To Jim Sterling, Who Hates Art Games

By: Derek Yu

On: February 19th, 2010

Jim Sterling of Destructoid

Ah, art games, the lightning rod of indie gaming… Jim Sterling (pictured above) recently wrote a couple of inflammatory articles about art games. The first one is titled “Indie games don’t have to act like indie games” and the second one is titled “Art games aren’t innovative and innovation isn’t good”. The headlines are clearly sensationalistic, but Jim does a reasonable job expressing a common view about art games: they’re stupid, boring, pretentious, and not very innovative. If you scroll through the comments on Destructoid, you’ll see many a “Hear, hear, Jimbo! Preach it, brotha!” People are sick of art games.

But Jim and others, here are some important points that I think are missing from these articles (after the jump):

1. Art games are a relatively new concept, and like anything new, they are primitive by default.

2. People do genuinely enjoy these games, and find meaning in them. Even if a player is simply filling in what’s intentionally vague or abstract about the game, that’s valuable. By analogy, there’s value in a cup or a bowl.

3. Jim, you tore apart Edmund and The Marriage, calling them “boring”, “horrible”, and “intellectually lazy”. These are free games made as experiments, as prototypes – the video game equivalents of doodles or sketches, and just as necessary to making games as to making paintings. You railed on two little experimental games for half a dozen paragraphs, and failed to mention that Edmund’s creator, Paul Greasley, also made Zompocalpyse and The Marriage’s creator, Rod Humble, is the executive producer for The Sims (the lazy bastard)!

4. Your argument is the same argument people have used for centuries against artists trying to do new things. Here is what art critic Louis Leroy wrote of one of Claude Monet’s paintings around the dawn of Impressionism (1874):

“A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.”

Impression, Sunrise

Does that sound familiar? He thought it was lazy, sloppy, and unfinished. In fact, it was the start of something entirely new – something that many people couldn’t imagine living without today. (By the way, there are a lot of other parallels between Impressionism and many of these new experimental game movements.)

I actually agree with some of the things you’re saying, like how AAA mainstream games can be innovative, and how games can be artistic without being unfun or pretentious. But with the attitude you took in your articles (fuck this, fuck that, sarcasm), you may be remembered as the Louis Leroy of this generation+. Food for thought.

Art games will always have a place here on the TIGSource front page, and I will never ever tell people to stop making them.

+ (Although, to be fair to Louis, he at least coined the term “Impressionism”.)

  • Dodger


    WTF? That made no sense. I think you should probably stop posting while you’re ahead. Don’t worry, this is my last reply to any of your comments.

  • Chris Zamanillo

    These comments are mostly tl;dr flames but I just wanna chime in again and say the ThirdStrikeAnnouncer stuff cracked me up. Props to whoever posted those.

  • anonymous

    Games themselves are art. I think people are upset when the gameplay in artistic games don’t satisfy when it comes to the fun factor.

    There are games out there which are extremely terrible to play through, but their stories, characters, music, and enviorments are so rewarding if you can put up with the crap gameplay, you’ll get something special for your efforts.

  • anonymous

    If innovation was terrible, we’d be stuck in the stone age of computer/video games.

    Experimenting and moving forward in different game genres (and into entirely new types of genres) is mostly a good thing, it’s just that not all experimental games turn out that fun or exciting, but they sometimes have different merit to them.

  • boomlinde

    I don’t think minimal interactivity is a problem in itself. It’s just that most “art games” also seem to lack anything enjoyable to make up for it. The messages they crudely try to convey are mostly clichéd and cheesy, and the interactivity there is doesn’t really add anything to it at all. The graphics are often crude, obviously derivative and boring.

    I’m not saying that all art games are like this; of course there are some exceptions, but actually none that I can think of from the top of my head.

  • boomlinde

    … and there’s something utterly disgusting with self-proclaimed art games, especially when they are as shallow and boring as most seem to be right now.

    “This game sucks. Oh, it’s an ART GAME?! I should re-evaluate my experience because of what someone told me what to think”

  • infinite

    You can call it fucking Picasso, it doesn’t change the fact that it is shallow and has nothing but a cheap message generated through all means besides actual gameplay itself. Games like Passage could easily just be a flash movie instead. Why even bother having the player press forward? Give them a play button instead and it would be the same damn thing. Shallow gameplay is shallow gameplay no matter how you try to justify it.

  • Mousse420

    what’s that ripping sound? and where did jim get that extra asshole? Damn, Derek!

  • Jordan Magnuson

    Here here! (to the Derek’s original points). And to everyone bashing art games: GEEZ already. There’s criticism to be made, perhaps, discussion to be had, but:

    “This game sucks. Oh, it’s an ART GAME?! I should re-evaluate my experience because of what someone told me what to think”

    is completely missing the point, and–I have to say it–downright juvenile.

