BBC Debate: Games Aren't Art ... Yet

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BBC Debate: Games Aren't Art ... Yet

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Ekow Eshun, former director of the UK's Institute of Contemporary Arts, doesn't think games are art right now but he sees their potential.

Debating the topic with author, comedian and regular panel show ghost Charlie Higson on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Eshun stated quite plainly that "Video games are entertainment." Now, before you scuttle off to grab your debating stick, he did go on to say; "most of the things we enjoy in life are entertainment. Lots of books, lots of TV shows, lots of films aren't art. That doesn't make them bad, it makes them really enjoyable."

"Most of the things we like, enjoy and admire are really good but whether they're at the precise high level where we say this changes how I see the world in a significant and deep way, well, actually they don't."

When asked whether Minecraft, one of the usual suspects wheeled out by the games-are-art crowd, counted as art, Eshun replied in the negative. "No, it's not art and I think it's probably not trying to be art either," he said. "I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us. I think most games don't get to that place, and it's important to set that bar quite high."

What separates Eshun from, say, Roger Ebert, is that while he believes no current games can be counted as art - though you do have to wonder how many games he's played - that isn't a condemnation of the entire medium. "I think the likelihood is that at some point there will be games that ask profound questions," he noted.

Higson, a gamer himself, didn't disagree, but he did argue that the impact games have had on other mediums is undeniable. "Hollywood films - most of them look like computer games. Most of them aren't as good as computer games," he pointed out.

"In terms of storytelling, a game like Grand Theft Auto is enormously complex and works on loads of different levels, and it looks amazing too."

Though the games-as-art debate remains as popular as ever, you do have to wonder if there's any point to it. "Art," both as a concept and a definition, is often arbitrary and nebulous, there will never be any real consensus on the matter. A far more interesting question is why acquiring the "art" label, a label you'd be sharing with such luminaries as Tracey Emin, matters to the gaming community in the first place.

Source: Eurogamer

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"In terms of storytelling, a game like Grand Theft Auto is enormously complex and works on loads of different levels"
wait GTA had a story?

hudsonzero:
"In terms of storytelling, a game like Grand Theft Auto is enormously complex and works on loads of different levels"
wait GTA had a story?

That's what I was thinking.

I was under the impression that it was all about cousins and bowling.

hudsonzero:
"In terms of storytelling, a game like Grand Theft Auto is enormously complex and works on loads of different levels"
wait GTA had a story?

From 3 onward they're actually very well written crime comedy/dramas.

Honestly, go play the Witcher for a game that can make you question who you are, the world around you, humanity even. No good, evil, right or wrong.

Is it okay to kill something because it's not like you. Something we're struggling with even today, racial, societal and cultural acceptance. That game makes me think and question how we deal with those issues.

Though that's just my opinion.

Grey Carter:

"I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us. I think most games don't get to that place, and it's important to set that bar quite high."

Firstly, I think that will change and has already changed for us younger generations.
What inspires and forces you to question yourself and surroundings is not necessarily the same for someone else.

Why is matters sadly is because Art and Mathematics are the building blocks of a creation like a video game. It is a culmination of all types of artists and programmers and such working together in a way never conceived before. Being taken seriously by people sadly demands a credible label before it, and to study the creation of the media can have a profound impact if some arseholes don't actually recognize it as an actual 'thing' so to speak.

There are plenty of games that qualify as artwork in my eyes, and as such I have to extend the classification to the ENTIRE media, because as much as the pretentious crowd try to hide it there are a million failures to be 'art' in the Artistic, Music or Written world that ironically enough don't qualify to be the very thing that they are classified as either.

Derp.

He's off by t___________h__________i___________s much. We have art now from games, and thank God you, Mr. Eshun, at least know we'll do more of that in the future.

A lot better than R____________o___________g_____________e__________r E____________b_______e____________r_________________t, who, while a fantastic film critic, jumped the gun on this subject.

