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Art Can Never Be Games

posted on May 18th, 2010 by jackson

Everyone loves discussing why games are or aren’t art. Even I can’t help it. The subject is just too hard to pass up. It exists just so intellectual jerkoffs can spill ink (do people even spill ink anymore?) over it and feel good. This is why I’m not going to write about it anymore. Instead, I’m going to write about “games can never be art.” And no, I didn’t quite contradict myself there. I’m not going to write about whether or not games can be art. I’m going to write about the literal sentence “games can never be art.”

I have a major problem with this statement. Not with the logical implications of what it’s trying to communicate, but rather the structure of the statement itself. Why not say “Art can never be games?” The reason why is because because the statement makes some assumptions. It assumes that art is something that games need to be judged against. That games are somehow trying to be art. Games are lower, art is greater. The two exist stratified by the great chain of being.

One reason why I don’t see people like Roger Ebert as enemies of videogame culture is that we, the gamers, are the ones who invented that idea and perpetuate it far more than he or any non-gamer has. Every time an indie developer decides to prove that games are art once and for all with a short quirky lo-fi game, he’s buying into the notion that games as they are now are inferior because they aren’t hung on art gallery walls.

Here’s a thought experiment. There are a lot of artists in the game industry. They spend lots of hard work and energy producing lots of art. Instead of thinking of games as things that are trying to be art, why not think of the art that these artists are creating, and comparing them to the games? Interactivity is the next step for artistic exploration, these artists are attempting to make an artistic work that can be valued in a game.

This is a role reversal. This means that art is the thing that’s trying to live up to what games are, not the other way around. Can an aesthetic work ever exist in a completely logical and mechanical world? I’m not an expert on cavemen, but I’m willing to bet that games existed around the same time as, if not before, art did. As humans we have a tendency to analyze and manipulate, even create, rules for our lives. Of course games were never recorded back then. They were like an oral history. I myself am completely unqualified to discuss this any further actually, since I know nothing about cavemen and even less about what sorts of games cavemen played.

Either way, the entire argument is crap. The entire premise is crap. Why do games need to live up to art? Aren’t they fine as games? Why do we slant the discussion in that perspective, instead of the other way around? Why do we care?

Games may eventually be categorized as “art” just because the idea of art is so broad. I don’t see how that makes any difference though. I liked games before they were art. Back when they were just boring old games. It doesn’t help that every “art game” is made by people who don’t understand what art is, and half of the AAA games think that Hollywood movies are the epitome of success.

Juvenile is a very effective way to describe videogame culture as a whole right now. Games are going through some confusing changes. They don’t know what or who they are exactly. I guess I’ll just have to wait it out for a few years when videogames go to college and get their very first taste of what the more or less “real” world is like.

3 Comments

  1. christian said on May 18, 2010:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    There’s lots of traditional art in any given game. The illustrations, the music, the writing. No one wants to admire these separate components, perhaps because in doing that, they’d no longer have anything unique to cling to.

    The unique aspect, of course, is interactivity, which can be used to generate some kind of performance art. So there’s a lot of good stuff that can be made out of games. It just isn’t exactly what gamers have decided to fixate on. And I say “screw that”.

  2. shota said on May 19, 2010:

    This is making Ebert’s point. “Why are games not content with just being games?”

    Also, at the risk of coming off as an “intellectual jerkoff” I must note that this entry suffers from very poor syntax. Heads up VL editors…

  3. Cunzy1 1 said on May 31, 2010:

    Two points and let it be the last on this:

    1)This whole debacle has highlighted that movies as across the board better than games is a widespread baseline assumption amongst video game bloggers and games journalists. I’d challengethat assumption.

    2)Did you hear the one about when the art historian found out about the popular film critic talking about art? This whole episode has highlighted how naive the internet generation is and how elitist the ‘old guard’ are.

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