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Stop Debating "Games as Art"
by Evan Jones on 04/04/11 08:54:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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.


We ask the question "are video games art?" We ask it often, and we usually ask it so that we can immediately provide an answer to it. On first glance, it seems to be the pressing question of our medium. We tend to see it as a cry for validation, a question of quintessence, a search for deeper meaning, a desire to justify our existence, a hope for immortality.

It is none of these. The answer to the question is "yes," and an explanation is not required.

Truth be told, I don't know when the games-as-art debate began in earnest. Google News shows the mainstream press beginning to discuss the issue around 2000 (no doubt the explosion of cinematically excellent games in the late 90s contributed to the interest in this topic.)

Roger Ebert's public campaign against video games as art began in 2005, and his position as an eloquent student of the world's second-newest art medium certainly incensed advocates of the newest, and his ignorant cries that games can never be art brought the discussion to the forefront of the gaming public's attention.

The latest salvo comes from Brian Moriarty and his GDC lecture claiming that games are not art by spending much of his time talking about things that are not games, and this, too, sparked another outrage from the gaming community. The debate has raged for many years, and none may know when it will conclude.

What I do know is that if we believe that video games are art, it is vitally important that we immediately cease discussion of this topic.

Games are art, and the sky is blue, and Austria is a country in Europe, and koalas have a vegetarian diet, and pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. To debate games as art is to suggest that the question is worthy of debate. It is not.

The people who claim that games are not art have not played games that have spoken to them as art. Their opinions stem from a lack of experience with games. It is not our job to refute them!

It is retarding to the critical development of our medium to spend our time defending its legitimacy. The worth of an experience cannot be judged by one who has not undergone it. To claim that games are not art is to judge countless experiences not experienced. To defend games as art is to say that such claims are worthwhile.

It is so very tempting to engage in this debate! I have a great amount of sympathy for those who do. After all, they are doing this because, like me, they love games and want others to love them too.

They speak with eloquent words about the way that games have moved them, touched them, called them to examine their lives in different ways, asked them to think critically about topics they had taken for granted.

Their words are honest, heartfelt, and true, but they will convince no one that games are art. After all, it was no one's words that convinced them that games are art - that task fell to games, and games alone.

When someone says
(When someone says "games are not art," what they're telling you is "I know without a doubt that there is no art in this room," and that's as ludicrous and baseless a claim as it sounds.)

Equally alluring is the desire to convince one's opponents that games are art by listing a canon of games that one believes qualify as art. This doesn't work, either, for the very reason that not everyone regards particular works of art in the same manner.

Almost all works of art have their detractors, and resting the entire games-as-art issue on the shoulders of one game, or collection of games, practically invites the deconstruction of those games as a counterpoint suggesting that games are not art. Don't do it.

The person who believes that games are not art has not played the right games. Neither you nor I know which games will reveal to them that games are art. I'm intentionally avoiding discussing games I feel are art and games I feel aren't, because my lists are different than yours, and I don't want to weaken my position on games as a whole by discussing specific games.

Keep making games! Keep playing them, and keep talking about them, and keep telling your friends about them. Keep sharing stories about the ones that made you laugh and cry, the ones that filled you with joy or happiness or panic or dread.

Tell about the time a game made you think, or the time one made you feel a sense of true accomplishment, or the time you felt true pride in your lower-case-a-achievements. Speak about the ones that made you angry and the ones that inspired you. Lament the bad games and sing the praises of the good.

But stop acknowledging any claims that games are not art. Stop talking back to them, too. You don't have time for that. There are more good games to be played.

Evan Jones is a game programmer at Lolapps, an independent game developer in his free time, and a game design enthusiast. You can email him at his first name It would make him very happy if you followed him on Twitter @chardish.

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Jack Garbuz
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Amen. Are movies "art?" I believe video games are the interactive virtual movies of the 21st century, and the only reason why they have not yet been acknowledged as such by the oldsters, is because most of them have never played one. Now, I'm a 64 year old avid video game player who took it up as as my hobby over ten years ago when I retired. I've played well over 300 video games since. The problem is, most of them are simply too confusing or difficult for oldsters to even begin with, and the industry has done nothing to try to get people over age 35 to engage with them. So the middle age folks who control media really can't pass judgement, one way or the other, on that which they know absolutely nothing about. We'll either have to wait another 20 years (and I'll be dead by then) for present generation to fully grow up until interactive video movies become mainstream, OR the industry will have to do much more to try to expand the market upwards. Right now, most video games are made by young people for young people without giving a thought to marketing the medium to anyone over age 30, much less 40, 50 or 60 year olds like myself.

Sean Farrell
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Eric Schwarz
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This piece reads more like a manifesto than anything else, and I for one appreciate you taking the time to write it. You've largely echoed my thoughts on this. In the centuries of discussion the human race has had on the credibility of various forms of art, the role of art in society, the effects of art on people, etc., if any conclusion has come of it, it's that there is no one wholly right answer to the question. As creators in this new medium, we owe it to ourselves to stop putting ourselves in question. Yes, games are art. Is it not liberating to *know* that we are not bound by the constraints of those who seek to impose their misguided ideas upon the medium?

Jason Weesner
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Thanks Evan! The whole "games as art" argument is just an attention grabbing headline with no merit. Nobody should be telling anybody else what is or isn't art.

@Jack - Hmm. There's never been a better time for people of all ages to enjoy video games! Perhaps you just need to widen your horizons a bit and try out some different genres or platforms. If you let us know what you like to play, I'm sure a lot of us around here could recommend games with more accessible controls and systems.

Jack Garbuz
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Oh, I've been playing video games for well over a decade now, and have played about 350 in the last decade, from Doom to Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption. And I am 64 years old. What I was talking about was how to get OTHER people over age 40 to become engaged with interactive video gaming. Personally, I enjoy FP shooters and some RPG's (though generally not the Japanese-made ones).

