Weigh In On The Games As Art Debate

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Weigh In On The Games As Art Debate

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Are videogames art? Your opinion is needed.

This morning we cracked open the Escapist mailbag to a polite missive from Public Insight Journalism intern Gabriel Garbowit. He writes:

Hello Escapist!
I am Gabriel Garbowit, an intern at Public Insight Journalism which is apart of American Public Media. We noticed that the Smithsonian is doing an exhibit on the art of video games and we intend to make that into a story. We also have created a survey for anyone who has the time to fill out about their opinion on video games as art. Since we would like to hear the opinions of avid intelligent gamers, we thought your site would be a good way to get the message out.

Truth be told, we get emails like this all the time, but Mr. Garbowit's message is different for one key reason: he name-dropped American Public Media. That would be the same group that produces A Prairie Home Companion.

And who are we to say no to anyone even tangentially affiliated with Garrison Keillor?

Thus, I bid you all click through to Public Insight Journalism's short survey. We know you people have opinions, some of which are even valid, so now here's your chance to thrust your mindshare into the ethereal public consciousness via the highbrow efforts of Mr. Garbowit and his colleagues.

Y'know, while we're here, we may as well use the below comments section for something, right? I know I asked you to contribute your thoughts to the above survey, but if any of you have anything else to say on the topic of games as art, please, do so in the comments.

Do you think games are art due to their being a form of self-expression via the use of symbology and novel communication methods within a medium constructed to express thought? Or do you refute this idea simply because Marcel Duchamp never stunned the Parisian bourgeoisie with a Super Nintendo?

The comments section is below. Do your thing.

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I think the word art is so nebulous as to be incapable of NOT contaning games.

I know many have weighed in on the "Lets keep the word Art sacred" side of the debate but the damage is already done, with Tracy Emmett standing over the battered corpse of Art with a shit sketch in one hand and a dirty bed in the other. So where does that leave us? Well it leaves us with Art being a term for the snooty to endorse what they like and quash what they don't. The games as art debate basically comes down to a load of 'Old guard' types, who i tend to respect, telling us "Your widdle toys are not because we said so"

Art is a word of pretense and opinionation rather than meaning, it is an entirely subjective concept that has been erroded beyond all recognition. It SHOULD denote the ability to convey a deeper understnading of the human condition to the veiwer, something games have had for some time now, and which most modern 'art' sorely lacks.

An online survey is probably the worst place to debate video games as an art.

Scrumpmonkey:
I think the word art is so nebulous as to be incapable of NOT contaning games.

Exactly.

Basically, in my mind, "art" is ANY creative expression of an idea or thought. It's impossible for games to not be considered art.

EDIT: I just noticed, the picture the OP included is supposedly "one of the greatest pieces of art ever created."

It's a urinal placed on its side. That's it. If you think THAT is art and video games aren't, you can go fuck yourself.

An entirely subjective argument over what is ALREADY, by definition, a subjective description?
That's like two-layers of pointless and stupid.

Scrumpmonkey:
I think the word art is so nebulous as to be incapable of NOT contaning games.

"Nebulous"...what a perfect description of the definition of "art".

I thought that the survey was very good, particularly the short answer sections.

LTK_70:
An online survey is probably the worst place to debate video games as an art.

That's why you don't debate in the survey. You debate here. The survey just wants your thoughts.

Earnest Cavalli:

LTK_70:
An online survey is probably the worst place to debate video games as an art.

That's why you don't debate in the survey. You debate here. The survey just wants your thoughts.

You expect me to discuss things on an online discussion board? What madness is this?

I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

Atmos Duality:
An entirely subjective argument over what is ALREADY, by definition, a subjective description?
That's like two-layers of pointless and stupid.

Scrumpmonkey:
I think the word art is so nebulous as to be incapable of NOT contaning games.

"Nebulous"...what a perfect description of the definition of "art".

I think its the only word that really fits, "Illdefined" is a gross understatement. Instead of trying to define games as are we should be worring about both the defination of art, like you said an entirely subjective concept that has been erroded beyond all recognition and why some people are trying use it as a weapon against games to justify their lack of experince of them.

I think may have gone overboard. I just wrote out a full essay on why Shadow of the Colossus is art.

To quote Penny Arcade: "If a hundred artists create art for five years, how could the result not be art?"

