Beer and Wine

 In Musing, Uncategorized

I like wine. Good red wines in particular. I developed the taste at an early age, encouraged by my parents and many of my friends are also wine drinkers. It is a matter for respect among my peers to know a good wine and over time I have refined my taste so that I can appreciate different varieties and speak intelligently about them. It is not just for show, I take genuine pleasure in discerning the various flavours that make a fine wine. I’m not one for drinking heavily, drunkeness only hampers discernment, and anyway good wine is too expensive to waste getting plastered.

You, on the other hand, like a beer. And not one of your prissy “boutique” beers but a good old fashioned ale (ahem) lager, served cold in a can. Among your friends it is a matter of pride to be able to drink large quantities. Ah, the stories you can tell about nights out drinking with your mates.

Recently one or two of the pubs in your area have been transformed into up-market wine bars, and you’re rather nervous your own local will go the same way, losing its friendly charm and filling up with snobbish wine-fanciers like me. I, on the other hand, know that such places are few and far-between and resent the fact that most drinking-houses are full of coarse drunkards like you.

Can’t we all just get along?


Okay, so it’s a metaphor. Wine and beer could be replaced by any ‘high’ and ‘low’ arts: classical and pop music, literature and mass-market fiction, art house and hollwood films. Or in our case: “art games” and “commercial games”.

High art is generally characterised by being ‘difficult’ where low art is ‘easy’ in cerebral terms. High art often requires a level of indoctrination to be appreciated where low art has more popular appeal. Generally this means that there is a class divide between the audiences, which results in high art being regarded as “elitist” and low art as “popular trash”.

The kinds of art we like are reinforced by the company we keep. We like people who share our interests and in turn we adapt our interests to encourage them to like us. These social groups are self-reinforcing and exclusionary. We disparage people who are not in our clique, because they don’t like the things we do. And they dislike us because we dislike them.

Exacerbating this division is the fear that other cliques threaten our pleasures. High art is generally prefered by wealthy minorities, low art by less wealthy majorities. The majority fear the minority because they are powerful. The minority fear the majority because they outnumber them. And as we have seen in many, many different online conversations, the dispute can get quite vitriolic at times.

In truth I suspect there is little to be afraid of. Commercial “just for fun” games will go on being made because they have mass appeal. A niche community of artists will continue to make experimental “art games” that try to create something else, as artists have always done since time immemorial, because artists are the kind of people who are driven to create regardless of acceptance or criticism. Neither group has any real right to say what the other should or shouldn’t be doing.

Let us say “I would like…” rather than “You should…” and perhaps we can all get a long a little bit better.

And I’ll drink to that.

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  • Jimmy Maher
    Reply

    From this beer drinker: I think you wanted to say, “a good old fashioned lager, served cold in the can.” Drinkers of ale tend to be, if anything, even more discerning in their choices than drinkers of wine. 🙂

    I think the perceived divide between high and low art is a fascinating subject, but I also think it’s a much more complex one than I might assume just from reading this blog entry. These boundaries are much more fluid than people on either side of them are often willing to admit. What to make of Shakespeare, considered the epitome of the low, vulgar art of theater in his own time, yet now the jewel in English literature’s crown? Or for that matter of the Beatles, once considered a threat to Western culture by the cultural gatekeepers and now accorded real respect even by “serious” music scholars? Rock and roll itself, once so wild and uncultured and dangerous, now has a polite little museum in Cleveland.

    One thing I’ve noticed about my own tastes, in all forms of media, is that I tend to have much more respect for the working creator who just unpretentiously does his thing and puts it out there than I do for the sniffing, self-conscious “artiste.” I think creators should leave it to posterity to decide what is art and what is not. Perhaps this is why so many self-styled art games leave me so cold. If you have to explain to me why your work is art (because I can already see that it’s certainly not, you know, fun), you’ve failed to reach me. This can lead to academics making games for other academics, while culture as a whole marches blithely on — the same trap literary fiction has fallen into.

    • Malcolm
      Reply

      From this beer drinker: I think you wanted to say, “a good old fashioned lager, served cold in the can.” Drinkers of ale tend to be, if anything, even more discerning in their choices than drinkers of wine.

      I’ll take your word for it. I’m totally ignorant when it comes to beer. It all tastes the same to me.

      You’re right of course, the high/low divide is complex and fluid. Ideas flow in both directions. Low art gains respectability with age, and high-brow ‘experimentation’ gives rise to new forms of media (like the novel) which gain mass popularity. Different forms of art also gain and lose popularity with the tide of fashion.

      I share your distaste for self-absorbed “art about art” but I don’t think I can really legitimately criticise it except by saying “I don’t like it”. If I am not the audience the artist chose, why should they care what I think? Is making “games for academics” any more or less of a waste of their time than making them for 18 to 30 year old gamers?

      One of my favorite jokes requires a knowledge of both Yiddish and the fundamentals of epistemology. To anyone else it sounds like nonsense. And it’s that crazy exclusivity that makes it a great joke in my opinion.

  • Thomas ″Trod″ Dohm
    Reply

    I’ll toss in my two cents with the header and also state that beer and brewing traditions have seen quite the explosion in recent times. Add that to the number of easy drinking wines and white zinfandels, the line between beer-swilling frat boy and snooty wine connoisseur is further blurred.

    Which actually serves us quite well in dicussions such as these. Can a game be artful and functional? Can art in general be complex yet appeal to the populist in all of us? Warhol shows us that it can ideed do both.

    What is perhaps most exciting to me is that such questions brings an awareness to developers who begin inserting much more into their writing than mere gameplay justification. Bioshock shines here, where the whole setting and political movement is just a justification to have a city underwater. Pretty to look at and traverse, people are still discussing the merits of the characters’ representations of objectivism.

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