Friday, August 29, 2008

Video Gaming and the Decline of Musical Talent

A recent trend in video gaming strikes me as troubling both as a classically trained musician and a philosopher of technology. The trend involves games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and variations on this theme. In short, players press different colored buttons in order to match patterns on the screen that correspond to musical motifs.

Wii Music, a recently announced game for the Nintendo Wii console, adds another layer to my concerns about these kinds of games. Revered video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto said of the game, "There is no need to closely follow any music notes or rhythm guide to play. All that you have to do is hold the remote and move your hands like you would playing a real instrument."

Why do these games concern me? In a broad sense, they diminish the value of true artistic talent and skill in learning to play an instrument. Players are made to believe they are participating in a musical performance when in reality they are just pressing buttons or waving their arms around. That's not musicianship, that's just silly.

Miyamoto's quote is particularly telling in that he essentially admits that knowledge and understanding of music is not necessary to enjoy the game. But maybe that's the idea? People just want to have fun with music without needing to understand it on a technical level. Still, there's something about translating what has traditionally been an art and skill that takes much practice and dedication to refine into a gaming product.

Does this signal a wider trend in our culture? Do we want to take shortcuts to talent? Has aesthetic appreciation of art as beauty diminished? I think it has. With the decline of a viable underlying worldview to culture that recognizes and celebrates beauty and talent in a meaningful world, art is but one casualty. The void is filled with nihilistic lament in art, music, architecture, etc., or other forms of expression that are lacking a proper foundation.

Yes, this is something of a stretch based just on a trend in video gaming and music, but what I'm suggesting fits into a broader worldview understanding of culture, seeking to understand why things are the way they are, not just some isolated incidents in video gaming.

What drives our understanding of creativity, imagination, and artistic expressions of various forms will ultimately find its way into culture at large, for better or for worse. Of late it seems to be for worse.


Adam D said...

I share your concern. Recently, I was talking with this gentleman I know relatively well -- he's a smart fellow and a good man that I'd expect to be at least as cultured as the average person. I was talking to him about my work as an artist, especially my ambition, eventually to make a living painting portraits for the kinds of institutions and individuals that pay a decent price for portraiture. He asked me, "But how do you even sell the idea to someone? Why wouldn't they just pay for a good photograph if they want a portrait?"

I'm still a little bit flabbergasted. Do many people really not appreciate the difference between a painting and a photograph?

Robert Velarde said...

While I grant that professional photography certainly takes skill and talent, it's disarming to hear a report that basically diminishes artistic painting. It's sort of like someone saying, why do you need live music when you could just plug your iPod into a stereo system?

Well, being in the presence of a great live musical performance is quite different than just turning on a radio. Similarly, a skillfully done portrait is an original work of art. In this sense, photographs these days are too easy. Use your camera phone, use a point and shoot digicam, etc. and images are captured instantly.

So, the thinking for some goes, who wants a portrait?

Art & the Bible by Francis Schaeffer is one of the best and shortest antidotes I've read in reference to such thinking.