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, I was more than happy to fill out the survey. I also think those deriding this as just another online survey are being a little shortsighted. Yes, there are a few survey style questions, but there are also several short answer style questions plus the possibility that the information seeker will contact you for even more details on your opinions. A simple "Are Games Art? Yes/No" this is not.

As for the question itself, yes games are very clearly art. Certainly not every game is "art" but neither is every movie, painting, book, piece of music, etc. No one says that a movie can't be art simply because The Transformers films exist, and no one says that just because movies can be art The Trsnsformers films should not be allowde to exist.

I'll simply cite a quote I once read on a forum somewhere:
"If dozens of artists put their blood, sweat and tears into something for months or years at a time, how can it not be considered art?"

I was always for the preservation of the term art as what it initially meant. Hence, to me art is literature, art (painting) and music. Whatever combines those roots is an elevated form of art. Hence, cinematography just like games combines all three root forms of art. In many ways a movie allows you to experience art much more intensely than any of the root forms would because it combines them and you experience them all at once. At times this allows for easy creation as one has more means to an end, but sometimes it's very hard to picture abstract ideas, to even imagine them let alone visualize them. Hence, games can thus just like movies be an elevated form of root art forms, taking the initial art form a step further, developing it, but can also mean its downfall...depending on idea and creator.

What games do which no other root form of art or combined form of art can do to such an extent is allow for the creator to express himself exactly the way he would. I hate it when people interpret art they way they want because it could as easily have been cow dung on grass they would have interpreted it the way they want. An artist has a message which his audience either succeeds or fails to understand. Charles Baudelaire even had to publish an explanation of his poem Les Albatros because people insisted on interpreting it anyway they want and never as it should be interpreted. With video games artists can design everything the way they want to, from the look of the characters to the environment and how the plot develops. Certainly, some still allow for imagination when creating characters because they know it's what the majority of people want...not to understand the message but to create the message themselves without having to write or design anything. Whichever way a developer creates his game is entirely up to him, hence artists can flourish: 1) there is no room for imagination as the audience can only receive the message the way the author envisioned it (of course, there's still room for interpretation plotwise but you can't have it all), 2) there's as much room for imagination as the other half of the audience would want (plotwise in Bioware rpgs and sandbox games when it comes to roaming). Both these 2 points are impossible to be achieved without video games. But not only the author can express himself better than ever, the audience can experience the message better than ever. Suddenly the envisioned world is more than just letters on paper or paint on canvas. True, cinematography did this already, but the audience isn't just a simple bystander anymore, the audience not only sees and hears the form of art but also feels it...and even controls it.

I could go on and on, but the essence is there; video games are the to date the most perfect form of combined art. And if anything other than literature, art and music is supposed to be coined as art than it's video games.

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

You meant other then to try and justify spending sixty hours a week playing video games?

Satsuki666:

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

You meant other then to try and justify spending sixty hours a week playing video games?

And why exactly would anyone feel the need to justify this?

Dango:

And why exactly would anyone feel the need to justify this?

Duno mabey because they are sad sacks of shit who are secretly ashamed of their hobby? Either that or they know that they have an unhealthy obsession with something and are trying to justify it so people will stop bothering them about it.

OutrageousEmu:
I think may have gone overboard. I just wrote out a full essay on why Shadow of the Colossus is art.

I'm with you mate. First why Led Zeppelin IV the greatest album ever and then why Half-Life 2 and Portal is the supreme examples of "Showing vs Telling" in games. Back to something useful.

Lordmarkus:

OutrageousEmu:
I think may have gone overboard. I just wrote out a full essay on why Shadow of the Colossus is art.

I'm with you mate. First why Led Zeppelin IV the greatest album ever and then why Half-Life 2 and Portal is the supreme examples of "Showing vs Telling" in games. Back to something useful.

Uh, no, Shadow of the Colossus is still a better example of "show without the need for huge exposition" than Portal and Half Life 2. Because there is virtually no dialogue in Shadow of the Colossus, whereas there is in Half Life 2 and Portal.

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

It's not so much that games HAS to be art as much as there is a potential somewhere. The Time Crisis series was fun in the same way that the movie From Dusk till Dawn was, a bit shit, kind of stupid but great fun, but just because Time Crisis didn't influence anyones perception of the human condition it doesn't mean that all games will forever be unable to do so.

jurnag12:
I'll simply cite a quote I once read on a forum somewhere:
"If dozens of artists put their blood, sweat and tears into something for months or years at a time, how can it not be considered art?"

