About games and gaming thereof!

Are Games Art?

Okay, now before I get into this, I want to clarify to anybody who misunderstood my last post (and I don’t blame you): I do not think fighting games suck, and I never meant to imply anything like that. Yes, I hate them, but I don’t think they’re inherently bad. That would be ignorant of me, especially since it’s very easy to tell why I don’t like them — I don’t like competitive gaming.

You see, somebody else wrote an entire article responding to my article about fighting games, and it was clear to me that he wasn’t the only one that instinctively thought I was trying to bash the whole genre down. And that was my fault, really. I should have made it clear that I don’t think the whole genre sucks just because I don’t like it.

(As a side note, when he said “In retrospect, went a bit hard on the guy” that was a pretty massive understatement. I’m assuming most if not all of you didn’t get to see his original unedited post, and let me just say that by the time I finished reading it I almost thought he was a troll. But hey, at least he had the decency to edit his post, right?)

I don’t want to spend this whole post going over the whole fighting game topic again, because I’m pretty sure most of you don’t care by now. But I read somebody’s comment on his article that conveniently brings up a topic I’ve been wanting to discuss in detail for awhile.

“All im going to say here is that the fact the fighters are centered around competition, doesnt make the game any less of an art/entertainment medium. If you understand the physics of the game, and than watch a master play, its sometimes some of the most artistic and entertaining things youll ever see in a video game. because they give players the oppurtunity to take what the game has for them, and apply it in amazing and creative ways. something that you dont really get from many games outside of customising the looks of the main character.”

I disagree with this assertion completely. Being able to utilize your abilities in a video game in the way that professional gamers do is an impressive skill, but that’s all it is — a skill. Skill does not translate to art, and I don’t see that as artistic in any way. I’d consider it about as artistic as a successful touchdown in football (i.e. not at all).

But if that’s not art, then that begs the question of what exactly art is.

Some people tend to give art a definition, but some people basically say “I’ll know it when I see it.” At the same time, a lot of people like to make claims as to whether or not video games are art. My opinion is that if you can’t come up with your own definition of art, then you have no business claiming that video games are or are not art. After all, if art has no substantial meaning, then isn’t it worthless as a label?

Some might say you could use a dictionary definition, but I’ve found the dictionary definitions of art to be useless. Here’s the definition of art as given by dictionary.com:

“The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.”

If you strip away the extraneous words, you basically get “That which is aesthetically appealing.” In other words, anything that is beautiful is art according to the dictionary. I think that’s a stupid definition.

So if you want to claim whether or not video games are art, then I challenge you to answer the following three questions:

  1. What is your personal definition for the word “art”?
  2. Are there any video games that fit this definition?
  3. If so, can you name any specific examples? (And don’t just say “Yes I can,” actually name them.)

Anybody want to speak up?

Nobody? Okay, I guess I’ll go first.

  1. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a good definition, and after talking with my brother about it, here’s the best one I can come up with: Art can be described as any man-made creation that seeks to explore or represent something in an intellectual way.
  2. Yes, there definitely have been games I’ve played that fit the bill. Most games, however, do not. Most games focus on entertainment rather than art, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t think that an entertaining game is automatically an artistic game. For example, Nintendo has made a lot of good games, but I can’t think of a single Nintendo game that I would classify as art.
  3. I’m not going to mention all the games I think are artistic right now, but I will mention my top two: Deus Ex and Mass Effect 2. Both of those games explore political ideologies and offer compelling social commentary. Deus Ex in particular goes into some really deep topics toward the end, and the endgame choice you’re forced to make is the most memorable choice I’ve ever had to make in a game.

(FYI, you’re going to hear me talk about Deus Ex a lot from time to time. That game is my sacred cow. And it’s not because of nostalgia, because I was only first introduced to the game less than a year ago.)

I was going to talk in more detail about the artistic merit in both of those games, but I think my post is getting excessively long. I think I’ll be doing retrospective reviews on specific games I find artistic eventually.

Okay then, now it’s your turn!


8 responses

  1. Galzzly

    It seems that dictionary.com defines art as fine art, which is more of an art form designed with aesthetics in mind rather then a practical application. But yah, the original definition for art was defined as a skill or mastery until the Romantic period where it took on more of a definition we see today.

    But yah…

    1. To me, art is any product or process (man-made or not) that influences and/or affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect. However, the true beauty in art is art is anything. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    2. Through my view on art, yah. Hundreds of games. Through anyone else’s view, yah.
    3. I’m going to use my own sacred cow; Final Fantasy Tactics which expressed a long story about corrupt politics and corruption or religion while focusing on the difference between good and “corrupt” good.