Of coarse they are Art right now, Just not super popular games, look at "The most anticipated game ever." It's call of duty Modern Warfare 3.
*Megafacepalm*

If we just invested our talent into more creative, less repititive media, then hell yeah it'd be better than that goddamn De Venci.

that's bull, entertainment IS art

I kinda have to agree. I've played a lot of *awesome* games, but none so far that cause my to stand up and exclaim "THIS is ART!", which I've done for a few movies, TV shows, and songs. Some have gotten very close (Portal), but as a whole at least, games still have a ways to go. But I look forward to games gaining a greater sense of artistic achievement.

And re: GTA story, I find the story missions the best part of GTA IV, I thought it was really well-done. Better than the random destruction in that game, too. If I want that, I'll play Saint's Row.

Charli:

Grey Carter:

"I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us. I think most games don't get to that place, and it's important to set that bar quite high."

Herpa.

There are plenty of games that qualify as artwork in my eyes, and as such I have to extend the classification to the ENTIRE media, because as much as the pretentious crowd try to hide it there are a million failures to be 'art' in the Artistic, Music or Written world that ironically enough don't qualify to be the very thing that they are classified as either.

Derp.

This is exactly what I was going to say. Nicely put :)

Metal gear solid sure dealt with such questions of life and how we viewed it so I guess that could be art though I do feel some games truly are artistic but just like film the medium as a whole mostly isn't.

I think the reason gamers want games to be a art form is that it shows that games can be mature medium and will allow it to be taken more seriously in society's eyes

Grey Carter:

"In terms of storytelling, a game like Grand Theft Auto is enormously complex and works on loads of different levels, and it looks amazing too."

Um... No. Try a different game, GTA isn't really much more complex than Jak 2 and 3.

People always have these weird stipulations on what is and isn't art.

I just stick with "Someone consciously made it through some technique or skill = Art."

MASTACHIEFPWN:

If we just invested our talent into more creative, less repetitive media, then hell yeah it'd be art.

But here's a kicker, the most popular and usually anticipated forms of all things classified as 'art' are thing's like Comics, Trashy novels, Big Budget movies, Generic Corporate Pop music.

Yet these things have ALL fallen under the label of art just because of what they are.

They fall under that label in terms of being taught said media. Yet (in the UK) video games are not offered that same privilege? Despite some utter gems that have no doubt talked to people and really connected with them in ways that the 'popular' forms of media currently under that label wouldn't ever manage.

I calls Bullshit. Video games are utterly Art in that sense.

Now if we want to go debating ACTUAL Artistic value and inspiration that is some whole other ball game and been raging in debates in Art classes centuries over.

Oh just to inform everyone outside of the UK: BBC Radio 4 is considered the 'older generation' radio show. They usually blab on and hold debates and when a topic that they don't understand nor have any desire to comes on they usually waffle about how ridiculous it is and rip it to shreds all the while giving little pats on the back to each other about how great it was in their day.

"In other news, the debate continues to rage over whether the hamburgers served at a local restaurant are, in fact, delicious. Proponents of the hamburgers being delicious argue that they fit all preexisting qualifications for being delicious, and that this should be obvious to anybody who has eaten one of these hamburgers.

"A smaller subset of this group argues that, while the hamburgers have yet to actually become delicious, they may eventually become so. 'They taste alright, but the chef really has to improve before anybody can call these things delicious. I think most fans of the hamburgers are just being overly defensive,' said a proponent of this school of hamburger thought.

"However, this line of thinking is opposed by the harshest critics of the hamburgers. 'They simply taste awful. How could anybody find these things delicious?' said one of these people. 'They taste nothing like steak, or pizza, or even a decent salad. How can anybody find them delicious if they don't taste like them at all?'

"We eagerly await the day when we can declare a definitive victor in the debate over whether hamburgers taste good."

well, I tend to hold that 3/4ths of the stuff euphemistically termed 'post-modern art' would be more appropriately entitled 'post-modern con art'.

Well, as a medium we seem to be jumping towards the art classification fast. Just last year it was "will never be art", now were all the way to "could be art in the future". It took comics half a century to get to that stage and they are literally drawings!

At this rate, in 5 years all games will be considered art, even the ones that clearly aren't. Also, all gamers will become incredibly pretentious (we're already making steps in that direction, after all)!

