art is a relative subject. That which one person would consider art, the next person may not. Many artistic movements and new forms of art have been and still are under constant debate as to whether or not they should be considered art. Photography for one was widely debated as a form of art. Likewise, computer generated art is scrutinized now. So, it can be very easy for a person who is set in a certain way of thinking to get up on their soapbox and scream that something isn’t art because it was never art in the first place. Lets face it Quake 3 doesn’t really fall into any established artistic medium (watercolors, ceramics, metals, etc.). Also, how can we call a game art when its function is entertainment?
Well, looking back on history, most art forms never started as art in the first place. Art usually begins with a Utilitarian purpose. Ancient cave paintings and sculpture were probably used more for ritualistic or documentary purposes (caveman Og painted antelope on the cave wall so that next year the gods would grant him a good hunt). Form follows function, as the saying goes and this is never truer than with art. Take the automobile for an example. A car starts with a very Utilitarian purpose; take a person from point A to point B. But through artistry it evolves into the Mustang, Viper, or Corvette. So now we could argue that this is the point at which games have evolved into something more than just entertainment, they are becoming more like art.
Then again, what is art in the first place? How do we define it? After all, we have to know what art is in order to call something art. Well, defining art is another tricky issue to deal with. Since art is an abstract subject we would have just as difficult a time defining things like Love or Freedom. Most of the time people find a definition that works for them and they go with it. So, on that note I’m going throw out a couple definitions that are commonly accepted and apply them to our situation.
The first one says: Anything manipulated by man that incites a response. This definition is very broad indeed. The first part “Anything manipulated by man” could pretty much include everything mankind has created or touched since the beginning of time. The second part “that incites a response” means that it must move you in some way, good or bad. So by this definition a person could write a heart felt poem that would bring tears to your eye and viola, you have art. Or that same person could sneeze on a Kleenex, hand it over to you creating disgust and nausea on your part and it could still be considered art. Both have incited a response. But, I don’t think most people will consider the second example to be art. However, using this definition we can establish games as art. Its manmade, and it incites a response from all who play them. We’ve all experienced excitement, anger, joy, frustration, satisfaction, and a slew of other emotions playing Q3A, tweaking the code, or even just picking one up off the self at a software store (I know I was squealing like a school girl when I picked up my copy). Now games have achieved the status of being considered art.
Now for the second definition: Anything manipulated by man for the purpose of creating art. Now we’ve narrowed down the spectrum, because for something to be art the creator has to have art in mind as his/her goal. Here’s an example: In an empty lot, an artist lays down a 40 foot by 40 foot square of bricks. Across town in an identical empty lot a bricklayer lays down an identical 40 foot by 40 foot square of bricks. The artist proclaims that his bricks are his latest non-representational sculpture, while the bricklayer says that his bricks are to be the foundation for a new building. Even though they both made the same thing only one can be called art because the creator set out to make it art in the first place. Unfortunately this throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing, because now we have to leave it up to the creators to deem it art. After all, what did id software intend when they made Quake 3 Arena? If memory serves, Carmack said that they were trying to create the next level in online gaming. I don’t recall much of anything about creating art. So, on that end, Q3A cannot be called art. But now we hit yet another problem. Through this definition we now have to break down and consider each game on an individual basis as to whether or not the creator wishes it to be art.
Hang on a sec, back up. I just said that Q3A isn’t art. Lets reexamine this for a minute. Perhaps we cannot call the whole of Q3A art, but what about if we take a look at the parts that make it up. After all, the Louvre isn’t art, the stuff inside it is. If you look in the back of the Q3A owner’s manual on page 33, fifth line from the top, we see that id Software has an entire staff of artists that make all the prettiness that we see. These are the guys who make all the models, skins, and textures in the game, and if they are artists therefore the work they’ve created (the models, skins, and textures) should very well be called art. As for the maps, that is a little fuzzy and we may be stretching it calling those art. But it does seem reasonable once you think about it. Designing a map is very similar to creating an imaginary building or landscape. Hmmm… that sounds an awful lot like architecture, and that is a form of art. So I don’t think it is unreasonable to call level designers architects of a sort. So now Q3A is still just a game but it is put together with artistic elements.
I’m not trying to say that Q3A is not art. I’m not even trying to say it is. What I would like to accomplish with this editorial is wake people up to this issue. Because games and gaming will be thought of as nothing more than entertainment unless we as a community make it into something more.