What with Proteus having sparked another one of those unfortunate periods where a vocal minority decide to aggressively reveal the narrowness of their minds, I immediately presumed that Pippin Barr's Art Game would be a commentary on the long-exhausted 'but what is game? / is game art?' debates. Elements of them are in there, I think, but in fact this free indie game has something entirely different to say. It is about the subjectivity which fuels appreciation/criticism of both games and art, it is about the pernicious arbitrariness of the art industry, but most of all it is about feeling proud of our own creativity.
You play as an artist, and an acclaimed one at that. You're asked to contribute new work to an upcoming show, and you achieve this by playing Snake, Tetris or Asteroids. Losing the game sees the final frame captured as a painting or sculpture, at which point an art gallery representative comes and assess whether your creation is fit to show or not. Invariably, it won't be. But you won't know why.
So you'll try again, and again, to the point that you're deliberately losing the game at specific times because you think the resultant image will pass muster. To begin with it, it all seems silly, or arch, or both, but then something happens. Eventually, you become proud of the strange, abstract, simple shapes you're submitting to the gallery.
For instance, failing at Snake in such a way that you create a perfect square.
It looks good.
You feel proud.
They still don't want it.
You are angry.
You are angry because you have been rejected. Because something you made, and because it was of you you are proud of it, has been rejected. You are proud even though it's just semi-random pixel-scribbles made with a very basic recreation of an ancient, over-familiar videogame.
What is art? Art is something you make. It hurts when someone else, with their own, potentially wildly different, conception of what art should and shouldn't be, tells you it's no good. And, as can also happen in Art Game, it feels wonderful when someone appreciates it.
Whether deliberately or not (and I'm very wary of ascribing authorial intent to a game that's all about not appreciating authorial intent), Art Game would seem to be commentary on the absurdity and cruelty of rejection, in both the game and the art worlds. It doesn't require any such introspection or analysis, however: it simply requires you to create something by playing videogames, then to experience the horror of refusal and/or the pride of acceptance. It is the age-old act of presenting your first crayon scribbles to a parent or teacher and wanting them to tell you how well you did. It is also the repetition of that childhood act which we repeat, endlessly, throughout our lives.
Art Game is a game about art and a game about games. But is it art? Oh, get lost.