If there is one thing gamers and journalists are absolutely sick of hearing about it's the "are games art?" discussion. Favored by the preachy and the vain, it's an intellectual dead end as fruitless and tired as the "what is art?" debate. However, last month while scouring the internet for some blog-worthy morsels, I came upon something intriguing: A quirky news snippet that flippantly turned the debate on its head, shrugging off years of bombastic dialectic like a bad dream and reigniting my interest in the relationship between art and games in the process.

The snippet in question featured a photograph of a dilapidated building that had its grid windows vandalized to resemble Tetris blocks. Shortly after emerging on a well-known game site, a handful of smaller gaming blogs got whiff of the photo, and it spread virally throughout the tubes, reported whimsically as the exploits of a creative Tetris-obsessed vandal.

A glut of comments later the authenticity of the photograph was called into question. As it turned out, the photo was the work of a talented Photoshop prankster. Cue blog comments flaring with shouts of "I knew they were fakes" and "just someone trying to fool gamers." It seems some of the gaming contingent missed the point. Even so, viral digital graffiti raises an interesting issue about the broader topic of game art.

Fake or not, the fact someone went to the trouble of creating the image is - for lack of a better phrase - a sign of the times. The recent trend of popular gaming icons in contemporary art is an indication of gaming's gradual puncturing of popular mainstream culture. When approaching a topic as contentious as game art, distinguishing between what is intended as a form of artistic expression and what is merely the output of an obsessed fan is necessary, pointless and impossible all at once. LEGO statues of consoles and popular gaming characters may expose a certain artistic flair, and if I wanted to wax lyrical about the whole thing I could go as far as equating the LEGO blocks to pixels and come to some ostentatious conclusion about the meaningful nature of the medium's relevance to the subject matter. But what is more likely is that the majority of LEGO sculptures or photoshopped images are fashioned as one-offs, tributes or pranks and not as measured attempts at expression or even the pursuit of creating something beautiful and intriguing.

But let's give our photoshopped Tetris picture the benefit of the doubt for now. As a case in point, this sort of digital graffiti does brandish artistic virtue by the manner in which it finds an audience. As an art form, graffiti has an immediacy that sets it apart from the verbose foreplay favored by the cocktail academics and quick-fix lipstick dinner dates of the art world. The public nature of graffiti is a congenital aspect of its artistic message or expression, completely at odds with the sterility of a gallery. In this sense, digital graffiti is just as much a product of its environment as its real world counterpart.

It would be easy to overanalyze the tenets of photoshopped game art or digital graffiti, but there is a dualism inherent in the process, which is strikingly irrespective of the presence of artistic motivation. The digital world is a characterization of the real in both games and photoshopped pictures and in this sense there is a uniquely modern, profound relationship between medium and subject matter.

Of course, there are examples where artistic intentions are more clearly drawn. Fake screenshot artists such as Brody Condon leave no room for debate about the specific artistic motivation behind their works. There is often a thread of knowing references to the phenomenon of fanboy propaganda, and even quasi political dissent woven throughout the various entrants in fake screenshot competitions. But even in the face of such an obvious and deliberate ruse, faked screenshots can still be taken out of context by a daily gaming news source. What begins life as a statement about the war-hungry nature of gamers may end up editorialized as "look at these leaked images of how incredibly lifelike war games will look on next-gen PCs."

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