Are video games art?

I ask this as a non-gamer. The last video game I played was Tetris. Or maybe Centipede.

But I love a gamer, and I occasionally try to follow what he’s going on about. What he’s talking about sounds very sophisticated to me.

I know the average “intellectual elite” take on video games is that they are mind-rotting mindless entertainment opiates for the masses.

But I also know that’s how novels used to be regarded…and film…and though both these art forms contriubute their share of shlock, they are also art when done well.

Probably the first pigments smeared on cave walls had the elders shaking their heads at how kids were wasting their time these days.

So are video games art? How long before they are studied in universities?

They are indeed art IMHO; that’s one reason there are so many awful games. There’s no mechanical formula you can use to make a good game.

For example, there are ugly games, and beautiful games; how is that not art ? There are games that make you feel you are immersed in another world ( rather like a good book ), and others that jarringly remind you it’s just a game on a regular basis; how is that not art ? There is well written/scripted dialogue in games, and awful dialogue; how is that not art ?

Given some of the garbage that is called art, claiming that videogames aren’t art and are somehow inferior is ridiculous. Personally, I think it’s part of the mentaility certain people have, that popular = garbage and unpopular = profound.

In my opinion- video games are art, but art criticism may be harder for video games that it is for other media. One can, of course, get a different meaning out of a painting or a movie than someone else, but it doesn’t take long to look at them- only a few seconds for a painting, only two hours or so for a movie- and they never physically change. However, a video game can take many hours to finish, and one can never play a video game the same way twice. It’s hard to say if, say, Halo or some such will be deconstructed and studied the same way Mona Lisa and Citizen Kane are now.

Not only is it Art, but it combines pretty much all the other forms of Art into one.

Writing, acting, characteristion, animation, painting and drawing, sculpting, lighting, music. It is most assuredly Art.

I agree that they are art, but I have one of those broad definitions where anything creative qualifies as art. Mind you, I’m not saying that any given creative work is arbitrarily a bad, good, or great piece of art simply because it is creative, as the quality of a given work is a separate debate entirely.

Having said that, I think the OP touched on videogames biggest problem with the mention of movies and novels, that of public perception. Videogames’ are still relatively new to the scene and haven’t had a chance to gain the respectability novels and movies now enjoy. When videogames first appeared they were very simple to play and had little to no storyline or plot. This gave the view, especially to older folk, that they were children’s toys, a view that older people still carry today. I imagine as generations that were reared on videogames get older the (perceived) stigma attached to videogames will disappear.

Also, tying into videogames barely being out of their infancy, I’m not sure that anyone has created a videogame that can be considered great art, which seems to be almost necessary for the public to view videogames as being capable of producing art (a catch-22, I know). I wonder if perhaps videogame developers are still creating the tools and language necessary to do such a thing. I’m sure that people will disagree with this particular argument, and honestly it’s little more than nebulously formed, so it’s just IMO.

Next, I wonder if the mainstream will ever consider videogames as being capable of producing art. Look at comicbooks: even though they’ve produced works which garnered massive critical acclaim (Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen) and even a Pulitzer Prize winner (Maus) the majority of people view comics as being on the same level as toilet paper. This is probably just the pessimistic side of me speaking however, as comicbooks don’t have anywhere near the penetration of the masses that videogames currently do (at least in the west).

So to answer the OP’s questions: Yes, videogames are art, and I’m guessing two to three decades at least before they are studied in universities as such.

You might be interested in this previous discussion from a few months ago. There were some very good points made there.

Definitly an artform, but still one very much in its infancy. Much like the early cinema, that for some time was still wedded to theatrical conventions, video games have yet to truly define themselves as a seperate medium. Right now, they’re trying too hard to be movies. Part of the problem is that what makes video games distinct from other mediums has yet to be recognized as an artistic goal in and of itself; namely, design. Level design, controls, the basic rules of the game itself. This is what makes games unique, but right now, they’re usually seen as the background to pretty graphics or fancy, cinematic cutscenes. Cinema ultimatly defined itself by realizing the two things movies could do that theater could not: the mobile point of view, through the use of the camera (as opposed to a static audience) and the use of editing to alter the flow of the narrative and focus the audience’s attention on salient details. Video games won’t come into their own as an artform until the unique tools of the medium are given the recognition they deserve. Currently, video games that are most frequently touted as art are done so on the grounds that they do something almost as well as another art form. Half Life 2 is cited for its cinematic visuals, Deus Ex for it literariness, Planescape: Torment for its drama. But this is ground already well travelled by movies, books, and the stage. What makes these games stand out from works in other mediums are the techniques unique to the artform that are used to engage the audience.

Modern art began a movement away from the passive audience and towards active involvement in the work through the use (some would say, overuse) of ambiguity and non-representational images, forcing the audience to try to reconstruct the artist’s thought process from the final result. Video games are, in many ways, the ultimate extension of modern art. Although stylistically, they’ve “regressed” to realism (for the most part; there are expressionistic video games out there) they’ve siezed on this goal of audience interaction and taken it further than any previous medium. What will make video games finally stand on their own as a legitimate artistic medium is the recognition of those elements of video game creation that are unique to the form and refining them. Movies are only a little more than a hundred years old, and yet the vocabularly of editing and camerawork is incredibly rich and nuanced. Someday, things like level design, control layout, and game balance will be similarly complex, and subject to the same sort of critical commentary that propelled cinema to legitimacy. But this is going to take a long time. Comic books, the last great new artform, are still struggling for mass critical recognition, and they’ve been part of the mainstream culture for more than sixty years. We’ll be lucky if video games have made it that far two decades from now. I suspect that it’ll be thirty to forty that the idea of video games as art won’t be automatically laughed at by non-gamers.

Damn. Kickass post, Miller.

I disagree with you on how long until videogames are accepted as art (and we have a semantical disagreement about comics as “the last great new artform”), but other than that, nicely done.

You may be interested to know that videogames as a course of study is closer than you think.

There are a few schools out there who offer classes in creating video games, and that number will increase as video games continue to grow as a market commodity, but to my knowledge, there are no schools that offer classes in criticism. When those start being offered, we’ll know that the medium is finally maturing.

Asylum: Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Although this is not the subject at hand, arguably the most famous of these is Digipen in Redmond, Washington, not too far from Nintendo’s U.S. headquarters.

My alma mater has a signifigant video game component in a larger Digital Arts and Animation degree program. They may soon branch it out into its own program.
Savannah Collge of Art and Design offers a BFA, MA, and MFA in Game.
…and then there’s this story I found.

Not art. Art lasts. Video games are obsolete in a few years. Are you still playing Pong? Or Pacman? Or a game for one of the earlier game systems?

No. If you’re playing a game, the odds are it’s less than five years old. That’s throwaway, not art.

Video games are ephemeria. Some may be remembered for social reasons, but after ten years, no one is interested in playing them.

Old games are quite popular these days. Check this Wikipedia article for a pretty good overview and some links.

Huh tell that to my brother that as a large collection of old video game cabinets. Or the surprisingly large community that trades, refurbishes, and endlessly rebuilds them. There is certainly plenty of people that still play pong and pacman.

There’s plenty of ‘art’ that is soon abandoned that doesn’t make it any less art for the times. Video games are rarely more then five years old because they don’t have centuries to sort through and pick the best of the best. Will Half Life rival Shakespeare? We don’t know that yet and won’t for at least another 100 years to let it grow and allow the Masterpieces to appear.

It is true of course that video games are a very technology driven medium but the day people stop watching 2D movies because we all have our own 3-D virtual reality machines won’t suddenly stop 2D movies from being art.

O rly?

I don’t really have an opinion one way or another on this issue, but that point is just plain wrong.

Totally and completely wrong. Older games are regularly repackaged and resold, and do a tidy business. Last month saw the release, across three platforms, of Capcom Classics, a collection of arcade games from the '80s and '90s, and that’s just one of many, many compilations. A few months ago saw the launch of GameTap, an online service that, for a monthly fee, allows members to download and play classic PC games. (Disclaimer: although I am not employed by GameTap, the company I do work for has leased the rights to several of our games for the service. Many of them are ten years or older.) Game pioneers Infocom still regularly release compilations of their games, and we’re talking games so old that they predate graphics. There’s the StarCraft phenomenon in South Korea, where this eight year old game is still the number one in that country, and the top players are able to support themselves solely on tournament winnings. Even the newest game technology recognizes the demand for classic video gaming. One of the features of the XBox 360 is the online arcade feature where, for a fee, gamers can download classic arcade games onto their XBox’s harddrive. A few months ago, Gamespot placed the 1990 video game Smash TV in it’s Most Popular Games top ten list for the 360. When they released the PS2, Sony made sure that all of the old PS1 games were compatible with the new system. Although no one produces new games for the old system, most game stores still have a significant PS1 section of games. I believe they intend to do the same with the upcoming PS3. Nintendo has long dominated the hand-held game market with its GameBoy portable game system, using the exact same computing technology since 1989. When they introduced the DS two years ago, again, they made sure it was backwards compatible with the extensive GameBoy library. And then there’s abandonware, which I won’t link directly to because of questionable legal issues, but here’s a Wikipedia entry on it.

Sorry, Chuck, but on this point, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

My definition of “art” is based on the notion that art seeks to convey emotion from the artist to the audience. Now, I’m not sure if it’s fair to class “amusement” as a conveyed emotion; if we allow that, then all video games are trivially art. But even without that crutched definition, a lot of video games do convey other emotions, and would therefore qualify as art. Ever play a game, and commennt that it has a great atmosphere? There you go, it’s art.

Entirely separate is the question of whether any video games are or can be good art, or even great. I think that only time will tell on that point, but video games are still a young enough form that I think it’s hardly surprising if there aren’t yet any true masterpieces. Even at that, though, the greatest of video games are far from ephemeral. Just the other day, there was a thread from someone playing Tetris, on their top-of-the-line handheld game system. How old is Tetris?

Tetris first appeared in the Soviet Union in 1985.

This is precisely the point I entered the thread to make. The essential part of answering any “Is it X?” question is defining “X”. In this case, “X” is “art”, and I wish you all luck in coming to a consensus definition of the term. As it happens, my definition hews very closely to the one Chronos proposed above–we’ve discussed this before–but there are certainly those who would argue the matter.

By my definition, anything created for the purpose of evoking specific emotional responses in others is art. It may not be good art, but it’s still art. Under that definition, video games can certainly be art, but aren’t necessarily–a statement which also applies to more traditional forms, like painting, sculpture, music, literature, and so forth. I would even submit that video games that are art can have an advantage in conveying emotion because of their interactive nature. The relative immaturity of the form has prevented that advantage from being fully harnessed so far, but the potential is there.

The medium of art is superficial. The essence of art is communication.