My point was, that since most movie critics are in their mid-30s and way up, and very few mature people play and can review video games, the whole industry is still considered an industry mainly for kids. Not something to be taken seriously. My whole "baby boomer" generation has missed the video game phenomenon completely, except for a handful like myself. They have no clue. And the industry is doing nothing to change it. Have you ever seen a video game commercial targeting middle age or older people?

Jasmine Hegman
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Just so you don't feel too left out here are some stats which may be comforting for you:

- The average game player is 34 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.

- The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40 years old.

- Forty percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (20 percent).

- In 2010, 26 percent of Americans over the age of 50 play video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999.

( source: )

Now, true, games are marketed for the younger generation - but what else would you expect? What target market will make the most return, and be around the longest - increasing the possible value of the adverts?

Your social circles (and mine too) may be lacking of older gamers or older game designers, but they do exist. I also agree with you, I think more neutral advertising would be great! Nintendo proved it can be worthwhile, but fresh young boobs will always be more attractive than Cranky Kong. :/ And so the world turns.

Jack Garbuz
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Yes, your statistics are interesting, though I wonder which kinds of games they are actually playing, and if the 40 year olds aren't mainly buying them for their kids to play. Actually, most of the "bread and butter" games for the industry are sports games, racing, skate boarding, and the like. Now, of my old friends and acquaintances from my baby boomer generation, now in their 60s, I don't know anyone that plays video games besides myself, unless you count arcade games such as Bejewelled, etc. The genres I am mostly talking about are the so called FPS's (shooters) and role playing games (RPGs).

Actually, my beef is that they aren't doing anything to make them easier or more accessible for older players. They should be providing walkthroughs and easier novice modes, cheats and other aids along with the games so that older newbies can start off and not get immediately confused, frustrated so that they quit before they even give it a chance to get engaged. I knew one guy who I had been needling to give it a try a few years back, so he happened to have DOOM 3 installed on his PC, and so started to play. Had no idea what to do, where to go, was soon getting killed every minute, got frustrated, and that was the end of that. Never touched another video game after that.

Jennifer Ethridge
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Check out the Smithsonian American Art Museum's upcoming exhibit "The Art Of Video Games," opening in 2012!

Zack Hiwiller
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Tell about the time a game made you think,

- Math problems make me think. Are they art?

or the time one made you feel a sense of true accomplishment,

- I feel accomplishment when I lose weight. Is dieting art?

or the time you felt true pride in your lower-case-a-achievements.

- When I finish a long bike ride, I feel accomplishment. Is riding a bike art?

Speak about the ones that made you angry and the ones that inspired you.

- Politics makes me angry. Is politics art?

- I'm inspired by people who fight through disease. Is their journey art?

I'd like for the games=art argument to be cut and dry, but philosophers have been arguing what art is since ancient days. Simply saying you don't want to participate in the argument is not the same thing as settling the argument. Denying that the argument exists is an intellectually shallow technique.

Evan Jones
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I'm not trying to list reasons why games are art, but rather a set of discussions that are more interesting, relevant, and beneficial to the development of our art than the "are games art?" discussion.

Jack Garbuz
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Mathematicians will say that an equation is "elegant" because it so "beautifully" describes some phenomenon, or whatever. So to a mathematician, an "elegant" proof of some problem or proposition is a work of art in that field.

Same with programmers. When a programmer writes a concise and "elegant" routine, other programmers may admire it and then hold that programmer in higher regard as a sort of artist in their field. This is true in every field of endeavor.

Pallav Nawani
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@Jack Garbuz:


That's really all that needs to be said on the subject.

Altug Isigan
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Guyal Sfere
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If you don't think riding a bike can be art, you haven't seen Mario Cippollini

Noah Falstein
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There's a problem here. You say "The latest salvo comes from Brian Moriarty and his GDC lecture claiming that games are not art". PLEASE read what he actually said at and you will see he repeatedly states, assumes, and confirms that GAMES ARE ART. he says they are just not what he is defining as "sublime art" or "high art" as some would call it. To dismiss what Brian says as just another "are games art?" debate is a straw man argument, he clearly and repeatedly says games are a form of art, on a par with most movies and other popular art. Your blog post "Stop Debating Games as Art" begs a counter-blog post of "Stop misrepresenting debates to assert falsehoods". If people want to debate the question of whether games are high art/sublime art on a par with the Mona Lisa or Beethoven's symphonies, feel free to drag the Moriarty talk into it all - but please do him the service of actually reading it first!

Evan Jones
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I read the talk a third time at your request, and Moriarty quite clearly draws a distinction of equality between games and other forms of art. The belief that games are somehow lesser than other forms of art is what I'm calling illegitimate here. Calling the other forms of art "high art," "sublime art," or anything else, purely as an invented category that games are not a part of, doesn't change the crux of my argument.

Christopher Braithwaite
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You yourself consider some games to be art and some games to not be art, which means you are making an aesthetic distinction just as Moriarty is.

"I'm intentionally avoiding discussing games I feel are art and games I feel aren't, because my lists are different than yours, and I don't want to weaken my position on games as a whole by discussing specific games."

I find this distinction disingenuous because it applies only to some games. Either games are art and some are bad art (e.g. movies), or games are *not* art but some are worthy of being considered art (e.g. chairs). By stating that some games are art and some aren't, you are saying that games are not art.

Jack Garbuz
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Well, I'm not a programmer, but I have worked with programmers, and a concise, "elegant," or cleverly constructed piece of code is considered a work of art by his or her peers, and those who are really good at it get their grudging respect - and even occasionally even get more money from the bosses, though that is rare :) But since most of us are not programmers and couldn't spot a really nice piece of C++ if we tripped over it, we cannot appreciate the artistry of good programming the way we might for good writing or acting.

