Defending the honour of video gaming art

Despite not going out of my way to visit art shows, read art magazines and websites or watch anything about the subject on TV (because I’m lazy okay), I do consider myself to have a big interest in art.

I appreciate art in all aspects and that extends to video games. Now, the definition of art is so damn loose that everyone has a different take on it. Just because I hate the 2001 Turner Prize with a passion (Martin Creed for Work No.227: The lights going on and off) and do not consider it art, you may find it to be a simplistic masterpiece of art.

So, while I respect acclaimed American film reviewer Roger Elbert’s opinion in that video games can’t be considered art – and he does bring up some interesting points – I will have to respectfully say I feel he is wrong.

Elbert says one of the main reasons video games and art have no connection is because: “One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game.” Well that’s true but it doesn’t stop a game from being a work of art; it merely makes it have an objective. You can still admire the gorgeous graphics, the small touches or whatever you see as art. Just because you interact with a game and not a picture or a film doesn’t any less make it art.

You see, Elbert dear boy, art is something to be admired and you can still see the beauty that has been crafted into many games. You only need to check out games like Rez, Odin Sphere, Flower, Jet Set Radio, Myst, Final Fantasy XIII, Super Mario Galaxy, BlazBlue and Geometry Wars to see how varied games can look and how they can be seen as art, as well as enjoyable. I would even argue that Myst – released in 1993 – was a graphical showcase to demonstrate the potential of PC’s.

Elbert does ask one question which is perhaps the most convincing argument he has in this debate: “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren’t gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?”

The funny thing about this is that me (and I’d wager many gamers) weren’t really thinking about games as art until Elbert stirred up the hornet’s nest. Now most of us have got our boxer pants in a twist and defending the fact that gaming can indeed be art. But then Elbert, you should think of the artists who draw concept work and actually work hard to make their games look beautiful or at least pleasant. And I’m sure the newly enrolled students of Train2Game Art and Animation TIGA Diploma course would also disagree with him. Or send an angry email or clench their fists screaming “damn you Elbert, damn you to hell!” before doodiling the American running away from getting eaten by Pac-Man.

Not every developing team strives to have their game look amazing, make people go “wow” or even concerned with making sure things look nice. And there are many who won’t give a damn because they belong to the “as long as the game plays good” camp.

But I feel that there are many games out there that do represent “art” in some way; we just have to look for it when playing games.