Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
January 19, 2017
arrowPress Releases

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Part 6: Art And Its Relationship With Games
by Darren Tomlyn on 09/02/11 11:16:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


(Note: All the entries in my blog are meant to be read in order - you can find the contents here: Contents )

(EDIT: I've added a part near the end to put everything together to show how all the different uses of the word are related to and by the definition I've given).

Part 1:  Recognising The Problem With The Word Art

Recognising and understanding what the word art represents, at least in and for itself, should simply not be a problem at all.  The word art, and/or its equivalents in other languages, has been used in a consistent manner for as long as our records and culture has existed, worldwide – the basic forms of art are consistent regardless of where you happen to travel on our planet.

And yet, we still have a problem.

The reason for this, is because of the focus on just forms of art, that are recognised and understood by the media used:

Acting (including dance etc.).
*Organised sound* - (does not necessarily have to be considered 'music' to be considered art (sound effects etc.)).
*Sculpture* - (not just for sight, but also touch) - making something to look at/touch/use (or even wear) that is a tangible object – (nearly every tangible object we create would count under this, from jewellery to clothing to furniture, architecture etc.).
Creative food, including *cooking*
Spoken language (song/poetry) and additional literature.
(Not sure how to describe this one - but anything created specifically because of how they smell - such as perfumes etc.).

It should be obvious that forms of art exist and can be applied to affect all of our senses – even simultaneously, in combination.

The problem, as should be fairly obvious and expected by now, is that these forms of art, and  the media they use, merely form part of the application of what the word art itself must represent.

In other words, in order to fully understand what it is the word art represents in isolation, that can then be described in relation to the rest of the language, we again need to be able to separate the application from what it is that is being applied.

As you should expect, and as we have seen with the dictionary entry in the first part of my blog, the main reason the word art is causing problems, is because this is not being done in a fully consistent manner.  As you can probably tell by now, this is the consistent problem found with nearly all the words I am looking at here, in my blog – people mistaking applications of words for their definitions.

Because of this problem, many people try and base their definitions of art upon these applications – I’ve seen people on this very site, again, who have tried to define art based on the audience’s behaviour or how it made them feel, for example.


But that is not how the English language functions.


So, as I said before, and as seen with the word game, we need to derive the definition of art from such applications – to see what it is they have in common and therefore what the word art itself represents.

Some dictionaries and encyclopaedias appear to have managed to do just that, such as Wikipedia:

Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect.”

But we have a problem with this, as I said before, or, in fact, two problems, or symptoms, caused by the same, deeper, problem within the language.  This particular problem should now be familiar and understood:

Recognising and understanding that the word art represents an application of behaviour - (an application of things that happen) - based on how the word is used and its place within the language.

Again, in order to fully define the word art, and understand what it represents, both in isolation and in relation to the rest of the language, we need to find out and recognise what application of what behaviour of who, it is used to represent.

Again, the problem with the above definition, in a similar manner to how some people think on this site, is defining the behaviour of one person, by how it makes someone else feel.  Feelings and emotions, however, are not behaviour, (they're properties), and therefore have no place in this word’s definition, since they are merely a side effect of its application.

Art is not defined by the behaviour or properties of its audience.  Is something a work of art simply because I happen to be looking at it, or listening to it etc. at a particular time or in a particular manner?  Does something cease to be art if I don’t like it?  No.  I can apply the definition of art in such manner if I so choose, but I do not define it as such.  (A piece of art, just like any other object or piece of information we create, does not, of course, cease to exist in an absolute manner just because no-one currently perceives it.)

Affecting our senses is, of course, part of what this application of behaviour does.  This part of the definition therefore makes sense, but again, is it not part of the audience’s behaviour or properties?

When someone perceives an object, thing, or even someone else’s behaviour as described above, (based on the media used), as being art, are they not simply applying a/the definition of such a word based on the properties of what they perceive, (that have been therefore created by someone else’s behaviour), in a subjective manner?

If I perceive anything that has been created in a manner that is consistent with a particular function, even if merely intended or possible, rather than actual behaviour or a property it has, what has my own behaviour or properties got to do with any such applications of relevant words (for their definitions), based on such a function?