Grey Carter:
<
Though the games-as-art debate remains as popular as ever, you do have to wonder if there's any point to it. "Art," both as a concept and a definition, is often arbitrary and nebulous, there will never be any real consensus on the matter. A far more interesting question is why acquiring the "art" label, a label you'd be sharing with such luminaries as Tracey Emin, matters to the gaming community in the first place.

I respect anybody that will work in some disrespect to Tracey Emin. She's awful. The only reason she's even considered an artist is because she ripped all her work from her better, more talented ex-lover - Billy Childish. The only reason she hasn't been called up for it is because Billy C doesn't want any sort of fame or recommendation, so nobody knows who he is.

Every time I hear her name I feel compelled to point that out. These are your 'artists' folks, give me a gunwielding space marine any day of the week.

This is all rubbish. All entertainment is art, whether it is high art/culture or pop culture is another question altogether but i think a lot of people confuse the two questions when debating this concept.

Actors are artists thus any game that has voice actors is art.
Texture artists are...well I just said it thus any game with textures is art.
Writers are artists... you get the point.

I think that if someone can find me a current generation video game that has absolutely no artists involved in it's production then I will accept that it is not art. I think you would be hard pressed to do so....

"I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us."

I call bullshit on this guy's definition.

Niether Da Vinci's paintings nor Mozart's music cause me to ask profound question about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us.

Yet these things are unquestionably considered art.

Has EVERYONE forgotten Shadow of the Colossus? >_<

Not until Skyrim comes out.

Hal10k:
"In other news, the debate continues to rage over whether the hamburgers served at a local restaurant are, in fact, delicious. Proponents of the hamburgers being delicious argue that they fit all preexisting qualifications for being delicious, and that this should be obvious to anybody who has eaten one of these hamburgers.

"A smaller subset of this group argues that, while the hamburgers have yet to actually become delicious, they may eventually become so. 'They taste alright, but the chef really has to improve before anybody can call these things delicious. I think most fans of the hamburgers are just being overly defensive,' said a proponent of this school of hamburger thought.

"However, this line of thinking is opposed by the harshest critics of the hamburgers. 'They simply taste awful. How could anybody find these things delicious?' said one of these people. 'They taste nothing like steak, or pizza, or even a decent salad. How can anybody find them delicious if they don't taste like them at all?'

"We eagerly await the day when we can declare a definitive victor in the debate over whether hamburgers taste good."

Marry me.

OT: Yep, cause one guys opinion totally sways the argument. I think certain games are an art, don't like it? Kiss my not so shiny human ass.

"I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us."

Most 'actual' art doesn't do that.
Portal asks the question as to whether a human can become emotionally attached to a computer rendering of a cube with hearts on it from another reality having carried it around for five minutes. If the answer is anything other than 'of course not, what the hell are you talking about?' then portal is more a work of art than a urinal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_%28Duchamp%29 or '50 cc of Paris Air'.

I've yet to encounter a game with a layered story, or one that actually deals with such important questions of life. A lot of games have tried for both. A lot of japanese-based games try to evoke the profound life questions throughout the game, but it usually just comes off as pretentious bull coming from an unlikely source. Like some spikey haired man-teen saying how the good must sacrifice in order to stop the bad, right before they mow down an army with a sword bigger than a car. It's all rehashed dialogue we've heard before that sounds pretty but doesn't say a lot. Even Bioshock was just an Ayn Rand novel/Republican Tea Party talking point. But even if a game has profound dialogue, all of its profoundness is lost the moment you start walking the streets with a rocket launcher, or mowing down waves of enemies. In games, no matter how great the artistic tones or exposition or presentation, it's the gameplay that sets the emotional tone of the game. And, for almost all games, that tone has to be fun.

It's hard to evoke serious life questions and keep the player having fun at the same time.

Bah! I've been touting this position for ages! There are games which can make a very good argument for being considered as art, but there is no game which truly does that. In my opinion, no game can ever fully represent the genre if it has cut-scenes. Lose them and we can seriously start considering it as art.

The problem is that I think saying 'so-and-so is an art' is a fallacy in itself. He admits himself that most movies aren't art. But no one would argue cinema isn't an art. Therefore, some movies are art and some aren't; likewise, it's possible for most games to not be art while some are. Unless you have played all games that exist, you can't say games aren't art.

