Is cat poop the same kind of medium as videogames?

There has been a lot of twitter chatter this week about an endearing rant by Darius Kazemi with the arresting title of Fuck Videogames aimed at encouraging frustrated game designers to embrace other forms of creative expression.
fkvideogames

Clearly this is a timely message, and probably a mark of the success that this active community of practice has  had in encouraging creative expression in videogames.

I don’t quarrel with Kazemi’s main point — and in fact I’ve often said that there is no hierarchy of media. No individual book, for example, is more valuable than any individual game (or film or TV show) just because it is expressed in lengthy text passages instead of interactive bits or moving images.   But Kazemi isn’t talking about books or films. He is talking gelato and cat poop — which I do indeed have a problem with.

Here is Kazemi’s  list of potential alternate media for the frustrated game designer:fkvideogamesSlide7

My problem with this list is that it uses the word “medium” in too many different ways.  I have claimed, and I continue to claim, that the computer is a new form of human expression. This is because we have not previously been able to represent the world procedurally — in code that is executed  rather than in words, sculpture, moving images. The digital medium — the representational use of computers processing, including but not limited to the genre of videogames —  is indeed an exciting new medium  in the sense that language was a new medium when humans began to speak.  Videogames are an important, formative genre within that new medium, like epics within spoken language or Hollywood romances within the medium of cinema.  A genre is defined not by its transmission format (although platform is important in constraining the creative palette). A genre is defined by conventions of representation (winning, shooting, resource management, avatar creation). Videogames are definitely a new media genre in that sense, and they are playing a key role in shaping  shape the larger digital medium (or why would a search engine company have just hired a chief game designer?).

Twitter and hypertext are formats — they are ways of transmitting digital communication.  Text messaging is one form of digital transmission, and twitter is a stable platform with its own genre conventions for text messaging, but it is more like a specialized channel than a medium.  It is easy to think of the proprietary company disappearing but the practice of broadcasted updates (which also exists in Facebook of course) as continuing on a different platform.  Hypertext is not proprietary (thanks to Tim Berners-Lee!) and it also exists across media format. It is a convention of digital media.  There is also a tradition of practice around hypertext which offers a lot of creative models, which game designers generally have as much respect for as they do for cat poop.

And what about cat poop and gelato? These are materials with the potential for inscription. Cat poop and gelato could be used like clay or like oil paint and canvas. In fact there is ample precedent for painting with food and with animal dung. But they are only “new” in the sense of “novelty.” And they have physical constraints that make them likely to be less lasting than clay or  oil paint — or  digital games.

Which brings me to the real difference. Videogame design is not exciting because it is “new.”  Nothing gets old faster than mere novelty. Videogame art is exciting because it is a productive way of exploring the truly, historically new affordances of the digital medium.

5 responses to “Is cat poop the same kind of medium as videogames?

  1. One quibble: this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve been able to represent the world procedurally! Clockworks, Automatons, programmable machines, water systems, even the rules of traditional games that guide the manipulation of play-data stored in cards etc. Computers just made programming easy.
    Though I totally agree that games are a genre of digital art and cat poop is probably a material not a medium etc, that stuck out to me too when I was reading.

  2. I have issues with that piece, as well, though not precisely the same as yours. The meaning of “medium” is very fluid, after all… most of my reading is in McLuhan, and he says a medium is anything that translates human experience… essentially, any object that humans have created or appropriated for a specific purpose. Still, that doesn’t include gelato or cat poop, unless the person starts sculpting in it.

    BUT I do have the problem that Darius misinterprets how a creator relates to their medium. People don’t get to just choose whatever medium they feel like picking out. The decision of a medium is a creative decisions, but only within the boundaries set by circumstance, which is dictated partly by the artist’s own tendencies. Mozart was not a painter, and if he had a story he wanted to tell, he would have to have found a way to do it with music, or just abandon it. The medium shapes the work, give it an idiom, just as much as (or more than) the work calls for a particular medium.

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