Because, sad as it may seem, the amount of effort involved in creating a work doesn't necessarily determine a work's quality or importance. Also, the fact that an artist makes a thing doesn't necessarily make that thing art.

That said, games can be art, and there are legitimate arguments that have been made for certain games already being art.

Also, unrelated to the above quote, I find it interesting that people are rejecting readymades while, as a concept, readymades and artworks like them helped to create an environment where non-traditional (and mass produced) media can be used to produce non-traditional art and still have it be considered "art".

EDIT:

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

There are various reasons for different individuals, but the reason it's good for the medium itself to be motivated to create art using that medium is to increase its ability to produce good games, both through increases in practical attempts and increased theory and criticism that pressures developers to improve the games they create and reward them for that improvement as well as establishing (through theory) a foundation to work with to create artwork, rather than some trial-and-error patchwork. In addition, addressing video games as potential art forces developers to take responsibility for the things they create and the messages they communicate, which in turn forces them to actually think about what they're doing, which in turn leads to better games. The Hulk addresses this final issue with a bit more eloquence here: http://badassdigest.com/2011/11/29/film-crit-hulk-smash-hulk-vs-the-bat-shit-evolution-of-the-modern-warfare/

jurnag12:
I'll simply cite a quote I once read on a forum somewhere:
"If dozens of artists put their blood, sweat and tears into something for months or years at a time, how can it not be considered art?"

It's possibly paraphrased from this penny arcade strip:

Haz88:

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

It's not so much that games HAS to be art as much as there is a potential somewhere. The Time Crisis series was fun in the same way that the movie From Dusk till Dawn was, a bit shit, kind of stupid but great fun, but just because Time Crisis didn't influence anyones perception of the human condition it doesn't mean that all games will forever be unable to do so.

And games have to be classified as art in order to do so?

OutrageousEmu:

Lordmarkus:

OutrageousEmu:
I think may have gone overboard. I just wrote out a full essay on why Shadow of the Colossus is art.

I'm with you mate. First why Led Zeppelin IV the greatest album ever and then why Half-Life 2 and Portal is the supreme examples of "Showing vs Telling" in games. Back to something useful.

Uh, no, Shadow of the Colossus is still a better example of "show without the need for huge exposition" than Portal and Half Life 2. Because there is virtually no dialogue in Shadow of the Colossus, whereas there is in Half Life 2 and Portal.

My short answers were rather long... Whoops.

Dango:

Haz88:

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

It's not so much that games HAS to be art as much as there is a potential somewhere. The Time Crisis series was fun in the same way that the movie From Dusk till Dawn was, a bit shit, kind of stupid but great fun, but just because Time Crisis didn't influence anyones perception of the human condition it doesn't mean that all games will forever be unable to do so.

And games have to be classified as art in order to do so?

Let's try again. No it does not have to be classified as art to do so. But if a urinal can be art, then why are games not allowed? Give us something to work with and tell us why you seem to say that games can't be art, instead just shrugging it off.

There are, to my knowledge, at least two things video games already do significantly better than any other form of media and thus can explore the human condition in ways other media really can't.

- Moral choices
No, not the "give the girl candy or set her cat on fire"-moral choice you generally see in a lot of games. Those suck and aren't actual moral choices. I mean the sort of moral choice where you're there's no clear right or wrong answer. Where games shine here is when they put you in a situation where you can decide for yourself whether, say, stealing from the rich to help the poor is right or wrong. If anyone remember the early sidequest in Human Revolution involving the neuropozyne-theft? That's a prime example of this done properly: there's no clear right and wrong in this case, and the game doesn't even judge you for taking a certain choice.
- Horror
This one's been obvious all along, but I'll just call it: no other media will ever do horror as well as games. There's a significant difference between building up the atmosphere in a movie and watching a character open a door, and between building up the atmosphere and opening the door yourself. I mean, freaking Zelda: Ocarina of Time even had sections that were more scary than most horror movies, and I was allowed to play that at the age of 8. Games like Silent Hill or Amnesia? No non-interactive media comes close.

There are possibilities within teaching through interaction that other media can't do as well either (Fate of the World being a great example). It's also great for tangential learning, which Extra Credits covered quite nicely back in the day.

