Illustration, Visual arts and Graphic Narrative

Are We Really Aware of The Narrative Art Form For The Digital Age?

My conviction about the creative practice is that the illustration has the potential to expand the limits of the visual communication, because as a discipline, links arts, design and technology, forcing our creative practice to the forefront of innovation.

That means that we have to make constant breakthroughs and progress in the results of our practice and ideas, evolving and changing what we do and how do we do it, because probably this constant innovation is what the market and the audience expect, constant change and surprise.

Illustration has to be present in this exploration of new narrative fields, reaching new audiences and finding new tools to connect people with our ideas.

 

(http://www.jimicrayon.com/)

In literature as in cinema the industry is always trying to make copies of successful blockbusters and repeat the formula to keep the profits as high as they can using the same idea.

Nevertheless, although cinema has a full commercial side, it is also true that cinema is a valid art form and no matter how commercial the media is, you will find authentic masterpices in movies.

Nowadays we live in a digital world where we are permanently surrounded by information and electronic devices, in fact we use technology in our daily artistic practice, using Cintiqs, Wacoms, or just using software to create new art

Art  has evolved into an interactive graphic narrative, creating an immersive and complete experience, using illustration as structure to construct this new creative dimension.

Valid art form and no matter how commercial the media is

Videogames have been for years, the most complete artistic expression in this digital era. Despite the decades of development, videogames are still struggling for its acceptance as a valid art form, as it was with cinema in its early years.

If we apply the context of authorial illustration to the videogames, there is still a huge and untapped field, because still all the proposals for new games are just responding to the market, and trying in the same way as cinema to reproduce the successes.

Historically, and quoting Brett Martin in the book Videogames and Art. “Every time a new technology provides a fresh medium in the art world it is met with a lack of respect, indifference, or indignation, and must go through an acceptance process by the art world”.

There are several examples of that throughout history. Photography at the very beginning wasn’t taken seriously because the art world could not accept that something mechanically produced could have an artistic focus. In its early years Cinema used the terms and styles of Theatre, but without refined elements and artistic value, early cinema was not considered art until the 20th century

 

In a similar way, and even when videogames have been in the public attention the last decades as a huge commercial industry, it hasn´t achieved yet any artistic recognition, even when Videogame creators utilize many of the same processes of painters, movie producers, and illustrators.

As narrative art, the one element separating videogames and movies, is the interactive element, allowing players to control and manipulate the game´s environment.

Almost as a definition, in art, form follows function. Without function, form can become several things and is often termed art. Form can be used for a function regardless of whether functionality was a requirement.

The game could benefit from not having the function to entertain. Without this requirement, the game could become art. It may still entertain, but entertainment would not be the main function.

To be considered art, the ultimate goal of the games has be to elicit or produce an emotional response, farther than mere fun but also can be aesthetically pleasing.

According to several specialized websites, reviews and critics, one of the first games to accomplish this goal and pull the games near to fine art as never before,  was the game “Shadow of the Colossus”, published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 2 in 2005 and developed for the Japanese studio NICO from 2002.

From the point of view of the aesthetic and design the game represents a true artistic vision, not just for the characters but also for locations design, the integration between narrative, action and also the soundtrack that keeps the rhythm of the game and constructs a deep emotional dimension for the gameplay, which was different to everything before.

One of most wonderful parts of this game is the simplicity in all the aspects, there are no points or records to achieve, no special powers or abilities for your character.

In the game’s opening sequence you venture into a large, uninhabited peninsula called “The Forbidden Land”: you ride a horse, and you are carrying the body of a maiden. You bring the maiden to a temple, and in order that she be revived you make a deal with a deity to kill sixteen behemoths that roam the land. From there until the final cut scene, not much else is given you.

You are “Wander”, a young man whose goal is to resurrect his beloved named Mono. You only have a bow, your magic sword and your loyal horse Agro and a deal with a mysterious disembodied entity called “Dormin” to return Mono’s soul to her body.

This will only be possible if the sixteen idols lining the temple’s hall are destroyed. To do that, you have to find and kill sixteen colossi located throughout the land using the ancient sword that you have.

So you have to leave the temple and start looking for these colossi, using your sword as a compass to find them across the land but also to find their weak points, solve how to climb on your gigantic foes and kill them.

That is the basic and simple premise of the game, however as soon as the game progresses, you discover that your are going to pay a great price to complete this quest.

After each colossus death, the deterioration of Wander’s body is shown clearly. After the death of the twelfth colossus, it is revealed that  Wander is being pursued by a group of warriors to stop him because he has stolen the ancient magic sword and there is a mortal danger to everybody if he complete his mission.

By the end of the game and after defeating the last and most terrifying colossus ever, the plot of the tragic hero is complete and the rest of the story is finally revealed. The riders that were after Wander arrive to temple where the game started,  just as the last temple idol crumbles after that Wander had killed the last colossus; Wander appears here soon afterwards, his eyes and skin now both entirely pale, and two small horns protruding from his head. After all your efforts, Wander is  now “possessed by the dead”, and the warriors are forced to sacrifice Wander for the worlds sake.

