Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Persuasive Games: Video Game Kitsch
View All     RSS
October 1, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 1, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


 
Persuasive Games: Video Game Kitsch

February 17, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[Who is the Thomas Kinkade of video games? Writer and designer Bogost explores how mawkish sentimentality can be lucrative -- and how it applies to games.]

Thomas Kinkade paints cottages, gardens, chapels, lighthouses, and small town street scenes. He paints such subjects by the dozens each year, but he sells thousands of them for at least a thousand dollars each.

All are "originals" manufactured using a complex print process that involves both machine automation and assembly line-like human craftsmanship. The result has made Kinkade the most collected painter in history.

Unlike most working painters, Kinkade's work doesn't go out to exhibition or collection, his most "important" works later being mass-produced on prints or mugs or datebooks for the everyman.

No, Kinkade's work is mass-market from the get-go. Every subject, every canvas becomes an immediate widget to be marketed in every channel. The artist himself put it this way in in a 60 Minutes interview several years ago:

"There's been million-seller books and million-seller CDs. But there hasn't been, until now, million-seller art. We have found a way to bring to millions of people an art that they can understand."

For Kinkade, "an art they can understand" means tropes of nostalgia and idealism. He paints perfect small town Main Streets with friendly neighbors and milkmen. He paints patriotic portraits of flapping flags. He paints white Christmases with serenading carolers. He paints glowing gardens basked in filtered beams of sunlight.

Kitsch

There is a name for this sort of art, an art urging overt sentimentality, focused on the overt application of convention, without particular originality: we call it kitsch.

Kitsch has a complex history. A century and a half ago, fine art became a personal plaything of the cultural elite at the same time as the middle-classes proliferated thanks to industrialism. As remains the case today, once the lower classes catch a glimpse of the one just above it, it tends to mimic their styles and tastes in an effort to climb the social ladder.

In 19th century Europe, one way such longing for status took form was to acquire consumer-grade copies of art created in the style of the fine arts of the cultural elite. Eventually a marketplace grew around art for the masses, just as one exists today for Kinkade's paintings and trinkets and calendars and textiles and the like.

Kitsch Games

Are there kitsch games? Such games would have to accomplish a few things.

First, they would have to draw on borrowed conventions, repurposing them for popular appeal. Lots of games do this, and it might be tempting to point to the glut of selfsame casual puzzle games as possible candidates. But, those games don't adopt another necessary property of kitsch: trite sentimentalism.

And there's one more ingredient: production value. While 19th century kitsch painting was sometimes accused of having been thrown together, modern kitsch can have quite high production value -- Kinkade's paintings are technically competent examples of a particular style of realism.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Related Jobs

University of Texas at Dallas
University of Texas at Dallas — Richardson, Texas, United States
[10.01.14]

Assistant/Associate Prof of Game Studies
Red Storm Entertainment, a Ubisoft Studio
Red Storm Entertainment, a Ubisoft Studio — Cary, North Carolina, United States
[10.01.14]

Sr. Level Designer
Bohemia Interactive Simulations
Bohemia Interactive Simulations — ORLANDO, Florida, United States
[10.01.14]

Game Designer
Bohemia Interactive Simulations
Bohemia Interactive Simulations — Prague 5, Czech Republic
[10.01.14]

Game Designer






Comments


Jake Romigh
profile image
Don't we have enough articles on this site devoted to the meaningless timesink which is the discussion of "games are art"?! I'll comment anyways, for this article also makes several follies.



This article sounds like a elitest person with too much time on his hands classifying what makes a game "true art" and what makes it "kitsch". I know that sounds harsh, but that's how I believe it reads; a lot of lashing out at Halim for making simple, cute diversions, and condemning Diner Dash for appealing to a market who wants an easy-to-understand game (otherwise called "casual gaming"). These might not be genre-defining games, but they appeal to various demographics in the gaming community (read: not the hardcore gamer).



