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Are Video Games Art?

June 24, 2013
by

Yes, yes they are.

Well, that was easy. Okay, moving on-… Oh. Yeah, I guess I should put a little effort into defending my position, huh?

Okay, in order to address whether or not a thing can properly be categorized as another thing, we need to first agree on definitions of those things.

Video games are pretty easy. They are any form of interactive media (games) played on a screen (video). So everything from Tetris to Skyrim are video games.

Defining art gets a little trickier. If we just Google “definition of art,” here’s what we get:

art

/ärt/
Noun
  1. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture,…: “the art of the Renaissance”
  2. Works produced by such skill and imagination.

My personal favorite definition of art comes from Scott McCloud:

“Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts: survival and reproduction.”

This is why things like interpretive dance, bits of rope, or this urinal are considered art. But if everything is art, does art have any value?

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Bex, are you saying I can poop in my hand and then fling it on the wall and call that art?”

Yes, yes you can. But don’t assume that it can get into a gallery, or that anyone will like and appreciate it.

Here’s something I say a lot: It’s important not to confuse “art” with “good art.”

Take a hot dog and a Kobe beef steak. Both are food. But only one is (subjectively) good food. Key word being subjective. Personally, I like to categorize art into bad art, good art, and great art.

Bad art unintentionally disgusts and offends me or, even worse, leaves little to no impression on me at all. Good art is aesthetically or superficially pleasing and communicates an idea. Great art makes me think, changes the way I view the world, or changes the world itself.

Your poopie wall is just bad art, in my opinion. Now DuChamp’s the Fountain? That is great art.

I’m being completely serious, by the way. This urinal is genius. Now, folks who look at modern art in a gallery and sputter with disgust that their 4 year old kid could make that, these people hate brilliant shit like the Fountain. Let’s face it, all DuChamp did was take a urinal, sign it, and put it in a museum. Where is the skill in that? The artistry? The effort??

But for me, this piece helped change the way I view art. When something changes my perspective, it’s great art. The Fountain forces us to evaluate and examine exactly what art is, while giving traditional art, artists, art critics, and the establishment the middle finger. By calling attention to itself, by making us consider this everyday item as art, it becomes great art.

Now how does all this nonsense come back to video games? Why should we care if video games are considered good art?

Games that are good art, or games that are great art have something important to say to the world at large, and that message deserves to be heard and taken seriously. If all video games are dismissed as not-art or bad art, then these messages, these truly beautiful moments will be lost, and they deserve a larger audience.

Of course, considering video games as art also opens it up to larger scrutiny, but that’s a good thing. I’ve gotten into many an argument about the Fountain, but that’s a debate that needs to be had, and it makes all art better for it.

What games would be considered bad art? Well, having not played it, I’d still point to Duke Nukem: Forever. What message did that game send out to the world? Did it even bother with a statement? Did it attempt to be anything other than a teenage male fart-joke and boobies fantasy? Are we better people for having taken in the art that is Duke Nukem: Forever? No, DN:F wasn’t trying to be good art.

But other games do try to be good, or even great art. Dear Esther was very aesthetically pleasing and told an equally beautiful story. TellTale’s The Walking Dead broke my heart and forced me to question myself and what I might do in a similar situation.

The interactive nature of games allows us to become far more engaged than we would as a passive viewer of a painting or film. Video games have tremendous power to be the most effective art medium in terms of making us as the audience feel exactly what it wants us to feel. They allow us to live as the art itself.

Very few games take advantage of this. But just like paint, sculpture, television, or books, video games are just another medium for an artist to share his or her message. And if we continue to poo-poo games as being a diversion or kid’s stuff and not-art, we’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity to share messages, perspectives, and ideas that could change all of us for the better.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2013 11:59 am

    Happily, the Supreme Court agrees, and so does the NEA, which has provided grants to non-profit game makers (or game makers sponsored by not-for-profit entities) whose purpose is to foster Creation, Engagement, Learning and/or Liveability. Enjoyed the article.

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