Are Video Games Art?

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Posted April 21, 2015 by Spencer Maxwell in Video Games

If we simply go off of the definition of art, then it’s quite clear that video games are in fact art. The obvious statement is that art is subjective, so therefore games are art if we believe them to be. But, calling something artwork is much more nuanced than a basic claim. Do gamers receive an element of emotional impact while playing games? Yes, we do. It’s hard not to get involved when you’re dealing with the story directly. Do video games have deeper meanings and themes underlying them? Not all, but some certainly do. Do video games have a visual and (almost always) auditory aesthetic appeal? It’s an undeniable fact that they do. What most people seem to get hung up on is that they don’t consider the medium fine art. It seems that many want to compare the culture to the highest forms of other artistry. How is it fair to compare Pac-Man to the Sistine Chapel or The Beatles’ Let It Be?

No matter how epic or grandiose a video game is, you can’t equate it to something of such importance as legendary works of art. Gaming has definitely permeated our popular culture, but what others compare it to has transcended it to become part of our world culture. It may not be something to stare through sips of Pinot Grigio and discuss in fanciful garb. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not relevant.

Electronic games are relatively a new medium. It takes time for the people of our world to gestate and appreciate something. The more time that passes, the more we understand the significance and impact. Comics were originally seen as time-wasting fodder for children, but through the years people have grown to appreciate their significance and the depths they can go.

video game art landscape

It appears that a lot take issue with is this vehicle began solely as a means of making profit. For the first few decades since it’s birth, it was just a form of recreation. It doesn’t invalidate due to how it became, it’s about what it does now. Film and music began with the motive of sparking emotion and bringing in those with a common interest. Now it’s primary goal is profit. This doesn’t invalidate its influence. Both are still capable of a strong emotional response. Video games have evolved far beyond just a monetary motive.

Just because we’re not a fan nor appreciate it, doesn’t mean it’s not art.  A lot of people find performance art silly and obnoxious. No matter how trivial or complex, the artist does have something to say. I deeply detest Kevin Smith’s most recent directorial feature, Tusk, but I would defend to the death that it is a piece of art. I felt a strong sense of discomfort watching it. That may have not been the intent, but that was my reaction. It did have an impact on me, albeit a strongly negative one. The Twilight book series or the music of Iggy Azalea doesn’t speak to me at all, but they have communities that have a powerful agreeable response. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans may just be soup cans to you.

Video games are a combination of mediums. Music, visual art, and film are certainly examples of fine art. So isn’t safe to say that it’s still art when blended together? The atmosphere is rather evident by the sound and the visuals. It’s so engaging, it’s difficult not to get swept up in the creator’s intended mood. Because we have a hand in what’s happening, does that weaken the message?

It’s difficult to say that the environment and the score of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask didn’t make you feel a sense of despair or make you feel ineffectual against such a grand scope. The Metroid Prime series gave you a strong sense of isolation; with all you could do, you still felt alone. Final Fantasy VII moved gamers at the death of Aeris, it was someone we grew to care about. The lengthy amount of time that we had developed with the character made her passing all the more tragic.

video game art wind waker

We achieve a sense of immersion while gaming, we are essentially one with the simulation. Rather than passively letting a film wash over us, we are actively involved in the situation. We may not have a choice in what’s happening to us, but we still have a strong stake in the matter. It’s like being strapped in an experience that we have the option to overcome.

Claiming video games aren’t art is such a broad statement. Galaga may not be trying to say something, but that doesn’t mean BioShock isn’t. An artistic medium may not carry a message for you or even provide you with an emotional reaction, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t saying anything. The industry is built purely on escapism, and escapism has value to those who want to enter a another reality. Not every game is deep or trying to have an ulterior message, but neither is every film or song. Artistry doesn’t have to be fanciful and elegant, it’s allowed to be lowbrow and crude. For every Georges Melies, there is a Michael Bay.


About the Author

Spencer Maxwell

I write about pretty much everything surrounding nerd culture. @CSpencerMaxwell