Now to actually make an argument. You define "kitsch" as the imitations that are produced as the result of the lower class looking up the social ladder. I can see that applying to art, I really do. Here's where your argument falls apart: games are not art, or at least, they aren't yet. Art is meant to be admired at a glance, and only viewed in passing. That does not apply to most any game, as games are interactive experience drawing the viewer into its world. You could argue that some art requires the viewer to explore the meaning of the art, but no kitsch does this, and most every game requires the user interaction.



Furthermore, there isn't a social hierarchy in gaming, unless you are speaking of mainstream gaming versus underground gaming, in which case, is an invalid argument: both styles borrow heavily from each other. Are you speaking of the hardcore versus the casual gamer, as the hardcore being the "social elite" of gaming? I would find that very hard to swallow if that is your argument. It would mean that the Nintendo Wii is the "kitsch opium" of the masses. What exactly is your argument here?



Finally, I would just to say what an insult it is to Ferry Halim's hard work it is that you call it "kitsch". Halim's website has been around since 2000 and has produced 60ish small Flash games which have beautiful artwork (even though you don't seem to care for well animated and drawn animals) and sound, along with solid but simplistic gameplay. That's only about 6 or 7 every year on average, and I don't think I'd call that mass-produced. To be honest, I think these kind of simple and good looking games are about as closest to art there is: that is to say, these games are pleasant to they eye, have creative premises and are accessible to people across cultural boundaries.



Maybe you'd like to attack some games that actually could be classified as low quality, mass-produced products. Take a look at AddictingGames.com and look at the monster truck blance games. Or maybe it's a motorbike, or a school bus, or an Escalade. There are TONS of these games, and more being released every day, and are clear inferior copies of other games like them. What about games that consist of a spaceship shooting endless amounts of enemies in a nondescript environment? THESE games, if any game, are kitsch, exactly along your poorly defined description.



(Sorry for the long rant, but this article made me upset. Stop with the elitest "games are art", "games are not art", and "some games are art, some games are not as good as the games I like" articles. I won't blame Gamasutra for this, as they are displaying prevalent opinions in the industry, and that is good information to know: we need to stop opinions like these.)

Bob McIntyre
profile image
Right, OK, so all games are art because art is defined by what medium you're in, not by how good your product is. Are there games that are so cheesy it's ridiculous? Yeah. Are there games that have ridiculous plots or oversimplified mechanics? Yeah.



Good, I feel like we've covered this now. Games are art, but some of them are kinda crappy in some peoples' opinions.

Ian Bogost
profile image
@Jake

"Low-quality, mass-produced products" are possibly undesirable and upsetting, but they are not the same as kitsch. That distinction is something I try to make in the article.



Kitsch has a long history, whether we like it or not. This article is an attempt to situate contemporary videogames in relation to that tradition. Your counterexamples (AddictingGames, etc.) may qualify as crap, but not as kitsch. The article isn't about games I like or games I don't. It's about how some games function in a particular way.

Adam Bishop
profile image
If people don't like the "are games art" debate, they're perfectly free to not read articles like this one. At any rate, this article isn't about whether games are art, but whether or not there are video games that are equivalent to a particular style of visual art. That seems a perfectly relevant question to me.



Jake, I think you've misintrepreted a lot of the article. You say art is meant to be "admired at a glance"; have you never read a complex, engaging novel? The author never attacks the games as *bad* games, as you seem to be implying. He quite clearly says that many of these games *are* quite technically competent. The article never states that there is anything wrong with these games. He clearly says "In truth, the truth of the matter matters little: whether or not making kitsch is a virtue or a vice is up to the developer." That sounds pretty even handed to me.

Dave Endresak
profile image
I think that this is an interesting analysis of a specific, focused topic.



@Jake: Since any creative medium of any kind is art, it always puzzles me why there's any type of debate about whether games are art versus claims they are not. They are art just as any other creative medium is art. Any course in art or a specific creative field of art would explain this definition, so there's really no debate needed. Art of any kind is meant to be experienced. The length of the experience varies with the audience and has nothing to do with the fact of a creative work being art or what medium was used to create the actual work being experienced. There are many, many artbooks for Japanese games, and famous Japanese artists such as Mutsumi Inomata have held gallery showings for their work in manga, games, and anime.



