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Video Games Can Never Be Art

posted by Rather Dashing on - last edited - Viewed by 1.2K 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
  • @[TTG said: Yare;293057']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...

    Then why is a film not considered a 'container for art'?

  • I think some of you guys are confusing "art" with "work". Art is defined as skilled workmanship, or a craft or trade using principles or methods. It has other meanings than this but lets discuss these meanings. An artist is someone who is the workman who creates the work. You're confusing the work with the art. The process of game design itself can be an art, in fact its an art which can be practiced by one or more artists. The game itself ,however, is the work, not the art.

    The definition of art that Roger Ebert was referring to were the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. Except in the case of specific "art games" like Cloud or that PS3 game with the flowers, this definition generally does not apply to video games at all, nor to people making them. However the first definition does. In fact the first definition applies to anyone who does a job, such as a programmer, trash collector, carpenter, policeman, detective, architect, etc.

  • I think everybody in this topic is using a different definition of "art".

  • My statements may come from ignorance and presumption but I don't wish to be drawn into a semantic debate over the terms I use. Showing me the definition of words is of no interest to me. I know what they mean, I have read the dictionary.

    I personally understand why game makers want games to be considered art, it stems from the whole freedom of expression idea and would lend government protection rather than limitation of what they can create. It might not allow for every type of game to be commercially sold as some games are not publicly acceptable but it would certainly be very useful in the never ending battle against government censorship.

    Game elements can certainly be considered art. Animations, models, or even background images are all forms of art. Music within games manages to have an even more personal meaning for gamers because we experience it in a different way than most music is delivered and some of my favorite music comes from video games. These are two examples of how something created for a game can be considered art.

    However, as much as we'd like to call programming an art it is not. Programming is a science with predictable outcomes and repeatable results, even if sometimes games don't perform as expected and have bugs or exploits. Programming is a science with rules and terms that must be understood into order to make a functional program. If you ignore these rules the program doesn't work.

    This is the reason why games themselves cannot be art. They follow a looser but similar principal. All games follow rules and an underlying rule governs all games. All games must have input from the player, objectives or events triggered by the player's actions, and rules to govern the player's actions. If a player plays by the rules they are rewarded in some way in order to create an impetus to continue playing.

    These ideas are fundamental precepts of games and if you remove these from the equation of video games they cease to be games. Meanwhile music, images, and writing are art because they need not follow any rules. Jarring and harsh sounds can create Skronking Music, disturbing images of violence or gore are likewise given the moniker art even if they are painful to look at, and nonsense poems or combinations of words exist as artistic expression.

    If a game ignores the rules that the player must have some level of interactivity and do not have a reward/punishment system of some kind the game isn't really a game. How can you play something with no goals? Even if the goal is as simple as see the next piece of the story, it still is a goal. The story may be compelling and artistic, but that's another game element not the game itself.

    Creating games is more akin to a science than one of art, even if many elements of game design are considered art. Game mechanics are a soft science, similar to sociology. Their results are not always predictable but are always measurable.

    -------------------------------

    Games are a legitimate form of expression because they do have many of their base elements as art. Stories are art, music is art, and game artists are some of the most creative people I know but mechanics are not an art. They are a system which can be tested, examined, and improved.

    So Ebert is right, even if his ability to express himself is terrible(this published writer has a huge grammar error in his own diatribe). Games are not an art and shouldn't pretend to be such, because they are much more than that. They are the fusion of several different kinds of art and two types of science. Computer science and a strange use of human psychology.

    I'm certainly open to debating my supposition on this because I may not be 100% correct, but please consider this as a possibility before rebuttal.

  • Regarding the interactivity aspect: There are lot's of museums around which contain interactive installations in various fields and which are considered as beeing art since many years.

    For the museum idea: There do exist museums which are art on their own due to their architecture for instance but beside of this this comparison doesn't make a lot of sense because the game itself isn't just a container like a zip file, it's more the creative glue which puts it all together in a certain way. And all of this together makes the game.

