Are video games an art form?
What does it mean to say video games are art?
What’s so bad about letting video games just be games?
What’s to be gained by calling it art?
There seems to be a growing consensus in the video game community that video games are, in fact, an art form. What makes this so? Is this something that really should be accepted? What does it mean when someone says video games are an art form? And more importantly… why do they say that?
I don’t claim to have the definitive answers to these questions. But I do feel I have answers. I’ll give you a preview. I don’t think video games can be an art form. They are one of the purest forms of escapism that we have. I’ll wager you may disagree with me. And if you do, that’s cool. Let’s talk about it.
To explore a topic as complex as video games and art, certain ground rules need to be set.
- We need to have an understanding of what a game is.
- We need to have an understanding of what art is.
I figure if we’re going to say video games are an art form, we better know what art is!
For simplicity’s sake, let’s think of a childhood game we’ve all probably played: cops and robbers. This game has set rules. Cops have to catch the robbers. Robbers have to get away from the cops. Both sides have “guns.” If someone gets shot by the “gun”, that person falls down for a certain period of time. The “gun” is fired when a person points their finger at someone and says bang. The game is won when the cops kill/capture all the robbers or if the robbers get away.
We can easily apply this model to any video game currently in existence. There are set rules that are used to play the game. And yes, there are ways to win the game (it’s called finishing the game). There are ways to lose the game. There are even ways to cheat (hacks), which many gamers call foul when it happens. Heck, these rules may not even be rules that’s programmed in. Camping is frequently frowned upon in many PvP scenarios, as it is cheap as hell. When someone camps, it can be argued they aren’t playing the game.
We can judge games based on the quality of the rules and how much fun it is to play.
Art is a different beast than a game. Sure, art is an aesthetic experience. But it’s far more than something looking “pretty.” There has to be some message in there that encompasses the entire experience. Look at any “fine art” that exists these days: Michelangelo’s David, Magritti’s This is not a pipe, Daumier’s The Painter, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and so on. These pieces are more than just nice looking. They all have complex coded messages (symbolism) that have survived the test of time. These pieces are held up as exemplars among all other pieces, used to reference techniques/styles, and stand as markers to show us how far art has progressed/come.
Let’s say we can create a video game that can do all of this. It’s meaningful. It says something incredible about the human experience. Let’s also say that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the game is somehow transcendent and everyone can point to it and say beyond a shadow of any doubt… this should be considered to be art.
I dare you to try to play that game again in 20 years.
You’ll find it old and outdated. The graphics will be terrible. The control scheme will not be intuitive. Heck, you may find the game itself to be unplayable because of that. So, even if it is possible for video games to be an art form… the art that it produces doesn’t stand the test of time.
Of course, you may have a different understanding of art. You may have your own definitions which shows how games and art can be compatible. I’ll be willing to concede my definitions could be completely wrong and I should consider a different standard.
Treat this as nothing more than a starting point to what I hope to be a debate.
Thank you for reading.