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The debate goes on...Are Video Games Art?

by Gary Hutton on 04/25/09 01:02:00 pm

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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.

 


Since the beginning of the development of any "technological media" for widespread general consumption, forms now most seriously considered as art, whether that is film or rock music or photography...all went through various degrees of dismissal, vilification, commercialization(and innumerable other phases and terms), and eventually acceptance and recognition as "High Art".

These are all things that "matured" in the eyes of the “Keepers of Taste and Refinement” intelligentsia, and those many consider pretentious trendjumpers, etc…but their maturation was not because of these groups attention, interest, or opinion.

The main shared element of most respected artists in many art forms, is that they concieve of a vision they not only feel utterly compelled to create, but also seem to have a need to share this vision or creation with others.

It's foolish to paint all artists with the same brush (horrible I know), as there are many "serious" commercially and financially successful artists, musicians, photographers etc… and I am also sure there are some serious artists that may never let what they create see the light of day whilst starving to death in utter destitution and anonymity.

I personally think video games contain many artful elements, and have talented creators working on every step of the production process...it would be ridiculous to dismiss these fantastically beautiful (and sometimes disturbing) worlds, characters and stories that would not exist but for the cohesive vision and creative talent of many different imaginative and diverse individuals.

The necessary conditions for the explosive expansion and variety of what people can or will consider gaming experiences are basically all in place at present, and many would argue have been in place for some time.

There are several game titles available now that would certainly make the average non-gamer rethink what they assume or believe people are experiencing when they sit down with their control pad, mouse and keyboard, etc. to "play a video game'…were they to sit and experience it for themselves.

So...My assertion is that the "Are videogames Art?" is an incomplete, and incorrectly phrased question.

If you acknowledge the current body of all games available since their inception, taken together and analyzed for their "artful content"; symbolism, metaphor, imagery, etc...you could take the general progression, evolution, variety, perception, etc and neatly lay it right on top of the timeline for the development and recognition of "artful content" in film, music or photography. And I'm guessing it would very neatly match up...to at least one or more of those forms.

Where it would fall short...is not having the same amount of time to "match up" to the number of years that music, film and photography have had to evolve into what they are today...games simply haven't been around as long as these other forms.

So...I think the question people should be asking is,

"Are Video Games Art Yet?"

Considering the speed at which technology evolves, and the current global population that has access to game making technology, games may not need as much time to reach that acceptance point.

And frankly I agree with Fumito Ueda and others who assert that neither the question, nor the reasoning behind those who answer yes or no matter one little bit, nor does it effect the artful qualities of games being made right now.

Nor will it matter when Video Games are finally acknowledged as having a small percentage of releases that constitute “High Art"...nor will the growth and expansion of things such as Serious Game Art or Art Game Festivals, awards, and the like.

It didn't matter to the "older" art forms either...because the expansion of the known borders of these means of expression and what was contained within them was being expanded by the artists within those forms during these debates, regardless of the accepted or popularity of either answer at any given time in the argument.

And what's ironic, is I believe the body of work produced by these artists' constant stream of creation, synthesis, and experimentation eventually constituted the evidence for the "establishment" to defend their change to the now positive assertions that these forms were indeed "High Art."

Some artists intentionally, some less so, some unconciously, perhaps some even mocking the question through their work...but still they had answered it. And they moved on...

And through history this has happened time and again...painting, architecture, sculpture...some of these forms so old we have not been able even to directly witness this process...the evolution of form, coupled with the establishment of the "Keepers of Taste and Refinement" or whatever you would like to call them.

And through it all the creators; the pioneers, the radicals, the innovators, the unknown, the famed, and many more....they provided the answers through their creations.

But don't mistake my assertion for a dismissal of the process of distinction and debate, it's both needed and often missing in every arena of life...and is a healthy sign of logical and independent thought in its "highest forms". (ha ha)

So, forgive the length of my comment...because I know some of those involved in video game production, of games of every size, duration, and "artfulness" pay attention to this debate to various degrees.

And I would hate to distract them from their work; their visions, passions, experiments, and eventually....

...their various contributions to the critical mass of "evidence' that will eventually be cited by those who finally feel safe to answer;

"Yes, Videogames are Art."

Although they really had little or nothing to do with the process of the answer becoming yes, they eventually just changed theirs.

And like the creators had long before the debaters, they will lose interest in the question entirely...and again just as the creators had long ago, and are always doing…

...they will move on. Not to creation however…but to some shiny new debate…

…and once again, it won’t really matter.

Gary Hutton

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