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Video Games Can Never Be Art

posted by Rather Dashing on - last edited - Viewed by 1.5K users

A lot of websites in the gaming sphere have been discussing Roger Ebert's claim that Video Games Can Never Be Art, generally without reading the post or even really thinking about the point. A lot of gamers strive for games to be given the "Art" label to give the industry a sense of legitimacy, importance, and purpose, and react powerfully and negatively to the assertion that games can be anything else.

I agree with Roger Ebert, for the most part. Now, considering many people may just read the TITLE of his blog post and go into a rant, I'll at least try and get someone to read some of it by quoting a relevant section here:

[quote="Roger Ebert"]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.[/quote]

Note games, especially those often considered "Art". Consider Ebert's role in the film industry. He is a critic. A film critic's job is to take in everything in a scene, understand the message shown, to gauge the value of something with an understanding of its basic mechanical workings. Think of the mechanical workings of a game, stripped down to the barest elements to keep its definition.

Okami is pretty. But at the very base level, Okami is a set of rules and objectives. It has nice graphics, and those might be considered "art". A game with an amazing story is still that: a game with an amazing story. The mechanical workings of the game are still a set of rules and objectives that should be met. If you then go ahead and claim that no it's not, that's covered above. Because those aren't "games" anymore, they're interactive art pieces.

Think of adventure games. Now, many people may argue that these are art pieces. After all, they're heavily story-focused, generally rely heavily on writing, and until recently a lot of them even used hand-painted backdrops. But then you go into what an adventure game IS? It is a series of puzzles that must be solved to win. These are puzzles that are heavily supplemented by writing, graphic design, and other artistic elements, but however thickly these things are draped over the core mechanics, the point remains that the mechanical workings of a game are sets of objectives and rules that should be completed and followed. A game is meant to be won, or possibly lost.

I am arguing that video games as we know them are not art, though various aspects of them can be considered art. You may say that the graphic design of a board game, the picture made by a jigsaw puzzle, or painted game pieces are "art", but would the actual puzzle be art? Would the actual board game be art? No, they're games, supplemented by artistic elements.

There is only one game I know of that even begin to consider "art", and that is Lose/Lose. Is it a GOOD game, is it GOOD art? I don't know. But its very mechanical workings are set to make you reconsider what you value, and whether or not that message happens to be conveyed well or not, the point is that it is a game by definition, and I think it's likely art by definition.

tl;dr version: I hate video games and the entire gaming industry. This isn't art, these "video games" are GARBAGE. Also, I slept with your mother. By the way, she should know that she should get herself checked.

235 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • Video games have various types of art in them, but I'm not convinced yet that the total product can be considered art.

    I have lots of board and card games with nifty illustrations, but I don't consider the games themselves to be art. I play Dungeons and Dragons with hand-painted miniatures, and I tell a good story when I'm DMing, but the experience of playing the game is not something I would consider to be art.

    I think you can find art in video games, but I just don't know if video games are art.

  • You're just a programmer, you're excused. :O)

  • @taumel said: You're just a programmer, you're excused. :O)

    Ah! But I paint miniatures. And I improv characters in Dungeons and Dragons. And I design games. And on, and on...

    Everybody has an artistic side. :)

  • Just in case it wasn't obvious, i was kidding, at least to a large degree. ;O)

  • Just my two cents.

    I can't look at Grim Fandango or the Monkey Island games and not consider them art. They contain art of all kinds - music and visual artwork (pictures/images). They contain a story line and deep characters just like what is seen in films - which are often considered art. They are a mixture of many art forms, just like films are. Just because the events unfold as a result of the completion of a series of tasks undertaken and filled out by a player, why does this cause them to be unworthy of being called art. I guess it just depends on the game, I wouldn't exactly call racing games, mindless first person shooters or Pacman and Space Invaders art because many of them don't really have any deep or meaningful story to them and they aren't exactly beneficial, but games with well-written stories, emotion and relationship shown between the characters as well as excellent scenery and good music - these games can certainly be called art, how could they not be? Grim Fandango and Monkey Island could easily be adapted and transformed into films because they almost are; they share many of the same elements of a film. The only major difference is that one is interactive whilst the other isn't.

  • My first thoughts when reading the title was:

    - Mmh, videogames make the player an active part of something, does it still count as art if the person who's experiencing it has to, pretty much, become part of the art?