Luis Guimaraes
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As somebody else said here:

"25% will give their arguments about why game are art, 25% will argue why they aren't, and the other half will say 'who cares'"

I used to care, until I realised, whatever the answer is, it cannot be played, unless it's a game. The time one spends elaborating arguments on the matter, would be of better use building something we would enjoy experiencing...

Jack Garbuz
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"Games" are for kids. "Art" is for serious, mature, "sophisticated" people :) If instead of calling them "video games" they were re-labelled as "interactive virtual movies" they might get "serious people" to pay some attention to them.

Eric Scharf
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Stop it, Jack. Stop the silliness. You cannot even drag this horse to water. You simply ask for too much.

The next thing we know, you are going to start demanding that game developers and publishers alike start re-purposing their personnel rather than removing them through "restructuring."

Stop being so pushy, Jack. :)

Mark Venturelli
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If someone labels videogames "interactive virtual movies" I will hang myself with my shoelaces.

Jack Garbuz
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WHy? What's wrong with it?

Judson Rose
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I think it does games a disservice as an art form to compare them too readily to movies. Games do certainly have cinematic elements, but to call them "interactive virtual movies" simply makes them a derivative of film--a notion which I would disagree with. When we consider dance or theater or movies as art forms, even though they often mingle with each other, they all feature something intrinsic and unique to their form; for games, this is interactivity. If all that stands between some people perceiving video games as an art form is the name of the medium, then maybe they're not the kind of people adequately endowed to appreciate them anyway.

Luis Guimaraes
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Because it's cutting out a huge part of what games are. "Interactive virtual movies" is way too little of a description for what we have the term "video game". You could label a genre as that, but not the entire universe (I won't use "medium" here either to not fall in the same trap).

And, just an after thought, that's the reason why we developers consider video games to be art. Because video games are more than interactive movies or any other narrow explanation. You can have an empty canvas, a virgin reel, a brute stone piece, and you can make whatever you want with that, and if I make something and you make something, they're gonna be different pieces. It's the same with games. That's where art lies on.

There's "crafting arts" (painting, sculpture, writing) and there's "performing arts" (dancing, music playing, acting). In video games the author does the first, and lets the audience be both the beholder and the performer, both to the amount they choose.

Jack Garbuz
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Not fully sure I understand what you are saying, but since you are a developer, I'll just take your word for it. But for me, as an end user, I play them as interactive virtual movies, where I am the protagonist, the main actor. To me its the difference between passively watching say a war movie, and being in a war movie. If the set has been well constructed, I'll have a good time. If not, I'll just walk out of the movie, put it in its mailer, and send it back to Gamefly :)

Luis Guimaraes
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You don't have to take my word for it. And your explanation of how you experience games matters. I'm also not a long time developer (and just a half-year professionally), but player's opinions matter.

There's many people that experience them in the same way, but there's also more people that get them different, and people like me for whom it just depends on the game, the mood, the day of week, the lunar stage... But the point is that there's more things that video games do.

Owain abArawn
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I think 99% of the time, anyone who tries to tell me games are art is trying to sell something. And I don't trust people trying to sell me something.

Jack Garbuz
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Perhaps it would be better to say that video games are an art form, but not that every game is a work of art. Same with movies or books or any other form of entertainment If if it is done so well, that a body of people find it aesthetic, or moving, beautiful, whetever, then we can say that it is a work of art. OTherwise, it is just mundane or possibly even junk.

Owain abArawn
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Oh, and there's nothing that convinces people that you have the better side of the argument than pleading, can we please, Please, PLEASE "immediately cease discussion of this topic."

Yeah, there's someone who has complete confidence in his convictions...

Anonymous Designer
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Doesn't this article defy it's title?

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Christian Ierullo
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I think what is the more important argument is not whether or not games are art; but rather, whether or not they should be considered art. Fundamentally these arguments present themselves as the same anyway. We can never settle a semantic debate ongoing for millennia, nor do I think this is really what is at hand with this article or any other. Whether or not you consider art to be of any merit or to even consider that it applies to games at all is irrelevant. The public at large has come to use the term art vernacularly to mean something akin to being desrved of respect. If this means that games must adopt this moniker to gain the widespread respect of critics so be it. It is a noble pursuit because trying to sell the medium as something entirely for children or as a foolish pastime will not gain anyone any benefit anymore; I would argue even on a financial level. What constitutes art has always been an irrelevant argument, what should be considered art has not.

Larry Charles
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Is it really worthwhile to engage in debate over games being or not being art? What changes if either side is ever unanimously proven right?

Sylvester O'Connor
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Nice article but I have to say that I am so tired of these arguments. Are games art? Are they not? Gamification? Are graphics too real? Are they not? Look this argument has gone on longer than any of us have been alive. I am sure people said that Michaelangelo defaces the Systeine Chapel ceiling. Others probably praised him.

Why are we in the game community constantly seeking validation from outside sources that either don't understand nor play games? That's just like when you were growing up and no one understood why you liked watching those kung-fu movies that came on in the afternoon.

McFly, Hello!!!!! Let's not overlook the fact that we have a 64 year old telling us that he plays games and has played about 350 of them in this current and previous generation. That speaks volumes in and of itself. You want to know if it is art? Try telling someone that doesn't care about the type of brush and paper used to create the Mona Lisa to care about it. I am not trying to convert anyone, but here's what I say. Games, like everything else in life, is what you make it. I enjoy games. I enjoy the bad ones because it gives you something to talk about and ask WTFluff!!! were the developers thinking. I like the good ones that make you feel good about gaming. I like fully emerging myself in all the characters that I get to play to get the most out of my game. So, let us keep making these games as they are a great source of entertainment. Let's stop trying to do what society always asks mediums to do which is allow crtics to define them.

