Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Video Games as Art

This post is text-heavy, and I won't name many games, but I'll toss in a few pictures to break up the word continents. Bear with me, because the pictures are all from 90's games, and I know a single frame can't really give you much of an idea of the game, but the three of them are from games that mean a lot to me.

Jet Force Gemini

This has been talked to death in so many ways by so many people, but I think the fact that I write for a blog gives clear enough evidence that my pretense is so great that I can not help but throw my hat into the ring. Now, my view on it might seem something of a cop-out, but basically, I believe that there can be no concrete definition of what constitutes art. Rather, I consider anything that inspires thought, art. Of course, arts occupy a spectrum of varying types and intensities, so I think the question of whether or not something is art is a little silly.

I think the less jackassish path of logic still leads to the conclusion that video games are an art. Though they started as a simple, while increasingly complex, form of entertainment, they have evolved into a medium for profound, universal commentaries, as well as unequivocal exercises in empathy. A game can place your mind into the body of a character, and bring you to experience what he experiences on a personal level, by creating an association of your actions and objectives with those of the character.
I have a theory or two about how the stigma about recognizing video games as art arose. My first theory is that in attempts to classify video games, people have gotten hung up on comparing them to established art forms, i.e. poetry, sculpture, dance, calligraphy. This is something that confounds me, because it would appear that there is really only one major difference between video games and classical art forms, albeit it is a big one. Interactivity is the thing. For some reason, many argue that interactivity essentially disqualifies video games, because interactivity shifts possession of the property from the artist to the audience. This is really an infantile argument; fundamentalism for fundamentalism's sake.

I think an argument against arthood that bears a little more weight is the notion that a fabricated universe that one can experience virtually takes the place of imagination. I feel that this opinion is a relic of a society with a considerably less tolerant "uncanny valley." For millennia, man has imagined the worlds described in art, now, however, he can see and hear and interact with those worlds. I do not believe this is an abortion of the spirit of creativity that art is often meant to instill. In fact, I feel that the immense powers of creation that game designers wield has repeatedly resulted in the most profound and inspiring works of art that man has ever seen. Forgive me for being dramatic, but I think video games may be the most powerful -though unrecognized- art form. Art has always been about projecting the artists perception of existence. Now more than ever can an audience truly experience the mind of an artist, in ways that paintings and symphonies will struggle to match.
Final Fantasy VIII

An individual is no longer limited to simply looking at a static graphical depiction of happiness, or rage, or love, and the quiet contemplation of the symphonic outpourings of a musician's soul no longer needs to be the only way to experience his emotions. I have said "experience" several times now, because the synthesis of the visual, auditory, and interactive culminate in the ability to experience an event, whether or not it ever happened. I think the redefinition of what it is to experience is a change that will come to define mankind's increasingly digital existence.

There are a lot of ideas here that are too big to talk about in anything less than a Socratic debate, but I hope that I've given you something to think about.



  1. The distinction between 'art' and 'not art' has always been a pointless one. Crotchety old men just want to define art in a certain way, so that they can say that Picasso is awesome and that Lady Gaga is void of any sort of merit.

    Also interesting is how video games, which are composed of 'traditional' art forms (music, artwork, writing, etc) somehow manages to be 'not art'.

    In summary, listen to this and tell me it's not badass.