If this blog dedicated to geek culture wasn’t clear enough, I’m an admirer of video games. Since their creation, games have been questioned as a true art form. Although I’m late to the debate, I’m sure it still rages in the minds of passionate gamers and older folks that don’t quite understand the power of games. Even still, the goal of my first blog post is to show firm evidence why games are, in fact, art.
What is Art?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
In this trusted definition, there are indicators that video games can and cannot be classified as art. Thankfully, the second clause uses the word “…typically…,” which makes “…painting or sculpture…” not the only creative endeavors that can be classified as art.
Creativity and Imagination
If video games do not show “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination…,” I am not sure if any medium properly expresses these primal human traits. Sure, video game artists do not use paint or clay, but they create worlds, beasts, wars, and stories that are alive in the digital space. Hopefully we will never see an alien invasion or hyper-feminized dragon, but video games place “you,” the character, in an environment where your input is necessary to progress the story line and reach its conclusion. In my opinion, it is this observer input that further enhances the “…beauty or emotional power” of video games.
Beauty and Emotional Power
For those who do not play video games, it is either incomprehensible or inconvenient that they, the viewer, must push an art form to its conclusion. Literature and film, which will forever be majestic and triumphant forms of art, are altogether passive experiences. A book does not stop your progress and demand that you complete a word puzzle to continue and a film does not ask which direction the main character should take—the path to the beach or toward the mangled, dark forest. It is not these challenges and decisions that make video games art, it is the mental investment to the conflict at hand which inflate the “…beauty of emotional power” of video games.
The Active Participant
The conflict in a game can be as simple as not dying on the shell of a spiked tortoise before you can save the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom, but this challenge makes victory that much sweeter and the payoff that much more emotionally resonant. Of course, not many people have cried of joy in a Mario game, but consider modern video game scenarios: saving your kidnapped daughter, surviving the fallout of nuclear war, and ensuring happiness for the people that your character loves. At the end of the day, the beauty and emotional power of the game comes from the quality of its creation: graphics, writing, and gameplay. The same can be said for film; graphics can be an analog for set design and casting, writing is writing, and gameplay can be an analogue for pacing and directorial efforts. Without time and care, even proven mediums of art can be utter trash—video games, the youngest of all mediums, still have some growing pains in terms of quality, but they are quickly catching and, in some cases, surpassing the quality of entertainment in film and literature.
The Evolution of Art
In my opinion, the reason for denying video games the title of “art” simply comes down to ignorance and resistance to change. In the world of art, video games are the young man with a penchant for making entertainment pieces instead of thought-provoking evaluations of the human condition. Slowly, video games are growing up—if Pong in 1958 was video games’ cave drawing, then today they are in the midst of a beautiful and emotional Renaissance.