Of course, there are many Japanese games that would probably fall under the definition of "kitsch" even if they are not usually classified as such. Many Japanese adventure, visual novel, and simulation games use borrowed conventions, hopelessly idealized sentimental and nostalgic settings, stories, events, and characters, and have very high production values. Naturally this also applies to the other two "legs" of the triad of Japanese popular, mass market entertainment, manga and anime.



Western game markets do not seem to embrace such content quite as openly as the Japanese do, at least so far. Offerings don't seem to be quite as mainstream or openly accepted (or numerous, for that matter). Perhaps Western markets tend to view such an approach as though it promotes weakness; Western cultures generally tend to be more future-oriented rather than past-oriented, the latter general trait being more pronounced in Asia and certain other locations.



Of course, none of this means that there's not a bigger Western market for such games; it just means that the larger market hasn't been tapped yet, not even by Japanese companies offering products globally. This might be a hint for companies about potential untapped markets and the type of content that might appeal to such markets.

Jake Romigh
profile image
@ Adam: I was speaking of visual art. Obviously books are not admired at a glance, unless you were looking at the cover.



As for both of you, I think that maybe it is because Ian is using a self-serving definition of "kitsch", which I tried to say in my previous comment. Kitsch has a negative connotation for a reason: kitsch implies a lowbrow yet marketable attraction and dubious quality, often because it is mass-marketed because of the anticipated popular value. That's what you'll find if you look it up in the dictionary, and if you ask most people what it means, kitsch is synonymous with "poor taste". As this is the case, I thought it was wrong to call Halim and Diner Dash kitschy, as this is condescending and insulting to the games. This games simply appeal to a different demographic, not just copies of games from a "higher class".



But you might say I should use the definition presented by Ian in his argument. I'll concede: these games are NOT simple copies from a high class, taking from popular conventions and rebranding them for public appeal through trite sentimentalism. The Halim games are designed to market to a specific demographic, as the Diner Dash games are, as ALL games are; racing games, RPGs, FPSs, these games all are marketed to specific groups of people are borrow conventions. Ian's argument is invalid because all games, including the ones he lists as kitsch, share common themes. If you define this as kitsch, you'd be calling 70% of the industry kitsch... whole art movements would be kitsch. This definition of kitsch just is too general and does not match up to the more commonly used one.



Honestly, I just believe that "kitsch" is not the right word and demeans the products this article lists.

Ted Brown
profile image
I can't tell if this article is a backhanded compliment cum bitchslap (so, two hands there) to people focused on the craft of making "good" games, or a nuanced definition of what mainstream success requires. Bravo, Mr. Bogost. You've buzzed my mind and left nothing behind.

Kirk Battle
profile image
@ Jake Romigh



It's a shame you don't take the time and energy you put into writing that diatribe and instead put it into actually reading and understanding the article.



@ Ian Bogost



Great read.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
@ Jake



Wow, you and I came out of this article with two totally different viewpoints.



The entire time I read the article I never once felt that Ian was attacking Kitsch, Halim or Kinkade. to me it came across as as an admiration for what they are doing for art.



I will certainly check out Halim when I get off work.



To me was the point that as gamers we have a tendency to feel elitist when games with mass appeal invade our high art. The amount of time I read about how the Wii is going to destroy the games industry in some way make me sick to my stomach. The parallel to Kinkade and his work fits quite well.



As for Halim, I think Ian was mostly admiral to him. The games while having simplistic gameplay mechanics, they have lovely artwork and can appeal to a wider audience. Much like Kinkade.



What I think is that you were so blinded by you hatred for the "games as art debate" that you were simply looking for anything to attack the author for without actually reading the article.



AS for the Wii, I think that it has much more potential than any other console to become the springboard for Kitsch game developers. It already has mass appeal as a home console and it would be very easy to create a whole brand of Kitsch games for it. But as you said, Kitsch is not equal to crap. Just as Kinkade is not equal to crap. His work is admired by many including my wife. So let's not assume that Kitsch games means games with low production quality.

