Monday, November 17, 2008

Topic for Discussion: Who is the Thomas Kinkade of Game Design?

This came up in discussion with another designer the other day (after a comment along the lines of more game design students these days being familiar with Thomas Kinkade than Reiner Knizia). I thought it would be an interesting open question to repost here.

If you're unfamiliar with Thomas Kinkade, he is one of the more (in)famous painters alive today. You might want to read his Wikipedia entry here to put yourself in the right frame of mind to consider this question.

The question: to the extent that game design is an art form, what game designer is the equivalent of Thomas Kinkade? Or, more succinctly:

Painting : Thomas Kinkade :: Game Design : ???

Some people might consider the label "Kinkade of Games" to be a great compliment. Others might consider it a grave insult. For this reason, I won't hold it against anyone if they choose to comment anonymously.

8 comments:

Dako said...

I would've gone with someone like Dali or Picasso, though I may be missing some point. Not that I don't like Thomas Kinkade, I actually like most of his paintings.

Anyway, I'm still learning about game design and game designers, but I greatly admire the work of Shigeru Miyamoto, not sure if it fits with the question :B

odysseyman said...

Hm... so, who's a designer that is manipulative in their mechanics and repeats the same themes in every new thing they do? Well, most 'celebrity' designers repeat many of their mechanics - Miyamoto, Cliffy B... it'd have to be a designer who repeats the same mechanics over and over again, and the final product is a 'same 'ol' experience and is simultaneously a cheap ploy at tugging emotions ;-)

My vote would actually be Peter Molyneux.

Darius Kazemi said...

Cliff Bleszinksi, definitely. He makes the game equivalent of the best Saturday morning cartoons, or Michael Bay movies, or indeed, Kinkade paintings.

John said...

I'm guessing you are looking at Kinkaide as a producer of commercially successful art that has 1) figured out shrewd ways to sell his work at multiple price points and 2) has little to no credibility in the fine art world?

If this is the case, then you are looking for someone doing commercially successful games that the industry doesn't respect. Being someone coming at this from an academic perspective, I can't speak to who that might be, but thought I might try to clarify what you are looking for.

Darius Kazemi said...

John: if those are the criteria, then I would say Popcap games, the creators of Bejeweled and Peggle, are the ones who fit the Kinkade model. Millions of people play their games, they sell the games on dozens of platforms at many different price points, and most game developers would sooner eat their own hat than admit those games are any good. Actually, most game developers would be embarrassed to call them games at all. (I am not one of these people, but there are many out there who are derisive of the entire "casual" games business.)

Ian Schreiber said...

John: I left the question open-ended and ambiguous on purpose, because Kinkade represents different things to different people. Part of my interest was in seeing how people view Kinkade, and where they find parallels in the video game world based on their criteria.

I felt that any description of him (other than a Wikipedia entry) would skew the answers, changing this from a question of interpretation to one of finding a developer with specific known traits -- something I didn't want.

Anonymous said...

"Hm... so, who's a designer that is manipulative in their mechanics and repeats the same themes in every new thing they do? Well, most 'celebrity' designers repeat many of their mechanics - Miyamoto, Cliffy B... it'd have to be a designer who repeats the same mechanics over and over again, and the final product is a 'same 'ol' experience and is simultaneously a cheap ploy at tugging emotions ;-)"

Following your cue, I'd have to say Sid Meier. Actually, I love his games. All three of them.

OK, so he's designed more than just three games, but mostly he's known for the Civilizations, the Railroads, and the Pirates.

Mr. Lee said...

Well in the artistic aspect, I think that the look of Braid is very much along the lines of Kinkade.

I would agree with some of the people listed such as Cliff Bleszinski does fit the template of making the same genre over and over. Though I argue are we more to blame for that as a game community since both he and Kinkade hardly change and people gobble it up with glee.

To me more Popcap games would be the main person to snag this title. Everywhere that software is sold you see a Bejeweled and a plethora of Hoyle games. They are cheap, shallow on analysis, hurt new artists by cornering a niche in the market, and close off consumers to other better works. Yes Popcap I say you earn the "Negative Thomas Kinkade Award".

Now there is the good aspect of Kinkade that makes introduces them to the medium and allows them to get their feet wet so to speak. This positive aspect I'd say would go to the Wii. The last time my mother touched anything resembling a game was when I was around seven playing Captain America and the Avengers on the Sega Genesis. After that she looked at games such as Silent Hill and even Ratchet and Clank and tisked with disapproval. Now she pesters me to play Wii Sports with her. This immersive interactivity helped her see that there is a fun base enjoyment to such easy to access games. She’s gone out and purchased games like Mario Party and Rayman: Raving Rabbids on her own. Recently she saw a commercial for Dead Space and voluntarily said to me that it looked like a good scary game. Before catching the gaming bug she would have just shook her head at yet another violent game. Some casual art lovers see Kinkade’s works first and like it and go on to see other better artists due to this initial interest. Some galleries advertise his works to get people to come in and then hopefully support the other more independent artists that are being sold there. In a similar fashion, the intuitive aspects of the Wii really allow many to jump in who don’t play games without worrying about the learning curve. So for the “Positive Thomas Kinkade Award”, I would have to hand that to Nintendo.