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Video Games Can Never Be Art

posted by Rather Dashing on - last edited - Viewed by 1.7K 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.

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  • You said a game with a good story is just that; a game with a good story, then what does that make a film with a good story? Films are also heavily supplemented with elements such as art design, writing and sound, and yet they, as a whole, can still be considered art.

    Yes, a game is meant to be won, or possibly lost, but we don't enjoy a video game because we can win or lose, it's how we are supposed to win or lose that matters and makes each video-game different. Like how 'taste' is an aspect only found in the culinary arts, maybe 'rules' is an aspect only found in the art of video games.

    @Rather Dashing said: If I build a gun, is it art? Why is it, or why is it not? Is a jigsaw puzzle art? Is Chess art? Why is it, or why is it not? What of mass-produced consumer gadgets? Is my cellphone art? Why or why not?

    Well, mass-produced consumer gadgets are not art because their primary function is to make life more convenient. Both Chess and Jigsaw puzzles, like video games, have rules, yes, but their primary function is to invoke emotions in the human mind, which is the basic purpose of art.

    I don't know about guns.

  • So you're saying the mechanical workings and structure of a game prevent it from being art? Consider this then: is architecture a form of art? Is an amazingly designed bridge or cathedral excluded from being art on the grounds that it is also functional? That's... narrow.
    You say games have a purpose and structure to them beyond just being experienced. I say: so what? I don't see how the added structure and options can take away from the artisticness. Playing through a game is a different kind of experience from the usual art forms, but I don't see how it's necessarily a less artistic one.

  • @Rather Dashing said: My point is that the game itself is not art, but a mechanical thing that operates on rules and objectives. Unless you call every exertion of human effort to create a thing "art", you simply cannot call a game "art". If I build a gun, is it art? Why is it, or why is it not? Is a jigsaw puzzle art? Is Chess art? Why is it, or why is it not? What of mass-produced consumer gadgets? Is my cellphone art? Why or why not?

    Again i suggest that you lookup what the term art means and think about it.

    As i already wrote art exists in various forms, it can be a movie, a poem as well as a chair or a game. A computer game contains of so many ingredients where each category alone counts as beeing art by the majority, like the graphics, the music or the models. In adventures you have the texts, you also have a camera to move and show the appropriate angles, the story and so on. If something is coded in a fantastic way this is art as well. And in addition to all those pieces a computer game is more than just the sum of it's components. It's about how all of these pieces work together and what they can achieve. I say this can be a rather complex piece of art and a beast as well.

    I would consider chess as art because it has clear, simple but brilliant gaming rules. A mass product like the iPhone is art from it's design. These things are art due to certain rules and measurements in their disciplines and such rules also exist for paintings or movies. You can master something according to such rules or you can break them in a convincing way, art.

  • I did read most of his post, and I would have to say that "never" is a not just a very long time, but also an all-inclusive adverb, meaning nothing at all ever anywhere.

    The first thing that comes to my mind is: define art.

    Ebert says in his post that [quote]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]

    What he's saying here is that stories are also not an art form. Sure, if one's definition of art were inclusive only to those physical objects which are themselves tangible, then I suppose Ebert is right. The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines art as "the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced." This definition says "especially," not "specifically."

    Therefore, I disagree with Ebert. I would say I define art as something which is created with the intention of evoking or imparting an emotion, thought, or imagination. The medium used to convey such is irrelevant (which makes the point about having rules and objectives moot.) This then would expand art to include such things that are used together to form a narrative. A story can be told in such a way to be equally as thought-provoking as a painting or scuplture, even as such to have different meaning for different people. Suffice it to say, I think that to say stories themselves can not be viewed as an art form is folly and untrue.


    By my reckoning if stories can be considered an art form, so then can video games (which are at the very least also used as a medium in telling a story or narrative) also be considered art.

  • @taumel said: I would consider chess as art because it has clear, simple but brilliant gaming rules. A mass product like the iPhone is art from it's design. These things are art due to certain rules and measurements in their disciplines and such rules also exist for paintings or movies. You can master something according to such rules or you can break them in a convincing way, art.

    You know what? you're right. I take back what I said in the previous post about mass products not being art.

