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The Cat's Cradle: Art, games and stories

Art has been a core part of humanity, from the earliest cave paintings in Lascaux to the Dada Art movement. Each genre of art and the artists that work within it create and tell stories. 

These stories are often responses to or an expansion of an existing world. Sometimes, these worlds are representations as seen in the triptych “Garden of Earthly Delights” where Paradise and Hell are placed in unison.

Art becomes a symbol of a time, a culture and a history. For example, Exekias’ Black-figure pottery depicting “Achilles and Ajax” tells a certain story. The image is constructed to draw the line towards the board game itself. Starting at each figure, they are dressed in armor and helmets. 

The vase shows a moment between battles, while the line of their spears guides the eye to the dice board. The heads of the spear are hidden, reinforcing the fact that they are not fighting, and the subject of the scene is dice.

Art history encourages this exploration and introspection on art. Often, art is a window into a culture like the “Bull-Leaping Fresco” in Crete. While “Illuminated manuscripts” reflect an expression in art and through avenues separate through the individual. Illuminated manuscripts being the products of monks and being drawn into separate portions of hand-written bibles.

What this shows is a deep link between word and image. How people interact with a painting changes with time, place, and person. Scott McCloud describes this as "The Big Triangle.” 

Art is judged by three points: meaning, resemblance and abstraction. Each aspect is a corner of the pyramid, and how artwork relates to these three corners define how it is understood and interpreted, from realism to surrealism.

Back to the example of “Achilles and Ajax.” The figures resemble a person, though certain features are abstracted. Their beards too straight, their posture stiff. They are like dolls. A Rembrandt is notably abstract and human, divorced of Exekias. So, how does this pertain to games?

Take two examples of highly violent games, with two different stories. “Red Dead Redemption II” is the sprawling Western Epic following Arthur Morgan gang as they travel east with their gang. Characterized by violence and an over-arching epic story, “Red Dead Redemption” is a realistic, cinematic experience punctuated by pass-times like board games and fishing.

In contrast, “Doom Eternal” forgoes story in favor of tight gameplay. Placing a player in massive hell-scapes, they fight against endless demons in an effort to stop the invasion of Earth. The abstract and fantastical story is told through bloodshed and small snapshots of cutscenes or pieces of paper that give "lore.” Lore gives small pieces of history and culture of the world.

Through different stories and presentations, both examples are games, and to a larger extent, art. They are drawn, created and imbued with a story. Though you can’t interact with a vase beyond looking at it, you can play “Apotheon,” which has art inspired by Black-figure pottery. Though “Garden of Earthly Delights” third panel attempts to create an image of hell like Dante or Milton, you can experience it in “Doom.”

Games haven’t changed art. Rather, they have expanded the possibility of the form. Violence is tempered by the casual in both “Red Dead Redemption” and “Achilles and Ajax,” while hell and Paradise are separate though present in “Garden of Earthly Delights” and “Doom Eternal.” 

Video games have changed the way we can study art moving forward. As artwork of the computer age, video games use logos, covers and art direction in-game to convey meaning. Each of these is a medium on its own and expands the medium of art.

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him be425014@ohio.edu.

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