I'm a gamer. Proud to be one. Can defend my point as to why I like them and that's good enough to me. Cheers to you Jack Garbuz as you are our senior. May I live so long to enjoy the fruits of our labor and blast scum away.

Jack Garbuz
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Thanks, Sylvester. You "get" me. I love video gaming, or whatever one calls playing them. I think it's the premiere entertainment of the 21st century! I'm only beefing that not enough is being done by the industry to bring it to the mainstream! It still doesn't fully respect itself, and still seems to want to keep it for kids., It reminds me of the earlier computer industry, when at first the high priests of IBM wanted to keep computing out of the hands of the masses pretty much the way the Church once tried to keep the Bible out of the hands of laymen. THen, the nerdies of the early PCs of the mid to late 70s then wanted to keep it to themselves. And then came Apple II and the IBC PC, and slowly but surely, even regular people were able to learn to use them as they got easier and easier to use.

So I think some people just don't want this form of entertainment to go mainstream either, so that it can remain "their thing." I think anyone of any age could learn to play Red Dead Redemption and enjoy it. It's just that the industry is not spending a dollar to try to market it to the mainstream.

So why do I care? I have no one my age I can talk to about Mass Effect 2 or Red Dead or Fallout Las Vegas with. THey prefer to go to Vegas and drop money in stupid slot machines or at black jack tables. The games they play in casinos are the stupid ones to me. Almost everyone playing those turns out a real loser in those real world games.

Jack Garbuz
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Let me make just one more point. Look at the media - TV in particular - and just how much attention they LAVISH on actors and music celebrities, and how much respect they give to writers, directors, photographers, musicians, producers and all others involved in those old entertainment media industries. So why aren't the people involved in this new entertainment industry we call video gaming (which I prefer to call interactive virtual movies), i.e., the programmers, writers, artists, producers, and all the rest not lavished the same attention by the mass media as the aforementioned? Simple. Most of the "movers and shakers" have never played a video game even once in their lives, except maybe a trivial sports game. They have no clue what their kids are doing, or what it's all about. And I fault the industry itself for this. If it doesn't respect itself, nobody else will.

Jeff Stolt
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The question is, "Are video games art?"

Your answer is, "The answer to the question is 'yes,' and an explanation is not required."

To be frank, that's a very close-minded answer to such an open-ended question.

When I first read Ebert's answer and the following discussion surrounding it, I applauded. I remember reading about the same discussion in regards to comic books, and like today, there have been many good arguments raised on both sides. I loved it because it made me think about games (and comics) in a whole new way.

Most of the recent discussion on the issue was equally interesting for me, and many others judging by how long it's remained a topic of discussion. And think about how many people have been inspired or challenged to prove that games could be art. It's exciting to me, just thinking about what's coming.

In other words, the answer isn't nearly as important as the discussion. I'm glad that it's continuing.

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Jeff Stolt
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And this is one of the things that I find most interesting.

As has been said many times before, Art is subjective.

If Art is defined by its ability to create emotional response, what scale do we use to measure it, what kind of emotional response counts, and what boundaries define its scope?

I think what people are worried about is creating a definition of Art that includes things they dislike or severely hate.

But even in the community of Art itself, meaning objects created for artistic purposes and nothing else, it is subjective.

The beauty about subjective responses and opinions is that nobody can steal them from you. Nobody can take away the weeks and months I spent immersed in the world of Myst. Although I would never presume to tell anyone to consider it art, it's Art to me.

[User Banned]
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Luis Guimaraes
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“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”

- Napoleon Bonaparte

Luis Guimaraes
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In other words: "Less QQ, more PewPew"

Daniel Gooding
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I find it Ironic that the purpose of the article was to stop debating, but caused several debates.

The title of the article was obviously named so to stir up an emotional response in one way or another.

I like to think of this article as an example of how a gaming audience can very negatively or positively react to the way things are worded in games.

Although that in itself is a censorship argument, so there is no way to escape debates. People have different opinions.

Darren Tomlyn
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Game != art.

Video Game = art + game.

The words game and art based on how they are USED within the English language, (and their equivalents in other languages), represent DIFFERENT applications of DIFFERENT behaviour, that just happen to be COMPATIBLE.

Games and art can and do exist completely INDEPENDENTLY of each other, both within and without the language, and therefore have no place in DEFINING each other.

The reason WHY people are having problems understanding this very basic matter of language, is that games have become known, recognised and understood BY their APPLICATIONS, rather than WHAT it is they're applying in the first place! Since art can form part of such an application, that's why people think the word game itself is defined as such, which is false.

The difference between WHAT a word represents, and how such a thing is APPLIED, (by using other words in combination), is such a FUNDAMENTAL part of how our language functions that, any lack of consistency in recognition and belief will always cause problems!

(Read my blog - (click my name) - haven't got round to looking at the word art yet though).

Glenn Storm
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"Stop Debating ..." - 54 comments (... now, 55)

Cue mischief. Is Gamification Art?

Christopher Braithwaite
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Absolutely, in fact, gamification is superior to game design because it is harder.

Tomas Augustinovic
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Isn't art in the eye of the beholder? Anything can be art?

Darren Tomlyn
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art = creative story telling.

If someone should see such a thing in anything they perceive, then yes, it is, or can be, art.

But the word game does not represent such story telling at all - even if such things can be used to enable such a thing - neither does competition/puzzle etc..

We have different words within the language to represents different things/ideas/concepts for a good reason.

Just as we don't define a table as wood, we don't define game as art. One may be used to enable the other, but they're not defined by it.

