Yes, Video Games are Art
29 Aug, 2008 - Matt Cox
Video games are a legitimate art form.
I find it difficult on a regular basis to not only describe what I do, but furthermore explain that what I’m doing as a career has any artistic merit at all. Most people only know the sensational, overblown political side to my industry, because even popular news media fail to really grasp the core nature of this art. Believe it or not, what I do has profound potential to impact those engaged in my creations.
I design video games.
I design what the character can do. I design where the character can go. I design the parameters in which the player can interact with an environment, whether they emulate the details of the world we see around us or whether they’re as simple as basic shapes and colors.
But the difference is that in this art it’s not just about how pretty it looks. It’s not just about how well-written a story can be. It’s not just about how beautifully the sounds and music grace the ears. It’s about all of those chosen elements from all the other mediums being woven together in an original creation with the added expectation that a user can interact with it, changing the outcome.
You can’t do that in any other art form other than video games.
Even many of my colleagues struggle with how to define the “art” in video games. It is not sufficient for me to say a game has artistic merit simply because the backgrounds or characters are beautifully illustrated, textured or modeled. Video games are not paintings alone. Video games are not sculpture alone. It is not sufficient for me to say a game has artistic merit simply because the soundtrack’s melodies are awe-inspiring. Video games are not sound alone.
Not to beat this point into the ground, but the art of a video game lies in its profound ability to create an interactive experience that engages a human in a very direct way, both objectively and subjectively.
Enjoying this art in its purest form requires a constant, active response.
This is not to say there is no enjoyment to be had by passively watching someone play a video game. But you would never think to say you play violin in your local orchestra because you listened to one of their recordings.
Video games have an unfair reputation.
Most find the simple phrase “video games” repulsive because of a generalized stigma. The arguments usually revolve around violence and the degenerate content found in games like Grand Theft Auto IV, a controversial title developed by Rockstar Games. Those unfamiliar with gaming usually condemn the medium itself for even providing a platform for games like GTA IV to exist rather than taking issue with the game alone.
When was the last time you condemned the medium of film because you saw a terrible movie?
When was the last time you cursed the presence of poetry because of some garbage you read in college?
When was the last time you uttered “all music is worthless” because some singing stranger on the bus butchered a favorite song of yours?
You haven’t. Of course you haven’t. That would be absurd. So if you find certain aspects of certain game titles repulsive, do not let that invalidate the medium for you. That would be a shame.
For hundreds of years poetry, theater, fine art and music have been avenues through which beauty is expressed and created. Passion is felt through them. Lives are touched through them. Those avenues have matured for centuries and persevere, providing a stable canvas for a wide array of expression. Film is one of the youngest art forms, but even it has proven to be a timeless addition to the way culture expresses itself.
Interactive entertainment is relatively new. The evolution of the video game industry can only be tracked back a few decades. So I suppose it’s not surprising that my realm of work doesn’t get taken as seriously as other art forms that have existed for centuries.
If the arts had a family reunion I guess video games would be the bratty teenage cousins. While young and still waiting to find their true place in the world, you can’t dismiss the fact they’re part of the family and one day, you may even talk to one of them and find beauty within.
I can wholeheartedly tell you that even though the video games industry is still evolving, there have been fruits of beauty, passion and importance that have sprouted from all genres of games, from educational to action/adventure. Just like in any other artistic avenue, you have to search for those works that are truly great.
That is my goal for you: to find beauty in an avenue you least expected to.
I hope to facilitate that goal in the coming months, as I examine great video games.