Jake Romigh
profile image
@ Ephriam:



I did read the article (why does everyone assume I hadn't?), and reading the comments that follow my own, I guess that my idea of kitsch is very different from everyone else's. I guess I didn't realize that some people have a very positive idea of kitsch, where I have always understood it to be an insult. I re-read the article again... I just can't read the word "kitsch" and see it as a positive thing to say. It seems like a very heavy handed insult.



As that's the case, carry on people. Sorry for the hassle.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
@ Jake



Hey, if you read the article, that's cool. I just find it difficult to believe that two people reading the same article can come out with two highly differing opinions. But I guess as you said it comes down to our definition of kitsch.



You are right, if you look at the article with the dictionary definition of kitsch, I can see the insult. But when you look at it with the definition of kitsch based on examples like Kinkade, you can see the compliments. While Kinkade may never be seen in the Louvre, it is seen in many homes around the world because it is pleasant to look at.



I think that is possible to use similar definitions in game design.

Frank Lantz
profile image
We need more articles like this.



If we're serious about wanting to understand how games create meaning then we need to follow Bogost's example of paying more attention to the larger context in which games operate.



Taste is complicated. Adorno hated jazz. We don't read Adorno for his musical recommendations, we read him to be reminded what it means to struggle to pay attention, what it means to treat music, or painting, or games, as if there was something important at stake.

aaron ruby
profile image
I am wondering why you seemed to need to stretch so far to find kitsch in games. I'd argue that the entire history of the industry is, in part, a dialog about kitsch (see http://www.gameculture.com/node/1106).

Ian Bogost
profile image
Just a quick note on the ascription of kitsch as insult. Certainly this has been a common opinion throughout the 20th century. But as I suggest toward the end of the article, the situation is more ambiguous than that. Is kitsch good or bad? The success Thomas Kinkade suggests that it offers an opportunity that also demands certain sacrifices. Do we want to embrace the idea of received appeal, or resist it? What are the dynamics of such choices, and how do they relate to both authenticity and commercialism? As creators and players consider such matters, it would be useful if they can understand their decisions more deliberately.



Switching gears: no one has yet commented on the one-liner near the end, about the tangible nature of kitsch art compared to games. In some ways I find that question the most interesting. I suppose one way of making these things tangible is through virtual display: emails, social network links, etc. But that seems a limited application of the concept of display endemic to kitsch. Perhaps I'm wrong though, and it's exactly the way display works nowadays.

Ian Bogost
profile image
@aaron

Lovely comparison, of Miyamoto to Hummel. I'm not sure I buy Nintendo as kitsch, as such, though, because the games have only recently begun to participate in a larger cultural milieu... Mario was more Care Bears than figurines, no? Still, I have to think about this more; I'm grateful for the observation. I'm not sure I'm "stretching" here so much as pointing out what seemed the most obvious examples, to me -- not the most popular games, perhaps, but the most obvious analogues.



As for Wii, the thing that's interesting (as you begin to suggest) is that it sentimentalizes other sorts of games!

aaron ruby
profile image
I would argue that the kitschy element of games is what made them friendly to a mass audience from Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to Animal Crossing and Final Fantasy.



I like your point about the tangible quality of kitsch, that games appear to lack. I suppose I would counter that games are kitch in the virtual space, they are the most "tangible" object in our information-infused lives and, therefore, are an excellent translation of that tactile quality.



I'd also say that the Wiimote's ability to turn physical motion into a simple, even sentimental, collection of fundamental gestures captures that quality as well.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
@ Ian,



I believe this is the line you are referring to:



"No matter the case, there's still something kitsch art can do easily that video games can't: serve as tactile evidence of their sentimentality, and in so doing provide social purpose."



That is the crux isn't it. How can we give players that tactile evidence?



Gamer Scores and achievements come to mind, but those hardly have the mass appeal that kitsch has. They do offer a way to show off your love of a game.



Another option comes to mind is the ability to take snapshots of your gameplay sessions as can be found in WoW. I think this has the most merit.



