Games As Art: An Analysis

Are gamers in fact art enthusiasts?

By Degtyarev, Posted 08 May 2011

One of the biggest and most heated debates to have swept across the world of video games in recent years is the potential status of games as art. Film critic Roger Ebert dismissed the possibility of games ever being considered art in one of his blogs last year, pointing out that there are inherent differences between the mechanics of a game and the nature of artistic work. In a recent turn of events, the National Endowment, a body that belongs to the US Federal Goverment, has recognised video games as a valid art form. While this is certainly a morale boost for gamers that like to think of themselves as art enthusiasts, they should not expect the debate to end here. After all, a governmental body may recognise something as art, but it does not have the universal authority to define art. In fact, nobody does.

Games, Art, Amnesia, Cryostasis, The Path, Museum

But perhaps these recent developments do provide us with a reason to shed some new light on this neverending discussion. Especially with the increasing relevance of artistically ambitious indie developers and the rising popularity of cinematic games with limited interactivity, the advocates of gaming as art seem to have more proof than ever of the artistic potential of video games. It is not a given though, that these relatively new types games succeed in circumventing some of the main issues critics have with the potential artistic status of the medium.

What makes this discussion particularly difficult is that there is no clear-cut definition on what exactly art is. If Marcel Duchamp could display a urinal in a museum and call it art, why can the same not be done for video games? Not to say that video games are like urinals, but you get the point. Art is indeed one of the most ambiguous, abstract, multi-interpretable concepts we feeble humans have come up with over the years, but that doesn't mean that gamers can just come up with their own definition of art so that video games can be categorised under it and call it a day; it is not some one-size-fits-all term that holds no essential value.

For, despite the ambiguity, there are certain objective parameters, or rather guidelines that at least attempt to dictate what art constitutes of. In its broadest sense, art is an aesthetic expression of man that is of a particular relevance due to it holding a certain emotional or indeed intellectual value. This definition may be vague and therefore seem easily compatible with the nature of video games, but upon closer analysis, one will notice that, in essence, all video games rely on problem solving rather than the aesthetic fulfillment of the beholder.

And this is also where critics such as Roger Ebert point out where the main problem lies: it is undeniable that video games are inherently different in nature from established art forms such as film, music and literature. Naturally, exceptions can always be found. Games such as Amnesia and Cryostasis rely heavily on emotional and intellectual stimulation respectively, while the poems of Luis de Góngora were written specifically like puzzles and relied on problem solving rather than passive observation.

Games, Art, Amnesia, Cryostasis, The Path, Museum

At the end of the day, however, there being a grey area in this matter does not dismiss the fact that there are inherent differences between video games and universally accepted art forms. There are certainly games out there with artistic potential, and some may go as far as calling them art, but despite these exceptions, it is still is difficult to persist that video games, as it stands today, are inherently an art form equal to film and literature. After all, the moment certain video games come closer to being art is often the moment they stop being video games (check out 'The Path' for reference).

On the other hand, Roger Ebert may have been a tad eager in his claim that video games are not and can never be art, while there are already quite some examples out there that at least question this assertion. In any case, it will be interesting to see what the future has to offer that will further blur the lines between the accepted definitions of art and the nature of video games.

Games, Art, Amnesia, Cryostasis, The Path, Museum

Maybe the most important question is: does it really matter whether or not video games are art? For some parties, maybe (the status of art often gives leeway to subsidies), but for us gamers, it really doesn't make a difference. Whether the games we play are toys or pieces of art doesn't change anything about how much we enjoy these games. So in this respect, there is little reason for gamers to act so overly defensive whenever the topic is brought up.

Still, it is understandable that there are quite a lot of enthusiasts out there who attempt to label their favourite hobby as art. With it being a relatively young medium, games are often misunderstood by older generations, who often dismiss them as pointless time wasting or toys for socially awkward teenagers. These negative connotations make it frustrating for gamers who want to talk about their hobby to 'outsiders', as the latter will often fail to understand the genius it takes to come up with and develop a video game, let alone comprehend the deep emotional engagement people can have with their favourite titles. Because let there me no mistake about it: crafting a video game takes some serious skills, skills that are no less impressive than those of a gifted painter. Therefore, it is perhaps the most logical to think of video games as artisanship: carefully created products that, whilst being created for an everyday purpose, reflect the professional skills of their makers.

Jesse Dolman, NoobFeed.

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  • I'm glad that they have accepted it as a valid form of art, because it IS art. All of those graphics started out as drawings in the development studio.

    Posted May 08, 2011

  • @Andrew But according to that definition "art is an aesthetic expression of man that is of a particular relevance due to it holding a certain emotional or indeed intellectual value." it's very hard just to come to an conclusion so easily. But there obviously have been many great graphics introduced in games which can be counted as art. But as a whole gaming isn't art imo.

    Great great article Jesse. Thumbs up.

    Posted May 08, 2011

  • The cosmetic attributes of a video game can certainly be artistic; the music of Oblivion, the graphics of Machinarium, etc. But the game itself is, in its very nature, very different from what we'd normally consider art. Someone on another forum made a very interesting observation in this respect: you can separate the aforementioned artistic elements from the game, and you'd still have a game, albeit a slightly unappealing one. However, if you were to scrap those elements that make a game what it is (gameplay, mechanics, rules, programming), you are left with a few elements that are artistic in themselves, but there will no longer be a game.

    Posted May 08, 2011

  • nice article... :D

    Posted May 09, 2011
  • avatar RON

    This debate can go on and on and on but you won't be able to satisfy yourself with any answer. If you take the separate elements of games like character design or animation, or music or story building, they all obviously fall under the definition of art, but when these elements are all together acting as a game, it's not just there as an art. I believe this is what Degtyarev was trying to explain throughout this fine article.

    Posted May 09, 2011

  • Since I studied modern arts, I dont see any reason why games cannot be a form of art. If performance artist Tenching Tsieh can voluntarily sit inside a jail for a year and take a photo of himself every single day (his work is displayed in Museum of Modern Arts) and can be considered an art, why not video games? In my surrealist point of view, a game of pong (where two boards keep on hitting the ball to each other at the same straight path) can also be form of art, coz a lot of meanings can be figuted out or even confuse people. Thats what art is all about!!

    Very nice article!!!

    Posted May 09, 2011

  • @Koshai Well, I tend to look at it this way. If someone locks himself up in a jail and takes a photo of him every day, he actually takes the idea of sitting in jail and transforms it into a performance that is presumably artistic. While this isolated ordeal may be considered artistic, sitting in a jail cell in itself isn't art. With video games it works the same way: there are some games out there that elevate the concept of video game and do something different with it, and may therefore potentially be considered art, but video games in general are not an artistic medium, as the basic premise of a video game is inherently different from those of accepted artistic media.

    Posted May 09, 2011

  • okay as a 3d artist yes i do see games as art but i don't think you can really go around boasting that your a serious artist just cause you play games non stop or but overall I'm glad games are considered as art.

    Posted Jun 28, 2011

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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, Switch, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, WII, 3DS, Vita, Mobile
Publisher(s): NoobFeed
Developer(s): NoobFeed Editors
Genres: Artcile
Themes: Feature, Editorial, Interviews, Opinion Pieces
Release Date: 2009-02-14

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