Are video games art? The saying goes that art is in the eye of the beholder, and no matter what the medium, there will always be something to fall in or out of this classification. Literature, film, and music are widely considered to be artistic mediums, because their limitations in regards to it are so few. Obviously this hasn't always been the case, considering their humble beginnings were never specifically intended for artistic purposes. More than likely, they were developed out of a basic human necessity (ie. the documentation of human history). So, what is so different about video games that the general public hasn't accepted them as an artistic medium?
In reality, they're not so different. Video games are a progression on a variety of artistic mediums. However, I think that unlike literature, film, and music, their complexities have gotten the better of them. Video games are essentially an accumulation of almost every artistic genre, style, and art form imaginable. You find aspects of filmmaking, painting, sculpting, architecture, literature, and a variety of performing arts like music, acting, and dancing. Video games are almost fully-realized artistic worlds, or visions, from their creators. The potential is boundless. It's ultimately up for you to decide whether or not these visions contain any artistic merit. Just take a look at popular works within Abstract Expressionism and its antithesis in the Pop Art movement, and maybe you'll see what I'm getting at.
Because video games are so multifaceted, it's no wonder so many don't see the overall artistic merit. How can each of these components ever compare to what is considered fine art when they're hidden within the unassuming package of a video game? To many, a video game is a video game; nothing more, and nothing less. However, people who live and breathe within this industry understand it in the most meaningful way possible, and are by far the most critical of the medium they love.
Take, for example, a professional musician; this person is fully immersed in the cultural world and aesthetics of music on every possible level. When they hear music, they don't just listen, but they feel as well. Any musician will tell you that the experience of a great performance is like being in a transcendental state of body and mind. To them, music is art. Whenever someone cares this deeply about something, they might become so critical as to denounce something that doesn't meet their "artistic" standards. But does it make it any less a work of art to someone else who might adore it?
An average listener of music knows what they like when they hear it. They may not even know why they like it, but they simply do. For them, that's enough. Even during occasions when they hear something that touches them on a deeper level, they might not consider why it affects them. Do they consider this art; or is it just a favorite song?
Video games work in a similar way. Some see art where others see entertainment. People play video games for a variety of reasons, just like people read books, watch movies, or listen to music for a variety of reasons. But if you break these reasons down further, their appreciation for these mediums has one common foundation. They all start as a means of amusement. Their sense of enjoyment, however, can come from a simplistic form of light-hearted fun or through a deeper artistic connection.
I would wager to say that the vast majority of people who play video games do not consider this medium an art form because the vast majority of gamers are casual. The small percentage of gamers who do consider it an art form are also the most unrelenting critics of any medium to date. If you were to go and find a review on any piece of film, music, literature, and video game, which one do you think will be more grossly detailed in its critique? I challenge you to go check out some reviews from each medium on Metacritic and pay attention to how detailed the reviews are. Go ahead, I'll wait right here.
Game reviews take into account every critique that we've seen from every other medium. We have to consider the writing [literature – story, character arc, dialogue, etc.], presentation [filmmaking – lighting, camera angles, effects, etc.], graphics [painting/sculpting/architecture – textures, backgrounds, 3D modeling, etc.], audio [performing arts – acting, musical scores, etc.], and lastly, the most important aspect, gameplay. Gameplay is the interactivity that sets this industry apart from everything else, and the singular feature that grants lasting appeal to a video game. Longevity is a primary factor in considering what defines fine art, and you won't revisit a video game twenty years later for aesthetics, nostalgia, or otherwise, if the experience wasn't that fun.
I have a firm belief that video games will one day be accepted as a legitimate form of art. The general public will hold this consensus, and it will be undeniable, as art is the expression of an aesthetic truth. If you can find something true to the nature of your being, then it will be considered art.
Throughout the coming weeks, I will be writing more concerning "The Art of Video Games: Part 1," and will break down my own "artistic" standards through every facet (e.g. writing, presentation, graphics, etc.) of the medium. A new cultural movement is coming. As a matter of fact, it's already here, and many don't even realize it. Yet, if gamers and game reviewers don't consider it an art form, then who will?
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*