Allow me to skip formalities and get right to the point: yes, absolutely. Video games are absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, an art form. As an enthusiastic fan of the video game industry, I’ll explain why I feel so strongly about this.
Viewing video games as an art form is surprisingly controversial within the entertainment industry, where video game developers are not viewed with the same respect and awe granted to film actors, directors, dancers, or musicians. It is not so much the denial of artistic elements within the video games (elements such as story, graphic art, and music) but rather the philosophical question of “can video games be considered art?” in the same context as literature, film, paintings, crafts, and music? To even answer this question, we have to answer an even more difficult (and subjective) question: what is Art?
To me, Art is an experience which can provoke great emotion within someone. Webster defines “Art” as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic objects, to recreate emotions previously experienced.” Famous film critic Roger Ebert, an advocate against video games being considered an art form said: “One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. [You] might cite a game without points or rules but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, a dance, a film. These are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.”
Well Webster, Ebert, and I can all agree on one thing: Art is an experience. In order for anything to be considered Art, it has to make you feel something. With that being said, can video games make you feel something? Can video games make you experience something? Yes. Absolutely.
I’ll continue by citing another quote by Roger Ebert: “To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists, and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized, and empathetic.”
I agree with Ebert, but only to a certain extent. Do games have rules, objectives, and an outcome? Yes. Can you win a game? Yes. But I also feel like Ebert made a very generalized statement here…
Novels, films, music, these are all forms of art which are meant to be experienced by an audience, or more specifically, an observer. But does this mean that every single novel, movie, or song should be considered exceptional art? Should “Everybody Poops” be analyzed on the same level as “Ulysses”? Should “Crocodile Dundee” be compared to “Citizen Kane”? Is Sisco’s Thong Song of the same caliber as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony? No. Absolutely not. This doesn’t discredit the products as art or the producers as artists, but rather discredits particular art as being recognized as an example of exceptional art.
To be honest, I don’t believe Roger Ebert was exposed to the right video games; I think before you judge whether or not video games are art, you must experience examples of exceptional video games. Granted, this list will be quite limited and just a bit biased, but in my opinion these games should be considered true examples of exceptional video game art:
Each one of these games achieves the goal of making the player invested and emotionally attached to the experience they’re participating in. These games transcend the realm of entertainment and create an entirely new medium for video games to exist in: interactive art. Video games bridge the gap between artist and observer. Interactive art is a new form of art which allows the developer to create an experience which is beautiful in every aspect and gives the gamer a chance to complete that experience by investing a part of themselves into the art itself. William Carlos Williams, famed poet of the Imagist movement once said, “I never give a definition or reason behind my poems; to do so would be to limit the power within them. If a reader finds a meaning within my poetry which is different from my own, who am I to tell them they are wrong? Art is unlimited. Art is a feeling.”
Video games – Interactive Art – are the epitome of Carlos’ words. Games which provide the gamer an experience he/she would never have experienced otherwise, complete with raw emotion and infused with individual interpretation, are Art.