As I said above, getting confused between what a word represents and how it is applied, is such a basic, simple, fundamental matter for language in general, that there should be no surprise that it's causing all sorts of problems.

Read my blog...

Christian Ierullo
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I wonder about your definition of art and if you have held it up to the same scrutiny as your definition of game. I have read your blogs and definitely see where you are coming from in terms of a classical narratology/ludology approach but how inseperable are the 'art' parts of video games from the classical notion of games? Isn't there a fundamental difference in the application of the gameplay that makes video games intertwined with their artistic, narrative or otherwise, aspects?

I think that this is why you seem to think so many people are confused on the issue when they use the word game to describe video games and you (and many others) do not see any way to reconcile storytelling into the very mechanics of the gameplay. On a fundamental level you may be right, and the very precise definition, as you outline in your blogs, cannot be reconciled with art because it is more akin to competition not creation.

But when talking about art you equate it to creative storytelling, what is the application of that storytelling in video games if it is not through the gameplay? And is narrative really the only way to justify something as art? Many other forms of art are not narrative based (sculpture, music etc.)

The main point I am trying to say is that we cannot seperate the the 'artistic' aspects of video games from the purely game aspects; they come as one complete package and should be viewed as such. Just because games are not art does not mean that video games are not art.

Darren Tomlyn
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You obviously don't quite see it (yet, I hope).

Based on the simple research I've done - the word art has three main uses:

1)The act/process/activity of creating something, whether 'aesthetic' or functional, in ANY form, (literature/music/dance/food/sculpture/consumer electronics/furniture/architecture/clothing etc. - even the term con-artist applies here, as-well as, say, creative and skilful (aesthetic) play in sport etc.).

2)The end result or product of such creation, when recognised for being 'aesthetic', usually if not or in addition to any function - again the term artful is also used in regards to such a creation, as-well as the process itself, occasionally. This is where and how art can combine with, and enable a game, something functional, for example.

3)The act of performing or teaching such a creation (when applicable) - (martial/performing arts etc.) - in which case it is (usually/always?) considered 'practice' outside of such a performance or teaching.

Creative story-telling is a single, simple definition that would cover all of the above.

The two main elements that video games, (and others, such as board games!), contain that are DEFINED as art, and that are therefore used AS art, to enable and promote the game itself, are of course the artwork (either 2 or 3d) that creates the SETTING, and any art that the playing piece/avatar etc. the player uses contains or uses itself.

Any other form of art, is either part of the setting itself, or a story TOLD to the player WITHIN such a setting, either (hopefully) to enable another story for the player to WRITE, or (unfortunately) to replace any story that could have been written instead.

(EDIT: doh, did it again, I forgot to mention the third type of story - commentary - telling the player about something the game has done on their behalf.)

Do not mistake the SETTING for any story told or written within! What makes video games what they are, and therefore require art to exist, is that the setting must be CREATED using art for the GAME - a (structured, competitive) written story within such a setting - to exist.

For the player of a game, a WRITTEN story, is NOT, nor can ever BE, a story that they're TOLD.

Games do NOT require stories to be TOLD in order to exist. The setting that is created for video/board games etc. does NOT have to be created for EVERY possible game!

A game is about WRITING a story in a structured, competitive environment - the ONLY element that needs to be CREATED in order for that to happen, are the rules, nothing more.


All stories, written or told, require a time and place, a setting, in order to exist.

Games are ONLY defined by the stories that are WRITTEN within such a setting, not those that are TOLD.

Story = An account of events, either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside (a person's) memory).

Art = creative story TELLING

Game = structured, competitive story WRITING

Puzzle = interacting with stories being TOLD, (Incomplete, but unknown how to make fully consistent without being subjective).

A competition = competing to be TOLD a story

Compete = trying to gain a story in spite of, or at the expense of, someone or something else.

Tomas Augustinovic
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I'm not saying we should define games as art, but can they be perceived as art? Of course! To me, art is about feelings. You get a sense of fear watching a good horror movie. You might feel sadness while reading a good book. And yes, you might feel happy flinging angry birds at pigs.

Honestly, I don't care what a dictionary or you define as art. Nothing is black and white.

Darren Tomlyn
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game != art.

VIDEO game = ART + GAME.

What makes it ART - is NOT what makes it a GAME, which is why the word is used in COMBINATION.

Video is art - pictures are art, animation, sculpture etc. - but NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE GAMES!

Video games are a type of game that USES art in order to enable a game to exist, but they do NOT define each other.

Do not confuse VIDEO games, for GAMES in general - there is a difference of between them! APPLICATIONS are NOT the same as DEFINITIONS.

NOT ALL GAMES USE ART, and therefore not ALL games may or can be PERCEIVED AS ART - and therefore have nothing to do with the word art in itself.

Asking the question are GAMES, art? - is like asking is furniture, wood?

Whereas asking if VIDEO games are art, is like asking - is oak furniture, wood?

Do we understand the matter yet?

Christian Ierullo
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I think you and I agree more than you think. I wonder when you say that the game exists becasue the application is using art assets. I agree that the two are mutually exclusive on paper, but I'm not fond of dualism in philosophy and find it reductive to say that there is a necessary split in these things when it seems obvious that they cannot exist independantly of each other. At least not in video games.

Gameplay in a video game is simply an interactive movement of the game's assets. The problem is that we see the words existing seperately from each other when in fact they cannot exist without each other. Now anything we say on the matter will of course be somewhat generalizing but for the most part video games are neither video or games in any independant state.

Video games are a new medium unto themselves and just because there is a fusion of old media does not mean that we need to hold it to rigorous definitions of old. Especially when the name is largely a misnomer anyway and doesn't fit the classical definition of either video or game.

