Are Video Games Art?

Are Video Games Art?

Last updated on January 28th, 2014

You guys have probably seen this, but I saw it recently, and it made me ask the question: Are video games art? I personally say, “Of course, yes!” But I want to know your opinions.

 

I assume I know your opinions, but I’m curious to hear, and discuss with you guys.

 

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25 comments on “Are Video Games Art?”

  1. I would say, like any media, SOME video games are art. Or rather, video games can be art. Is the latest release of Madden art? I don’t think for a second it is. Just like I don’t think Football is an art. That’s not to say it’s not legitimate entertainment, etc. it’s just not art.
    Other games rely more on conceptualization and creating an emotional attachment or experience where immersion is key. Rain for example is almost completely concept driven. To the point where I questioned several times while playing if it was actually a game. Yeah, it’s art to the point where it’s almost lost video game status. Linger In Shadows is another example of this (and you need to get it for PS3 RIGHT NOW if you haven’t already).
    Anything by Thatgamecompany is a great example of balance between art and game. Journey, Flower, Flow are all amazing games that pull you into an emotional experience that rivals other forms of art. Knytt Underground, Limbo, Dokuro (I’ve played a lot of Vita) and many more strike a good balance in my opinion.
    In games such as these I don’t see too many substantive differences between a game and the forms of interactive theater that exist and are considered art. The audience may be smaller (at least in a single room at any given time) but the connections are real.

  2. Emergence says:

    I feel that they are not. I feel that they contain art but are not art in themsleves. They can contain evocative plots, visual artistry, and sublime music and these parts can be considered art but once a player imposes their will on the game world it changes the entirety of the program into something different. The story of Dark Souls is art, the level design is art, the musical score is most certainly art because by definition they convey an emotional and idea spectrum from the creator to the audience. But the mechanical game of Dark Souls is a puzzle and playing the game is about using the tools the game provides in order to solve the puzzle. That is not art and as a result I think we need to make the distinction that the entire package is not art. Design of the puzzle is a creative endeavor but I couldn’t define that as art in my mind.

    I’ve gone back and forth on this for years. I think they need to be recognized for the artistic qualities they do contain.

  3. Superdude100001 says:

    I kind of borrow from both of the opinions stated above.
    I believe games can have art in them and have artistic aspects, but I do not believe most games can be art in and of themselves. When a game focuses solely on the art aspect, almost to the point that in loses what makes it a game, like with Rain or the Stanley Parable, I believe this is when the game itself can be classified as art. Quantic Dream also does this, in my opinion, at least. The games they have made so far are more to convey an emotion or experience, less for “go to checkpoint A. Grab that launcher. Shoot that helicopter. Now shuffle to B. My opinion of Triple A games are low” experience.

    Games are a beautiful medium to convey emotion or establish an art form, and just like movies before, games are entering a new era, where we peel it back and ask the hard questions. Are games art? Can games teach us things about ourselves, the universe, and those around us? Can we really just say, “It’s a game” anymore? Or have they become something more?
    I believe yes.

  4. Castielle says:

    I think they are very definitely art. Art is relative. I’d imagine if you asked the people creating Dark Souls if they thought it was art, their answer would be a resounding yes. For me, art is simple. When you can see the creativity and passion someone puts forth into anything it is art. Art isn’t the finished product, it’s the process.

  5. Emergence says:

    With video games I always come back to the board game analogy in allusion to my earlier comment that games contain art. If we look at games as the evolution of a board game in digital form, despite gorgeous design and production that contain beautiful pieces of art, we still stop short of affixing the label of art to a game like Chess, or to come closer to RPG’s, Warhammer. The finely sculpted pieces are indeed art, but are the rules, moves and goals of beating or winning the game art? The problem for me has always been the element of gameplay involved. Shadow of the Colossus and Metal Gear Solid are always Exhibit A and B for games as art but even Kojima and Ueda have said their games contain art but don’t feel like they are creating art overall because of accounting for the audience’s reception, with Ueda taking it a step further saying his games are products, not art. I suspect Miyazaki would say something similar to them both in typical stoic fashion.

    I may be too focused on semantics overall. I will say though that Souls (more so Demon’s than Dark) is close because the board’s rules and mechanics seem crafted to purposely evoke emotions of resolve. It’s one of the rarer instances where the puzzle had an effect on me emotionally.