The recognition and understanding of what words represent, how they are used to represent what they do, and how they are then applied based on the information they represent, and how this all then relates to people’s own perception of the universe around them, is therefore the matter that is central to everything being discussed here.  Any inconsistencies between people’s perceptions and understanding of such matters, in any way, in relation to the language being used, even to think, will cause problems…


Part 2: Recognising a solution

If the audience has no place in defining the word art, merely applying it based on what they perceive of, ultimately, other people’s behaviour, then what ramifications does this have for its definition, based on its use?

The largest impact this has, is to solve the biggest problem facing the word art itself, based upon how it is, and has been, used:

Reconciling two uses of the word that are currently seen as not being related, let alone the same thing.



“Traditionally, the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery. This conception changed during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science".[1] Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions.”


As usual, what has happened is that people have confused the application of a word and what it represents, for its definition, and therefore lost touch with what it is that is actually being applied.

Based how the word art is used, in its entire scope, we therefore appear to have a few definitions:

1.  The process of creating something – (the art of/an art).

2.  Something that has been so created that affects, or is intended to affect, the senses – (including forms of art, involving various media).

3.  The performance or teaching of such creations where applicable.


One of the problems with the paragraph before, from Wikipedia, is of course the word intent.

Words are intended to be used and applied in an individually subjective manner.  It is possible, therefore, to apply definitions of words upon and regarding other things and concepts, such as art, in a manner completely at odds with anyone else.  In other words, just because someone created something to be a work of art does not mean I have to apply the word as such, to and upon such a thing, myself.

Indeed – there are many such ‘works-of-art’ on this  planet that I do not perceive as being such a thing, but that is fine, since that is exactly how the language is supposed to work!

But because the word art has become confused for its application, and applying words and what they represent is supposed to be subjective, it should be no surprise that, again, the definition of the word art has also become so subjective too.

So, the question still remains, how do we reconcile the three main uses of the word art above?

The most important thing is, of course, to understand and recognise that the behaviour described as 1 is what everything else is simply an application of, along with how and why.


Part 3: Deriving a Definition of Art:

So, the problem then becomes very simple:

How to describe such behaviour in a manner that is consistent with what is then described in 2+3.

This is, of course, the problem Wikipedia is trying to solve, even if it’s not recognised.  Unfortunately, it goes too far and becomes more of an application, again, rather than a definition of such a word, (though not as far as my little Mini Oxford English Dictionary).

So how do we solve this problem?

Well, remember the basic behaviour we can use in conjunction with the word story?


Things people do for themselves = writing their own stories.

Things people do for others = telling stories.

Things that happen to people = stories they are told.


Here is where we run into the limitations of the ‘normal’ method to describe such behaviour, even when used in isolation:

Art cannot be described as something people do ‘for others’, since it implies intent, which is not consistent with how the word is used and applied.  The reason we’re having problems, is because people are focusing on art as something that happens to people, which of course it does become, eventually, but is not consistent with the actual behaviour the word represents an application of.  Art is also not consistent with being something people do for themselves, either, so how do we describe such behaviour?

Although the normal method of describing such behaviour presents problems, using the word story makes things far easier and more consistent, because intent ceases to be a problem.

It would therefore appear that art can simply be described as involving people telling stories.  We can tell a story to someone without intent or even any awareness of such behaviour – (also see ‘tells’ in poker/cards etc.).  The only thing that matters is that other people perceive the story we happen to be telling.

The primary reason for problems with the word art is therefore because of people confusing the behaviour of telling a story, with that of being told a story, which of course it becomes, but they are different behaviour, of different people, and therefore cannot be the same thing.

It is possible for one person to both write and tell a story, simultaneously, but not be told the same story at the same time in a similar manner.  The term improvisation is used to describe the act of both writing and telling a story simultaneously, especially in relation to art as it is being performed and also created.  Since improvisation is merely a type or application of art itself, writing a story is not what the word art represents.

It should be obvious that, based on its use, the word art represents an application of telling stories.

So, the questions therefore become, what application of such behaviour does the word art represent, and how does such behaviour relate to the three uses of the word art?

