It wasn’t that long ago that video games were limited to simplistic graphics and one-dimensional game play. Today, video games are a complex mash-up of storytelling, graphic art and strategy designed to deliver a one-of-a-kind interactive experience for gamers. In fact, today’s video games have begun to cross over from a mere form of mindless entertainment to the realm of real art.
Are Video Games Art?
Though there has been vigorous debate both for and against the idea that video games themselves can be considered works of art, next year the Smithsonian American Art Museum will put itself directly into the “for” camp when its The Art of Video Games exhibition goes on display in March. The argument over whether this new creative medium can be compared with undisputed masterpieces like the Mona Lisa or Hamlet is a complex one. While many video games are produced simply to sell copies, some are clearly close to the “art” boundary.
The line is further blurred by the fact that there are so many talented people who work to create video games—certain have storylines written by bestselling novelists, and others take visual direction from some of the best contemporary artists alive. Like films, video games are a collaborative effort whose success depends upon the talents of many contributors getting things exactly right.
Some are reluctant to call video games works of art because most games rely on the premise that a player can “win” by achieving a certain objective—collecting points, defeating monsters, jumping across rivers and the like. They are uncomfortable with the idea that such a large part of the medium involves players directly.
Video game players, however, claim that this very interaction is what makes video games stand out from other forms of artistic expression. Since games are so interactive, players often feel like they are part of the story in a way that is sometimes hard to achieve with “traditional” art forms. Film and literature are passive media in the sense that watchers or readers are observers. Once a player boots up his or her gaming computer or console, he or she is a participant in the “art” and action of the game.
The debate is not likely to have a clear answer any time soon. Even though video games are making a good case for themselves by becoming more visually complex, a similar cross-over medium, comic books, is just now beginning to receive recognition as a viable form of artistic expression. As comic books have been around for a long time when compared to the relative recentness video games, this may indicate that gaming still has a long way to go.
As gamers and game developers both become more sophisticated in the years to come, however, it may be harder to argue against including games in the artistic canon. It is entirely possible that university students in the future who take an art survey course will be made to study video games.