Minecraft? Really?

Hal10k:
delicious hamburgers

For the metaphor to fit, most of the hamburgers should in fact taste like salad or pizza. In fact, David Cage would have come out with a pepperoni and anchovies hamburger and said that the future of the hamburger lies in abandoning the amateurish concept of bread altogether. On the other field, the ultra-indie crowd is clamoring that hamburgers should abandon anything that isn't unique to hamburgers and should in fact be only a patty and two slices of bread.

Oh, and pizzas have existed for about four times as long as hamburgers, and no one argues that pizzas are delicious, but the only people arguing that hamburgers are delicious are people who are hamburger fans to begin with, while there are some people who think hamburger isn't even food at all.

Oh, and the diner started serving sandwiches recently, and a lot more people have been showing up, but this has made the regulars mad, because a sandwich is a lot like a hamburger but is just too easy to make and nowhere as filling! They are afraid that sandwiches will become so popular no one will want to make hamburgers any more, and they hate sandwich fans for it!

I forgot the point I was making, this metaphor is just so fun.

LIGHTNING EDIT:

baconsarnie:
"I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us."

Most 'actual' art doesn't do that.
Portal asks the question as to whether a human can become emotionally attached to a computer rendering of a cube with hearts on it from another reality having carried it around for five minutes. If the answer is anything other than 'of course not, what the hell are you talking about?' then portal is more a work of art than a urinal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_%28Duchamp%29 or '50 cc of Paris Air'.

That's such a weird example, as the question those pieces are asking is pretty much the same. Namely, "Can I turn an absolutely normal object/something that is conceptually nothing at all into art by simply saying it is?" If the answer is anything other than "of course not, you dimwit" than it's valid. And it apparently isn't, but in fact it is "maybe, but let's not risk it in case it is".

The Stanley Parable
The Path
Braid
The Cat and the Coup
Portal
Dwarf Fortress
Grim Fandango
Audiosurf
The Fate of the World

"I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us.

Which of these games haven't made you question some aspect of your life?

If Modern Art is truly Art, then how come that certain people cannot derive the pleasure one associates with true Art?

The big question is, can Art ever be truly considered Games?

I see where he's coming from but on the other hand I've walked through several art museums and galleries and admired many of the paintings and other forms of art there, but they never evoked a profound feeling that made me contemplate the nature of existence. So, by his definition, are those paintings and sculptures not art as well?

...or maybe he'd say I can't appreciate art beyond "look at the pretty pictures" and dismiss my argument entirely.

There are games that are art. It's just that there is only a few of them. He should play some Deus Ex and Bioshock.

What games need to be an art form is to break away from movies.

Right now we're at a point where games have "game sections" and then games have "cutscene" sections.

The obvious problem with this is that it is just piggybacking on the fact that Movies are an artform and games aren't quite there yet. In order for games to be an artform, they need to use the unique strengths of what makes video games what they are.

I thought art had no definition. Is it not subjective?

The whole debate is silly in my opinion. Why do gamers want the games-are-art label? To justify playing them that's why.

At least he said there was potential instead of just saying no...

Definitely some games are art - not all of them, hell, not most of them, but some of them. Even games that aren't all that great in terms of their artistic qualities have their moments. Fallout 3 isn't really "art" but there are segments when you are wandering around burnt-out DC that really strike an emotional chord (and I'm not even an American) and bring across the themes of loss and the desire to rebuild quite well. Segments of Bastion are DEFINITELY art - from a visual and auditory perspective.

But let's face it - most games aren't art. Fallout 3 might have a very nice style and contemplative moments... but at the end of the day you are still using a shot-gun to blast a Super Mutant's face into gory chunks. There's not much artistic merit to games like Quake or Call of Duty or Battlefield (and I play and love all those types of games... they're just not art. I certainly wouldn't put any military FPS in a museum and show it to future generations).

Some games are definitely art - even now. But most aren't, and won't be for a long, long time. Long time. We just don't have the technology or the market for it. But as gamers grow older, and hopefully out of the teenager mindset of "Bewbs! Guns!" they'll still want to play games but would have hopefully developed a more complex taste and they might desire games that make them think. Hopefully.

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