Art, Science and Video Games
At the end of chapter 7 of Oryx and Crake, Crake and Jimmy get in an argument about the meaning of art. As one who does not excel with numbers, Jimmy feels he needs to defend the arts, possibly for no other reason than he wants to feel like he can do something intellectually useful in the shadow of his genius friend. To close the argument, Crake ends up reducing art to an amusing biological function (“A stab at getting laid”).
Not only does the two cultures debate pervade this book, but I would go so far as to say that the decline of the importance of art is the primary catalyst for the downfall into dystopia. While the socio-economic structure directly enables the events leading up to the downfall, the marginalization of art gives birth to this narrow-minded, ultra-commercialized structure. This is evident when comparing the characterization of the pristine Watson-Crick institute for science with the roach-infested Martha-Graham institute for arts. In every respect, both physically and academically, the latter is hardly more than a joke.
As one who identifies with arts over sciences, I often (everyday) have a life-crisis as to the usefulness and point of what I aspire to be. When I talk to my science-minded friends about this subject, I feel like Jimmy pitching a hopeless argument against Crake, the idealistic versus the practical, or as some would say, the fake versus the real. Some days I think that art is the most meaningful thing in the world and other days I feel like writing off my interests as inefficient and self-indulgent, but for some reason I always return to art, and am continually inspired by its mysterious power (As a note, this is not me bashing science, I feel that both art and science are equally important).
There’s no way I can come to terms with the two cultures debate in a post, but I would like to point out an interesting cultural movement that this made me consider while reading Oryx and Crake. One of the fixtures of the pre-apocalyptic world in the novel is the video game, which here (like pornography) largely takes on the form of commercialized, indulgent entertainment. These games are one representation of the deterioration of art into crude entertainment leading to the decline into dystopia. Games are more popular than ever these days, expanding into many types such as causal games (free flash-based internet games), family games (many of the Nintendo Wii titles) and massive multiplayer online games (World of Warcraft). As gaming becomes more widespread as a form of entertainment, it undoubtedly replaces other forms of entertainment which may be seen as more “artistic” or “cultured,” such as going to the theater. In the past few years however, there have been many games developed with very close attention to their aesthetic qualities. Furthermore, many of these games aren’t just pretty, but attempt to critically engage the player in ways which games have never done before. These games have in fact started to be classified as “art-games” gaining serious attention as such and even being displayed as parts of exhibits. These game developers are fully aware and take their art very seriously.
If you still don’t believe me, browse around this site, and I bet you will find something that will make you think.