Can Art Be Games? – Avant-Garde

Truth: more games need a 'manifesto' button.

“Role-playing game” has taken on a whole host of meanings in recent years, but Avant-Garde is one in which you actually, you know, play a role that’s outside the sphere of your typical day-to-day dealings. (Unless you are a time-traveler, method actor, or hit your head very hard recently.) In short, you step into the rags-and-chewing-gum shoes of an artist in 19th century Paris. Your goal? To art! In the process of leveling up skills like form, composition, and anatomy, you’ll brush shoulders (and, er, brushes) with the likes of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Édouard Manet, and (eventually) Picasso and Van Gogh. All the while, times change, movements force you outside your box, and no one ever understands your poor, tortured soul. It’s a wonderfully unique little thing, though its playable alpha status means it still has quite a ways to go.

At this point, Avant-Garde is already smartly constructed and surprisingly clever. Beyond the obvious touches (the aforementioned arts-relevant skill systems, the fact that each location is a famous painting from the time period), dialogue between various famed artists is equal parts punchy and catty. Here’s the big picture:

“You can befriend artists like Courbet, Bouguereau, Cézanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and other artists of the time – or become their rival. Unfold their storylines as you play and live history like it was happening in front of your eyes. For example, William-Adolphe Bouguereau is a rich and famous artist, but modernism is threatening not only his position but what is most dear to him: beauty – can he hold off the avant-garde and preserve order?”

That said, you’re more than capable of molding history in your own image. For a fairly hefty chunk of change, you can even create your own artistic movements, which… isn’t actually how that worked at all, but it leaves room for some great revisionist fun/poop jokes. And really, that’s what I’m digging so much about the alpha: it’s more Oregon Trail than musty, mundane edutainment. You get to leave your own (inevitably silly) stamp on the most hallowed annals of time, and – in much the same spirit as all the best art – everything’s more interesting when you get to be a self-obsessed jerk.

Or you can just construct incredibly overwrought, overreaching metaphors like me. I decided to name my character “Videogames” and designated his/the medium’s greatest quality as “Visionary,” with “Loner” as the biggest flaw. Then I proceeded to name all my works after (slightly more recent) history’s most important games, imbuing them with stats to match. For some reason, however, my re-imagining of Call of Duty as a “grotesque” nude didn’t go over so well.

I had a good, semi-educational laugh, but sadly, closer inspection revealed some rather large chips in the paint. As I mentioned earlier, Avant-Garde’s currently in alpha, so a few major features aren’t quite, er, functional yet. For instance, befriending other artists doesn’t really do much except occasionally grant an absinthe-powered stat boost. And while that’s admittedly the greatest thing ever, it’s only the skeleton of a system. Same goes for training skills at the academy and even creating art, which you can sell, enter in a single yearly competition, or… well, that’s basically it.

But Avant-Garde’s already got a seriously sturdy spine holding up its still-developing muscles, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it. Maybe even two eyes, but only if I don’t have to sell one in order to fund Leonardo da Videogames’ next project: a bronze self-portrait sculpture called “Citizen Kane.”


  1. terry says:

    Chat/Drink/Manifesto is usually how my nights out end up.

  2. MuscleHorse says:

    Chaps, it’s not April for another month.

  3. Surlywombat says:

    Disappointed by lack of ARTFACE!

    But it seems to have resolved itself now.

  4. Terragot says:

    I had an arguement with my mate at the weekend regarding whether or not Tracy Emin deserves her CBE for ‘contributions to the medium’. I stated I’d given up on pretending to understand the notion of what constitues art, other than a group of incestious individuals who promote one another and construct and control their own platform for monetonous & self-rightous gain. He said ‘bed’ was great and I just didn’t understand art. Fair enough I don’t understand it, but I still reserve my right to hate art due to Tracy Emin’s contributions.

    Wait what was my point? Oh yeah, I’d prefer to hang out with Fitzgerald and Hemmingway and give the former shit about being under the thumb and tell Hemmingway that driving an ambulance wasn’t exactly sitting in the trenches writing about the somme.

    Wait no what? Oh yeah, for me the design of video games aren’t art, they’re just the easel in which players can implement their emotives into. That’s like my personal opinion man don’t call me an idiot who doesn’t understand art or video games please, I just prefer things simpler.

    • ocelotwildly says:

      The sheer volume of people who use Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed’ to instigate debates about the nature and purpose of art make me think that she must have struck quite the chord. The number of tedious pub bores who raise that one piece of work as an example to excuse not appreciating any other form of art amply demonstrates the strength of reaction that that piece engenders.