  6. RANT says:

    Imo almost everything is art or can be seen as art, games are an art, even if they suck by gamers standard they’re still art, it’s all perspective. Gg phone.

    1. Emergence says:

      I disagree Gandalf! Artistic interpretation is a matter of perspective but what art is is not so much. Creativity as a process is always present but it does not necessarily yield art. I would not go to the Louvre to conquer the Mona Lisa, to the Met to beat Manet, to the symphony to surmount Mozart nor would I sit down to platinum Shakespeare. When I choose a game I am selecting something that can be solved, finished and completed, not something to explicitly affect me. I would say at its best the medium can facilitate art like in the case of Minecraft. I don’t think this classification detracts from the impact or importance of games, it just places them in their proper contextual sphere. They are amazing and brilliantly designed extensions of boardgames and tabletop rpg’s and should be a bigger part of the common experience.

      1. Superdude100001 says:

        Well, some games are created just to affect/screw with you. Indie games usually gravitate toward this.

  7. GrinTwist says:

    Saw it a while ago, I’d honestly have to say very few games actually end up falling into the category of art for me but they have the potential to do so. In the case of games I’ve actually played Shadow of Colossus is the closest I’ve come to calling a game to art.

    1. Superdude100001 says:

      Here here

  8. twiggy1807 says:

    I have to say, that in my opinion, games in general are artistic or contain strong artistic portions (design, backgrounds, music, effects, etc) but are not of themselves art. Totally immersive and interactive entertainment, absolutely. Pure art, not really. Now I have definitely caught myself stopping mid game to literally look around at the scene (Dark Souls and The Last of Us most recently), however I couldn’t imagine the GAME being on display at an art exhibit. I guess saying artistic is a cop out, but I truly enjoy the effort and style that a lot of developers put into making beautiful, artful games.

  9. Castielle says:

    Is creating the perfect game experience a work of art? Or what if you planned the perfect date? Would that be art? My point is experiences can be art, not just objects…

  10. Superdude100001 says:

    Indeed. An experience can be, and that’s probably the hardest art to convey. Very few people feel experiences and you would or I would.

    Overall, I see three opinions:
    1. Games are art, or can be art.
    2. Games have artistic ideas or elements imbedded in them, but aren’t art themselves.
    3. Dude, it’s a game.

    I’m usually 3’d all over when I try to talk about this, but I believe it’s a valid question.

  11. Serafiem says:

    I think of art as a process of using a medium to convey some sort of emotion or idea to the audience, in a way unattainable through the use of mere language alone. It is possible to do this through collaboration. If you’ve studied history, you know that many of the ancient murals and depictions in old times were products of many artists working together.

    Emergence points out that the end product of a game is essentially a puzzle to be solved, thus it isn’t art.
    But I ask; Why exclude this process from the many ideas one may convey through art? If I want to convey a sense of fear or anxiety, I might draw a grimacing face. If I wanted to convey a complex struggle, with many specific components . . . I might do that using a game.

    1. Superdude100001 says:

      Yes!

    2. Fexelea says:

      The key to this discussion is whether art is a product or an experience, and something to observe or compose. Or all of the above at the same time. Traditional art is somewhat embedded as something we observe, so interactive media tends to be shut down on a subconscious level.
      I personally am of the opinion that creative expression is a form of art, and no amount of mechanics or technology can take away from the projection of an experience onto an audience and the extraction of an emotional response. Musicians perform their technical pieces and make you feel something. Good movies tell you a meaningful story and stir your emotions. Equally some games achieve artistic expression and extract an emotional response from their audience made in the artist’s vision. All hail Miyazaki! 😛

  12. Surprised this hasn’t been added, but….DEFINITION…AWAY!

    “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”
    or
    “works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings”
    or
    “the methods and skills used for painting, sculpting, drawing, etc.”
    I get E’s point for sure but I have to point out that, many games that I would call “art” would often be meaningless without the whole. My new video game love affair (Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, review pending) is a perfect example. While it does contain puzzles and gameplay mechanics, without the effort of going through those the story loses much of its impact. Also, while I understand the concept that the player is manipulating the work, without hacking or glitch exploiting you’re actually not in my opinion. You’re only working within the parameters set forth with the whole of the work in mind. And there’s been many artists in other media that have used interactivity to achieve their results. Audience participation can be a valid aspect to an artistic work.
    To be fair though I find that I would say there’s a very high threshold before I would call a game “art” in and of itself. Many games, like E said, contain art but fail to rise to the level of being art. Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core is a perfect example. The monotonous gameplay and lacking mechanics draw out emotion but it’s often boredom. The story on the other hand had a deeper impact on me than most movies, books or paintings. In that instance, the story is mostly independent of the gameplay in drawing an emotional response (with only one conceptual battle as an exception). It’s only when the game is crucial to getting the full response that I would call a game art. Now go play Brothers