If we can develop in game ways to take snapshots whether screen shots or short video clips and provide a way for those to be shared not only in game but out of game, it could do well to expand the appeal of gaming. It would be much like a phot album or home videos. People keep them for sentimental reasons.



Growing up, I used to record the final battles and endings of games when playing alone so that I could show them to my brothers who weren't there to watch. It was much like showing a home video to friends and family.

Christian Nutt
profile image
Right now I'm playing Retro Game Challenge, which is a compilation of faux-NES games for the DS, wrapped up in a fake '80s setting. I think this pretty much defines kitsch, very intentionally on the part of the developers. It also defines a fantastic gaming experience, because it's a hell of a lot of fun, intelligently made, and with a lot of variety.



Kitsch can be a good thing, and I think the implication that the word is negatively denoted is not accurate; sorry.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
@ Aaron



That reminds me of the "game" endless ocean. The game is a very peaceful game which revolves around the idea of swimming in an ocean and photographing the sea life. It is basically an interactive aquarium. It could be a very good example of a kitsch game.



What I would like to do is be able to export those photos easily to a digital picture frame.

Ian Bogost
profile image
@Aaron

I think I see where you are going. The happy monsters of Pac-Man as the adorable ceramic squirrels of videogames. There's often a strong dose of "cute" in kitsch, but not always. I'll have to think about this more.

Erik Hanson
profile image
A missing aspect of kitsch that I'm noticing is that it isn't necessarily purchased merely as an act of appreciation or blind imitation. Rather, it tends to be purchased for display, as part of an interior decorating gestalt. Kincaide sells, in part, because his works "match the sofa."



I don't see video games played or purchased as an aspect of ostentatious consumerism, and I don't see folks in Best Buy asking, "What games will match my wallpaper?"



Perhaps my mistake is that I have a better grasp of kitsch as a sort of genre of visual art, while I have a problem defining kitsch in music and cinema. What is kitsch in other media? Ad jingles and Pixar?

E Zachary Knight
profile image
@ Erik



You never bought a book because it was "fashionable" to own it? Or a movie for the same reason? I think the same could be said of games. While not exactly kitsch, it is still for look.



I know plenty of people who own a large library of mostly books they never read. I once met a man who library consisted of "Books I have read, books I want to read and books I want people to think I have read."



I know I own several games in the first two categories but very few in the last. Perhaps because the price for many of those games are a bit out of my budget.



While games may never "complement the sofa" they can most certainly "complement the rest of my media"

Erik Hanson
profile image
@Ephriam



I won't admit to buying books for that reason (I certainly wish I had time to read everything on my shelf!), but I do understand the notion. I don't see it happening much with games, but perhaps the reason is twofold:



1) On average, games that have physical media to display on a shelf tend to cost significantly more than a book, and

2) Most kitsch, in my estimation, has an aspirational element -- The consumer displays kitsch in order to appear as part of a more exclusive culture/clique than s/he actually belongs to, especially without the levels of taste/sophistication that accompany that "higher" culture's selection of art.



I guess my trouble lies in trying to understand what sort of in-group a kitsch gamer would be trying to enter. I can see this meaning something in a "Game Genie" sort of way, providing that the in-group is "1337 gamerz" or somesuch, but I don't think that's a very big draw.



Perhaps the elite culture in this case is the art culture that exists for non-game art? I can understand that a high-society art collector may judge "Passage" to be kitschy.

jaime kuroiwa
profile image
Couldn't you make the argument that ALL games are kitsch? Looking from the outside, the game industry is still considered unrefined, puerile, and a novelty; the hallmarks of kitsch. In relation to current games, look at Brain Age, Wii Fit, and Guitar Hero/Rock Band. I can't imagine a more successful "kitsch games" than those.



My point is, we shouldn't be placing labels on games. Establishing genres are fine, but when you start to stratify games by artistic/social merit, then you are contributing to the unhealthy, snobby environment that turns away the audiences that could be sustaining it.