Now, I'm not going to claim Call of Duty (as it is) aims for heavy artistic merit, for the same reason I wouldn't claim Michael Bay tries to explore what can be done with the movies(or even make movies that don't suck). However, saying games can't work as art, or at the very least has the potential as an artform, is just horribly naive. The medium is fairly young, and is being developed as we speak. Take a game like Bastion, which does a great job at trying new and effective storytelling methods. Or look at the original Deus Ex and compare the storytelling methodology in that game to that of Human Revolution. Things are going forward.

I basically paraphrases Moviebob's Game Overthinker position: games are art, whether they are good art or bad art is another question. I fail to understand why paintings of soup cans or piles of scrap metal can get a pass as art while something like Shadow of the Colossus or the characters and scenery in a Final Fantasy game can't even get consideration.

Here's why I think video game should be considered art.

If you consider yourself an artist, then you should know that the beauty of art can be found everywhere. This is why we see moving paintings depicting a beautiful sunset. or great pictures about two pigeons standing close to each other. Or music that talks about the beauty of the seasons and love. Or heart wrenching movies that touch your heart.

But why do people considered all those forms of art exactly that: art? Well, people are usually exposed to all that on a daily basis. Using music as an example, while some people might admire Mozart, some others might admire T Pain. They might find something in their songs, something that speaks to them. And who are we to debate otherwise? The same could be said about paintings and photograph and so on.

Now, the beauty of video games, if you ask me, is that they combine all this. They're like an interactive movie! Think of a good movie and what are the requirements needed to consider it a form of art. What is it, a good plot, equally good music, great actors, and so on? Well, let's see...
Let me take one of my favorite video game franchises to make my point. Look at any FF game. Or more so specifically, let's talk about FFXIII because it's the most recent one (Never mind if people think it's good or bad. If you think this is not the best example, substitute it with the game of your choice. Just ignore stuff like gameplay and such).
The actors? Each character start as a clean slate, but as the game progresses, you start understanding why each characters acts the way they act. You get to know them, you get to care about them and you understand that, much like characters from a real movie, or real life, they have different layers; they're not just your typical stereotypical characters. They feel real, and you can relate to them.
The music? I dare any music lover to go sit at one of those FF concerts and NOT feel anything at all. The music used for these games is beautiful! Orchestra music that moves you as you move through the game. Each FF game has its own theme song, but again, taking FFXIII as an example, they take the same song and change it around so that if you're watching a romance scene, this smooth and serene version of it plays. The song tells the story! The song makes you feel you're there. If another event is taking place, you can get a feel of the situation by listening to the songs. So again, FF concert, listen to that, and then tell me that's not a masterpiece.
The plot? It's just as original and complicated they compelling as any other movie or book. If people can consider Avatar a piece of art, there should be not a doubt in our minds that video games ARE a form of art. If Avatar had been released as a video game and then as a movie, it wouldn't have had the same impact simply because video games don't get the same respect as movies do nowadays. But seriously, Avatar IS in essence a video game, from the characters to the plot to the setting and so on. And going back to the plot, most decent video games take the time to come up with an original plot that will keep you hooked to the game long enough to want to see the resolution. In essence, this is what makes a famous video game successful or not. Look at Assassin's Creed: Renaissance period combined with historical characters. Look at Uncharted: A great plot that could compete with Indiana Jones.

I could continue to ague this but I think I've made my point. Sure, it doesn't mean it applies to ALL video games, just like not all movies could be considered art. Or all books. Or songs! But they definitely should be considered art,if not for all the reasons listed above, only because it has managed to get our generation interested in art once again. Kids want to get into the video game industry and make a difference. They are being exposed to different forms of media and they will bring that knowledge to the video game industry. We're already seeing the influence of it in games such as Assassin's Creed or Red Dead Redemption or Bioshock or Uncharted! Compare video games from the 80's to video games right now and you can see the difference.

Thousands of people work hard to make a video game memorable and unique. If anything, I think it's fair to call video games a form of art out of fairness to these unknown artists who keep on feeding kids' dream everyday. Video games are the most evolved form or art nowadays, combining almost every other art media into a single disc. Music, plot, visuals, you name it. A video game can combine all this. Why shouldn't it be considered art, is the real question?

