Let me start this off by saying that this is my un-expert opinion here. I’ve never been a big connoisseur or consumer of artwork per se. Admittedly, I only recently even developed an appreciation for art.
That said, I do love video games. My love of video games began while watching my dad play the likes of Command & 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 one computer looked like this…
Today, my hobby has expanded to include titles like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, The 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 thoughtful information on video games.
This post was inspired by an article I read this morning from 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-language lover would do: I consulted a dictionary. The Merriam-Webster defined art as:
: 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 appear to.
Just playing some of the games 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 10 minutes without having to stop and exclaim, “Dang, that’s gorgeous.”
Some Games Really Make You Think
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 my current head-scratcher The Talos Principle. The game makes a point of inserting random philosophy and difficult questions into every level. Playing the game has really made me ponder the ethical and moral issues surrounding artificial intelligence.
So video games seem to fulfill both parts of the dictionary definition. Right? Then, why the controversy? Seriously, even 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 the legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who once wrote on his website:
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 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. So why can't video games be considered as such? 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. Yet paintings are always considered art.
Art Should Be An Experience
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 disadvantaged 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 stating that art should be or could be experienced instead of just observed. There's even a book about it. I have to wonder what Ebert's 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 demands you feel something. The reason that I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War over Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is because I experienced Civil War more. In BvS, I was bored out of my gourd and just observed it. One movie captivated me, the other didn’t. Yet both are considered art.
I think the real problem is that many people:
- Mistake their opinions for fact, and
- 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 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 wouldn’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.
Art Means Different Things To Different People
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 tune about video games. He eventually conceded that they 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 but charming way only he could manage, but I give him points for conceding it, nonetheless.
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, having facts, and then demonize people who disagree with them, are jerks.
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 they can be classified as art is irrelevant. 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), get out there and enjoy your play-through of Skyrim, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Civilization V, or even Goat Simulator, if that’s what gets you going.
And don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t enjoy something just because they think it’s worthless or lowbrow.
What do you think? Are video games art?
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