    I mean paintings, sculptures, movies and even books are mostly passive. Sure, you need to turn pages in a book, and you're active inside but the point is that you can experience them without hands, let's say. The art has been completed. I that sense, videogames are more like some kind of performing art, if it's an art, where the player ends up being an artist as well as the people who made the game (although I guess to a much lesser degree in most cases).

    I also thought:

    - Aren't videogames too useful to be called art?

    I mean, lots of them teach you skills, be them mental or physical. I thought one of the main points of art was that it wasn't useful. On the other hand, books do the same thing. But I would say a textbook for instance isn't usually art, while a novel might be. Then does that mean some games are art and some aren't?

    Of course the sentences is "games can never be art", in which case they don't need to all be art for the sentence to be wrong. Only some of them.

    I think my conclusion is that those games that tell a story can probably be called art if a book, movie or comic can, but I can see why them being interactive would make people disagree on that (Is it still art if you need to build the sculpture from pre-cut pieces? Is it still art if you need to follow the numbers to paint?) Obviously the player's "help" as an artist is called there to tell the story. Does the unpainted paint-by-number, does the unstarted jigsaw puzzle count as art because they have all the pieces for what they will become? Or do they become art only once they've been completed by someone else?

    The concept of "win" or "lose" I think comes from that. I'd say more it's about "completing". Usually the person experiencing the art doesn't need to complete something actively, only the artist does. When looking at a complicated painting, when reading a book, when watching a movie, you can "finish" taking them in, but they were already whole to begin with.

    Mmh... I guess games are, too. Maybe games are a type of art that's an experiencing art. Like performing art, but from the non-artist point of view, where they're put to contribution.
    In a way, books, movies and comics fit in there, since you also need to experience them in some way along some time. Games make the player be more part of the game than the others, but otherwise it's pretty similar.

    I guess I mostly disagree with the idea that no games can be art. But I don't think ALL games are art, either.

  • @Rather Dashing said: Under this idea, though, Chess is a work of art, as well as:

    -Pong
    -Football
    -Pissing contests
    -Political debates
    -American Idol.

    It really depends, doesn't it? I mean, if the pissing contest is judged by distance or duration, then I agree that it can't be called art. But let's just say that it is judged by how well the contestants can create a picture in the sand with their urine, then I think that could be defined as art.

  • @haydenwce27 said: I can't look at Grim Fandango or the Monkey Island games and not consider them art. They contain art of all kinds

    It's an interesting question, though. Is a museum art? Is something art just because it contains art? Is the box holding a stack of comic books art? Is a DVD menu art? Are a bunch of thumbnails on a webpage art?

    For some reason my brain has drawn the distinction that video games are containers for art. I use a video game to access the art inside of it, moving from piece to piece...

  • About the interaction bit :

    Think of "stage arts" like theater, live music, dancing...
    There IS an interaction there between the perfomer(s) and the audience. each affects the other. It's not visible or palpable but it's definitely there, and it affects the performance.
    So why does this interaction between the piece that a developper offers and the audience who plays it suddenly makes it "not art" ?
    Developpers are striving to reduce the interface aspect of games as much as possible, in order to immerse the player more and hopefully reinforce this feeling of direct interaction, and i think this is one way to emphasize the artistic aspect of games, by making it more, i dunno... integrated to the whole thing, instead of having a succession of "game" then "artsy cutscene"...

  • Well, an 'Art Form' is an activity or a piece of artistic work that can be regarded as a medium of artistic expression. Being 'regarded' is a matter of opinion, so basically, it's something that can be created/performed in an infinite number of ways, based on the vision of the artist, while at the same time has one basic rule to the creator (A movie is something to be watched. You can create a movie any way you want, but as long as it can be watched by an audience, it's a movie, no matter the quality or content).

    So, when it comes right down to it, making video games, or rules, can technically be called an art form. Yes, this means that making rules for a pissing contest is art, just like how a painting made of cow manure can be called an art form.

    This does not mean that every human effort is a form of art, for some activities have only one correct solution. For instance, there's only one way to correctly answer a math problem. If the answer is wrong, then it is not technically a correct way to answer a math problem, while a video game with bugs and errors, as long as it's in any way playable, is still technically a video game.

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