Within this entire book on WoW I am repeatedly drawn the question: what is art? Clearly, Nardi is not undertaking this question but comes close to it on many occasions, as did Bogost. Nardi says of Second Life, a game in which users design the content, “the pursuant disorder and disunity, made its public spaces less works of art for common life and more environments that provoked the ‘lamentations’ of its own designers that it was not more beautiful” (Nardi 79). She then goes on to say that she sees “the design encapsulated in the rules of World of Warcraft as a work of art – one that gives rise to participatory aesthetic experience, to the remaking of experience and community” (Nardi 79). So, on the one hand we have a game which gives players nearly all the control in creating their virtual surroundings and on the other hand we have a game which gives players just enough participation for it be an ‘aesthetic experience’. Nardi recounts Dewey’s boredom with traditional fine arts because they do not encourage viewer participation. These three notions (Second Life vs. WoW vs. activity theory) complicate even more the question of what art is.
Even more perplexing, Nardi directly quotes Dewey: “Works of art that are not remote from common life …. are …. marvelous aids in the creation of such a life” (Nardi 151). What seems to make WoW are work of art and Second Life to be less than art for Nardi are the rules. She says, “its rules ensure that overall artistic excellence is not compromised”, or the art has not been tampered with, and then that “the capacity to alter rules in controlled ways is designed into the system”, or that a player’s participatory modifications are limited to the specs of the already existing work of art – the player cannot create new art, but only tinker with the old.
This participation in WoW is definitely different than the encased paintings of prestigious museums, but it brings to mind the blurry distinction between real life and art. I am not trying to solve this (basically) millenia old problem, but rather addressing that it still exists. Nardi specifically points to the rules as the deciding factor between the art of WoW and the mediocrity of Second Life. Why should a game which is created by real people rather than designers not be considered art? WoW and Blizzard still maintain a boundary between player and designer, similar to the rope and security guards which surround the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Everyday, reprints and edits of her face are created, but limited to the regulations of representation. WoW players do a similar editing, but are allowed slightly closer to the original product. However, in a way their modifications are already created and expected as the rules allow for their creation. Second Life allows for the pure creativity and yet, nobody is really sure if this is a work of art.
To me, it seems that such mass, free creativity can only be art. It is an outpouring of humanity, and while it may disappoint in its scandalous and consumptive nature, its the work of millions of people – kind of like the 80,000+ WoW wiki we’ve read so much praise for.