  • Garry bravo

    “This game sucks. Oh, it’s an ART GAME?! I should re-evaluate my experience because of what someone told me what to think”

    That’s what I’m getting from his articles.
    Someone that makes a thread about his simple gamemaker game with the default sprites will get comments like, “Ok for your first game.” or, “that was pretty bad and here’s why…”.
    But if he makes the same thread, but calls it an experimental art game then he’ll have people in the thread calling those that give constructive criticism trolls who don’t understand.

  • Garry bravo

    Also, what’s with the “You’re wrong, I’m right, and I’m not going to respond to you anymore, I win.” mentality?

  • boomlinde

    @Jordan: No, I don’t think that I am missing any point. It’s just a general tendency I’ve observed. People who seem to think that their games are more work of art than others’ often try to force their view onto their peers by different means, and calling your game an “art game” is one of the most blatantly obvious ways of doing so.

    Why do they do it? Mostly because they want people to evaluate the game based on what the authors want it to be.

    By the way, if you can’t argue with me without downplaying my arguments condescendingly, I’d prefer if you don’t at all. Let’s try to keep this discussion tidy.

  • “A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.”

    I also agree with this statement regarding Claude Monet’s paintings

  • boomlinde

    At least they aren’t trying to be interactive.

  • alvare

    yep, you are pretty much right

  • KC

    @paul eres: You’re right to call me out on assaulting Jim. I got carried away. Thus the long gap between that comment and this one; I realized I needed to step away before I got overly invested in this. My intent was to emphasize that whatever you may think of Jim, whether you love him or hate him, he did make a valid point. I should have said something to this tune:
    “While I rarely agree with Jim Sterling, and personally dislike the man, he has made some legitimate points that bear further discussion.” I wasn’t quite mature enough to resist my own jab at Sterling, though; I felt like it would somehow endear me to this crowd by further separating me from him.
    Regarding art games getting more hate than any other: I could be mistake, but I think the real problem is that they are very much a “love it or hate it” thing. It’s just the people who hate them outnumber the people who love it. Quantity does not equal quality, though…
    Anyways, me and a couple of my friends have been discussing the topic offline. I’m writing an essay/blog post on the topic. I’ll not advertise it, though; if it’s worth reading, it will make its rounds under its own power. Also, I’m going to quit this comment thread while I’m ahead, before I say something else stupid… if I haven’t already.

  • Chicknstu

    Looking in my crystal ball…

    I see a lot of Jim Sterling themed art games in the near future.

  • Dodger

    Regarding a few of the latest comments… I think people are mistaking shallow with the amount of things you’re given to do in a game. In that case, why aren’t people bitching about the redundancy of First Person Shooters? I’m not saying they’re redundant as if to say that’s my opinion about FPSes, I’m saying that if you have a hate on for shallow games then why not bitch about all of them? They are, in my opinion, the most shallow of all genres. I still play them and enjoy them, but I would never say they are anything more than shallow gameplay experiences. The deepest FPSes were the originals, and out of the “later” titles, only the System Shock games come to mind in terms of deep gameplay – but, that’s also because they were true FPSes. If you truly have a hate on for shallow games then your last experience with a so-called “deep” game was probably The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, since you had so many things you could do in it (Sword Fighting, Archery, Horse Riding, Swimming, Time Traveling, etc. etc.)

    Again, that isn’t my opinion, this is what I gather from all the people who are complaining about games such as passage. How can you really bitch about a game like passage when it was intended to be an extremely short game/experience. Is there a message? That’s up to the player to figure out. I have to question some peoples honesty though, why would you play a game that you didn’t like the reading about? Obviously you had to read about Passage somewhere in order to play it, it’s a rather hard game to stumble upon if you’re not into indie games. So, given the fact that most of us had heard about it and read about it before playing it, why play it if you didn’t like what you heard or read? Just to bitch about it? In that case, you have too much time on your hands – and perhaps missed the message (if there was one) in Passage. *lets see how many people get that* ;-)


    Take some diazepam or renew your prescription for methylphenidate. You’re far too angry over such a trivial topic.

  • pandafresh

    I’m sorry, but haven’t we learned anything from action movies? NEVER TRUST A FAT MAN WITH GREASY HAIR! he’s obviously the villain!


    PS Destructoid can suck it.

  • John23

    Comparing “Art” games to impressionism? Hurhur

  • Nerdbot

    Seriously: Why the hell does anybody waste his sparse breath to complain about art?
    If you don't like artsy fartsy games, stick with games that let you shoot bad guys with an m4a1.
    Nobody forces you to like anything that you personally consider boring.
    But if you REALLY wanna be on the sight of light:
    Eat mainstream and drink art.

  • Twilight Storm

    That picture is… amazing.

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  • goldbrood

    Jim Sterling is the same guy who railed on Vanquish (which admittedly isn’t great) because he didn’t understand how to use the main fucking mechanic of the game
    the dude is an utter hack

    or hey remember that time he said ludonarrative dissonance was a dumb thing to complain about basically no matter what?

    I really wonder how anybody can treat him as valid