Jim Burner
profile image
I enjoy a good discussion debating the artistic merits of videogames, but this “attempt to situate contemporary videogames in relation to that (kitsch) tradition” is nothing more than intellectual wankery. As a game creator I don’t see anything to apply to my work here. I’ll leave the forced (and ultimately meaningless) attempts at classification to the critics.

Adam Bishop
profile image
@ Jim



To me, that depends on your role in the creative process. Are you a writer, a producer, an artist, a level designer, etc.? If part of what you do is thinking about "what is my audience for this game?" and "how can I best serve that audience?", then I think questions like the ones raised in the article should be very relevant to you. Certain elements of "kitsch" draw people toward them. Similar elements may draw people towards games. That seems to me to be relevant from a profitability standpoint.



Perhaps more importantly though, it's interesting to people such as myself who try to understand why people make the decisions they make. If we consider, say, Myst, to be an example of "high art" and Diner Dash to be an example of "kitsch", why is it that so many people choose to play one over the other (as I'm going to guess the audiences don't overlap much)? As someone who is quite interested in the way our culture/society operates, those kinds of issues are rather important to me.

Jim Burner
profile image
@ Adam Bishop



I'm working on some smaller ‘experimental’ games (outside of the studio day job) where I’m a 3D/2D Artist/Writer/Designer, and I understand that some people will find this stuff meaningful. That's why I leave it to the critics (who have their place). Categorization and classification come after the work is finished, when people feel the need to put it into some greater context (for whatever reasons). At that point, a wise creator leaves the process, allowing his or her work to stand on its own. I guess some more commercially-minded creators might ask themselves, “Am I creating kitsch or high art here?” but I don’t, nor do any of the artists I respect. From my perspective, the best works are done for the artists themselves, with the hope that they will reach a wider group of people. The labels (and what they signify) don’t mean shit to me. That’s all I was getting at.

Bryson Whiteman
profile image
I'm with Jake here in feeling that this opinion piece disses Ferry Halim's work. His games are kind of cute and cheesy but they're well made, fun, addicting and have mass appeal. Isn't that Nintendo? They aren't on an assembly line, trying to sell anything or lined with ads, nor even trying to imitate anybody else. So beyond the aesthetics being similar to a Kinkade, in that they're pleasant environments, kitsch doesn't really apply.



The idea of games being kitsch is interesting, but as Jake said, in that case 70% of the game industry would be kitsch. Maybe more like 90% actually. For the most part, everyone's just trying to make a buck by following closely to the same proven formulas.



Most of the time that cheesiness is something I like about games. I praise a lot of the over-the-top work of Sega and Capcom for that reason. Games that thrive on and make fun of being games are great, like Retro Game Challenge that Christian referred to.



The last thing we need in gaming is more fanboyism and elitism, ha.



@ Jim, bravo man. Keep doing it!

John Petersen
profile image
TK paints a beautiful picture... It doesn't matter to me how or why he does... Just so long as I connect with it.



I used to try to think like an artist in the traditional artists think. Like the circle is the perfect shape and stuff like that.



But actually, the triangle shape is more useful to me on a daily basis.

Ian Bogost
profile image
@Erik

Yes, the tangibility issue is the one I mention at the end of the article and which a few people take up here. It's a puzzle.



@jamie

This was Aaron Ruby's observation, that kitsch is the primary functional mode of games and has been for some time. I'm not sure I agree, although I see where both of you are coming from. I think Brain Age and Guitar Hero are serving different purposes.



That said, I disagree (obviously) about the idea that trying to understand the different purposes of games turns people away. If we don't start looking at what games do and how people use them, we're sure to isolate ourselves even further in the broader cultural milieu.



@Jim

You may or may not be interested in considering the role of kitsch in your own work. However, honing your *disinterest* in such a method could be as useful as anything. Moreover, understanding something about the current state of videogames more broadly couldn't hurt, could it?

jaime kuroiwa
profile image
@Ian



Judging by the diction you chose for this piece, I don't see how anyone would want to pursue a kitsch game after reading this. If, instead, you went around this topic by praising the designers' skill in making successful games that are completely inoffensive, then I wouldn't have become as incensed as I had.



