Thursday, January 6, 2011

Video Games as Art— a case study on the effects of lazy communication and "word worship." (contributor post)

Language is fucked up.  Everyone has their own little idea of what this word means, or this phrase represents, and so on and so forth.  And this isn't some philosophical, "sensation is subjective and differs from person to person, isn't this a cute little way of looking at things?" brain teaser, either— we're actually using this shit to communicate.  When I say that I took all of our shoes and threw them in the fire, did I include "boots" in that statement?  That's a big fucking deal, and that's just the first crazy, stupid, childish example that happened to enter my retarded head.  

Maybe it started out with a simple discussion— everyone agreed that there were way too many shoes and/or boots in the house.  Getting all up in the cabinets and cluttering up the basement and shit.  So Bob says "fuck it, Carol, we need to get rid of these fucking shoes.  Like what is our fucking problem?  How does someone even let something like this happen, this is fucking nuts!"  And Carol is like "Wow Bob, you've got major mental health issues.  Those shoes are our God damned life, and you're telling me to just throw it all away?  Say something that stupid again and I'll burn you with an iron."  This is intense, borderline sociopathic behavior, but it's rendered completely meaningless when we find out that Carol only actually cares about the boots.  The tennis shoes, Crocs and high heels can go to hell for all she cares— it's the boots that need protecting.  Meanwhile, Bob never planned to dispose of any boots in the first place. That's because his definition of the word "shoes" excludes "boots," while Carol's obviously doesn't.  But instead of actively communicating their ideas with precise language, these emotional wrecks decided it would be fun to just assume that their definition was somehow universal.  Have fun in therapy, assholes.

Don't laugh.  This same situation has happened to every single one of you, probably recently.  You've argued over something stupid like televised nudity, realizing only after thirty minutes of fervent, mildly erotic "logical" debate that there are some deep-seated semantic issues that need to be sorted out before any "actual argument" can take place.  And then, surprise!  There is no "actual argument," it's just two people failing to correctly interpret each other's perfectly legitimate (if ineffectively articulated) point of view.  And it's so crazy, because those same two people will probably find some other ridiculous shit to argue about at some point in the future, and what will they do?  They'll run into the exact same problem, of course.   Treating their inane little definitions as the axiomatic words of a shimmering Norse deity. Perfectly comfortable to believe that the normally-reasonable person before them has somehow transformed into a frothing, brain-dead caveman before their very eyes— I mean, since when do your arguments devolve into simple misunderstandings, right?  The other guy's just gone temporarily crazy or something, right?  You've gone to college!  You read Critically Pissed!  You're too good to allow your personal biases invade every single shitty word that comes out of your shitty mouth, right?  Right?  

Let's take a look at a real life example of this embarrassing travesty.  Enter: Roger Ebert versus the video game industry at large, when Ebert boldly asserts that games can never be art (please read the following article, or, if not, go to hell and click out of whatever horrible browser you use:  The absolutely pants-shittingly mindblowing thing about this "debate" is that Ebert is totally aware of the multiple possible definitions of Art.  "I mean give me a fucking break," says Ebert.  "There are so many fucking definitions of art, and like every single one of them has some subjective flaw to it.  This argument is bullshit!"  "Ahhh," I breathe, relieved.  "So anyway, by my definition, games can't be art.  So, yeah, argument done!" laughs Ebert, burning an image of his mocking, cancer-ridden face into my mind forever.  This motherfucker just pointed out the exact argumentative pitfall I've been expounding on for two paragraphs and then walked right into it.  As if he suddenly made that okay!  This left the game industry, along with millions of fanboys, to fly into a rage, failing to properly address any of his video game-related qualms because frankly, his qualms were almost elegantly vague.  In fact, he never even managed to articulate his particular definition of art— it was just some "thing" that evokes certain feelings in him that he doesn't think he would get from games.  What could possibly explain this caliber of bold-faced lunacy?  The answer is "word worship."

