Are Video Games Art?

Let me start this off by saying that this is my un-expert opinion here. I’ve never been a big art fan. I only recently even developed an appreciation for art.

That said, I do love video games. My love of video games began watching my dad play games like Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun and Age of Empires. I would watch him play for hours hoping he might let me play for a few minutes. This was back in the days before every person in my family owned a computer and our only computer looked like this…

how-to-donate-computer-1

This thing is a dinosaur. Wait, am I old??

Today, my hobby has expanded to include titles like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Sims 3, Portal and currently, a weird little number named The Talos Principle. So I do feel as if I can be a reasonable source of thoughts on video games.

This post was inspired by an article I read this morning from a site called Heat Street. The TL;DR version is that a bunch of video game critics seem intent on demonizing anyone who thinks video games are art. Which sucks, yeah, but it got me thinking.

Are video games art?

Naturally I did what any English-lover would do: I consulted a dictionary. The Merriam-Webster definition of art is “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”

Do video games fall into this category? Well, they would certainly seem to.

Just playing some of the games that I’ve played – Skyrim in particular – I can see the creativity, imagination, and skill that went into creating them. And you can’t play Skyrim for ten minutes without having to stop and think, “Dang, that’s gorgeous.”

 

skyrim-screen-shot

If this was a painting it would be considered art. Also, source.

And there are definitely games that express important ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Of course, sometimes those thoughts and feelings are just, “Holy crap, big dragon, big dragon!” Then there are video games like the one I’m currently scratching my head through, The Talos Principle. The game makes a point of inserting random philosophy and hard questions into every level. Playing the game has really made me ponder the ethical and moral issues surrounding artificial intelligence.

Video games seem to fulfill both parts of the dictionary definition. Right? Then, why the controversy? Seriously, Wikipedia has an article about it.

Well, it seems the problem is that there are a lot of critics who deny that video games are art. Take Roger Ebert, an extremely popular and respected critic, who said this:

“To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.”

Mr. Ebert (yes, I know he’s dead), excuse me sir, but no. I do not consider video games to be “a loss of precious hours” any more than I consider binge-watching my way through Stranger Things such a loss. Most gamers don’t. This is his opinion. Unfortunately, it is a very popular and well-respected one.

I think an argument could be made that there are games that worthy of such comparisons, but then again, I’m not even necessarily calling video games good art (although I believe some can be). But bad art is still art. Why aren’t video games? There are video games with stories that I have enjoyed more than novels. But novels are considered an art form. I’ve played games with better visuals than some paintings. But paintings are considered art.

duchamp_fountaine

This is “art” guys. A picture of a signed urinal…

Another Ebert comment:

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.

First off, I have to say that Ebert was severely handicapped while writing this article in that he wrote it in 2010 and had never actually finished a video game… Secondly, there is a school of thought that says that art should be or could be experienced instead of just observed. There’s even a book on it. I have to wonder what his thoughts would have been on “choose your own adventure” style books. You could “win” those too. Does the fact that you could win them negate their value as art?

Personally, I prefer to experience stories, novels, plays, dances, and films. Actually, I think it’s a mark of bad art if I don’t experience it. Good art begs you to feel something. The reason that I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War over Batman vs. Superman is because I experienced Civil War more. In BvS, I was bored out of my gourd and just observed it. One movie captivated me. One didn’t. Both are considered art.

I think the real problem is that many people a) mistake their opinions for fact and b) don’t consider things that they don’t like art .

I walked into an art museum around two years ago with a friend. We spent about an hour there being impressed by centuries of art. And then I walked into a particular section of the museum. My immediate thought was, “What on earth?” I tilted my head to the side like a confused poodle trying to make sense of what I was seeing. I had stumbled into the “modern art” section of the museum.

Honestly, most of it didn’t do it for me. I am not arrogant enough, however, to think that it won’t for someone else. Just because I feel like a certain painting could have been done by a drunk three-year-old does not negate that painting’s value as art.

Suprematist_Composition_-_Kazimir_Malevich.jpg

This was sold for $60 million! I don’t know what the person who bought this is experiencing, but I think they need drugs to do it.

Art is subjective, which means that it’s different for every person. I don’t think that just saying that will make video games art, but I do think that it’s worth thinking about.

By the way, even Ebert later changed his mind about video games. He eventually conceded that video games could be considered art to some people and even said that maybe someone would make one that would satisfy him. He conceded these points in a condescending way only he could manage, but I give him points for conceding it none the less.

In conclusion, I think video games qualify as art (again, only my opinion, but hey, art is subjective, right?). I also think those who think video games are not art are wrong (my opinion too). Furthermore, I think those who give their opinions as facts without, well, facts, and then demonize people who disagree with them are jerks.

This post is getting long, but I want to end with one final thought. I spent 1,000+ words on this topic, but the truth is that it doesn’t really matter to me. Whether or not video games are art is probably not a big issue to most games either. We don’t play games because they are art. We play them because they are fun. Whether or not video games can be classified as art is irrelevant, really. Whether we enjoy them or not is the real question, and one that can only be answered by each individual gamer. Enjoyment is subjective too.

So forget about intellectual theories (unless that’s something you enjoy) and go out there and enjoy your play-through of Skyrim, Batman: Arkham Assylym, Civilization V, or even Goat Simulator if that’s what gets you going.

Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t enjoy something just because they think it’s worthless, or lowbrow.

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Are Video Games Art?

  1. Paul-NL says:

    Really great article here. I can never really understand how people can say that video games can’t be considered as art. Games have moved and stirred emotions within me that have been long dormant. If games like Shadow of the Colossus or Journey can’t be art, what can?

  2. kellyfornian says:

    I am kind of curious about why you consider so much time building an impressive case for why video games are art (or at least, why it doesn’t make sense to believe a man who’s never played video games when he says they’re not art) and then end it it with “In conclusion, I think video games qualify as art (again, only my opinion…)”. You’re right in saying that whether or not you happen to like a particular game, or painting, or piece of music, is subjective – an opinion, based purely in your emotional response to something. Clearly, if just disliking something isn’t grounds for writing it off as art, then there must be something MORE going on in what makes something art than just our subjective, opinion-based, liking or disliking of it. Maybe we should count something as art if it shows excellent craftsmanship AND provokes deep thought or emotion? These are not the stuff of opinion, and are independent of liking or disliking a particular work. If you evaluated particular video games in light of this criteria, many of them would have to be recognized as art.

    • I think that’s one good way to look at art. But then, “art” is such a fuzzy concept. I agree that there must be something more, but I’m not really sure what it would be. We had a long conversation in my philosophy class about the concept of objective beauty and came to a similar conclusion. There’s got to be something that makes things beautiful beyond opinion, but we weren’t really sure what it was.

  3. I agree video games are art! In my opinion, confining the idea of what art is to either good/bad or high art and low art really defeats the purpose of what art is supposed to be, a free creative human expression. I also agree that there are multiple things that make video games art, from their visuals to the animation process it really is a super cool new art form.

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