Breaking them down into independant parts and trying to use the definitions against each other doesn't work. It's like asking what film is an application of? Is it photography, theatre or writing? It's all three and that makes it something new unto itself. Why can't the same be said of video games?

Darren Tomlyn
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Because none of what video games contain is anything special or unique at all, apart from the computer(s) itself.

You do realise that your first paragraph:

I agree that the two are mutually exclusive on paper, but I'm not fond of dualism in philosophy and find it reductive to say that there is a necessary split in these things when it seems obvious that they cannot exist independently of each other. At least not in video games.

Is essentially saying:

Furniture and wood cannot exist independently of each other in oak furniture.

(furniture = game, wood = art, oak = video).

Which is, of course, a no-brainer. But it still has nothing to do with the definitions of furniture and wood in themselves, and doesn't recognise exactly how and why they exist independently of each other based on such definitions, and USE.

How some of the elements are COMBINED is new - but that has nothing to do with art, game, puzzle or competition AT ALL - all it brings that is new, has to do with COMPUTERS, and computer programs - i.e. software - and how that allows the other elements to be controlled and combined.

EVERYTHING computer games contain within already EXISTS outside of a computer - video games are merely the sum of all such parts, which a computer, or even computers, enables, controls and combines. Video games bring NOTHING NEW to the table for art, puzzle, game or competition that affects their definitions in ANY WAY WHATSOEVER.

But without fully understanding WHAT such words as game, puzzle, art, competition etc. represent IN ISOLATION, the understanding and recognition of what computers allow will never be possible, because their relationships, which computers allow full exploration of, will never be fully understood either, in a manner that is consistent with what these words represent, and what it is we're after.

Which then means that understanding these words for how they are RELATED is both a problem, and a symptom.

Video games, are NOT being made consistently AS games because of this.

THIS is the problem we have at this time.

The PERCEPTION of what these words represent, is INCONSISTENT with how the language itself is USED, and is GETTING IN THE WAY of fully, and truly allowing WHAT it is these words represent from reaching their full potential as such when using a computer, (and more) - especially the word game.

Christian Ierullo
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You say: "Video games, are NOT being made consistently AS games because of this. THIS is the problem we have at this time"


Why is this a problem with video games? In your blog you define 3 types of games: A Race, Combat (or a form of zero sum game) and games of accuracy. Tell me how, for the most part, any of these are in most video games? Most video games, which I'm assuming you get your dissilusion from, do not conform to these archetypes.

The aspect of a computer changes a lot more than just the application of classical games even when they are applied in video games. Games are much more simulations than classical competitions; even when they try to be competitive and eschew stories i.e. Multiplayer shooters.

The fact that all classical games, including the ones in your defintions, are all competitive and require multiple players outright denies single player gaming and pretty much means a rejection of what a lot of people enjoy about video games. To say that there is something fundamentally wrong with this is to completely miss the point of video games itself. To fail to understand that video games are inherently different from "classical" games (most of them anyway).

You say that video games are no different because they are the sum of their parts; I say that they are different for exactly that reason. Just as film is not photography+acting+writing+stage design+music, video games are much more than just an amalgamation of their art and technical assets. Understanding what these words mean in isolation is all fine and dandy but if you do not realize how they work together you will fundamentally fail at desinging a good game. This is the same for any of the "classical" artistic media for they all require different tools to reach their destination.

We use wood to create furniture, but furniture is much more than wood. it is a creative expression as much as a functional object. It just seems to me that you are a classical ludoligist who has become frustrated at ONE of the directions gaming has gone and is trying to use linguistics and etymology to argue that games need to return to 'a simpler time'.

There are defintiley problems with video games that need to mature and evolve a little bit, but saying that the medium is fundamentally flawed because it doesn't fully embrace a catchphrase poorly coined in the 70's to define its nature seems a little out of touch with what a lot of people love about video games.

Darren Tomlyn
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You really do not understand what I've written at all.

If you do not recognise how the three types of game can be ABSTRACTED to become the basis of computer games, then I cannot help you.

One of the things COMPUTERS allow us to do, is to have the GAME act on it's OWN behalf, and therefore provide the necessary element of competition - letting people compete DIRECTLY against the game itself, and therefore INDIRECTLY against the people that made it.

If you do not understand how everything I wrote about games, (including the example I gave using golf), is FULLY, (if not quite directly), applicable to COMPUTER games, then I cannot help you.

EVERY GAME IN EXISTENCE is based on the three basic games I gave, it's just that COMPUTER games, manage to abstract them to a finer degree than most - usually BECAUSE they use INDIRECT competition so much more than other types of game. (Of course, since computer games also currently involve competitions and puzzles too, which are NOT recognised for what they are, independently or in relation to games, we have a problem).

But ALL the BASIC games can exist using INDIRECT competition as-well! Races can be against the clock. Fighting can involve some other medium between competitors too - which is exactly how a lot, (most?) computer games function. And throwing or movement for accuracy/precision, distance/time can also use indirect methods of competition too.

Video games are NO DIFFERENT from ANY OTHER GAME IN EXISTENCE - EXCEPT FOR THE MEDIUM BEING USED - otherwise they wouldn't BE games! (Which is precisely why we have a problem with puzzles/competitions...).


There is, however, one other problem which I was TRYING to point you towards - to see if you could figure it out for yourself, since it's a matter I'm going to come around to in my blog later - (after the post about art) - which of course you completely failed to grasp.

Well, okay:

The reason WHY we're having problems in the first place, and why you've grabbed the wrong-end-of-the-stick completely, in regards to the furniture analogy, (which was based on what YOU said, not me) - and which was wrong, but I left it that way, hoping you'd understand why in relation to the rest of the post, (I was far too optimistic) - is simple.