1.  The process of creating something.

This would appear to be the main problem in regards to the definition of the word art, as also seen in its entry for Wikipedia.  How does the simple process of creating something – (the art of designing or making anything (for any reason)) – involve telling stories?

Simple – everything we create tells the story of its creation.  Everything we create can therefore be seen as being a work of art – (a work of such a creative process).

The only application the word art therefore represents, in relation to such behaviour, is that it is of our own creation, nothing more – creative story-telling.

So why isn’t the word used in such a manner to describe everything we create, as it appears that it can be?

This is, again, simple.  Nearly everything we create is not created for the purpose of telling a story, even as it does so.  Most things we create are intended to fulfil a specific function and purpose, to usually enable a story to be written by someone else, other than its creator, separately from the story that it tells, (though of course it’s possible for anyone to use such things for their function, even those who have already created it), and so such functionality is how they are defined, labelled and perceived.  It is still possible for such objects to be perceived as works of art – results of such a creative process that tells a story - but it’s merely an additional label, (also) subjectively applied – a subjective application of the word art, upon and in addition to what the thing itself happens to be described and defined as.

Furniture, cars, consumer electronics, buildings etc. in addition to games, puzzles (and even competitions), (when applicable), can therefore all be recognised as being works-of-art, in addition to what they are defined as, based on their function and purpose.

It can also be said, that some things we create, are not intended, or are perceived as involving ‘creativity’.  Creation and creativity, in this manner, do not represent the same thing.  The act of creation, merely describes the behaviour of making a thing, or even a thing that happens, that would not otherwise exist without our intervention.  Creativity and creative, even in relation to the word art, involve the use of a person’s imagination.  But again, the difference all depends on the perception of the person applying the definition themselves, as to what they feel is ‘enough’ creativity for anything to be labelled or defined as a work of art.  This is a legitimate area of argument about what is a work of art and what is not, and is the main reason why it will always be argued about regardless, but is not the focus of this blog.  The main problem at this time, however, is that such arguments are not being fully based on a consistent, objective, definition, and so the arguments themselves are not entirely consistent either – (and is also affecting other words, such as game).  (This, of course, can then lead into arguments and discussions of copyright and patents, which is also beyond the scope of this blog…).

It should hopefully be obvious why the other uses of art also involve telling stories:

2.  Something that has been so created that affects, or is intended to affect, the senses.

3.  The performance or teaching of such creations where applicable.

The whole point about 2, is that it is simply an application of what the word art represents in a manner that is fully consistent with its definitioncreative story telling.  Anything that is created to tell a story – has storytelling as its main function – and is perceived as such, can therefore be defined as a work-of-art, and just using the word art itself to represent such things, again, isn’t helping, since recognising the use of the word to represent a thing that is therefore an application of its main use and definition, is also a problem for many people.  This is how such applications listed earlier therefore represent forms of art – the basic methods and media used in telling stories, and why people get confused between the different uses of the word art, itself.

It should also be obvious for 3, that performing and teaching also involves telling stories.  It should also be obvious that the use of the word art in such a manner can go beyond what is written there.  The act of performing or teaching anything again, so long as it is perceived as being created, and/or possessing such creativity, can be recognised as art, or even an art (form).

“Skills and masteries”, can be used to describe the different creative processes art represents, especially in relation to different media used and things being created.  Martial arts also simply fall under such creative story telling being performed - (even if it hurts!)

The act of using many arts, such as those recognised as involving martial, or performing arts, (acting/music/dance etc.), when not actually telling a story to anyone else at that time, or intending to, is considered to be practice.


Art & Design

The word design is often used in combination with the word art.  The problem with this, is that, again, the use of the word art in such a manner is based upon its application, rather than its true definition.  Design, as another application of behaviour, is encompassed by what the word art itself represents, and is therefore a lower word within the taxonomic hierarchy.  The term art & design, is therefore the equivalent of 'movement and walking', or 'music and composition' - one of which is fairly meaningless in combination with the other in such a manner.


Part 3A: The Uses of Art and Relationship To Such A Definition (summary):


I think that’s it’s probably best to show how all the main uses of the word art are related, to and by the definition I’ve given, in a single part:

Art = creative story-telling.

1) The basic creative process, (the act/behaviour of creating anything), is what the word art represents in general.  (Everything we create, tangible or not, tells the story of such a process).  It’s rarely used as such, because it’s mainly perceived by how such a concept is applied, but it’s still what it must represent, based on the rest of its use.

2) There are two main basic applications of the use/definition above:

a) Two applications of art that represent a more specific creative process in 1, (one of which can be seen on this web-site), as in the art of (creating something)/(it is (a specific creative process)) an art.

b) Perceiving such a process, (a creative story someone is both telling and creating), directly, that may, or may not be intended to be such an application – (creative/skilful play in sport would be an example) – which can also lead the use of another application of art, this time as a property something/something that happens, possesses – the word artful.

3)  A further application of such a creative process, sometimes labelled by the media, (all or some), being used to tell such creative stories – art forms, the arts, performing arts, (martial arts can be perceived as such too, but, (like performing arts), also have relevance in other applications, such as 2b and 5).  This may involve both things that have been created and behaviour.

4) A specific example of such an application of a creative process in 3, whether intended to be, or merely perceived as such – a work of art.  Things or behaviour that have such an application of the creative process as their function, can therefore be defined as a work of art.  Things that do not, may merely be perceived as works of art.  Some examples may be both created and performed at the same time - (involving improvisation) - and can therefore be seen as a combination of 2b and 4.

One of the problems we have is that such examples, (especially in visual form), are also merely called ‘art’ itself, without any reference to the creative process.  This is obviously not helping people understand the relationship between the two.

5) The teaching of 2a, 3 & 4, can also be seen as art, and since teaching is also, naturally, about telling stories, teaching may also be seen as art, or an art, in itself, if perceived to be ‘creative’.


The main problem with the word art, today, is therefore because of people trying to reconcile the uses of the word art in 2 (a specifically), with 3 & 4, without always fully recognising and understanding, and therefore involving, 1, which is impossible.


Part 4: Art and Game(s):

Since the definitions of both of these words have become confused with their applications, recognising and understanding how they are related to each other, based on their use, is also a problem for many people at this time.

The primary reason for any and all confusion between art and games, is because games can be both viewed as works of art, (like anything else we create), in addition to being able to use many different forms of art to enable and promote the activity itself.

But, as said before, games, like many, if not most of the things we create, are not defined by their art, and are not therefore a type (or form) of art in themselves.  The function of a game is not to tell a story, so they are not consistent with being such a thing.  Games exist to enable a story to be written, using competition and rules.  All the forms of art – the media games may use to enable such a thing - are already labelled, defined, understood, and exist as forms of art (based on the media that is further being used to enable the game) – such as video/music/pictures and sculpture - independently of games.  Games are not a medium for art itself at all, since they do not affect how such forms exist - it's the other way round, though only indirectly, as a condition of any true media or objects used in a/the game itself - (boards/playing cards/computers etc).  So for computer games, it's not the game that means anything for art, but the computers themselves.

Games therefore bring nothing whatsoever to the meaning and definition of the word art itself, they can merely borrow and use what already exists, to enable and promote another type of behaviour.

Games are defined by what is important for their function – the written story.  The types of story written and the (usually physical) media used to enable such a thing, are therefore all that matters in such a manner.  Art has no place whatsoever in describing any type of game, since it is always nothing more than a condition of the medium being used, be it pictures/animation/video, sculpture or even sound/music.

Nearly every type of game is described in such a manner, except one, and this is causing problems.  This ‘type’ of game is not labelled by the medium or written story it represents, but by a form of art the relevant medium usually uses.  The use of art in such a description is therefore inconsistent with the definition of games, and is therefore causing problems.

I am of course talking about the label, video game.

The term video game is inconsistent with how the word game is used elsewhere in the language for a simple reason – the type of art the word video represents, is merely a condition of the medium being used, in the same manner that a picture is a type of art that many other media use for games, (such as a board or playing cards).

The true medium by which these types of game should be labelled, is, of course, a computer (of whatever kind or type).

