Beautiful Graphics, Beautiful Prose

Some interesting synergy in my feed reader this morning.

The hidden story of the 3D engine – by the people who write them

Videogames are beautiful now.

It’s not the figurative beauty
of yore – the iconic charm of Pac-Man, the elegiac simplicity of the
vector-mapped space craft in Elite. Modern games
are edging toward photo-realism; indeed, through technologies like
mimetic interfaces and augmented reality, they are encroaching on
reality itself. And at times they are breathtakingly close.

here is the minor tragedy at the heart of modern games: no matter how
astonishing they look, players will never see one of the most beautiful
components: the 3D engine.

Okay, fair enough. I’ve been spending some of my spare time teaching myself Blender3D, so I fully understand the power of the visual. Still, much of modern art was a reaction against advances in photography that trained the public to expect artists to capture what they saw with mathematical and scientific precision.  To say that more photo-realistic equals more beautiful is to advance one particular aesthetic standard (at the expense of others).

Also in my feed reader this morning, interactive fiction (text-based game) authors and theorists Nick Montfort and Emily Short comment on Aaron Kashtan’s presentation at DAC 2009, “Because It’s Not There: Verbal Visuality and the Threat of Graphics in Interactive Fiction.” 

Below is the abstract; Nick’s and Emily’s comments are at Post Position.

In this paper I analyze two contemporary works of interactive fiction (IF), Nick Montfort’s Ad Verbum and Emily Short’s City of Secrets,
as examples of two contrasting ways in which IF reacts to the perceived
threat of computer graphics. In the post-commercial era of IF, graphics
represent a factor that, without being acknowledged, has profoundly
shaped the development of the medium. Post-graphical works of IF may be
distinguished according to how they respond to the threat or promise of
graphics. Ad Verbum‘s response to graphics is to emphasize the
purely textual, and thus anti-graphical and anti-visual, aspects of the
medium. The implication is that IF’s closest affinities are not with
visual prose but with printed works of procedural textuality, and that
IF is a visual medium. By contrast, City of Secrets activates a
mode of visuality that depends less on immediate presence than on
emotional affect and imaginative participation. Short suggests that IF
is a visual medium, but that it differs from graphical video games in
that its visuality depends on absence rather than presence.