Se magnifique!

Art is one of those words that just can’t be defined, or, rather, as a million different definitions.  A visitor to the Art Institute of Chicago, gazing at the “Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler,” would surely not protest if I called it art.  On the other end of the spectrum, a football fan would heartily agree if I described Barry Sanders an artist.  Scores of outsiders, however, would.  And there is the beauty of art.  Every individual can, and is expected to, describe it for themselves.

I present, for your consideration, the following screenshot from the wildly popular 2010 Game of the Year, Red Dead Redemption.

Are you kidding me?  That’s gorgeous.  Just try and tell me that’s not art.  I WILL FIGHT YOU.  Alright, chance to redeem yourself…try this.

That’s what I thought.  These two games, RDR and the Assassin’s Creed series, have taken my breath away on multiple occasions, as have plenty of others.  The amount of time the designers put into these games is staggering, as are the results.  Can we please show the respect deserved?

Deathly Hallowed

It’s impressive, but still not art

With the game industry expanding at an incredible rate, it is now a challenge to identify how much respect the creators and designers get in comparison to people who create other forms of media.  Some may argue that the designer of an immensely popular game should get as much respect for his work as James Cameron gets for his blockbuster films.  In reality, however, there is still an impression with the general public that video games are a somewhat juvenile form of media.  This is why they do not receive as much exposure as some other forms of media, and as a whole are not considered “art” in the same way a captivating movie or a classic novel is.

The definition of art is very broad, and can stretch to encompass many things such as: painting, sculpture, architecture, writing, film, etc.  When I look down this list, however, I am not inclined to put games in with the rest of these examples for the following reason.  Let’s take Assassin’s Creed II, set in renaissance Florence, Italy.  (I apologize for continuing to bring this game up in my posts, but it’s just a great example of everything).  A beautifully done digital reconstruction of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo) is part of the world within the game:I think you’ll agree that it’s incredibly well done.  Some may say that this is art, but when you consider the effort and the time required to build the cathedral in real life (approximately 140 years), it is obviously a much more impressive feat than constructing something digitally.

I do realize that countless hours are put into the development of a video game, but the problem is that the general public do not universally respect the gaming genre, making it difficult to call it an art form when the group of people that it appeals to is still so small.


Gaming Art

In order to identify whether or not video games can be considered art, one must first consider what qualifies as art. According to most sources, art is a division of objects or things that are subject to certain aesthetic criteria, or the expression of human creativity and imagination.

From this definition, video games certainly qualify as artistic expression as they, just as much as any other art form, demonstrate a wide range of imaginative ideas.  From games like Dead Space to Assassin’s Creed, creative genius is at work creating an array of different possibilities and ideas never thought of before.  Gaming, in my opinion, sometimes even takes art to whole new levels that contemporary and ancient art does not, as it demonstrates levels of creativity far beyond the levels achieved by what is traditionally considered art. The range of games is virtually unlimited, and game designers are constantly expanding the variety of available games.

Furthermore, many games also create artistic landscapes, scenery, and backgrounds. For example, in the Assassin’s Creed games, entire cities are constructed that retain intrinsic beauty and complexity. It takes serious artistic talent in order to construct these multifaceted landscapes that come together seamlessly and create entirely new worlds to explore.  To not consider this art would be to ignore the aesthetic beauty and unbelievable creativity required to construct these backgrounds and landscapes.

However, I doubt video games, in my lifetime, will ever be seriously considered artistic by modern society.  Society tends to view gaming as simply escaping from reality, and it thus receives a negative connotation. It also is typically viewed as a medium that can really only provide base pleasure for the gamer as many popular games are warlike and do not engage the gamer cognitively. As long as games like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto exist, however fun to play they may be, games will likely not be considered art. However, games can be cognitively engaging and have artistic storylines, even though the most popular ones do not. For instance, Lord of the Rings Online retains a deep and complex story that, if placed in the form of a novel, could easily be considered an artistic masterpiece. The game medium simply hasn’t become appreciated within modern society, and the artistry within some games is not appreciated as it sometimes should be.  Maybe one day society will see that some games retain intrinsic artistic value and beauty, but that day is not likely to come soon.

Who says game designers aren’t artists too?

The debate of whether video games should be considered art is still hotly contested. How can an interactive form of entertainment such as a video game be called art? It seems that it would be much like calling tic-tac-toe or solitaire a form of art as well. However, it is not the playing of the video game that should be up for consideration, but rather the game itself.

With many of today’s video games, it can be difficult to distinguish the setting from the area it is based on. For example, in playing any of the Assassin’s Creed series games, the cities and building are so incredibly life-like that the gamer almost has to think he’s there. The original builders of these cities are (and if they aren’t. should be) considered artists in every sense of the word, so why not the remediators that created these structures within video games? It is arguably every bit as challenging to create 15th century Italy in a video game as it was to build it the first time. Yet we call the the latter designers “artists” while the former remain only designers.

One’s argument could be that these designers did not originally create this setting but copied it from the real artists, and therfore are not artists themselves. This is nonsense. Throughout history, artists have redone the works of previous artists, often in different forms (such as paintings of wood-prints, and vice versa), and both works are still considered art. How is the case of video games any different? Furthermore, many video game designers create worlds entirely of their own imagination, and create them with such detail and care that they too could pass for real.

For all this, video game designers are too talented (usually) and have worked more than enough to deserve the title of “artists.” Their form of art is judged by many of the same characteristics that other forms of art are, in many cases combining the crtieria for several forms (i.e. novels, architecture, etc.) and still qualifying as masterpieces.


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.


One Game to Rule Them All

Over my many years of experience with console gaming, I’ve noticed a trend in the way I play most games.  Below is a brief summary of what happens when a game that I have been waiting for for months is finally released:

1. I put aside all other things that I should be doing so that I can go out and buy the game when it is released.

2. I forget about every other game that I’ve ever purchased for a month or two while I focus exclusively on whatever game I’ve just bought.

3. After about a month I begin to tire of the so called “new game”, and begin the search all over again for the next addicting title.  Meanwhile, the game that I was so obsessed with fades into oblivion.

I thought that this trend would continue forever until I was introduced to what I now consider to be the greatest game franchise ever produced: Assassin’s Creed.  For those of you reading this post, if you have never played Assassin’s Creed, I pity you.  It will change your life.  I know most of you will understand where I’m coming from when I say that the plot lines of most adventure games on the market are anything but compelling. Not so with Assassin’s Creed.  It is nearly impossible to not get emotionally invested in the plot, because the game is just that realistic.  There’s nothing more satisfying than running through a near perfect reconstruction of renaissance-era Florence avenging the death of your family by locating and assassinating the man who had them hanged.  Interested yet? You should be, but in case you aren’t, I will leave you with this.  A glimpse of what the new Assassin’s Creed (coming in November) will look like, and perhaps the most badass game trailer ever released: