Friday, August 31, 2012

Video Games are Art

There as been a debate going online as to whether or not video games are artRoger Ebert, as far as I know, sparked it off with his opinion that they are not.  I've read both of his articles on the matter and I did not find them relevant to my response to the matter.  I understand that there are multiple angles from which to look at this, but I will come at it from perhaps the most primordial level.  Art has a number of characteristics that make up what it is that it has in common with video games.  While a painting, for example, involves an aesthetic of viewing, video games involve an aesthetic of gameplay.  Bringing up complex role playing games, etc. is unnecessary and muddles the discussion.

What are the qualities of art?  It is impractical.  It contributes nothing to man's utility.  It involves the aesthetic in league with the technical and not the technical alone.  It involves a vague mix of objectivity and subjectivity in terms of what the good is and how to get it right.  Lastly, among other things, two works of art can be compared and discussed in relation to each other, often as to which is better.  These qualities all apply to video games.

Video games are full of artistic, creative, aesthetic choices.  Take Pong, for example.  What size should the paddles be?  How fast should the paddles move?  What size should the ball be?  How fast should the ball move?  How much space should be between the paddles?  What should the sound effects be and what should set them off?  Each of these choices affects the quality of the game for better or worse and the creator of the game thought out all of these choices in creating it.  I would say that the non-symetrical score numbers and the right score number being almost right on top of the player-two paddle was a poor aesthetic choice.  Just as a painter puts himself in the eye of the beholder and uses different techniques to have an effect on that eye, a game creator uses gameplay to engage the player in a certain way.  It takes the mind of an artist and the technical skill of a programmer to have that right effect.  A programmer can also anticipate strategies that will flow from the mechanics he has created.  Individual choice reigning over artistic control has been cited as a reason that video games are not art, but ultimately, even the most open game universe is still finite, and the developer controls its edges.  Multiplayer online games are probably the furthest extension of possibilities, individual choice and the game universe, but even these pale in comparison to life itself.

Getting into more complex role-playing games muddles the debate entirely and, as I've already proven, is unnecessary.  The question is "are video games art?"  The focus should be on whether or not the gameplay itself is a work of art.  If you are only considering story and cut scenes to be art, then that's a movie.  There is no necessity to put it in game form which adds nothing to it.  The game medium itself must be art to prove any point, but the other elements can add to it.  I believe that this has actually hurt the quality of some games that have emphasized being cinematic and an over-reliance on cut-scenes at the cost of interactivity.

Are video games art on par with film, literature, painting, etc.?  In general, I would guess no.  Especially as I have analyzed it here, video games seem to be not high art, but a potentially extremely well-done aesthetic of simplicity, the equivalent of a well-done, but ultimately not deep, action movie.  This would be an argument where bringing up complex RPGs, etc. would be more relevant and it would likely have to be judged on a case-by-case basis.  I have no intention of doing that here.

Thus video games are art due to the fact that they share the defining characteristics of art.  Whether that is art with a capital "A" is to be judged on a case-by-case basis as people do with any other medium.

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