I can’t believe I’m back blogging after more than a month of working and playing games and not blogging, just to add a couple of cents to the “are games art?” debate.
So, what is art? I’ve spent some years in art schools (nine), have talked about this to death several times with people much smarter than myself, and like to think that I have a clear idea. I suspect most people do not.
Most people think art is something that is attributed to a thing due to some perceived value in the process of making it. Think crafting skills. (No, not that kind.) Thus huge oil paintings are art, if they look nice enough, whereas low effort spray paintings are not. Some people – lots of people – think that nice things are art, but ugly things are not. Lots of people think that photography is not art. It’s not involved enough, not hard enough. The majority of people have no idea how come something is fit for a museum and something is not. Some folks do not understand why there is such a thing as a modern arts museum.
Let’s look at videogames. They’re certainly very hard to make, so it takes effort. They can be beautiful and indeed, beautiful games are often cited as examples when thinking of artistic videogames. You could easily call Flower or Shadow of the Colossus or Rez just because they’re really nice to look at and listen.
Or maybe you’d look at how they’re commenting the world they’re spawning from. Does art need to deliver a message? No, but if we think it must, there are plenty of games with messages. Take all of the above, and maybe add the Metal Gear Solid series to the mix, or Far Cry 2.
Is it because we’re creating an entertainment product that it’s seen as less valuable? Surely we’re no less important than whatever Hollywood is churning out, or whatever’s on the pop charts today.
If you look at all the people you need to make a videogame, a lot of those professionals certainly see themselves as artists, even if they’re working on the annual instalment of a sports game. Coders often speak of their work as art. Artists can spend days working on a reflection if you don’t put them on a timer (you should). Designers write about the meaning of games all the time.
As a producer, I want to make games that matter to me. I am pouring way more than my nine to five to my work. I care about it. So does the vast majority of the people I work with. We may not call ourselves artists, but honestly, I see very little difference in the work of my crew and, say, a film crew.
Art is whatever the creator thinks is art. If the creator is just making things to sell them, that’s not art. (A lot of videogames are this way, but fewer than what you might think.) You cannot argue about this. You can limit your own view of art to whatever you’re comfortable with, but that doesn’t mean the artistic value of the things you choose to exclude is diminished in any way. Yes, this means that anyone can be an artist. Everyone should be an artist!
There is still “good” art and “bad” art and good products and bad products. But we are so far beyond the point of videogames not being art, it’s going to look really ridiculous in retrospect that we’re still talking about this, much less apologizing for the state games are in.
A videogame’s publisher almost always views the game as a thing to sell, a product. That does not take away its value as art in any way. It merely makes it accessible to more people.
Oh and about those games I’ve been playing? On the PC, Gratuitous Space Battles. It is so awesome, I wish I’d made it myself. On the PS3, Demon’s Souls. On the PSP, Peace Walker. On the 360, getting closure on a bunch of unifnished games (Fable II, GRAW). With real people, I’ve been running Dark Heresy and I’ve been playing an RPG as well in a glorious campaign spanning the whole 20th century, year by year.
I’d be comfortable saying several of those games are art.