  • @taumel said: I don't understand why the interactivity in a game and so all the resulting more in complexity, prevents it from beeing art in your opinion. According to your interpretation a cutscene in a game would be art (=movie) whilst the playable part can't be anymore.


    Interactivity by itself does not make something not art. Rather, it's the game part that makes something not art.

    How is a set of objectives art?
    How are sets of rules art?

    @taumel said: This doesn't make the slightest sense to me and i continue suggesting... :O)


    The "You have no idea what this word means" argument here has about as much weight as "You're dumb", and I think the latter would be a lot more cathartic for you. You can keep adding "You have no idea what art means" at the bottom of your posts for the rest of time, but I would think that any person who really knows what art means and why I am wrong would be able to coherently explain what the difference is.

    @taumel said: Yare;293048']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.


    I find this post to be very enlightening, actually. As a programmer, after all, you are one of the guys that deals with the game at its most basic level. Honestly, I can only begin to attempt to understand what you do.

    @taumel said: 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.


    The word used here is "contain". These elements are art, but is the game art? This is like discussing whether or not a picture frame is art, when the question was is the paining inside it art?

    (don't start arguing about picture frames possibly being art. Whether they are or not does not matter. The point is, you're talking about the wrong thing altogether)

    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[?]


    Ah, that's easy!

    See, video games aren't stories that advance with player interaction. You're tacking the wrong thing on as an unnecessary element. The definition of a GAME is essentially "A player or set of players working toward a given objective/set of objectives, within a certain set of rules, sometimes competitively, for amusement or competition". Monkey Island is a series of puzzles. That is what makes it a game. The story, the music, the graphics, these are elements on TOP of the game.

    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


    What do you mean "beneficial"? Why is the graphic design of Monkey Island count as artistic, but not Pac-Man? Why is Pac-Man's music not art, but Monkey Island's is? What about Ms. Pac-Man's narrative? It is limited, of course, but there is one.

    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.


    Again, it cannot be defined as a game if it does not have objectives and a set of rules under which those objectives are intended to be met. And so, those rules and objectives are the core value of a "game". That is what a GAME is. And you can dress it up, you can dress it up a lot with artistic elements, but that's just it: THAT is where the art is, outside of the "game".

    @taumel said: I think some of you guys are confusing "art" with "work". Art is defined as skilled workmanship, or a craft or trade using principles or methods. It has other meanings than this but lets discuss these meanings. An artist is someone who is the workman who creates the work. You're confusing the work with the art. The process of game design itself can be an art, in fact its an art which can be practiced by one or more artists. The game itself ,however, is the work, not the art.


    Who is using this definition? Anywhere? Specifically, colloquially. I'd like to know. I believe we all understand that we are talking about:

    The definition of art that Roger Ebert was referring to were the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. Except in the case of specific "art games" like Cloud or that PS3 game with the flowers, this definition generally does not apply to video games at all, nor to people making them. However the first definition does. In fact the first definition applies to anyone who does a job, such as a programmer, trash collector, carpenter, policeman, detective, architect, etc.


    It has been awhile since I messed with "Cloud", so I may be wrong with this, but I'm pretty sure it's not a game by Ebert's own definition. A game has objectives, Cloud does not. Cloud is an interactive art piece, which is entirely different from a game.

    Flower is not art. Flower tasks the player with obtaining pedals to advance. The process of collecting things is not art, and the need to collect a certain number, the competition to obtain them? This is not art. It is a collect the dots game with many artistic elements contained within.

    @taumel said: Then why is a film not considered a 'container for art'?


    Why would it be? What about the very core definition of "film" is not artistic in any way? As opposed to video games, whose core definition is by no means artistic(unless you happen to have a definition of art that allows all sports to be considered an art form).

  • @Shwoo said: I think everybody in this topic is using a different definition of "art".

    I think everybody in the world is using a different definition of "art".

  • @avistew said: I think everybody in the world is using a different definition of "art".


    That's okay. All you need to know is "Can your definition of art contain 'football'(either one)? If not, then video games are not art, but something that art is added to." It's like saying that marble is art, rather than the sculpture, that building materials and techniques are art, rather than the creative visual design elements of architecture, or that the paper onto which a book is printed is art.