Now, the act of designing and creating a game is (an) art, but what is being created, in this case a game, is not defined as such, but may simply be perceived as such, subjectively, on an individual basis.  An individual game may therefore be recognised as a work of art, but will not, must not, be defined as such a thing, in a similar manner to any other thing we create that is defined by such a function.  I may view a particular car as being a work of art, but that doesn't mean all cars must be defined as such!

Because of the inconsistent label, asking if video games are art, is like asking if an oak table is wood – the question and answer mean very little.

The word game, however, is not the word art – it is an equivalent in itself: a word of the same type, representing a different application of different behaviour that just so happens to be compatible when related and applied in a specific manner to and/or by different people.  The word game and art have equal stature within the overall taxonomic hierarchy, ultimately under the term 'application of things that happen (etc.)' .

Just because games can use art, and the process of creating a game is (an) art, (‘the art of making games’ is perfectly consistent), does not mean that games themselves are art, anymore than buildings, furniture, consumer electronics, or anything else we create that is defined by a different function...

Games do not require art to be used when being played, even if it can be perceived as an art to create a game in order for it to be played.  Of course, for some of the most basic games, many people may feel that such creativity is negligible, and so even that is still subjective.  ‘I’ll race to you to that tree’ may be a game, but I doubt many people will consider it creative enough to be a work of art in itself.

The act of perceiving a game being played by someone else, as being art, however, is, of course, different and separate from it being a game itself, even though it involves the behaviour of the same person, since it’s the perception and application of such words by different people that then defines them as such.


The most important concept for anyone involved in the act (and art) of making games is this:

What you are creating may be a work of art – (or just art if you prefer) – but that’s not what makes it a game – it’s the behaviour it is used to enable from the people who choose to play your game, that defines it as such – not your behaviour in making it, or even the game's behaviour on your behalf.


Computer games can therefore be seen as works of art for people to use to play a game.  A problem, is that many people merely think in terms of simple ‘interaction’, to describe uses of such art by the players, that enables a game to take place.  But the word interaction, in itself, is not precise enough to describe the behaviour the word game represents (an application of).  Puzzles and competitions can both involve people interacting with art, let alone merely work or play, and so this type of simple thought and language used, is not really suitable to describe the nature of such an activity and product used to enable such a thing.

Again, games should be created to enable one thing – a written story by a (the) player(s) - within a structured, competitive environment – (and of course, the environment itself may be perceived as a work of art in itself, if and when applicable).



Part 5:  Art In Relation to Other Applications of Behaviour:

Because art involves telling stories, it also, naturally, involves the behaviour of narrating and all other related words.  Although narrating can describe telling stories that are not creative, merely factual etc., since this is the behaviour the word art represents an application of, all art involves narration of some kind.  Since the words narrate and story are not fully recognised for what they represent in relation to each other, at this time, however, many people can get confused between the use and application of the two.

Games can involve art, of course, but may also include merely narration itself – a story told to a player within whatever setting it takes place within – either on behalf of the game itself or another player.  The basic written story of a game, however, is not in itself, a narrative – again, the same story cannot be both written and told to and by the same person, simultaneously.  For this reason, games are, again, not art themselves, even if any individual game may be perceived in such a manner, either as a basic work of art, on behalf of it's creator(s), that is then defined as a game, or because it is being subjectively perceived as such by another observer.

Competitions and puzzles, however, are different.  The reason for this is simple – competitions and puzzles do not have to be created in order to exist, (in general), they can merely be perceived to exist based on the natural behaviour and interaction between people and/or other entities or even the universe itself.

They can, however, of course be applied in a manner that is fully consistent with what the word art represents – being created, (and telling the story of such creation), to enable such applications of behaviour instead.  Again, however, just as with games, such concepts must be defined by the application of behaviour they represent - their functionality - which is different from the word art, even if compatible in the same way as games – (using art to enable such a thing to take place).

Related Jobs

Imbellus — Los Angeles, California, United States

Game Designer
Telltale Games
Telltale Games — San Rafael, California, United States

Creative Director
Telltale Games
Telltale Games — San Rafael, California, United States

Narrative Designer
Digital Extremes
Digital Extremes — London, Ontario, Canada

Weapons Artist

Loading Comments

loader image