Scrumpmonkey has adequately defined one of the biggest roadblocks to the "are video games art" debate. Almost no one can agree on a definition of art.

So, rather than try to chase that dog up the Tree of Circular Debate, I just want to pop in and say why Shadow of the Colossus was a work of Art to me. Whenever that debate arises, SotC almost always shows up.

Shadow of the Colossus still stands out in my mind as the video game that most resembles art. The reason for that is, for me, the game's austere atmosphere and blank canvas of the mind. It doesn't tell you too much but instead acts like a mirror allowing the player's own experience to shape their impression of the game. For example, while I got this heroic, sublime feeling from riding around the wind-swept plains, other people I talked to got the impression of a desolate wasteland.

There's also the killing of the colossi themselves. As people have long-remarked. There's a definite degree of sadness in the killing of many of these creatures. You get the impression that they were just minding their own business when you put them down. But the game never explicitly tells you if what you are doing is bad or good. Rather, the players themselves are informed by their own psychological landscape.

While the recent Skyrim approaches the sublime sensations that I get from playing SotC, whenever I'm wandering around Skyrim, I'm always "doing" something. I'm on a way to some goal. I at least have to be careful not to get killed by a wandering animal or monster. Shadow of the Colossus doesn't do that. It lets exploring be its own thing, and lets you ponder the meaning of the journey itself.

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

Like a few other people have already responded, it isn't that they have to be. Most games aren't, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It isn't about saying how some FPS that people only play for fun and have a great time with is something lesser, it's simply about celebrating when a game accomplishes something with real power and meaning, and making sure it gets the recognition and respect it deserves for that achievement.

I want to fill out this survey, but I am just not comfortable with the amount of info they want me to divulge about myself, especially since at the bottom it says it's going to use that info to sign me up to a bunch of services that sound very spam like, and with no immediately apparent way to un-sign up from them (or to opt out even).

Haz88:

Dango:

Haz88:

It's not so much that games HAS to be art as much as there is a potential somewhere. The Time Crisis series was fun in the same way that the movie From Dusk till Dawn was, a bit shit, kind of stupid but great fun, but just because Time Crisis didn't influence anyones perception of the human condition it doesn't mean that all games will forever be unable to do so.

And games have to be classified as art in order to do so?

Let's try again. No it does not have to be classified as art to do so. But if a urinal can be art, then why are games not allowed? Give us something to work with and tell us why you seem to say that games can't be art, instead just shrugging it off.

Mike Richards:

Dango:
I still have no idea why anyone thinks games have to be art.

Like a few other people have already responded, it isn't that they have to be. Most games aren't, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It isn't about saying how some FPS that people only play for fun and have a great time with is something lesser, it's simply about celebrating when a game accomplishes something with real power and meaning, and making sure it gets the recognition and respect it deserves for that achievement.

You might be misunderstanding a bit. I don't necessarily care if a game has "artsy" qualities or not, I just don't get why any game has to be labeled as art, no matter it's message or content. I just think art as a label in is kind of arbitrary and silly and labeling a game as art would be absolutely pointless.

Dango:

You might be misunderstanding a bit. I don't necessarily care if a game has "artsy" qualities or not, I just don't get why any game has to be labeled as art, no matter it's message or content. I just think art as a label in is kind of arbitrary and silly and labeling a game as art would be absolutely pointless.

I would say that defining what is good art versus bad art is too subjective to be meaningful on a large scale(complicated by those games that aren't art at all, good or bad), but I'm not so sure that holds true for defining the nature of art in and of itself. While I may not be able to articulate it simply and clearly right now, I have for myself a very clear understanding of what art is and what it includes, and hopefully I'll find a good way to describe it soon. I have games I think of as art, and it certainly isn't pointless to me. The definition isn't important because it validates or raises anything, it's important because art is important whatever it is.

The problem is that the debate has turned it into a sticker that get's slapped on the packaging, a bullet point for the back of the box. "Contains 56% artistic expression!" If we spent this time debating the merits of individual titles instead of whether or not it was possible for the entire medium, the notion of art would be much less objectified and wouldn't be thought of as a universal have or have-not, or even as a universal benefit. We all know games can mean things to us, of course they can, and that's why this should have been settled a long time ago. All art is just the expression of the things that mean something to us as individuals and as human beings.

Oh, look at that, I guess I found my definition after all. Yay me

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