      I don’t want to have to call you an idiot for not understanding art, but if you are willing to write off ALL ART because you don’t feel you respond to a single piece by a single artist well I’m afraid you are both looking and quacking like an idiot duck. You are allowed to not enjoy individual works of art, but it does seem rather foolish to then extrapolate that to one of the most ancient and fundamental forms of human expression.

      • Terragot says:

        I enjoy paintings, photographs, music, performances but I still don’t get what art is supposed to be. What is art? It’s easy to call me an idiot because you fail to change my opinion but when I’ve never seen an agreed upon definition of what an art is or what constitutes to be art then I’ll just chose to ignore it’s existence. I can live quite happily with good crafts and exhibitions, but I don’t need a little jesus in a jar of piss described only as art to justify why I’m a fool. If I’m ignorant, so be it, I’m tired of accepting the status quo because a majority tells me too. My choice of ignoring this art enigma in no way detracts from my enjoyment of peoples works.

        • ocelotwildly says:

          I think it’s just a little case of semantic misinterpretation in that case – All the things you say you enjoy are, to me at least, clearly examples of art. What you seem to have a problem with is a certain section of contemporary art, which I entirely admit is not to everyone’s tastes and in some cases is demonstrably silly.

          Rather than overly concern yourself with precisely what constitutes art, I think it’s probably easier to say “here are some examples of art I don’t much care for” instead of “this stuff I don’t like, that’s ‘art’, everything else that’s something else but I don’t know what”.

          I do agree it was probably unfair of me to insinuate you were an idiot, I just seem to frequently encounter people who make such sweeping statements dismissing ‘all art’. I spent 4 years sitting across an office from someone who bored me silly by berating modern art and mocking me for taking a mild interest. He was quite the idiot, so I may be projecting some latent frustrations!

          • lijenstina says:

            Art is subjective and if some work doesn’t provoke any kind of feeling, thought, reaction it failed to be art for the concrete person, but doesn’t mean that it failed for others.

            The problem is when someone tries to impose their world views over others. Then it becomes a dominance game with preaching and ,in the worst cases of it, messianic complexes.

            For instance, i like the concept of free software in general, but some supporters of it make me freaking mad with their childish way of thinking, pettiness and every logical fallacy known to man when their ideology steps in. Like many gamers do.

          • MikoSquiz says:

            Of course, in some cases a piece is demonstrably silly by intent!

    • Uncompetative says:

      “I had an arguement with my mate at the weekend regarding whether or not Tracy Emin deserves her CBE for ‘contributions to the medium’.”

      Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile OBE KCSG

      Methinks your problem lies with the honours system, not the contemporary art scene.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Sir, I appreciate the quality of your prose and respectfully decline to debate something that was clearly intended as a whimsical reflection. Salute!

  5. ocelotwildly says:

    I really like the thought of gaming breaking out of some of its more traditional arenas, but I do think a lot of work is to be done to actually craft an enjoyable experience.

    The problem with a game like the one above is that by taking such a different subject matter you are required to either transmute existing ludological forms to fit the subject matter, or create an entirely new approach. The former can be quite clumsy, such as the well-intention ‘uprise-em-up’ Republic: The Revolution, which was let down by seemingly using the god awful conversation mechanic from Oblivion as its primary means of interacting with the world.

    As for the later, I’d really like to see them do something interesting but can also see it simply becoming DopeWars with impressionist painting.

  6. Fanbuoy says:

    “’Role-playing game’ has taken on a whole host of meanings in recent years, but Avant-Garde is one in which you actually, you know, play a role that’s outside the sphere of your typical day-to-day dealings.”

    I know! I’m so sick of games focusing on everyday activities. Just this morning I shouted a few dragons to death, in order to wind down after a pretty stressful week of saving the galaxy from genocidal machines. Now I’m gonna kick back in my item shop for a few days, before powerleveling for my final assault on the secret government agency I used to work for.

    • Nathan Grayson says:

      It’s all such a hassle. Remember when we used to just rescue the president/princesses/the president of princesses every couple weeks? Those were the days.

  7. tikey says:

    I created a character called Tim Schafer, created a Masterpiece called Grim Fandango and the Salon de Paris rejected it.
    I feel like the real Tim.

  8. iridescence says:

    I quite liked this. Although it got repetitive after about 30 minutes of play. Will be interesting to see how it develops. It’s weird we don’t have more RPGs set during the Enlightenment and Romantic era . It’s an interesting time period and setting.

  9. LucasMolina says:

    Thanks for the comments guys, your feedback is valuable to improve the game in the next versions.