Saturday, February 07, 2015

Are Video Games Art? Part 1: Introduction

There has long been tremendous debate about the artistic merit of video games. Video games are indisputably composed of many individual art forms - visuals, music, storytelling - but does the “game” aspect of the piece automatically disqualify a work from being considered art? Or do video games represent the advent of an expanding dimension of creative content?

Roger Ebert infamously made a foray in to the controversy and was burned by a tidal wave of push back. The greatest film critic of all time had to recant his assertions against video games and stand down after his essay “Video games can never be art” was confronted with an endless sea of protests from enraged gamers and discerning mediaphiles. Ebert’s follow-up “Okay, kids, play on my lawn” didn’t redefine his notion of games or art but conceded that it was enough of a gray area for him to back out of the arena. (Both articles come highly recommended to anybody interested enough to get this far in to this writing).

Much of the debate around video games as art centers around the endless struggle to define art. Art can be different things to different people and often opinions are not only passionate but contradictory. There continues to be arguments over whether abstraction is the most pure and evolved style of visual art or if it is even art at all. Films, television, comics, and even novels have faced charges of being somehow beneath the designation of art.

Ebert himself cited the dictionary definition of Art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”. Video games are certainly an “expression or application of human creative skill and imagination”. However, Ebert notes that by this definition games could be counted out on a technicality - that they are appreciated for reasons other than just their beauty or emotional power. I believe (as Ebert apparently did as well) that such a technicality is far from sufficient to settle the argument and represents an archaic and small minded perspective to what is naturally an open ended concept.

There can never be a definitive answer in what amounts to a court of opinion but there are demonstrably strong arguments and weak arguments. Through a series of articles examining the champions of the technical and artistic elements of video games, I intend to make a strong argument for the case that video games are art and should be treated and viewed as such. This is no arbitrary matter, as the influence, integrity, future perception, and historical designation of an entire medium hangs in the balance.

Check back next week for Part 2: The Best Narratives in Video Games.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk