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Games as art...we're asking the wrong question!
by Patrick Purcell on 03/15/11 05:48:00 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.


There is a problem with the question "What makes a game art?", it presumes that the artistry of games is in question.  The question that the entire gaming community from players, to students (this is where I fit in), to professional developers should be asking, and pressing others to ask is, "At what point does a game cease being art?"

I am going to illustrate my point using Red Dead Redemption...that being said many games came to mind that I could have used, Fallout 3, The Legend of Zelda, even Modern Warfare...but as I was putting this thought together in my head Read Dead kept on jumping out at me...

Let's for a moment, igonre the fact that Red Dead Redemption is a video game and look at a picture...

Red Dead Redemption

Imagine that the above image was created with oils...could it be considered art...emphatically yes, I believe.  Now imagine that the image was created with pastels, still art?  How about charcol, or graphite, is it still art now?  I think you see my point...technique and the tools used do not matter as much as what is reading to the viewer/player...thematically this image shows a man watching his entire scope of life be washed away (and bandits robbing a train if you're really paying attention), whether created with oil paint or pixels on a screen.

To take this one step outside of the painting, you can imagine that just sitting on his horse, our center-piece would be rearranging his belt, or maybe stretching an over-used limb...does this movement bring us to the point where what we are looking at has ceased to be art?

Now that our center-piece is moving...coming to life...let's add a score to the scene...are the notes somber at the witnessing of the destruction of the American frontier, is there a hint of excitement at the prospect of dispatching some bandits, or joining with them?  Has the music brought us to a point where this ceases to be art? 

Now a step further, you have a controller in your hand...make no decisions yet (I know, there's action down the  hill, bear with me)...just look around, everywhere is screaming at you to do something...some places are screaming at you to hurt others, some to rescue others, some places scream at you to relax, some to laugh...has this new level of exploration taken us out of the realm of art?

Now make a decision!  Do you exterminate the bandits and save the day, or do you help the thieves in their dastardly deed?

Red Dead Redemption

Either way you're pulling out your it this that makes it not art?  I would certainly think not!

Is it the fact that the game sets a goal?  How is this different from leading lines in a painting or photograph...drawing the player/viewer's attention where you want...of course they can always take in a work of art as they please, while the artist has the ability to make that enjoyable or uncomfortable and tedious, either way can bring about it's own kind of success...

The point that I am trying to illustrate is that a stance denying the art of games, has to deny it from the bottom up, not the top down...

Some may be thinking, "Well yes, the world in Red Dead Redemption is incredible, and the score is moving, but that makes Red Dead a vehicle for displaying art, not art itself!"  To this I would answer that the world and score were created uniquely as Red Dead, the game mechanics, and it's world, and music are not seperate entities...the mechanincs are the tools given to the player to take in what was created for them...

"Artists lie to tell the truth, while politicians lie to hide the truth" - Evey Hammond

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Owain abArawn
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Or as Brian Moriarty might say, "Kitch."

"Imagine that the above image was created with oils...?"

How about black velvet?

Depends on how low you want to set your definition of art.

Patrick Purcell
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I wouldn't call the image the blog you are refering to, kitsch is defined as something that is asthetically pleasing and designed to elicit a "prefab" stock, I am sure that you and I have different sensibilites regarding what in us can be challenged by art. The reason that I picked Red Dead Redemption to be my example was that the theme of America losing it's frontier was looming in every corner of the game, it seemed sad and it wanted you to be was ironic that I was staring at a flat screen...that was a challenge for me, I don't know about you...

In regards to your comment about black velvet, my point was that graphite and even black velvet are not "lower" versions of art...they are different mediums...also your comment reads as if you consider black velvet to be sub-par, and video-games as equal to black velvet, therefore sub-par...I have no opinion on black velvet, but believe video-games to be a unique and exciting form of art...

Moriarty did have a very well thought out argument, I almost begrudgingly accepted that video-game development is only a craft...and a craft it is, but that does not exclude any specific piece of craftsmanship from also being art...

Owain abArawn
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I can go to any flea market or sidewalk 'art' exhibit, or even to gallerys in Park City here in Utah (which are not much more than high priced flea markets) and find dozens of equivalent mass produced pictures, in oil, on canvas, but none of them can compare to anything Charles Russell painted.

This, for example:

That, I consider art.

As opposed to this:

This is technically proficient, to be sure, but isn't in the same class. I wouldn't classify it as art, myself. It's pretty much kitch. A rendering, even in oil on canvas, wouldn't necessary make your original screen shot any better. Or any more 'art'.

'Art' is an individual taste, I suppose, and some people are more selective than others. I don't think "it looks pretty" is a very convincing standard when it comes to defining what is and isn't art, but your milage may vary, as the saying goes.


edit: gamasutras comment system screws up the formatting of the links, inserting spaces and line breaks in odd places. I wasn't able to correct it. Do your best if you want to follow the links.

Darren Tomlyn
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Nope - still not quite got it. I'd advise you to read the first post in my blog before the rest of the post here, in order for it to make the most amount of sense - (click my name) - (I haven't got around to writing about anything else yet).

Games and art represent two DIFFERENT applications of DIFFERENT behaviour - both of which can, and do exist INDEPENDENTLY of each other!

They therefore have no place whatsoever in defining each other, in any way, shape or form.

Now, games, like puzzles, competitions, work or play, happen to be COMPATIBLE with art, in that art can be used to enable and promote such activities, such applications of behaviour - even though they themselves are not defined as such.

Video games, are no exception - in fact, the word video itself, is being used in COMBINATION with the word game in order to give it such an application - just like using metal and table in combination does the same thing.

But video is not game, and game is not video - just like table is not metal and metal is not table.

Just because we LABEL games by the type of objects or media being used, does not mean that the word game itself, is DEFINED as such.

Unfortunately, this is still part of the reason why games, in themselves are not fully recognised or understood for what they are - the definition of the word game is being confused for its application, because of the context in which the word game is used.