Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

Reactions to Art/NotArt

Posted by Nathan P. on January 6, 2006

The latest widely addressed topic – are RPGs art?

I think that, yet again, there’s a huge f’in difference between the Text and the Play. In short, an RPG sourcebook is not art. Actually playing an RPG, thats where the art does or does not happen.

The Text is an object. It can be aesthetic or not, well-written or not – basically, it can be a nice thing or not. But it’s not a novel. It’s not a text that has been written in such a way that your interaction with it brings beauty, or meaning, or whatever into your life. It’s closer to a play (though, I would argue that plays-as-written are a seperate artform than plays-as-performed), in that it’s something that has to be enacted.

The Actual Play can be art. Is it always? No. But it certainly has the potential – I truly think that a session of roleplay can be as beautiful or as touching or as memorable or as meaningful as any book, play, sculpture or painting.

The difference, though? The artist, in roleplay, is not the author. It is the players. That’s right. I don’t think that I’m an artist – I’m an enabler. If I am good at what I do, I enable the true artists to do their thing, reliably and well. If I’m bad, I give the artists a vague idea of what they can create, which they may or may not actually acheive.

Does it need an audience to be art? Of course. And every single fucking session of roleplay that has ever happened has had an audience – it’s the participants. Roleplay is based upon the interaction of audience-participants, remember? Roleplay is the only entertainment form in the world that is always seen by the exact audience that it is intended for. When roleplay becomes art, it is always witnessed by those best enabled to appreciate exactely what that art is saying.

The unfortunate reality is that, the majority of the time, RPGs are read and not played. Which, given the reality of math, is unavoidable. But it leads to the conflation of the author/designer with the artist. RPGs are a kind of combined form of entertainment (Text) and art (Play). It’s no surprise that people hold strong, strong opinions on both sides.

4 Responses to “Reactions to Art/NotArt”

  1. The Text cannot be art. Pshaw. You also missed one, the Book, which can also be art. It’s just that the Book and the Text are not art in the same way that the Game/Play is art.

    I can make a Book that’s art that also describes how to engage in Play that is art. I certainly hope I am doing so now.

  2. --timfire said

    Yes!

    Though I am of the opinion that RPGs are, with the rare exception, always art.

    But here’s the important part—they’re not always good art. I think this is one of the reasons people have trouble accepting RPGs as art. They expect RPGs to be good in order to qualify as art, when very often the RPGs are poor art…but still art.

  3. John Kim said

    Nathan P. wrote…
    The Actual Play can be art. Is it always? No. But it certainly has the potential – I truly think that a session of roleplay can be as beautiful or as touching or as memorable or as meaningful as any book, play, sculpture or painting.

    So what is your view of art here? Is there a certain threshold of beauty, touchingness, memorability, or meaning to be art? If so, how do you think the fraction of RPG sessions that are art compares with paintings or, say, comic books (to pick two differing examples)?

    My own view is similar to Tim’s — that a painting is art without being great — but I’m willing to entertain alternate definitions.

  4. Nathan P. said

    Joshua: Well, yeh. The Book can be a beautiful object, for sure.

    Tim & John: I don’t know that much about art (certainly not enough to get into “what is art”). Can something be poor art? I suppose. I, personally, wouldn’t look at a scribble and call it “poor art,” but if that’s how you see it, fine by me.

    I mean, personally, I only consider something art when I look at (or hear, or play…) it and go “woah. that touches me.” Which means I consider plenty of things art that I’m sure no art critic in their right mind would even glance at. But hey, thats me. Who am I to tell you what art is, right?

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