"Word worship" is a horrible but easy-to-swallow term that I just made up to make the title of this article slightly more accessible.  It's when people get the absolutely ludicrous idea that words exist for any reason other than "useful communication."  It's also the most infuriating bullshit that has ever existed, and the bane of all intelligent discussion.  By "useful communication," I mean just that— (1) communicating ideas (2) to other people (3) practically.  Why do we call lip balm "lip balm"?  Why not just lump it in with "lipstick"?  If you're jotting down two parallel lists of "characteristics of lipstick" and "characteristics of lip balm," please feel free to credit me for the next punch to the back of your head, moron.  The truth is that there is nothing inherent to anything that implicitly encourages us to semantically distinguish it from anything else.  Do you know how many fucking differences there are between a human being and a bucket of shitty tree sap?  Now go ahead and separate the differences that actually "matter" (the ones that, by the very nature of their existence, logically demand that we refer to a human and a bucket of shitty tree sap differently) from the ones that don't.  Go on, let's see it.  In fact, go ahead and post it in the comments so I can print it out, crumple it up and dramatically throw it into my electric fucking fireplace because it's worthless.  The real reason we differentiate between humans and buckets of shitty tree sap is that there are about a trillion practical scenarios in which it is useful for us to refer to those things differently.  "I coat my skin in the extract of shitty tree sap before I go to bed" is a potentially upsetting statement in a world where both shitty tree sap and humans are referred to as "shitty tree sap."  Likewise, referring to lipstick and lip balm differently has nothing to do with their physical and chemical makeup (pun flex), but with the perceived practical differences that exist between the two.  There would literally be no reason to refer to them differently if, every time we asked someone where the lip balm was, we were completely apathetic as to whether we wanted lip balm or lipstick.  They would then cease being referred to differently because referring to them differently wouldn't make any fucking sense whatsoever.  

Except to word worshippers.  To these people (who also just so happen to include most of you), lip balm and lipstick would be separate concepts even if there were no longer any relevant difference between the two, just because they happened to remember a time where their differences mattered.  They may even try to invent practical differences, because they are so attached to language that they find it more reasonable to alter the material that words represent than the words themselves.  They are so fucking insane that they'll have entire arguments over whether something of self-evident worth does or doesn't fit under a particular category filled with other things of self-evident worth.  This is exactly what Roger Ebert has done (so too has his opposition).  Do the differences between video games and other, traditional forms of "art" render a distinction between the two useful (though this is different than the balm/stick problem, since it is not a matter of an identical label but an identical category)?  Maybe, but that isn't what the argument is about.  Instead, "art" is treated as a status, some higher form of existence which is arbitrarily out of game design's reach.  If video games were as widely-considered "art" as, say, film, Ebert wouldn't give a shit.  He would keep excluding it from his definition because, for some reason, he feels that the word "art," and the word "art"'s history, are more important than proper communication.  In reality, they are meaningless constructs in every possible interpretation of the term.  There would literally be no reason for him to define art at the exclusion of video games except to sooth his own impressively demented psyche, or appease anyone else who happens to share his crazy inability to utilize language as it was designed to be utilized.  His opposition is just as bad— as he even explains, why the fuck are they trying so hard to get games to be considered "art" in the first place?  Why are they so desperate to be recognized, when the inherent merits of their work will automatically dictate the usefulness of whichever label is ultimately ascribed to it, whether that be "art," "sport," or just "games" (oh, the inhumanity)?  To be fair, if it weren't for people like Ebert espousing the illusory notion that "art" is some sort of "classy," "respectable," and all-around desirable label to be associated with, the poor little trodden-upon, geeky personalities populating the games industry wouldn't get so riled up.  

Either way, all parties involved need to understand that language is just a tool for useful communication.  And so do you.  If you've ever argued about the "sanctity of marriage," whether or not bowling is a sport, or whether Batman: The Animated Series can technically be referred to as an "anime," take a look at yourself and start to pay attention to the stupid shit you argue about from now on.  Stop using language as a standalone entity and start communicating with ideas at the forefront.

- girl


  1. or...agree on terms at the beginning, allow someone like Ebert to have an opinion that doesn't really affect your own enjoyment and have ago at whether Bears fans should be eligible for conjugal visits at the Home For The Sadly Blessed.

    It don't mean nothing. Make some cocoa and go lie down before you pop a vein.

  2. Yeah, pretty much. Figure out what your argueing about then go on about it.

    Sometimes pointless arugements are part of the fun. I once had a conversation about how the dubs of some animes are better then subs. My friend refuses to believe in ANY English anime and we had a merry go at it. It really ment nothing but it was fun.

    So yeah, i am thinking that your arugement here is basically about how people argue and now we are arguing about how people aruge? It's all rather silly isn't it? But, it's fun.

    What do you mean by useful conversation? I would argue that whats meaningless for you ( My anime talk) means something to me ( fun with my friend).

    So yeah i think in this situation you need to " Buy the ticket and take the ride."


  3. I think that's interesting and could have been stated a bit more succinctly, mister two times the motherfucking limit, but the reason that it's sometimes important is that people are exclusionary for no reason whatsoever. The problem isn't that Ebert doesn't consider video games art, it's that he doesn't consider them on the same plan as music, television, and film.