Calling and labelling this type of game, and therefore considering, recognising and understanding this type of game, as VIDEO GAME, is completely, totally and utterly INCONSISTENT with how games are viewed and labelled, (and therefore recognised, considered and 'understood'), everywhere else in the language!


Because VIDEO is NOT the media used by which this type of game is ENABLED, and therefore is causing all these problems!

A COMPUTER, is the medium this type of game uses that makes it special, and enables what this type of game happens to be AS a game.

Calling this type of game, 'video game', is the equivalent of calling board, card or dice games 'picture' or 'sculpture' games, which is not how the language is used, and for a good reason.

It's a COMPUTER that enables and defines the stories that can be WRITTEN in this type of game, NOT the ART it uses or contains. What the computer, VIA the art etc. ENABLES to happen is NOT unique at all for games - it's just the basic games again, either directly or more abstractly, which many people, such as yourself, have problems recognising - (mainly due to the presence and role of indirect competition, as-well as the (unrecognised) presence of puzzles and competitions).

Just because games USE art - does not mean they are defined by it. You say you fully understand what that means - but what you write betrays such understanding.

A computer is NOT art. Game is NOT art. A board is NOT art. Playing cards are NOT art in themselves.

ANY of these media may, can, and do contain and USE art to enable and promote a game to exist, but do not define, and are not defined, by either - except for playing cards, which obviously do not exist without the art they contain, and therefore can be defined by such a label.

Games are NOT art. Games MAY simply USE art. Video games are labelled by a type of art they USE, but are done so inconsistently, which has led to the consideration and recognition of games and art in an inconsistent manner as-well. This is the reason for this blog post.


The problems I have with the games being made today, is that they're not really being made AS games any-more, beyond a certain degree.

(Another bad analogy alert): Imagine that every book written, was generally of a certain, specific type (tragedy/comedy), was written the same way, was of a similar length and similar content, because that's how people perceived such stories for what they represent.

Now imagine someone came along and pointed out that most if not all the different types of story are compatible with each other if written in such a manner, can also be written in different ways, and be of varying length, depending on what was most suitable for the story itself, rather than just the perception of any people writing it.

A computer has THE most potential possible of ANY and ALL such media for games, but it will NEVER get anywhere near reaching it, if games are not recognised for what they are both in ISOLATION AND in RELATION to everything else, including art.

Do I see everything that is possible? Of course not. But I do see a LOT. And none of it is possible while focusing on stories being TOLD, (within whatever setting).

All we've done so far, is figure out the basic types of computer game - (almost - and that's a BIG almost!) - the computer game equivalent of 'tragedy/comedy' etc., but games have so much more potential than that, due to the nature of what they are and involve.

But to fully understand what it is I see - you'll have to wait, though it's all built upon the simple foundation already laid within my blog.

Altug Isigan
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"Some people have no difficulties in being sincere about their thoughts and feelings. That is not necessarily because they are truly sincere, but rather because they contain only one person." (Orhan Pamuk, Nobel-prized turkish author)

I don't know why, but I feel that this quote somehow lies at the heart of the art discussion. Mind you, I'm not saying that anyone is insincere here, rather I mean that often it makes it easy for us to speak in clear-cut terms about art, because we only lean on one definition of it.

I agree to stop discussing "games as art". However, not in general, but rather when games are being discussed as art in an attempt to make games more credible in the eyes of conservative governments. Not only do you search for art (and autheurs) to justify yourself in the eyes of those whom you don't owe an explanation; but as part of pleasing them, you also conform to their quite mainstream and narrow description of art. And here maybe, we arrive back at the sincerity issue. Why would we try to contain only one person whereas there are so many persons in us that want to speak (thereby often contradicting each other, which isn't necessarily a bad thing)?

Darren Tomlyn
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The problem is that there shouldn't need to BE any such discussion!

What the words art, game, puzzle, competition etc. represent is probably as old as humanity itself!

Given that the words representing such things have been USED by humanity, in a fully consistent manner throughout most of it's (fairly) recent existence, WHY are and can we be having such problems understanding WHAT these words mean, both in isolation AND in relation to each other?

The reason why is simple - we've let our individual, subjective PERCEPTION of what these words mean, either in isolation, or in relation to the rest of our language(s), to cloud our judgement and understanding of what these words MUST mean, based on how they are USED.

And this problem has now affected humanity so much over the past few centuries, that even our dictionaries and encyclopaedias have become corrupted.

I suggest you read my blog. (Click my name).

Altug Isigan
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please have a look at chapter 2 of Huizinga's Homo Ludens. It is about how "humanity" (which also means a lot of different cultures and lifestyles) is not "fully consistent", neither in the things that have been used, nor in the words that have represented the things being used.

I try to understand your arguments, but I feel we have differences in the language models we adhere to. I find your notion of words (language) too referential (and naturalistic), and your understanding of humanity too universalist. I simply see it different.

Darren Tomlyn
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No. The problem we have with language is actually VERY simple and basic!

How we USE the language, to communicate, is PARAMOUNT. But this is NOT the problem.

The problem we have is simple:

People's PERCEPTIONS of what the language means has become TOO inconsistent, for TWO main, and ARTIFICIAL reasons:

1) How we USE the language to DESCRIBE what OTHER WORDS in the language represent, is NOT doing it's JOB! (Dictionaries/encyclopedia's etc.).

(I point out some of the problems with that in regards to some basic words in the English Language in the first part of my blog - i.e. verb, noun and adjective!)

2) What people PERCEIVE the language as representing is not fully CONSISTENT with the RULES of the language itself, again, based on how it is USED, even though there is NO good reason for this to happen.

If we don't obey the rules of the language in the most fundamental, basic manner, then how can we ever be expected to be able to use, perceive and understand it consistently - and therefore allow it to do it's job?