    1. Emergence says:

      Ok now you’re on to something with how you describe Brothers. That’s the lacking detail I find so often that for me creates the barrier between games and art. But if we start seeing the controls/mechanics designed to elicit something rather than be a means to an end then I feel we can start giving video games that legitimacy. I’m a staunch advocate for games, and they deserve every dollar that they make.I’m just wary of lauding them too soon as examples of art.but I do agree that they are certainly capable of becoming art.

  13. Back Lot Basher says:

    Emergence, the issue I have with your examples is that you seem to focus too narrowly on high art, paintings in particular, as the only creative outcome that is worthy of the definition. We’re conditioned to think this way because our culture reinforces the importance of “masterpieces” as the most persistent examples of true art. If that is what you believe, then I understand your point of view.

    I believe any creative product that resonates with a wide audience and stands the test of time can be considered art. Take these examples: Robert Johnson’s music, Murnau’s “Nosferatu”, or Robert Howard’s “Conan” stories. They were all considered pretty lowbrow entertainment in their time, but have become cultural artifacts over time. None would be mentioned in the same breath with Mozart, Citizen Cain, or Hamlet, but to fans and historians of each creative form, they are regarded as pioneer works deserving of our respect as works of art. Not high art, but art nonetheless.

    Everyone will respond to creative products according to their tastes. I may look at a painting by Jackson Pollack and wonder what all the fuss is about, while you may see it as a masterpiece. Though our opinions vary, neither validates or discredits the work as art.

    Videogames face the same struggle that films once did when it comes to being recognized as art. I’m not sure this is because they are collaborative on a level that makes them seem more corporate, or just because they play to the masses. But when I look at the effort that goes into the images, writing, music and voice acting, there’s no doubt in my mind that many games should be considered art.

    For some reason, human beings have a very fluid definition of art, which is probably why the debate persists, not just around games, but most creative forms. We’re constantly trying to modify the true essence of “art”, and it is hard to do.

    I’m sure most of you remember the uproar Roger Ebert sparked when he lit the fuse for this debate in 2010, saying that videogames could never be considered art. If not, Google it. The debate has some fascinating points of view. No matter how each of you feel, the debate itself is a good way to push each of us to define our perceptions of art.

  14. Emergence says:

    I see all these points as very valid, and I absolutely agree that games create emotional experiences and connections that equal fine art. My salient point is that all those experiences and connections you are all alluding to are the portions of art contained within the game. We can separate them and admire their components as art in the same way I can admire the fine sculpting of a chess piece, or the aesthetic layout of the chess board itself. The chess piece and the board are art, however, the game in totality is not art. Yes you can creatively devise a game, but in most of our daily things, we are always creating, whether we are creating solutions, tools or events. A factory supervisor is creative when making a work schedule to optimize efficiency, an offensive coordinator is highly creative when designing a new play in football. The same applies to a puzzlemaker designing a puzzle, and by extrapolation a game maker designing the rules and mechanics of a game. Can we call that art? We can call those activities highly creative endeavors for sure. And if the consensus is yes, we can broaden the definition of art to not just be passive appreciation of objects, sounds, words etc and instead allow the definition to encompass all end results of creative thought then yes I’m on board calling games art. But beware the slippery slope of all inclusive terminology! I’m just being a protectionist, I’m not purposefully being pedantic. I just want to make sure that when we apply hyperbole, that these things are put through the meat grinder as worthy of that hyperbole. The last thing we need is a noisy entrance into the pantheon of art with little to show that can hold a cup of water to other artistic mediums.

    I’m also not saying that fine art in its traditional museum setting is the only worthy art either. I only used those examples for broad understanding.

