So what if games aren’t art?

Starry Night

Are you upset that Roger Ebert said that games aren’t art?  So what?  They might not be, and it’s not worth getting hung up over.  Debating over the perceived artfulness of video games only distracts the gaming community from having more meaningful discussions of what the medium can offer.  It feels like gamers are ready to retaliate against the Eberts of the world at the drop of a hat.  We’ve got lots of speeches of how games get us all choked up, change our lives, and how digital interactivity is the future.  So what?  Would it really be so bad if games aren’t art?  Do we really need to spin our wheels assuming that if we can’t compare video games to great art, then they are just a waste of time?

It’s true, games are expensive and time consuming, and it’s difficult to put into words why grown adults would choose to invest so much into what’s widely seen as children’s entertainment.  Gamers have grown up and they want their games to grow up with them.  Art is about as far removed from juvenile amusement as can be.  If games are art then we can talk to each other without having to feel like there are probably better things we can be doing with our time.  Personally, after several years of this debate, I feel that many of the arguments in favor of games-are-art are crafted out of fear rather than of love for the medium.  But so what?  Art is one narrow aspect of culture, and we’re trying to pigeonhole games to fit the definition of art.  One recurring theme I’ve seen in these discussions is that games can be beautiful, and if something can be beautiful then it can also be art.  Art and art history isn’t exactly my field of study, but I think it’s reasonable to point out that while most art is “beautiful” in some way, all things that are beautiful are not necessarily art.

A mountain can be beautiful.  A city skyline can be beautiful as well.  But they aren’t art.  Beauty can emerge from nature and circumstance.  This is what games can more closely resemble than art.  A team of designers, artists, and developers may work toward their collective idea of what the game should become.  But there is not a singular vision of what the end product will be that the game’s “artist” can act on or express.  The “beauty” of a game depends on the sum of the team’s skill and directing the beauty that emerges from it.

You will still find people who respect and appreciate things like mountains and city skylines as fervently as others do of art.  Similarly, games can be more than toys without achieving the status of high art.  I still believe that some games may be art, or that games can eventually become art, but gamers shouldn’t let people like Roger Ebert dictate the parameters of the discussion.  Trying to fit games into a definition of art is biting off more than can be chewed.  It leads people to believe that we need to try too hard and makes them ashamed of games that don’t meet that standard.  So, while core gamers are too busy trying to force the square peg through the round hole, games like Angry Birds and Farmville may just pull the rug out from underneath the core gaming industry.  While we’re asking the world to be more open-minded about games, we may also end up being more close-minded about them ourselves.


2 Responses to “So what if games aren’t art?”

  1. April 10, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I disagree with Ebert, video games are very much a type of digital art. The graphics that go into creating them came from someone’s imagination the same way a painting came into Picasso’s before he put brush and paint to canvas. Besides, Ebert is just one person and what he says is just his opinion…

  2. April 10, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Come check out my blog “Mysterious Japan” http://lediarunnels27221219.wordpress.com/ You might like it!

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