    Discussions of whether or not something is an anime matters far less, but it's all about opening your perspective up as much as possible. Words are for communication, but they also control how people categorize and think.

    "That's a big fucking deal, and that's just the first crazy, stupid, childish example that happened to enter my retarded head. "

    scaird uv u

  4. "Plane," not "plan."

  5. Whoops Ebert did it again! Roger Ebert is back in the news over use of the "N" word. Is Ebert nuts? Did his long term marriage to a black woman lead him to believe he could use the "N" word with impunity?

    More on this controversy.

    "Almost 101 years after Mark Twain died, one of his most famous works is causing controversy once again, only this time on Twitter. After news broke Tuesday that publisher New South will release a new edition of 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' with all 219 N-words excluded, movie critic Roger Ebert reacted with a controversial tweet. He quickly apologized after receiving harsh criticism. Ebert responded to the 'Huck Finn' announcement on Wednesday by tweeting to his 300,000-plus followers, "I'd rather be called a N***** than a Slave."

    The tweet set off a storm of heated feedback toward the influential critic, describing him as "disrespectful" and "ignorant."

    Others accused Ebert of believing he's allowed to take liberties with the word because his wife, Charlie "Chaz" Hammel-Smith, is black.

    "R U OUT OF UR freakin head? jus cos ya wife is black dont give u the right to throw tht word around like its nothing. A*******" @iamichelle said.

    Ebert retracted his statement Thursday by conceding that, as people like @urbanbohemian pointed out, he would never be called either word.

    "You know, this is very true. I'll never be called a N***** *or* a Slave, so I should have shut the **** up," Ebert tweeted.

    The new edition, 'Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The New South Edition,' is set for release in February.

    Sam feels that people are too sensitive over the "N" word. While Sam refrains from using it, he does not get bent out of shape when it is used by various hip hop artists. Regarding Huck Finn, leave Jim alone!


  6. When I was growing up Elmo always annoyed me because he was always saying stuff like, Elmo likes this, Elmo is hungry, Elmo feels bad. What's with Elmo talking in the third person?

    What's with Sam talking in third person? Did you forget how to use "I"?

    Im going to have to think more about the N-word.

  7. Oh man this topic has gone to the tubes faster then a 7th st hooker.

    I am not really going to address the N word here but i will say that once something important as Huck Finn enters into this world it became part of history and a all time classic. You shouldn't tamper with other peoples work nor should you change it. The book is a nice piece of history and i think that the PC era has no right trying to change what has been done, they need to focus on what's going on now and keep their ass in their own yard.

    Sometimes when i am playing D&D with the fellows we have a saying that sometimes good to roll with, " Let sleeping dragons lie." sounds good with historical books. Bascially it goes with the "slippery slope" arguement that if you can start editing stories like Huck Finn and the like then what next? I am looking at your Texas School district!

    So i think we should learn from history, change where we are going now but never edit it. History is not wikepida.

    Prof. Chaos

  8. I like what has been acknowledged in this post. Effective communication is difficult when everyone has their own individual connotative and denotative understanding of the word(s) being said.
    Therefore, individuals should not only be conscious of what they say and how it might be received by their audience, but they should also be aware that other individuals might not be conscious of what they're saying and how it is being received.
    So, instead of arguing incessantly or freaking out right away and jumping to conclusions about what the intentions of the speaker are, it's much wiser to just be a critical listener, and give the speaker the benefit of the doubt until it truly becomes obvious that the speaker is purposely using words maliciously, offensively, or whatever one might think.
    I think the number one reason people have arguments in the first place is because people simply don't understand other people. And when people don't understand something, they turn angry, stubborn, and they lose hope. In a lot of cases, they don't understand other people's True intentions, thoughts, and motives, so they come up with their own based on what they feel personally. They don't understand in general other individual's subjective mindsets.
    This misunderstanding is inevitable, but once people can start admitting that there is a good chance that they are being misunderstood, or that they are the ones misunderstanding others, it gets a lot easier to reach solutions to arguments, and effectively communicate again. It's also easier to ask harmless, useful questions such as "What do you mean by__________?" (even if that means asking that question more than once during any given argument or conversation).
    Unfortunately, to most people it never occurs to them to ask such questions or even think that the argument could be simply due to a misunderstanding on the sides of both parties, because everyone seems to be always stuck in their own little world without knowing it, assuming an objective truth that is actually something they constructed in their own subjective minds in the first place.
    So what's left to do? Take time to be a little more understanding, open, accepting, tolerant, and less judgmental of what other people have to say when the meaning is up for grabs, because sometime(s), we'll all need to be given that same treatment.