What is art? Really what would you consider it to be? Would it be a painting that hangs on the walls of a gallery? A sculpture, carved of marble, adorning a great hall? Street art sprayed on the wall of a building? A bed left unmade? I could go on with this, so I’ll get to my point. Art by definition is the ” expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” With this in mind I ask you a question; Can a video game be art? Let’s be literal with this, a video game is both an expression of human creative skill and imagination. It too is presented in a visual form. Are games appreciated primarily for their “beauty or emotional power” though? That’s really our big question.
Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata, recently stated that Nintendo doesn’t make art they make games. The basic idea behind what he meant was that, appreciation of an art work is subjective. What Nintendo want to do is to “make a product that resonates with and is accepted by customers.” The artistic meaning isn’t important. It’s all about sales. And let’s be honest, the way the Wii U is selling, Nintendo could do with some sales. This doesn’t really answer our question though. Just because one isn’t making art, it doesn’t mean one won’t make art. Take for example the case of Iris Halmshaw. Iris is a 3 year old child with autism. As a result of her placement on the spectrum, she is yet to develop speech. However she is quite the artist. The reason I bring this up is that a child at the age of 3, is not painting in order to create art, she is painting as a form of expression. She is not intently creating art, but in turn is creating art. With this I argue that art can and is created without its intention to be art. In this manner Iwata may not be intentionally making art, but it’s hard to argue that a game such as Skyward Sword doesn’t have artistic merit.
Let’s think about some games in specific. Skyrim is designed in such a manner that you are encouraged to explore. Through exploration you are emerged into a world of beauty. Then lets think about Okami. The very game itself is based on the concept of art. It’s presented as if it was drawn on paper. Graphically everything is painted. It’s a true expression of beauty. How about Shadow of the Colossus. Whenever this debate is brought up this game is always stated. With minimalist landscape designs, immersive gameplay, strong aesthetic, powerful narrative and emotional journey. How about games that could be considered art based on their emotional power? Final Fantasy VII is a game that mastered back in 1997 what most games fail to do today; real emotional depth! The game is emotionally submergent. You really feel for and connect with each character. If an “art” film is art, then surely a game that produces the same effect is too art? There are also games that couple both visual and emotional elements of art. The Last of Us is both visually artistic and emotionally artistic.
Whilst critics would argue that the individual elements of games art, as a whole they are not. This puzzles me. I don’t understand why something made up of elements, themselves considered art, as a whole isn’t art. Major critics of the argument against games as art, often come across as pretentious and elitist. For example Roger Ebert stated “That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.” No matter how hard the industry tries, the stereotype of the dateless wonder, sitting in mum’s basement, typing lines of code, whilst the world passes him by can’t be shook off. However it doesn’t make it true. I can only speak for myself but I’m a gamer, I’m also a lover of comic books and sci fi. Basically an atypical nerd. However I’m also an amateur artist and photographer, a lover of foreign cinema, a musician, an avid visitor of galleries and museums (I even work in one) and a regular theatre visitor. So for myself games don’t “represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic”, because I do those things and play games. Basically it’s just somebody arguing that gaming isn’t art, to protect the perceived integrity of the medium.
In the past I gave tours of a contemporary art festival in the city of Liverpool. During this time I took many groups around the festival and explained and interpreted the artwork for and with them. A collection of girders bent and differing angles can be considered art. Nobody argues whether this piece is appreciated for its “beauty or emotional power”. No, even though modern art is contentious among the art community, it is still considered art. You don’t have to like something for it to be art. Dislike is still an emotional response.
The thing is video games are artistic, there is no arguing that. Even the biggest critics of the artistic merit would agree that, but them actually being art is a huge debate. I really only have a pedestrian understanding of art. I’ve never really had any formal training. Most of my interpretations come from an application of Freudian analysis I learnt during my study of Psychology. So really it’s not my place to say whether a video game is or isn’t art. However it is my place to say that, in my humble opinion videogames are art. In the end all that really matters is whether you consider it art or not. Do you really need some art critic to help you form an opinion on beauty?
By Matthew Husselbury