    1. I’m gonna go on record and say that’s actually pretty close to how I feel and we’re just inches apart from each other (it just so happens the fence is occupying part of the space in that few inches). For me, I think the point at which a game would be considered “art” and not just “containing art” is when the game mechanics and experience of the actual playing is so necessary to the whole that it can no longer be separated without a significant loss of the other features. I’d call on Brothers again to illustrate this point but I really can’t without demolishing the experience for other players. Which I suppose is my point. I can outline the story and events in great detail or even record an entire playthrough for someone to watch. While this would convey the story, visuals and music in their entirety (unless I record with my cell phone like I always do) I would argue that in the case of this game, it is completely insufficient to capture what defines this game. I wish I could elaborate more on this but I don’t want to spoil the game since I will be recommending it to everyone (like I’m already doing). But in my opinion it’s a good benchmark for a threshold. In essence, I think I’m trying to say that you would destroy the work by removing the gameplay.
      Lol, it’s frustrating because with one sentence I could explain this perfectly but it would be the worst spoiler of all time.
      I’d also be leery of a slippery slope. To me I think the intent would also have to come into play. An offensive coordinator intends to score or move the ball on the defense. Any emotional impact is secondary if considered at all. Some game designers might intend to take you on an emotional ride (but still have to go through the criteria I’ve attempted to describe) while others (Madden, CoD, most games) are simply trying to be entertaining enough to sell copies. There’s plenty of creativity in many aspects of each but calling them “art” would definitely not be justified in my opinion.
      I’d also like to point out that this topic reminds me of the “intervention” episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Let’s all just ambush E and berate him, yelling “INTERVENTION” over and over.

  15. Back Lot Basher says:

    But why separate the individual elements when trying to determine if a game is art? Films can be broken down into elements of lighting, acting, cinematography, etc, and novels can be broken down into elements like imagery, dialogue, narrative structure. And while those elements can garner different levels of appreciation, the work as a whole is generally what gets judged. Everything must work together.

    I don’t really see the process of playing the game any more important to it’s existence as a piece of art any more than I would the act of seeing a film or reading a book. That’s just sensory awareness.

    Very interesting comments though…I enjoyed reading them.

    1. Emergence says:

      I separate the elements in this case because in the case of a novel, those elements you list are all art on their own amd coagulate to create a different art. Imagery, lighting and acting are all art forms. I separate it in games to highlight an element (the puzzle/mechanics/controls) that is not by definition art on their own. Since the game is a component of elements like a film is, to call it pure art the way we call a film art would have to mean all of its elements are art when separated from each other, the way when you separate out a film or novel you wind up with a multitude of different activities that are art on their own.

  16. Serafiem says:

    Okay, so as I see it there are some premises that we all agree on: Games are made of mostly art. The definition of art is subject to consensus. (the reason we’re discussing this) And third, The whole of the game is greater than the sum of its parts. With those in mind, I will make my case.

    Emergence stated quite accurately that opening the definition of a word too broadly diminishes its meaning. None of us want to discuss whether or not a tube of tooth paste is a work of art. E uses this as a reason to avoid naming puzzles and systems as such, perhaps accepting that the “Wholeness” of a game may be art if the puzzle component isn’t. I However, think problems and puzzles should be included, and here’s why: Purpose. It’s true that we all engage in creative problem solving everyday to accomplish our goals. The defining factor in whether or not the outcome is art depends on the problem. Are you trying to express and idea or emotion? Its art. Are you just trying to meet your quota or sell a product, regardless of how the audience feels? It’s not art.

    The process engineer in the factory has a problem. He needs more product out of his labor hours. But that has nothing to do with expressing himself or his dreams. The *artistic* game developer want to express a sense of struggle and anguish, with a sweet resounding triumph not possible without the anguish. So the puzzle in and of it self is an artistic component, which is greatly enhanced by the rest of the work. No one would enjoy the concept art for dark souls as much as playing the game, and the same goes for the puzzle. Thank you gentlemen. I look forward to your further discussion.

  17. Castielle says:

    Wow. Everyone is making good points. I guess you could argue that a painter is not art, his tools are not art, painting itself is art and of course, the painting is art. If you just use this as an example. The developer is not art, his computer and programs aren’t art, creating the game itself is art and of course the game would be art. One could also argue that games are one of the purest forms of art there are, seeing as they were invented entirely for recreation and enjoyment.

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