But the point still remains, when do video games become art and with a World filled with chopped up cows and hanging light bulbs – are video games already art?
First of all what is art defined as, the common definition is as follows:
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination is quite encompassing, by this logic a bridge, a signature and even medical surgery could all be classed as art.
However an important point that I feel should receive further highlighting is that in definition art needs to be appreciated primarily for its beauty or emotional power (who’d thought that Amanda Righetti could technically be classed as art). This is where the line becomes hazy, often games look beautiful but few games are able to emotionally affect you.
Art is the appreciation of human creativity in a way that interests others. With modern art this can often include making overly detailed creations, pieces that make you stop and think about its meaning often which question society or humanity and forms that are abstractly expressive.
Often because of their nature, video games are classed as nothing more than just that, games. Within the last decade we have seen a shift in perspective, where games are often accepted as entertainment in much the same way a book or film is. Games made now often have budgets, staff even screenplay almost directly comparably to big budget films but yet are not treated as so.
Games are more often than not designed and constructed to form pieces of rounded entertainment with the objective to keep the player engaged and in some cases addicted to its realm.
Often accomplished by targets, objectives and levels to reach, games take advantage of the common human trait of competitiveness, something that is cast into our genome. Therefore it is difficult to class any such game as art when its main aim is to entertain us and not to display creative skill.
This doesn’t mean that games aren’t beautiful in their own right, it simply means that art is not their purpose.
Along the same lines games will often use emotion to create a bond with the player and characters within a game. This normally isn’t done to extend beyond the screen but instead engage and engulf the player into the World of the game and connect with its characters, again this is an extension to game-play to ensure the game leaves a lasting mark and that players feel they must complete the story as they feel a connection to their digital persona.
When emotion is key
Shadow of Colossus is often heralded as a game closely resembling art. Despite still encasing similar mechanics the reason it is chosen it because of the emotion involved.
The core of the game is to create a strong tie to your character. There are no towns, or enemies (other than Colossi) no other characters or dungeons to roam or chat to. It follows a story of a young man trying to restore life to a beautiful girl.
The game has a distinctive art style, puzzle like challenges and emotional sound track.
Players will often tell you the game moved them in some way, referring to the emotional rollercoaster supplied; a direct outcome of the creativity the developers crafted to convey such as message.
To the Moon is another exceptional example of how the video game medium extends just entertainment. In To the Moon you travel through the memories as a doctor of a dying man to try and furfil his last wish. Not only is the game beautiful constructed it is moving and a story that is worth hearing, if written down in some form it would surely heralded as art.
My Final example is a title called The Unfinished Swan, resembling a traditional game players explore the unknown and literally paint their path onward. The game is a surreal adventure of a boy chasing a swan who has wandered. Only through the throwing of paint are the surroundings and the environment revealed.
When speaking to art lovers they will often tell you that a book was able to show things about themselves from flaws to positives. People that watch artistic films will convey how the medium dragged them into the feelings of the director and thoughts and desires they never knew they had.
From this respect games seem very similar, often what artists forget is that game players of today treat a control pad as an extension to themselves often completely ignoring the connection is there. When this is the case, could games actually be a transcendent of art?
A film is something you watch, a book you read and painting you admire. A game can be all of these things but also involve the viewer in a way traditional art cannot; it can react to the user and the user can react to the game.
Consider that a film is a story to be told, the viewer becomes engaged with the film investing in its plot and believing the emotions and feelings displayed in front of them. Now consider that like any good pieces of art that a film is open to interpretation, giving different messages to different people at different levels.
A game can perform all of this but moreover the user can interact in a way that emotion can be heighten as your decisions affect the outcome and your actions change the story. A game places the player into the movie screen where the story is told around you, where as a movie is told in front of you.
With the recent reinvention of Demoscenes from yesteryear, items such as Linger in Shadows are quite possibly the closest to art in its traditional sense a video game can be.
Linger in Shadows is barely a game, it could be better described as an interactive art piece, and just like any important piece of art, it polarised its audience dramatically. But according to definition does it tick all the boxes?
- Expression and application of human creative skill and imagination
- Primarily appreciated for its beauty or emotion
Well, it’s certainly expressive. Telling an interpreted story of the dangers that lurk within us all and how time is often wasted with procrastination. But the very fact that every one who has experienced the ‘game’ has a different view on its meaning further extends its case of being art, abstract and modern.
It also shows the application of human creative skill, thanks to the beautifully drawn and rendered objects and scenes in the game. Imagination is also not lacking here using fuzzy and direct symbolism to push your mind from rational to existential.
Finally is it widely appreciated for its beauty or emotion, well no. The only reason it is not, is because we are asking ourselves if it is art. Our own question is our own answer, video games will never be art if we keep wondering if they are. This is where the problem lies, our own insecurities about what is classed as art is the very thing that is preventing us from expanding this area.
A personal view
From a personal view I sincerely believe that video games are often overlooked and under-rated as an art form. When I think of games like Flower and Heavy Rain I remember how the emotion fuelled the game or the beauty and creativity made the game more a spectacle than a challenge.
With games such as “journey”, I feel as the generations become older, we will see more types of art emerge with emphasis on digital creation and maybe only then will the hidden gems of today be realised.