So I disagree with your disagreement. You don't have to look further than the casual vs. hardcore debate to see how people can be turned away with just a word. To label a game as kitsch is to instantly separate it from the non-kitsch; that is where I have an issue.



I'm not saying that a critical look at games is unwelcome, but to borrow a term as dubious as "kitsch," is to establish a hierarchy where there really shouldn't be one.

Sachka Duval
profile image
Clever point of view! Thanks for it.

Ian Bogost
profile image
@jamie

"To label a game as kitsch is to instantly separate it from the non-kitsch."

I can't disagree with that! But... kitsch games are exactly the ones that are not turning people off, that's the whole point of kitsch! People love Ferry Halim's adorable, sweet games. They make you go "aww." People love Diner Dash. It's simple and gives a feeling of positive control and of the benefit of hard work.



If only I had the faith in my influence that you do! I doubt the world of click-management games and schmaltzy sweet casual games will come tumbling down. Nor should it. But it's important to recognize what we are making and playing and how those works function. What would you have us do instead? Remain satisfied by one giant pool of anonymous videogames, all seen on equal footing and with equal purpose? Kitsch comes with baggage, and we can't ignore that baggage either.

Erik Hanson
profile image
@Ian

Thanks for clarifying. I wasn't certain what you mean as the "tangibility" issue, since I saw that as more of a demonstrable issue.



A problem I have in considering this topic is that "kitsch" is a term with many facets. Focusing on each facet tends to lead me down another, seemingly contradictory path. (I now recall how I was sold on the Halo series with promises that it had a great story. Turns out I have a different understanding about what makes a story "great.")



I can tell I'm going to end up writing something longer-form about this. I was doing such a good job at *not* writing, though!

Josh Thompson
profile image
Trying to follow along here, correct me if I'm wrong. You're using 'kitsch' as a term for having widespread popularity or appeal? And using Halim and Diner Dash as examples of a small portion of a casual games genre to show this? If so, I do find it interesting. Knowing why they have the appeal and how to replicate and enhance that appeal could be very useful.



As for "serve as tactile evidence of their sentimentality, and in so doing provide social purpose" -- if I'm thinking on this correctly, the prints themselves serve as physical objects that people have emotions for based not only on their content but their symbolism within society? (Ex. I'd buy a Kinkade not only because of the emotions sparked from the artwork, but because it's a 'Kinkade')



I can see the dislike to the word 'kitsch' here, as the games mentioned are not 'considered in bad taste'. (as the definition implies) Perhaps some other label would help this study further.

Stephen Chin
profile image
Regardless of the word used, I think Ian is referring to games that are mass marketed and designed to appeal to some sense of nostalgia or familiarity as well as something that would be used, in some ways, as a sign of gaming savvy (or interest at least). These aren't games that are necessarily bad, casual, or what not.



Games that target Golden Age-era nostalgia (Zelda sprites and what not) for instance might be something he considers under this category of games. They're games made not to be blockbusters or what not, but to appeal to the intended audiences familiarity and sense of nostalgia for the Zelda franchise. Similarly, Nintendogs might be the same - in this case, a simplified digital pet simulator appealing to the player through puppy dogs.



I don't think he's necessarily saying they're bad. Rather, I think Ian is trying to make the point that these sorts of games lie outside the normal idea of hardcore/casual division or A-list/B-list division or even Artsty/Not-Artsy. They're designed for entirely different reasons.

Hoby Van Hoose
profile image
I don't think the example games are representational of kitsch, by the article's definition or anyone else's definition.



You only have to look as far as mainstream games to find AAA kitsch right out in the open. It's the natural side effect of creative stagnation on the part of publishers.

Grant Keinzley
profile image
I think the writer bringing this article to air is making a very valid point..to kitsch or to not?



I am a game dev...and I have watched an endless amount of kids play what I consider "pretty no-brainer games". Now I know they could be considered as kitsch games :)



Why? I ask. Why do these kids love these games?