    March 19, 2011 at 4:10 PM

  2. Neil

    I like the article and you make valid points but there’s a couple things I disagree with.

    1. I hope you’re not saying no skills are artistic. For example, I strongly believe that some martial arts styles are very artistic. They even hold to your definition. Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who said dancing isn’t an art.

    2. I don’t really agree with your definition. You say that Deus Ex and Mass Effect 2 are art because they “explore political ideologies and offer compelling social commentary.” With that reasoning though, you could say that CNN or any other news is art because it does the same things. It’s man-made and it represents news in an intellectual way.

    I’ve been sitting here for quite a while trying to figure out a better definition but keep finding a news station qualifying. So I’ll just post this and post again if I can think something up. I know it makes my arguments irrelevant when I can’t back it up with my own definition… but o well lol.

    March 19, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    • JPH

      Nah, I didn’t mean to imply that. I can see why what I said sounded that way. Many skills are artistic, but not all are.

      And yeah, my definition isn’t perfect. I didn’t think of the news analogy at all. I’m gonna have to think about that more.

      March 19, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    • Joshua

      I’m not sure if I would describe the skills themselves as art. To put it in perspective with an example, a painter’s ability to paint isn’t an art, but the actual painting that he or she produces is.

      So I wouldn’t call the ability to perform martial arts or dance as art. But the actual martial forms or dances that are created using those skills would be art.

      (And just as an aside I wanted to add: every single artistic endeavor out there requires some kind of acquired skill to create. Painting, acting, writing, sculpting, dancing, and so forth. All of them require skill, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)

      I think the other person’s comment concerning fighting games is a little confusing. He seems to be saying that the performance of a master player in a fighting game constitutes art. And whether or not we agree with that assessment, I’m still not certain we can jump to his next conclusion–which is that the game itself is thus art. I mean, the fact that the game developers have created a system that allows players to string combos and attacks together in interesting ways is certainly not easy. But would I necessarily call the game “art” because it allows players to do this? I’m not sure.

      Anyway, enough rambling from me. I just wanted to get a few thoughts out. :P

      March 20, 2011 at 12:13 PM

  3. Rayzn

    1. Personally, I would define art as any skillfully crafted thing that registers a response, be it emotional, intellectual, or technical.

    But I suppose I would have to add one caveat: just because something meets the definition above doesn’t automatically make it art (as the news station example shows). Art also possesses an undefinable quality that can be instinctively recognized, but not quantified. I guess while I’m at it I should say that this magical quality should also be subjective to each viewer.

    Alas, my attempt at a concise definition turned into word salad pretty quick, so I’ll just leave this here. http://blog.wolfire.com/2010/12/Are-Games-Art-The-Aftermath

    March 21, 2011 at 8:23 PM

  4. Littaly

    The more you think about the “games are art(?)” discussion, the more you realize how messed up it is.

    As you pointed out in your post, we still haven’t made up our minds on what art it, so why even start debating on whether or not games are art? Sure, you could define what you think is art and then answer the question, but then we’d just be debating if games are art to each and every one of us subjectively, which is pointless. Like, really pointless.

    Look, some guy recorded recorded 4 minutes and 33 seconds of ambient sound and said “this is music”. This may sound like premium IRL trolling, but there’s a significant number of people who claim that it “redefines what music is”. With that in mind, the whole idea of discussing what art is and is not just becomes more absurd.

    Personally I think what we are really trying to prove when we say “games are art” is something else. I think what we’re after is for games to be viewed by the public with the same amount of respect they view cinema or literature. I think it’s a case of video games being in the transitional phase between toys/entertainment and an actual grown up medium (like you know, books and stuff). And now we, the people obsessed with video games, want to make that clear to everyone else (and maybe to ourselves as well). These aren’t toys anymore, and more importantly, we don’t want to be viewed as kids playing with toys anymore, we want the rest of the people to take us seriously and respect what we do.

    I think that’s what we’re really trying to say when we formulate the super vague statement “games are art”. And if it is, then we should probably start discussing that instead of starting to babble about “art”, then maybe we would actually get somewhere with it.

    March 27, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    • JPH

      I know what you mean, and I agree that the debate about whether games are or aren’t art is virtually pointless. But people aren’t going to take the games industry seriously until it takes itself seriously, and we have a long way to go before that happens.

      March 27, 2011 at 5:59 PM

  5. Ok, I understand that (in Internet time) this was a million years ago and nobody cares anymore, but I just stumbled across this thing (apparently your blog has categories) and I wanted to say just this:

    Art can be described as any man-made creation that seeks to explore or represent something in an intellectual way

    Under this description, scientific papers are also art.

    August 4, 2011 at 2:23 AM

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