Perhaps you’ve seen the presentation from Kellee Santiago at TED about how games should be considered art or maybe the response from Roger Ebert about how video games cannot by their definition be art. The folks over at Slashdot responded predictably, fuming with nerd-rage at how a movie critic could be so wrong. Near the end of Ebert’s post, he asks probably the most important question overlooked in the conversation; why is it so important that video games be recognized as art? It’s a valid question. I’d like to go one step further.
Why do we, as a geek culture, need any further validation? Secondly, isn’t Ebert right?
Maybe it’s our lot in life, to always seek some sort of honest approval of others. More than ever, it seems that as geeks, our time is here, that life itself has validated the geek culture and there’s some level of acceptance on a cosmic level. Computers are rife in society and those who have the skills are often called upon to display their wizardry to those not as gifted. Comic book movies get occasionally considered for prestigious awards. We have a President who not only has greeted people with the Vulcan salute, but has been photographed brandishing a toy lightsaber. Surely, our time has come.
But video games as art? Ebert is right.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any games that could be considered art. The video game Braid was mentioned in the Santiago presentation and while there is an interesting story and subplot running through the game, it’s difficult to argue that it elevates itself enough so it is considered art. Perhaps Bioshock could be considered as it’s an interesting exploration of the Objectivism of Ayn Rand, but 90% of the game is spent as a first-person shooter.
Arguments could be made that there is a lot of art in a game already, from the music to the artwork, each of them put together as a whole could constitute a work of art. To me, it’s a lot like pro sporting events where you have an arena with architectural design with the music they play at the game, but in the end, it all surrounds the game which is attempting to achieve an objective. I believe once you have an objective, it qualifies as a game and excludes it as art. This is not a bad thing, but let’s not redefine art just because we want it to be so.
Ebert makes the point that someday video games might be art…but not in our lifetimes. He’s likely right on this point as well. Video games have some of the pieces to be a work of art, but none has entered into the sublime yet. In my opinion, none have even gotten close. That’s not to say a game cannot make you think or have hidden meaning, but it just doesn’t have the impact of what we consider to be art today.
We shouldn’t strive to make video games art anyway. It’s hard enough now finding a game that’s actually fun to play, how about we solve that problem first and then we can move on to creating art. But if we continue on trying to make games that serve some sort of artful aesthetic, why are we making video games in the first place? Then we’ve somehow moved on to some sort of digital artist and have removed audience enjoyment as a part of the equation. People creating games should not start from “how can we make this beautiful or evocative” or “what societal issues should we take on”, but rather with the simple statement, “let’s make it fun first” and keep a game tooled to what it was meant to do…entertain.