Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Medium of Roleplaying Games

My interest over the past few years has been to examine the medium of the roleplaying game. I've read much about how RPGs are games and shouldn't be taken too seriously and most of what I've read in this vein has certainly been informed from experience. Simply put games are supposed to be fun and as soon as you make it serious then its no longer fun so why play.

I don't exactly agree with this concept but do see how that would be the conclusion for many. My take is that RPGs are a medium, like painting, film or music. All of these can be fun, serious, moving, exciting or any combination of the above among many other ways that one experiences the arts. Are RPGs art? If so are they worthy of being called high art or are they simply low or folk art. Since World War One the line between what we would consider high or low art has been eroding at an ever increasing rate. The Dadaists rebelled against the institutions of art and helped bring about a comedy of the absurd witch was how they observed the post war world. This eventually morphed into the Surrealist movement that focused on the subconscious and dreams, and dreams were needed to build a new post war world. Marcel Duchamp created what he called the Readymade, art objects selected from the everyday environment that were given the status of high art simply through the act of the artists choosing, such as Duchamp's Fountain, a urinal laid horizontally and signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt. Duchamp is considered by many, including myself, to be to the history and development of art what Einstein is to the the history and development of science. This jump toward the conceptual is what has been eroding the divide between what is considered art and what is simply folk/hobby craft. Andy Warhol eventually dumbed this down for the average person by presenting us with our daily visual consumption of advertising and celebrity in the context of fine art as Pop Art.

As new media are created and become available to the artist there has always been some resistance and questioning as to if the medium can be considered in the Fine Art context. Originally photography was such a medium in its early years, as were video and the human body itself in the seventies and  eighties.

Today such things as comic books and video games are generally considered to be an acceptable medium for fine art. RPGs are simply another medium that needs to shed its folk status. They are a creative endeavour that is consumed (as the art form it is) through the act of play. In todays scan and go society few people have the attention span to look at a painting for more than a minute, and this could be a barrier toward RPG as art, but as we are blitzed by visual pollution such as advertising (that is in some cases as well considered hight art) perhaps a backlash will emerge that will see a greater audience willing to participate in a shared experience that takes place in the mind.

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