Monday, 25 November 2013

Are Video Games Art?

There's been a fair amount of debate over whether video games are art. As a gamer and someone greatly interested in the development and creation of games I find it hard to argue that they aren't. But there's also the question of whether it is important if games are art or not.
  So, is it important? Roger Ebert once asked in an article entitled 'Video Games Can Never Be Art': "Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?" There's certainly some validity to this and I'm sure a lot of people who would play games would agree. I suspect many players of Angry Birds or Doodle Jump don't spend an awful lot of time thinking about how the game was made and the creative process that's gone into it, and as long as they are enjoying themselves then the game is successful; whether or not it's considered art. Even in more expansive games like Call of Duty I suspect the majority of the fanbase is perfectly happy to 'simply enjoy themselves.' But films, books and plays and so on are widely accepted as art, and many of the audiences of these are perfectly content to just enjoy them on face value, so I think it's fair to say that just enjoying something doesn't mean that it's not art. Indeed, studying Shakespeare plays in an attempt to enjoy them on a deeper more artistic level used to make me dislike them. I think it's important for games to be recognised as art, at least in some cases, because I feel by saying a game is not art then it implies it can only be appreciated on face value and I just don't think this is true.
  Perhaps one of the simpler arguments for video games being art is that they contain art. Either taking this literally in the form of graphical assets and soundtracks or the slightly more abstract idea of the story being art. But at the same time an art gallery is not art itself simply because it contains art. Another question with video games being art is where you draw the line. If a video game is art, then can a board game be art as well? I think the distinction has to be drawn that traditional board games don't tell a story in the same way a video game does. Narratives can come out of board games though, particularly more complicated games like Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer. But these are very loosely constructed narratives and simply result from the rules of those games; whereas narratives in video games tend to be more imposed on the player. For example, in Halo the story has been completely laid out by the developers, the player experiences this similarly to the way someone would experience it as a movie. The only real difference here is that the player experiences it from a different frame of reference and has a certain degree of choice about how the characters get from point A in the story to point B. Less linear games, such as Skyrim, perhaps blur this line a little as parts of the plot can be ignored or changed depending on the player but in these cases the player is still choosing from a set of narratives pre-made by the developer. If we look at Skyrim there is little obligation to play through the main quest line, but if the player chooses instead to follow the Thieves Guild story line, that story line has still been predetermined by the developer and the player only chooses how to get from one part of that plot to the other.

If you think I've missed anything out or you disagree with me or just want to share your own views please leave a comment!


(Also, I'm fairly new to this, so any suggestions on how I could improve would be welcome in the comments as well!)