  • @Chyron8472 said:
    Therefore, I disagree with Ebert. I would say I define art as something which is created with the intention of evoking or imparting an emotion, thought, or imagination. The medium used to convey such is irrelevant (which makes the point about having rules and objectives moot.) This then would expand art to include such things that are used together to form a narrative. A story can be told in such a way to be equally as thought-provoking as a painting or scuplture, even as such to have different meaning for different people. Suffice it to say, I think that to say stories themselves can not be viewed as an art form is folly and untrue.

    This makes me think.
    Can anything that is created with the intention of evoking or imparting a thought be considered art?
    Take the Bible. Compare it to Sim City.
    These are both created with the intention of evoking thought(s), moreso than actual feelings.
    I'm not saying they're not art, I'm just saying... they're more... logically inclined (in the case of the Bible; more religiously inclined) than something that contains stuff designed to form a narrative (the Bible forms a narrative, but it is documental in nature rather than... fantastical)

  • @tredlow said: You said a game with a good story is just that; a game with a good story, then what does that make a film with a good story? Films are also heavily supplemented with elements such as art design, writing and sound, and yet they, as a whole, can still be considered art.


    I think you missed the point here: There is nothing about a film's core element that is not art, there is not a thing at the "center" of a film, anything that defines what a film actually is that isn't art, something that the artistic aspect is wrapped around. A shot film is, densely and at its very core, art.

    A group of people making a game is making a competition for the player. Can a competition be called art? For example, a dance competition is not art. The dancing itself is art, so the competition contains art, it is heavily associated with an art, but the raw value of rating a performance and comparing it to others is not an art itself.

    Yes, a game is meant to be won, or possibly lost, but we don't enjoy a video game because we can win or lose, it's how we are supposed to win or lose that matters and makes each video-game different. Like how 'taste' is an aspect only found in the culinary arts, maybe 'rules' is an aspect only found in the art of video games.


    Under this idea, though, Chess is a work of art, as well as:

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

    Both Chess and Jigsaw puzzles, like video games, have rules, yes, but their primary function is to invoke emotions in the human mind, which is the basic purpose of art.


    I disagree with this. The primary purpose of Chess is to provide a competition of wits between two players. The primary purpose of a jigsaw puzzle is to provide a competition for the puzzle-solver with the puzzle itself.

    @tredlow said: I did read most of his post


    Admirable! At least you're not going into this discussion completely uninformed with the arguments we're working with here.

    and I would have to say that "never" is a not just a very long time, but also an all-inclusive adverb, meaning nothing at all ever anywhere.


    He all but said so. You could probably do better to read slightly closer. =P

    What he's saying here is that stories are also not an art form.


    Wait, where? You're misinterpreting something here, because I can't possibly find where you got this interpretation. I'm going to ignore the rest of the post that deals with this assumption until I understand where you're getting this idea, so there's no basis for conversation. I'll skip to the next mostly unrelated point.

    (which makes the point about having rules and objectives moot.)[/B]


    A competition is not a medium, though. If you had people play a sport in a beautifully crafted arena, created a narrative around the game, and included a booming soundtrack...would that make the competition itself art? Or would the story, the soundtrack, and the arena itself all be artistic elements converging on top of a game?

    (which are at the very least also used as a medium in telling a story or narrative)


    How?

    @tredlow said: Again i suggest that you lookup what the term art means and think about it.


    Done and done, well before deciding to start a thread.

    I would consider chess as art because it has clear, simple but brilliant gaming rules. A mass product like the iPhone is art from it's design. These things are art due to certain rules and measurements in their disciplines and such rules also exist for paintings or movies. You can master something according to such rules or you can break them in a convincing way, art.


    If you can consider a competition to be an art by the definition you follow, then sure, games are art. But then so is any competition with excellently executed rules, except "excellently executed" is never in any art definition(judgement of quality should not factor into the definition of what "art" is), so a contest to see who can piss farther is art. If that's OK by you, then alright, call games art.

  • @Rather Dashing
    I guess a pissing contest can range from beeing completely dumb to beeing art. It depends on so many aspects and how you stage it.

    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 could be art (=movie) whilst the playable part can't be anymore.

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

  • Ahhh the old "What is art?!" discussion

    I happen to be in art school and we had this discussion many times in art history class. Anyway, what it always came down to is that when someone creates something, and says it's art, it's art. Art doesn't mean that everyone has to think it's beautiful, like Taumel said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    So if I crap on the sidewalk, stick a flag in it and call it art, it´s art. Doesn´t mean you have to like it.

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