Dormin explains that ages ago, he had been separated into sixteen pieces—the colossi—to seal away its power and by entering Wander body, who absorbed the energy from defeating each colossus, it is now whole again. Wander has been used as a tool to release evil upon earth.

The warriors casting the same ancient sword into a small pool at the back of the temple’s hall, create a whirlwind of light that consumes Dormin and Wander, killing both.

However, the deity wasn’t lying. In the temple Mono, Wander´s love awakens, restored by Dormin in accordance with its agreement with Wander, nevertheless they will never be together.

All stories have a motivation, and eternal love is probably one of the deepest motivations ever.

But when you do your best to accomplish a quest but everything goes down with you anyway, that is the kind of story that lasts forever.

But besides the storyline, it is the emotional dimension of the game that sets it apart from all the other games in its time. As we play, we can feel the vertigo when we are climbing on a giant or riding your horse over a cliff, also we develop a deep attachment to each character.

While it is true that it is a challenging quest to find the colossi and climb on them to find their weaknesses, we always have a deep sad feeling when you finally kill the colossus, because each of them is a beautiful creature. Even when you finally arrive at the last colossus location, about to finally finish the game, you cannot feel complete joy, because your loyal horse Agro has to sacrifice himself to save your life.

If a game like this could offer a piece of art which is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing that offers a simple but strong story and allows interactivity for the audience to follow the story, not affecting the result of the narrative but helping the character to solve the riddles in which the story takes place, why can´t videogames be a valid narrative art form?.

If we include the facility of interacting with the narrative, helping to solve the continuity problems but without the ability to change the outcome, the story could just as well be given to us in a book, or film.

By far if the function of the videogame is not mere diversion, I cannot see why video games can’t take place as the new and proper art form in the digital age, just because there are ludic (spontaneous) and commercial aspects to it.

Paper and plastic are merely the delivery medium for books and movies, not the work itself. The ideas contained in each medium are priceless and in the end is what endures through time as art.

Beautiful artwork, simple but strong story (Journey Game for PS3  – 2013 )

Since before this digital age, art was meant to serve as an expression of the artist´s thought, now with the interactive factor on videogames we are not interfering with the statement of the artist, instead, the player is helping the author to keep fluency in the narrative, solving all the puzzles and making the story fluent, keeping in that way the tension between the narrative, controlled by the author, and the freedom of the player in the interactivity.

Games nowadays, as many narrative art forms, can make you feel different emotions, however still need to set a specific language impossible to reproduce in other art forms. Different, like the literature is different from graphic novels, and cinema from theatre, using their own codes to define themselves.

Since before this digital age, art was meant to serve as an expression of the artist´s thought, now with the interactive factor on videogames we are not interfering with the statement of the artist, instead, the player is helping the author to keep fluency in the narrative, solving all the puzzles and making the story fluent, keeping in that way the tension between the narrative, controlled by the author, and the freedom of the player in the interactivity.

Games nowadays, as many narrative art forms, can make you feel different emotions, however still need to set a specific language impossible to reproduce in other art forms. Different, like the literature is different from graphic novels, and cinema from theatre, using their own codes to define themselves.

With the interactive factor on videogames  the player is helping the author to keep fluency in the narrative.                                                         (3D-Axes http://hitboxteam.com/designing-game-narrative)

 

Probably, it is this narrative aspect of videogames that has been less explored, because a great amount of games keep the same linear storytelling, limiting in that way the experience that the player has through the story. Videogame artists should be looking for new narrative structures to deliver the stories, allowing the player freedom to take decisions and developing an emotional link with the game in a completely new dimension of interactivity.

Yet, games must challenge the player, and like in all the art forms, also have to be innovative, taking great risks to change the paradigm in the media, and not merely limiting the artistic production to making endless reproductions of the same template.

 

Proteus, Game for PS3/PC/MAC  – 2013

Conclusions: Narrative art form for a digital age. 

  1. More than merely Fun
  2. Taking Risks
  3. Innovative interface
  4. Attitude shift

1.- While it is true that this is still an open debate, we have to be aware that there are several arguments for establishing Videogames as the Narrative art form for a digital age. Mostly for the endless narrative possibilities that the media offer and for the immersive and interactive dimensions that it represents.

However to become a valid and accepted art form, the media has to deal with several issues beforehand.

2.-  Videogames can be More than merely Fun, The commercial market nowadays is focused only on providing fun and entertainment. As other art forms, videogames must evoke a range of different emotions and feelings.

3.- Game artists have to take Risks to establish a personal language completely different from the others arts, videogames have to jump into the void to change the traditional design of game interface and gameplay, also they must change the aesthetic of the games, changing the traditional hyperrealism look that the new technology offers into something more personal, exquisite and even more experimental.

4.- The game interface must be innovative, Games must challenge their players as other art forms challenge their viewers. They must force the player to experience new ideas, to see things in new ways. Changing genres, themes, how the characters interact inside the plot of the story and the world where he or she lives, and in general not reproducing the same formats over and over.

5.- And lastly, illustrators, artists, designers and creators from all different media, have to be aware that the narrative art form for the digital age are the videogames, and with that in mind, videogames have to accomplish a deep change in the attitude of the audience. The public must open their minds and realize that new media no matter how embedded in commercialism, have the potential to become well-respected art form.

 

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