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is LotRO Art?

Andrei Harnagea Posted:
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In a recent mainstream gaming magazine, I came across an article trying to prove why games, in general, are not art. During my time with both the gaming world and art school, I have seen the two overlap numerous times yet to this day modern art in general can stir up some pretty heated conversations and disagreements. In one of my previous articles, A Look at the Looks of LOTRO, I gave a summary of why I think this MMO stands out, however I never touched upon its reflection of some artistic vision. As a result, I wanted to follow up and provide some arguments surrounding the intent, procedure and outcome these artists and developers consider before hitting the public with a massive MMO production. These people not only work years making the pieces that shape up a MMO, but have to predict interactions and user generated content that might come of it, much like an exhibition in a gallery. It is in a way a study, fueled by us the players, in which the artist conceives his work based on what he thinks is interesting and appealing to the world. As formal art such as painting or sculpture this work has to be commercially feasible, it must make a profit.

Production Value

When a game goes into production, the first steps of bringing the ideas to life are left in the hands of the 3D modeling software. As mentioned in the first article the steps are as follows; modeling (sculpture), rigging and texturing (anatomy and painting) and finally animation ( cinematography/ physics). In LotRO, we have seen these areas perform incredibly well and as shown in many of the images below the architecture and decor in the game makes a good argument for the game as a work of art. With the arrival of the new content these characteristics must keep a steady value, meaning artistically they have to influence players just as much as the initial given content. Whenever a new race/class is introduced many factors have to be considered from graphical appearance to the influence it has in a fellowship or raid. The production therefore is never over, and as the game continues to be updated we see the "artist's" decision being influenced heavily by his audience.

LotRO has so far succeeded in making such content very appealing to its user base and thankfully the storyline written by Tolkien has been kept and enhanced by the Book quest system. As all art has a purpose, every single book fellowship quest has one too, driven by a feeling of visual literature. Every time I fell out of range of these quests, I forced myself to get to the required level to continue them. It is the PvE treat we all look forward to. For this I want to give my kudos to ones who developed this system and kept a game powered by an even bigger game.


Much like Yvonne Rainer's dances and films of the 60s, MMOs are all about performance art. We, the public, are invited into this fantasy world to take a different identity than the one of our everyday lives. It is a method of escapism, of stimulation and creativity of the users. In LotRO, you become one of Tolkien's characters. You can fight alongside your kin, improve your skills, craft and even choose some place to call home. The game challenges you to be different, to think outside the rules of real life. I see the game as having the possibility of changing itself by the influence of the spectators, it adapts and obeys. The most crucial aspect of it all is that unlike a museum that you have to visit and spend a limited time in, a game brings the museum to you for whatever time you feel it is worth. LotRO has been around for about two years and it has grown in both respect and player populace.

Moreover it has stood up to the great giants of the MMO world with an arsenal of new content during these years and promises a great deal more to follow. The design and graphics have set, in my opinion, a new standard for upcoming MMOs and I suggest it is one to take notice of before thinking of releasing one. Going back to the magazine critique, the author stated that games such as LotRO have to be all about "fun" and not "artistic merit," which is in fact partially correct. The problem is that I don't believe you can have one without the other. We have seen how LtoRO's artistic side makes it "fun" and gives people a purpose to play, to go on and grind for a deed or finish an instance. If developers fail to take many different areas into consideration, their game will fail,It just so happens that art deserves a place amongst those things.

We have seen the Lord of the Rings legacy stay alive and morph into different forms for the last 70 years and yet we are surprised to see it integrate itself once more into another art form. The Art of Games in Aosta, Italy is just one of the few recent galleries opened to serve art inspired by video games and as we see this tremendous work publicized, even more people will begin to give games such as LotRO a lot more credit as well as the so called "artistic merit" our game magazine author claimed it lacked.


Andrei Harnagea