Video Games – Art Perfected?

Aug 15, 2013

The argument of whether or not video games are art has been around for quite some time now.  People are quick to accept that drawings and paintings are art.  They are quick to accept that music is an art form.  Movies with actors, actresses, and shot framing are also accepted as a form of art.  Hell, even concrete male genitals in public parks are considered art.  Why is it, therefore, so very difficult to understand that video games are a form of art?

Art.  Beautiful art.

Art. Beautiful art.

The first time that I started playing Dragon’s Crown on my PlayStation Vita, I was stunned by the amazing and lovingly created, hand-drawn characters set in a similarly crafted game world.  The music is stirring enough and, better yet, I get to control the action as I enjoy the art and sound.  How, then, is Dragon’s Crown not considered art?  When you go to an art museum you stare at a picture and soak-in the details and try to interpret what the artist envisioned.  The most interactive part of a museum is a guided tour.  Is Dragon’s Crown not a “guided tour” of sorts through its many beautiful and varied levels?  And if someone were to concede that it is, in fact, an art form, then why not also concede that video games are the ultimate form of art?


The Last of Us features many beautifully imagined settings.

The Last of Us features many beautifully imagined settings.

The Last of Us is, quite possibly, the most emotional roller-coaster of a game ever devised and executed.  The voice acting is peerless, the music is subtle yet moving, the writing (literature is also considered art…) is phenomenal.  And, similar to Dragon’s Crown, The Last of Us allows you to control and interact with the beauty that it lays out before you.  Or the brutality and horror.  Either way, the viewer is not only gifted with visual and aural treats but also with the intellectual aspects that video games offer the player in the form of gameplay.  In my review I said that The Last of Us has a better story, a better setting, and better characters than anything that’s come out of Hollywood in the last decade.  If this were fact rather than opinion (albeit a fairly universal opinion, lending itself to being fact by popularity) then why would, say, Elysium be any more “art” than The Last of Us?

Combining several art forms seamlessly into one interactive experience, video games are the ultimate form of art.  Numerous video game titles continue to offer overwhelming arguments in support of this statement.  Time and time again, generation after generation, video games make a strong case for being art perfected.

A week ago, I sat down and wrote this.  After much reflection on the piece, I can only identify one problem with it: video games are not art.

After submitting this piece to be published on the Geeks With Wives site, it was suggested that I should add a few arguments from opponents of the idea that video games are art.  I immediately set out to do so.

I found a post by the late Roger Ebert on his website attempting to explain why he didn’t believe that video games could ever be art.  When I read his “argument” (which was peppered with subjective “truths” and an obvious ignorance to video games) I was fuming.  Ebert admitted to never having experienced a video game, yet he believed himself a quality candidate to pass judgment on the entire medium.  The way in which he did it, with all of the pretentiousness and disrespect one would expect of a film critic, especially made his case hard to side with.  His last three paragraphs especially got to me.

Here’s the problem with Ebert’s argument: he’s a dick.  He also uses invalid arguments to support his claims.  His entire argument, by the way, is structured around a talk given at USC by Kellee Santiago, co-founder and former president of Thatgamecompany.  In her talk, Santiago compared early silent films to video games (her point was that video games as an art form are evolving, much like other art forms already have).  One example of an early film given was George Melies’ “A Voyage to the Moon” (1902).  Ebert claims that Melies’ film was “vastly more advanced than her [examples].  He has limited technical resources, but superior artistry and imagination.”  What the hell is he trying to say?  When we look back at our childhood consoles, could we not say the same of the programmers who crafted games for the Atari 2600 or the NES?  His argument is bunk because the past always appears primitive in the future.  As we stand on the brink of the next generation of video game consoles, we can’t help but banter about how powerful and awesome they are going to be.  What were you discussing in 2005?

Here's a hint...

Here’s a hint…

Well, according to Wikipedia, in a 2006 interview with US Official Playstation Magazine, Hideo Kojima (does he need an introduction?) announced that he was siding with Ebert.  Kojima acknowledged that games may contain artwork but stated that the ultimate goal of all video games is to achieve 100% player satisfaction, whereas art only targets at least one person.  After giving some thought to this argument, I realized that I had stumbled upon another conclusion derivative of a poor argument.

Sure, the goal of game developers is to create an enjoyable experience for as many people as possible, but I think that they all know that 100% is simply unrealistic.  Comparatively, would an artist be happy if no living person “enjoyed” the fruits of their labor?  I believe that artists think the same way as game developers.  At the end of the day, dying a poor artist (or video game developer) is nobody’s goal.  So I would argue that both professions simply seek to please the highest number of consumers.

Kojima’s argument was easily bested from the position that video games are an art form.  I needed one more example.  So I Googled.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule...

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule…

I shortly came across an editorial written in the last days of 2010 which looked interesting.  The title was “Video Games Are Not Art, They Are… Cars.”  The piece was posted on Jalopnik and was written by Luke Plunkett, who now writes for Kotaku.  Plunkett’s argument is that video games, unlike film, paintings, or music, are interactive.  The other more commonly accepted forms of art are passive.  He goes on to say that, while video games contain art, they are more than art as a whole: they are mechanical.  Just as a cars are “a marriage (or conflict!) of art and function” so too are video games.  “There are engineers and scientists whose job it is to make sure that the car works, and runs efficiently, and there are artists and designers whose job it is to make sure that the car looks good.”

Video games are mechanical.  What a statement!  Essentially, I was saying the same thing in my original piece to prove that video games are art!  Plunkett used my own arguments (to some degree and two years prior to my writing them…) to prove that my position was incorrect.  Now that’s a quality argument!

Allow me to rephrase: video games are not art, they are of art.  Video games contain art, in many forms, but their interactivity make them something more.  Perhaps they are art evolved?  They most certainly are not, however, art perfected.