Are Video Games Art?

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As a video game designer, I feel like I constantly have to defend the relevance of my chosen career. Yes, some people think it sounds cool and fun, but many – especially those born before 1970 – are disappointed to hear that this is what I do. Unlike writing or fine art, game design doesn’t have widespread cultural recognition as a valid form of art and expression. This has always bothered me and, at times, made me feel insecure about what people think about my work. Recently, I had a funny run-in with a capital-A-Artist that made me reconsider the whole question of whether games qualify as art.

I was taking a ferry to an island off the coast of Maine for a few days vacation away from game development. This was in late September, so school was in session and the tourists that swell Maine’s population every summer had thinned out. It was a warm fall day and there were no other passengers above decks, which meant – I thought – that I could relax with a book and forget about the world for a short while.

And then, before the boat had even left the dock, an old man climbed the stairs to the top deck, sat next to me, and asked me if I knew Nijinsky, the great Russian dancer. (I didn’t then, but I sure as hell do now.)

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Loading the Plane

BeetlesI miss the recession.  

That is, I have moments where I miss the go get ‘em, scrappy attitude of the downturn, especially as I pass by a gym that specializes in “artisanal fitness,” which appears to be a cross between parkour, fire juggling, and coffee.

Perhaps being a resident of San Francisco makes me especially cynical about this. In this city, the idolatry and funding of companies that aren’t even yet profitable makes me wonder how many Occupy protesters have hung up their youthful indiscretions for overpaid jobs at Twitter, Facebook, Google, or Salesforce. I am stunned by the transition, with one bedroom apartments fetching a pretty penny — or 350,000 of them — landlords stacking 6 bunkbeds to a studio and renting sleeping places, and the elderly being ejected from their homes.

But poking some fun at it, at how incredibly ridiculous it all is – the wealth, the classifications, the boxes we all get pushed into or are trying to break out of – makes it more tolerable. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the logistics of loading an airplane, which if we were totally honest about it, might sounds something like this. (read more…)

The Threat — and Thrill — of Stereotype

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For a time, I was often the only woman in a room full of men. This was a previous job where I essentially ran a non-profit that rated roofing materials. Our members, stakeholders and board conformed to your likely stereotypes about roofers: they were almost all men, two or three times my age, mainly with pot bellies. I was young (twenty five) and female with little roofing experience. They saw me essentially as a secretary, and on several occasions expressed a great deal of surprise when I actually understood technical issues. I played sweet and friendly with everyone, using this as a way in to get things done. When our board chairman’s term was up, for example, I approached the candidate that I thought would be best for the organization and talked him into running. I gathered a few supporters for him, and the board elected him unanimously, thinking the whole thing had been their idea. (read more…)

The Creativity Myth

This is terrible - 1994

I have a distinct memory of going through my journals and notebooks when I was 10 or 11 and grading my own artwork; I gave almost everything an F. “This is terrible,” I scrawled across one page with the beginnings of a sketch of a minaret, my intense frustration apparent in the big, sharp-edged letters and the dark, hard lines of the pencil. I’ve done art all of my life. My parents and my brother are all artists, and creative expression is fundamental part of my family’s culture. Although I often got encouraging feedback about my work growing up, I was never satisfied with it. I had grand visions of what I would create and was often disappointed with the reality of my ability.

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This is How It Happens, Or What I Learned from Steve Jobs

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When Steve Jobs was seventeen, he dropped out of Reed College after just six months. The tuition was too expensive and he wasn’t sure where it was leading. But he stuck around the campus, sleeping on floors in friends’ dorms and started dropping in on classes that looked interesting. At that time, Reed had amazing calligraphy instruction. Jobs, struck by the beautiful, calligraphed campus posters, decided to take a class. Jobs had no practical application in mind at the time, but as he described it in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, he was fascinated learning about “serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.”

It was a full ten years later before any of this knowledge came to practical use. (read more…)