Are video games an art form? An introduction to the topic.

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?

RayM

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.

  1. We need to have an understanding of what a game is.
  2. 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!

Let’s begin.

Games

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

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.

3576-objection

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.

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2 comments on “Are video games an art form? An introduction to the topic.

  1. This is a great topic. I’ve recently seen people debate it on a chat with great fervor. I used to think that some games could be considered art. Since then I’ve grown to think about it more, under a very basic definition of art games could be considered so, but we all know art has a deeper meaning than the way you could define it. Even with that, I’ve seen people say that art is “overrated” and that the Mona Lisa is just a painting of a woman smiling.

    This made me think, art really can’t be taken as a general thing. It can’t be defined globally, because what one person may consider art another may not. Much of the same can be said about games. Many people may consider games like Mass Effect art, while others don’t even like it. So then, is it art? Just because a certain amount of people consider it does it make it so? I think it’s too soon to know. Like you said, play a game 20 years from now and tell me whether it’s art or not.

    You mention the rules of games. I think in the end we each have our own rules of what we consider art. And as such we each have an opinion of whether one game or another is worthy of being called art. Thus it boils down to our own perceptions, our own rules. I don’t think they should be considered art outright, because lets face it, not every game deserves to be played, let alone be considered art. But I also think that if I consider the Metal Gear Solid series a work of art I shouldn’t be wrong, because it’s my opinion, and in the end that’s what I consider art to be, an opinion.

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