Games as Art

Yes, it’s that time again. One of the more controversial issues regarding gaming is, “Are games art?”. Are they on the same level as music, literature, theatre, film, etc? Should the best games be treated with the same respect as the Mona Lisa, the Godfather, Mozart’s 5th Symphony?

Well, the first thing to do is define art. Can’t decide what is and isn’t art without a definition. The problem is, to me art more or less defies definition by its very nature. For me, art is more defined by what it ISN’T, than by what it is. Art isn’t useful, art isn’t functional, art doesn’t solve a problem, art doesn’t help us survive and live in any way. Art has no logical reason for existing. Art represents the human soul, human consciousness, our spirit of curiosity and creativity, the needs we have beyond simply existing. I consider an object or product “art” if it makes me think, makes me feel, and effects me on a deep level.

By this personal definition, games are certainly art. They are the work of countless talented individuals creating. Graphics artists design and animate characters and worlds. Composers create sweeping, epic music. Designers think up the structure and controls of the game. Writers conceive interesting stories and characters. All of their work combines into a true work of art.

A game like Bioshock has beautiful graphics, wonderful sound, intelligent design, varied and well designed levels, an interesting storyline, themes, and characters, in addition to its fun gameplay. It creates a world I can lose myself in, get extremely invested in the story, be impressed by the dark gloomy atmosphere, have me make meaningful choices, and more. A game like this which intrigues me, which affects my emotions, which allows me to lose my self in a fictional universe, is just as much art as any other medium in my view.

Yup, this is art.

The arguments against games being art seem purely opinion to me. I believe personal opinion can’t really affect the facts (though of course, we come back to issue of art being a hazy area…). An example to explain what I mean: I don’t really think of the Mona Lisa as art. I see it as a decent likeness of a human, done in drab colours. It doesn’t make me feel or think, nor do I have any interest in it beyond its limited superficial beauty. This is my (admittedly uninterested and uneducated) opinion. I don’t go and attempt to argue against other people who think it is a fine work of art.

Clearly, a lot of people get a lot out of the Mona Lisa, so it is considered art. Yet games which are in similar situation, are demonised as “never being art”… It just makes no sense to me. Perhaps it’s because games are “the new kid on the block”? Certain types of music, television and even Roger “games can never be art” Ebert’s beloved movies were all considered as rubbish entertainment for the masses in the beginning, yet evolved to be accepted as art. I had hoped we were enlightened enough at this stage to bypass that stage for games, but apparently not?

There a couple of big arguments against games as art, namely they are mass-produced to make money, and they are generally just mindless diversion. Though creating games is indeed a money-making business, this not preclude them from being art. Da Vinci and Michelangelo were well paid for their works, and William Shakespeare became quite rich from his plays. According to Wikipedia, Godfather author Mario Puzo said in an interview with Larry King that in writing the Godfather “his principal motivation was to make money”. Yet his book and the movie adaptation are widely hailed as fine art. Just because the artist is well compensated for their work, doesn’t mean their creation stops existing as art.

The other argument, that games are bland mindless entertainment with no deeper meaning, is deeply flawed as well. Sure there are plenty of that type of game, but that doesn’t preclude the existence of deeper, more artistic games as well. Just like summer blockbusters never harmed Citizen Kane, and mindless pop music never harmed Mozart, the mass-produced “popcorn” games don’t harm the artistic titans like Bioshock either.

So that’s my view anyway. To be honest, I don’t really care what other people think, and am not to bothered to convince them either. It’s an argument for each individual to make up their own minds about. But as long as I can sit down with a game and be deeply effected by the experience of playing it, I will always consider games to be art.


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