Video games as art, or making art in video games?

A big debate topic today (among those who like to sit around and argue about things that don’t really matter in the long run) is whether are not video games should be considered an art form. Legally,  the Supreme Court ruled on June 27, 2011 that video games are a form of art and therefore protected by the first amendment. In addition to this, in March 201 the Smithsonian American Art Museum will be displaying an exhibition called “The Art of Video Games.” Honestly, these decisions made by major institutions are enough to strengthen my view that video games are, in fact, art.

Now that we have that issue out of the way, I’d like to comment on something I’ve noticed about the artistic means and ends of a video game.   I think that there are fundamentally two types of games when dealing with art. The first type would be a game that presents fully formed, ready to be appreciated art. An example of this would be L.A. Noire. This game combines beautiful graphics, an extremely well designed world, and a gripping story that rivals any blockbuster. L.A. Noire is a perfect representation of a work of art that is given to a player, where interactivity and post-release design are limited.

The second type of game is one where, while the character may or may not be presented with a story, they are presented with both art in the form of an environment and an empty canvas upon which they can create their own art. No other game I can think of illustrates this idea better than Minecraft. Minecraft is a simple game. The world is made of blocks that you can dig up and place where you want them. Basically it equates to being able to gather materials and build whatever you want. This takes time though, and lots of it if you want to make something that looks good. For instance, pictured below is a building that is made in Minecraft. The player made this in the same way an artist would take clay and mold it into a sculpture. I think this shows that some video games are not only an art form, but they are a canvas, a medium, much like clay, that allow those who interact with the game to create something that is strikingly similar to objects that are considered art  by the general public.



We Don’t Appreciate Art

“What emotions does it evoke?” asks every high-school English teacher of a painting upon reaching the “art section” of that year. “What does it make you feel? What was the intention of the artist?”

If the purpose of art is to convey an emotion and or an experience, then video games along with books, movies, sculptures, architecture, and paintings, should be considered art. When playing Assassin’s Creed II, I experienced the intended emotions; the excitement when racing across the roofs of Florence or the sadness when Ezio and his family are betrayed.

But art is more than just the communication of emotions. Art has countless purposes—communication, symbolism, expression, entertainment, and many, many more. With this broad purpose, how can video games not be art?

Consider again Assassin’s Creed II. The setting alone is art. If someone were to paint a beautiful scene of Renaissance Italy it would be accepted as art. Then why when entire cities are rebuilt in Assassin’s Creed II is it not considered art?

I think the crux of the issue is that once again video games get a bad rap. But this time, its not about those who play video games, but those who makes video games. I believe that when the general public sees a video game they do not understand the sheer amount of work that went into making that game. They fail to recognize that every detail they see, down to the tiniest crack in a stone wall, was placed on purpose, for them, the gamer. That huge game maps took just as much time if not more as creating a model representation. That great musical scores were written for their gaming experience (Hans Zimmer writing music for Modern Warfare 2 comes to mind.)

If many of the game aspects were taken out of context, and shown individually, I believe people would easily consider them art. But once there is intense interactivity and it becomes a “game” people automatically lose sight of the art. They see games as simple and mindless. All games are certainly not art. Most aren’t art. But as technology advances and more money is being spent of video games, I believe more video games will cross into the realm of art the same way movies did. People just need to understand that not all video games are a waste of time, and then they will begin to see the art in them.