I feel that it is a commonly shared opinion to view video games simply as a juvenile game instead of an art form. I feel a need to address this problem—video games are a form of art.
Before we can declare video games as art or not as art, we need to understand what art is. Art, to me, is communication of any form to an audience. This includes music, paintings, movies and dance—all of these can be considered as art forms.
Video games are most commonly argued as art by their graphical aesthetic, musical composition and narrative abilities. For example, play “Bastion,” by Supergiant Games. Its artistic visuals include the style of hand-painted scenery and fantastical imagery along with a famous and highly praised soundtrack, which is a perfect fit to the game’s setting and unique story.
All these factors of music, visuals and narrative communicate to the player directly. This is important in art as it expresses a message to the audience that directly affects their gameplay. Video games are especially good at this because they have the ability to communicate through all three aspects while interacting with the player. Like other art forms, video games establish an emotional connection and can execute this in a unique way, such as the players relationship with Alyx Vance in “Half Life 2” as it develops over the course of the game with distinctive dialogue. But in this way, the audience is emotionally invested by interaction, something movies, books and music can not accomplish.
And, if video games are art, who is the artist? I would have to say the designers and developers are the key artists, yet the game mechanics and the players themselves can be seen as the artist as well—the game is what they are perceiving it as.
With the poor examples we currently see in the video game industry, it’s hard to understand why video games are art. Most people I’ve met who haven’t considered video games as an art form usually think so when thinking of the first person shooters with over excessive violence, enhancing stereotypes and no real moral or purpose, like “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” or “Dead Island.”
A common, and probably the best, argument that doesn’t consider video games as forms of art derives from the idea that by giving the audience control, you are incorporating your own will, thus ruining the narrative integrity of the artwork and distracting the focus on what the art is communicating to us.
By the player controlling a part of the game, the game loses its emphasis on artistic narrative and communication. I have to argue that while some video games may not have a strong narrative or strong message, the gameplay mechanics enhances this medium as being more artistic medium.
Sophomore Ian Anderson of the SAVEGAME club says it best. “They combine the visual, the auditory, the written word and then they put on top of that the power of control. This final touch, the idea that you choose your own fate, is the most interesting to me because it is so unexplored. It allows the artist to tackle the concept of fate, destiny, and the role of the individual in altering them, in a way never before possible.”
It’s this interaction in video games between the game and the player that, when done correctly, can enhance the feel or the communication of the game.
Ian Anderson’s example, “Metal Gear Solid 3,” puts the player in a situation where the character you are playing has no control, and neither do you, in the case of murdering a person. Anderson explains “You want to not pull the trigger, you want to run and you want to do anything but end the life of this human being, but in a powerful symbolic move, the developer takes away your control”.
My own example about the art of interaction in video games would be “The Walking Dead.” In several moments throughout the game, out of nowhere, you are required to make incredibly hard decisions, sometimes choosing between the lives of two people. When you choose, you see only your character standing with a choice on either side of you, and a bar slowly draining, putting pressure and time on your situation. The developer is forcing you to make an extremely difficult choice.
Video games can have the artistic visualization of Van Gogh, the musical compositional genius of Beethoven and the vastness of an engrossing narrative such as J. R. R. Tolkein’s work, all while being blended in with how you play the game.
Of course, as a medium there can be some setbacks as to why video games don’t want to be seen as art. Video games are art, but in some cases may not deserve our respect.
This is the same problem that we see in Hollywood: that bad and poorly made movies or video games are/can be embracing stereotypes and simply made for the profit, selling to a predictable 18-30-year- old, straight, male demographic. Both art forms are being undermined with released titles with the sole intention to make a profit.
We see many examples of this instead of artistic and progressive titles that embrace the integrity of video games. These poor examples negatively cloud common judgment of video games to be a boy’s toy where you can kill people. Video games aren’t seen as an interactive, narrative art form, but rather seen as a negative and stupid waste of time.
We see these problems frequently today, especially with all the new “Call of Duty” titles. This common misconception is a major problem for the integrity of video games and this medium being seen as art.
I would like to see more games in the industry such as “Bioshock,” “Bastion,” “The Walking Dead” or “Portal.”
In these video games, we can find captivating visuals, sound, narrative and gameplay giving respect to video games and video games as an art form.