As the article writer points out, it fulfills a basic human need.



If the title 'kitsch' fits the bill then why do you bicker over the title...'kitsch' what if the writer called it 'spoon game art'?

Does it really matter?



Lets look at the FPS games...what is the human need there?

And RPG games...Escapism?

Kitsch or Spoons?

Spoons I think.



Not all of us are potential mass murderers and freeked out morons needing to escape the real world...definately spoons.



so we have these "normal" people play 'kitsch' games - not wanting to be labeled as spoons of course. The games are socially healthy, take little or no effort to play, , are short games not forcing their players to sit for days to achieve simple tasks, and they require no responsibility from the player as most of them are load - play - unload.



But what of the kitsch future? Will it be as long lasting as the spoon's?

And what of an mmo with a simple moral that focuses on those that are not mentally tainted - Spooned?

Could there be such a game?



Well I would like to think there could be, and to prove it I am attempting the task of building such a game.



Why do game companies feed the monsters of our sludgy societies with more reasons to indulge in the very things we hate?

I ask...whats wrong with the tacky simple if its the world that we understand?



Personally I would like to see a cleaner gamer's world and kitsch art is obviosly better than spoon art....for i dont consider splattering monitors with blood, or being cursed by a horned 3d avatar to be an art form nor is it an improvement to our present existence.



Hence best left to the spooners :)

Meredith Katz
profile image
@Grant



I think the reason people are arguing over the term is that, linguistically, words chosen carry baggage with them. One can argue that you can use any words in any way, but it's ... not really true. If a word has a negative connotation, people will associate that negative connotation with the thing you are using the word to describe. Simple signifier-signified theory. I mean, you could call something a "crap game" and say it's because humans need to rid themselves of unnecessary agression etc whatever catharsis, and playing these games helps rid themselves of this unnecessary excess, hence "crap games", ie, trying to put a positive spin on explanation -- but anyone hears the phrase, and they think, well, the game is crap. That's why people are arguing over the term or suggesting a different one; Kisch has an association that, say, "nostalgic games" doesn't, and if you want to promote a certain theory you need to correctly represent the feeling of that idea to your audience.





"Lets look at the FPS games...what is the human need there?

And RPG games...Escapism?"



Safe catharsis for aggression?

A desire for an interactive cohesive narrative? (Come on, if you look at the history of literature and performance, you can't say that humanity as a whole doesn't have a drive to see and experience cohesive narrative as an overwhelming trend.)



You may not agree with those drives, or may even hate them, but saying they don't come from a basic human desire is a little naive, I think.

Marie Lazar
profile image
What about the satirical, self-aware use of kitsch in games? After all, kitsch has a large following among people who recognize its status as “low” art but enjoy flaunting it for the irony.



I might point to Hero Interactive’s web game Light Sprites as an example. The player creates an idyllic scene that is all very “children-of-the-world” until he misses a target and someone spontaneously combusts. And looking back I could swear the original Peggle is only about ladybugs and unicorns so that the Orange Box spin-off Peggle Extreme is that much funnier by comparison. Mocking kitsch can be just as successful as the thing itself, just with a different audience.

Adam van Sertima
profile image
@Marie

I think you make a good point. Visual artists like Jeff Koons use 'kitsch' conventions to explore what art means in a given historical context, among other goals. I'd argue that Half-Life series offers a similar sophisticated use of kitsch by contrasting the notion of the bland, safe culture of the '50s (a problematic notion, given McCarthyism, the cold war, the 'Beatniks' and so on) with harsh post-apocalyptic and ethically ambiguous game play.



Ian's article and the comments afterwards raise some questions:



Do we consider games as " a bitchin' experience" or "not a bitchin' experience" or do we ask questions like "Why did I find this a game a bitcin' experience?" How can I relate it to other games? How can I relate it to TV, Movies, books and so on? When does that relationship break down?

Adam van Sertima
profile image
Oops- I correct myself- I was refering to Fall Out, not Half-life. Mea Culpa.


none
 
Comment: