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How Games are Art
by Neils Clark on 05/08/13 02:22:00 am   Expert 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.


Note: A very slightly extended version - with larger images and a few of Dutton's explanatory quotes - is up at my personal blog.

In 2009, aesthetician Denis Dutton wrote The Art Instinct. There, aiming for something inclusive and objective, he outlined twelve cross-cultural criteria for art. I like Dutton for his mix of accessibility and intellect, so use his criteria as a starting line in the search for a language of the aesthetic experience.

1. Direct Pleasure

2. Skill & Virtuosity

Some creators:






3. Style

4. Novelty & Creativity

5. Criticism

Some critics:






6. Representation

7. Special Focus

8. Expressive Individuality

9. Emotional Saturation

10. Intellectual Challenge

11. Art Traditions & Institutions

12. Imaginative Experience

That’s how some games are already art, and how others might get better.

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Benjamin Quintero
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Let's please stop talking about games as art. It doesn't matter!! Go to Google right now.. Go.. Do it, I'll wait...


Image search the word "art" and browse through the countless images of people putting feathers on on their finger nails, painting their bodies to look like living statues, kids draw crayon pictures of their family, high/fine paintings, graffiti depictions of Ronald McDonald vomiting, a torso made out of Legos, a sculpture (in a gallery) of a bull slamming a man against a wall with the thrust of its own flatulence...

Who cares if it is art?! Who are we trying to convince?! Does it matter? Will the craft of creating a game somehow be justified if we can somehow call the grind of everyday game development a form of artistic expression? Can we finally tell our parents that what we do is meaningful if we can tell them that the world accepts us as artists? Who cares.

Games Industry, put your insecurities away and get back to work.

Neils Clark
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Hi Benjamin. For me, it's less about the word art, and more about the deeper vocabulary we can take from a smart writer like Dutton.

Only in the last hundred years or so has the word taken on vitriol. But art is loaded with cool theories. In aesthetics, we get some really neat tools for criticizing what's working, and what's not, in an experience. You may not agree, but I see a huge utility in clarifying this sort of a language for design conversations.

I wasn't completely sure about this particular format, and given your reaction I'm still not. But I think it's pretty compelling that even at the very tip of the iceberg, various games already fulfill every major criteria used to assess older mediums.

Benjamin Quintero
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With or without the title of art, a good game is a good game. If youd like scientifically desect games into artistic vernacular thats fine but using it in hopes to achieve some kind of global acceptance is a fruitless endevour. Art resides somewhere between everything and nothing at all. It only depends on the openness of the individual. The title may mean surprisingly little to more people than you'd expect... What matters is the value of the product that you create not the title that some vague athority chooses to grace upon it.

Darren Tomlyn
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@Benjamin & Neils

Games and art are related, but not the same thing. Games, by their very nature, are naturally works of art, even though this has nothing to do with their definition as games.

This is a natural relationship between things we create for their functionality, when that exists separately from art itself, even though anything created is naturally a work of art, since art represents such a creative process, just from a particular perspective.

Some types of games can have an extra level of art involved, in that a medium (a board/computer etc.) presents a particular form of art as a condition of its use, to enable a game to happen - such as a picture.

To use the latter to define games (in general) as works of art is inconsistent, since games do not require any such media in order to exist - they're just additional works of art used to enable a game, (as a condition of the medium used).

Everything we create can be seen as works of art, from tables to spoons to houses to cars to televisions. None of these (or games) are DEFINED as works of art, however, since their functionality is not consistent with art itself:

art = creative story-telling.

EVERYTHING we create tells a story (of its creation if nothing else).

But all of this is a symptom of a far bigger problem with our understanding of (the English) language (at least).

Neils Clark
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@Benjamin - I'm don't think we disagree much, if at all. One my my main points in this feature:

...was that playable games give us more to talk about than vague theories. Still, the words come from somewhere.

@Darren - I love the emphasis you place on stories, in your gama blog about Art. Stories are context for almost everything in our respective worlds, and I hearts them.

In pointing out the applications of the word, and working to distinguish application from definition, you touch a lot of the same bases as Dutton (you'd probably enjoy - or at least enjoy the non-enjoyment- of his Art Instinct). In essence, using Art is casting a wide net. You could be talking about the creator, the audience, maybe even the underlying truths to the objects we represent (though Dutton, an atheist, backs away from commonly described items I might have included, say Transcendence).

Point is, without really breaking into Hume, Kant, Aristotle, and so forth, just using his cluster of items, we get an idea of how it's possible to reclaim aesthetics for the analysis of a form.

I guess I stuck with visual examples, because they invite the games to speak for themselves.

Darren Tomlyn
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Art is not as wide as it appears - the only reason it appears to be, currently, is because we're breaking the rules of the language when it comes to recognise what art itself represents: trying to define cause as and by its effect, (which, as I said, is a symptom of a far deeper problem, (which my current blog doesn't quite get to the bottom of)).

Art is ultimately about things that happen - not things themselves, properties or the perception of it - but this is not recognised, and so the true meaning of art is currently almost 'lost'.