  • @Roivas said: My statements may come from ignorance and presumption but I don't wish to be drawn into a semantic debate over the terms I use. Showing me the definition of words is of no interest to me. I know what they mean, I have read the dictionary.


    Apparently not.

    I personally understand why game makers want games to be considered art, it stems from the whole freedom of expression idea and would lend government protection rather than limitation of what they can create. It might not allow for every type of game to be commercially sold as some games are not publicly acceptable but it would certainly be very useful in the never ending battle against government censorship.


    No, they want it to be considered art because it is art.

    Game elements can certainly be considered art. Animations, models, or even background images are all forms of art. Music within games manages to have an even more personal meaning for gamers because we experience it in a different way than most music is delivered and some of my favorite music comes from video games. These are two examples of how something created for a game can be considered art.


    True, many forms of art are put together in a game. This is true. It looks like you're on the right track after all...

    However, as much as we'd like to call programming an art it is not.


    ...Oh.

    Programming is a science with predictable outcomes and repeatable results, even if sometimes games don't perform as expected and have bugs or exploits. Programming is a science with rules and terms that must be understood into order to make a functional program. If you ignore these rules the program doesn't work.

    I'll repeat myself here again though. Try to pay attention instead of "I know what it means so shut up with yer definitions duuur hurr". Because you don't. Art is defined as skilled workmanship, or a craft or trade using principles or methods. An artist is someone who is the workman who creates the work. The process of programming itself can be an art. The program itself, however, is the work, not the art.

    This is the reason why games themselves cannot be art. They follow a looser but similar principal. All games follow rules and an underlying rule governs all games. All games must have input from the player, objectives or events triggered by the player's actions, and rules to govern the player's actions. If a player plays by the rules they are rewarded in some way in order to create an impetus to continue playing.[/quote]
    You're right, the game itself is not the art. The game design and creation is.

    Creating games is more akin to a science than one of art, even if many elements of game design are considered art. Game mechanics are a soft science, similar to sociology. Their results are not always predictable but are always measurable.

    The results of a piece of art like a painting are not predictable either, but are always measurable. The artist doesn't know a piece of art will be good or popular or considered great until after he's finished it and let things take their course. No one can predict how a piece of art will turn out.

    Games are a legitimate form of expression because they do have many of their base elements as art. Stories are art, music is art, and game artists are some of the most creative people I know but mechanics are not an art. They are a system which can be tested, examined, and improved.

    So Ebert is right, even if his ability to express himself is terrible(this published writer has a huge grammar error in his own diatribe). Games are not an art and shouldn't pretend to be such, because they are much more than that. They are the fusion of several different kinds of art and two types of science. Computer science and a strange use of human psychology.


    Painting itself can be considered a system as well. It requires many components such as lighting, composition, color, anatomy, etc. to make it work. Without one of these, the piece won't function. As far as I know computer science and psychology are crafts and trades using principles and methods.

    I'm certainly open to debating my supposition on this because I may not be 100% correct, but please consider this as a possibility before rebuttal.

    I did. It doesn't work for me so I disagree.

    @Roivas said: That's okay. All you need to know is "Can your definition of art contain 'football'(either one)? If not, then video games are not art, but something that art is added to." It's like saying that marble is art, rather than the sculpture, that building materials and techniques are art, rather than the creative visual design elements of architecture, or that the paper onto which a book is printed is art.

    Marble is a natural rock. It has nothing to do with this discussion. Building materials had to be mined or made, therefore they are works made by artists of their craft. Techniques are part of the art. Paper had to be made, by skilled craftsmen as well.

  • @Rather Dashing said: That's okay. All you need to know is "Can your definition of art contain 'football'(either one)? If not, then video games are not art, but something that art is added to."

    ... What about a painting? It's not art! It's something (a blank canvas) that art is added to.
    It's a bit silly, I mean, art is always expressed through a medium and has a container most of the time.

    But I think art is about feelings and as such, debates about it are unlikely to get anywhere.

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