The difference and relationship between what a word represents and how it is applied, is part of the most fundamental basic functionality of our language(s) - the difference between game, and video game for example - and yet this is not being PERCEIVED in a consistent manner at all, hence the blog post here.

As I said, if we're not going to PERCEIVE the language in a manner that is fully CONSISTENT with its USE and RULES, then it's not surprising we're having lots of problems with it!

Christopher Braithwaite
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What is wrong with discussion? Why is there this desire to shut down debates about whether games are art or not? It is truly arrogant to assert that others must acknowledge something one cares about as "art" without explanation or validation. Besides, with a question like, "Are videogames art?" it's the discussion not the answer to the question itself that is the interesting thing.

Darren Tomlyn
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What's wrong with the discussion, is that it's NEVER consistent with the nature of the problem itself - which is why we keep going round in circles!

See both of my replies above.

Anonymous Designer
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I'm right so stop debating me!

Jacque Choi
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The reason there is this debate:

If games are art, and they are accepted, and considered to be art. We are then protected by First ammendment laws that we are currently not protected under.

There's a big difference between self proclaiming it, and making a case in a court of law.

Alan Jack
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I really can't be bothered being dragged into this debate again, so I'll let my boy Pharoah Hennessy sum it up for me:

Seriously. The difference between the "art" community and the games community is that this debate doesn't exist in the art community, because you make what you make and do what you do. That the debate even exists in crazy.

Jack Garbuz
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By "art community" I presume you mean paintings and sculptures. In the mid-19th century, as photography began to replace the need for portrait painters, new "avante garde" painters began to change the purpose of paintings, as they were no longer needed to realistically document nature. The various schools of "modern art" came into being, where paintings now represented impressions, moods, differing perceptions and interpretations of reality. Conservatives saw them as dangerous revolutionaries, idealist, perverts trying to pervert the mores of society, etc. Art also became a big business, as the works of certain individuals became lauded, and the wealthy began to collect and buy them for various but mostly speculative reasons.

Roberta Davies
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My favourite groping towards a definition of art comes from Robert McKee in his book "Story" (a book for writers generally and scriptwriters in particular).

McKee points out that at many moments in life, something happens that makes us feel an emotion. At other times, something happens that makes us think. But in ordinary life, these don't usually happen at the same time. Art can be tentatively defined as anything man-made that intentionally inspires both emotion and thought simultaneously.

So let's take a classical painting like Titian's "Bacchus and Ariadne". It evokes an emotional response to its beauty, including the colours, symmetry, the human bodies on display, the positions and movement of the bodies, etc. It evokes an intellectual response by our identifying the myth that's depicted (something educated viewers would have been expected to know at the time it was painted) and considering why Titian chose this particular myth and this moment of it, whether he altered any details of the story and why, etc.

Painting is universally recognised as an art form, but not all paintings are art. Black-velvet clowns and greeting-card landscapes are merely kitch -- evoking some superficial emotion, at most, but not involving the mind or deeper emotions. The same goes for sculpture, music, writing, or any other art form.

Photography and filmmaking have only recently been recognised as art forms, or at least potential art forms, after nearly a century of existence. Even so, most photographs and films aren't art. My holiday snaps aren't, and neither is the average Hollywood summer blockbuster.

More recent efforts are still the subject of heated debate. Is Duchamp's famous urinal a work of art? An assemblage of bricks? A naked man starting fires on a park bench? A neon light in the shape of words? A cannon firing blood-red wax at a wall? These have all been exhibited in galleries. Can something be art if it's so opaque that it's meaningless without the artist's own explanation?

Gaming, especially computer gaming, is such a new medium that I'd be amazed if any consensus has arisen yet. Give it a century, and even then there will probably be only a handful of games generally recognised as art.

Darren Tomlyn
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The really big problem you're having here, is understanding the difference between WHAT the word art must represent, based upon it's use, and HOW such a thing is APPLIED, by individual people based on their own perceptions - subjective applications, of (hopefully) objective definitions.

Saying that 'not all paintings are art' is subjective, and therefore has no place, or anything to do with the definition of the word art itself.

Art and game are simple, basic words that represent simple, basic APPLICATIONS OF BEHAVIOUR.

The problem we're having with video-games, is, as I said above, the 'video' is not the medium used for these types of game, and therefore not how they should be LABELLED.

As you seem to (hopefully) recognise - it is COMPUTERS that are the medium this type of game uses, and therefore must be labelled by.

But computers are NOT art. And any art that computers enable and promote is NOT unique.

The word game is NOT the word art.

These words represent DIFFERENT applications, of DIFFERENT behaviour, and in relation to computer games, of DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

When I play a game, I do NOT DEFINE it as art! The behaviour of it's CREATORS define it as art, which I may then, due to my own subjective opinion, APPLY to the game itself!

My own - the PLAYER'S - behaviour is what DEFINES it as a game, and the basic behaviour the word game represents an application of, DOES NOT CHANGE JUST BECAUSE I'M/WE'RE USING A COMPUTER, any more than a board, ball or dice.

The ONLY/MAIN thing that computers do for games, is allow for all the forms of art to be USED in the creation of, and therefore to enable a game itself, and allow for other types of behaviour to exist too, usually interleaved with each other - since not all of which are consistently compatible with games - such as puzzles and competitions.

But without fully understanding WHAT all these words represent, either in isolation, or in relation to each other, and ignoring the rules of language itself, (recognising the difference between WHAT a word represents, and how it is APPLIED), of COURSE we're having problems!

Amir Sharar
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Great article, and sums up my perspective perfectly.

But I like to take things a bit further and classify games as "interactive art" and things like music, paintings, and movies, as "passive art".

So my tactic is not to talk about whether it is art or not, but rather, what 'type' of art it is. ;)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Stop Debating "Games as Art"