September 2, 2012 by Greg Browe
I’ve been certifiably addicted to Minecraft once more, with the reboot of my friends’ server. I’m building a tall, art deco inspired skyscraper out of sandstone and glass. It’s taking so much time that I haven’t made any proper floors or stairs – they’re all made of dirt. Despite the tower’s unfinished state, I’m already amazed by one thing: its incredible view of the world below. As twilight approached, both the moon and the sun hung in the sky together. Precariously perched atop a piece of smooth sandstone, I watched as blue and carmine gradients eased into one another. Basking in the glow of my computer screen, a thought hit me.
“Is a screenshot a viable method of artistic expression?”
If it were, it might make my practice much less complicated. Graphically, a screenshot can render a relatively satisfying image, but it gets a bit deeper for those who have played the game in question, and are familiar with the experience. Reddit, 4Chan, and the Internet in general are replete with images captured by players. These pictures allow everyone to commiserate over tough boss fights, dialog typos, glitches, and the like. They are the source of memes, or, in the very least, a good, quick laugh.
A dissenter will say that the context involved doesn’t justify a genuine form of expression. The game designer definitely designed that specific moment, and the player is just the unwitting recipient of that experience. To an extent, that’s very true. It’s difficult to think of screengrabs from the definitely-on-rails-all-the-time-because-you-don’t-get-a-lot-of-options-with-this-sort-of-game Call of Duty X as engaging works of artistic merit on part of the player. Every bit of content is fastidiously put in its place by the game designer, and very little, if anything, is left to the player except where they run and point the M16′s business end. In cases like Minecraft, however, where the world is randomly generated and all that remains constant is the system, the player has much more control.
The world generated by Minecraft has no specific topography. It has behaviors, circumstances, rules, and nuances, just like nature. Like, in-real-life Nature nature. What we refer to as “Art” is really just a recreation of our experiences in nature (I’m using the word ‘nature’ to condense the ideas of everything we understand and undergo in the act of living, not just around trees and rocks and stuff). It’s all a fascination and engagement with the systems we observe therein. If you don’t believe me, go read Voltaire’s “Discussion Between Nature and The Philosopher” in his Philosophical Dictionary, it’s pretty swell.
The screenshot definitely has some mileage to offer interested artists. It may not provide the most diverse or sustainable medium ever, but it is a springboard for new artistic inquiries. Hell, games in general haven’t really been explored as much as they could be. Projects like Olaf Rags to Riches verge on performance art, while others go wild about 3D Pac Man rooms. Baby steps I suppose. Baby, blocky steps.