Videogames as art

My interest in games, not being a gamer, lies mainly in their aesthetics and storytelling possibilities. Growing up, gaming consoles were practically forbidden at home and became familiar with videogames mainly through related media (cartoons, playing cards, etc.). As a visual magpie, if something looks beautiful and conveys a narrative in a curious way, I will probably fall a little bit in love with it. Even better if I can then actively dive in and run around within its boundaries and stretch out the borders, hence why I am curious about videogames. As a medium, they are just so very rich in possibility.

Last year I was able to visit ACMI’s Game Masters exhibition that featured dozens of playable games and celebrated the work of notable game designers from around the globe. Detailed write-ups of each game along with associated corporations and creators were given alongside each station, shedding light on how much energy really went into making a game – from initial concept to finished product. Te Papa also hosted this exhibition, and a number of other institutions including the Smithsonian and Museum of Modern Art in America have recently chosen to host videogame-focused exhibitions.

I came across an article written by Keith Stuart last night which engages with this and the question of whether videogames can ever be considered art or an artistic medium:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/gamesblog/2014/jan/08/video-games-art-and-the-shock-of-the-new

He writes in response to an article written by Jonathan Jones, who takes offence at the MoMA’s decision to include a videogames sector within its walls, which can be found here:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/nov/30/moma-video-games-art

According to Jones, videogames will never be a true artistic medium as players “cannot claim to impose a personal vision of life on the game”, a statement I disagree with to a degree. As discussed in Wednesday’s lecture, the scale to which players can repurpose games to their desire is incredibly flexible; perhaps machinema will be considered a form of pop art decades from now…

Stuart engages with the notion that games are seen through a relatively narrow light in the media. Unfortunately, the mainstream media’s interpretation of ‘videogames’ is more often than not focused on violence-heavy FPS games, and while it does a fantastic job of presenting their supposed dangers (influences on society, connection with psychotic gunmen, etc.), many reports often glide over the many amazing features and positive influences videogames as a medium possess.

Whether or not videogames are an art form depends a great deal on one’s relationship with gaming culture and one’s definition of art. To me, the fact that Te Papa and MoMA have chosen to dedicate exhibitions to the global, societal influence that games possess speaks volumes about how society is changing both in relation to and because of them, and their role as cultural artefacts (though of course, the impact of this really depends on one’s feelings towards museums as legitimizing institutions and games as a medium…).

Both writers raise interesting points, but overall I side more with Stuart – particularly his idea that “defining art is madness, and dismissing a vast, vibrant and creative medium is folly”. Gaming is forever changing, and to overlook the medium simply because it is relatively young, or to attempt to define or judge it within a narrow definition, would be to miss out on a great deal.

There is a lot to discuss within these articles, and I hope to do so in more depth in future, but for now I’m curious to hear your thoughts – do you think that videogames are art?

Game Masters Exhibition: http://gamemasters.acmi.net.au/

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2 thoughts on “Videogames as art

  1. There’s some really fascinating material in this post – I’m a little astounded, although simultaneously not surprised, at the backlash against the notion of considering video games as art. I wonder if some of the issues come back to the high culture vs low culture dichotomy, as well as possibly a desire from some within art circles to maintain a level of elitism – a caballing (possibly not a word) of the section of culture within with certain experts feel comfortable and already possess a cultural literacy?

    Just a thought,

    M

    • *Googles* … It’s a word!

      I would say that there is definitely some sort of elitism at play here, and I suspect a little fear of the unknown. The easiest way to approach something unfamiliar is to of course dismiss, deny or refuse to acknowledge it, which I suspect critics on the “video games are not art” side of the argument may be doing. It is still comparatively new compared to other known mediums, and I suspect that not having as deep a pool of knowledge or academic discussion surrounding them in comparison to other media forms could be a driving factor in why some academics’ dismiss them. Though of course the reason why there is so much knowledge on other mediums is because people have made a point to think about them, discuss them, etc. – the development of, outrage at and acceptance/academic critique of pop art, just as an example…

      I don’t quite understand what Jones is trying to say about there being a lack of genuine interaction and experience with video games; to me it sounds more like “yes, this thing here is a valid and acceptable thing to respond to; but this one (a video game) is not”, and a oversimplification of the medium, or analysis based on existing standards (which doesn’t take into account the medium in it’s own right).

      I found it interesting that he deemed games non-artforms because real art “is one person’s reaction to life” – I doubt he’s done much investigation into contemporary games that explore creator’s emotions, experiences, etc. Te me it seems games (in both design and play) encourage and require personal imagination at least to some degree; and not all art is created out of deep interaction with life, nor by one solitary creator (I’m curious to hear his thoughts on interactive artworks/collaborative work, etc.).

      Just a few thoughts. I’m looking forward to looking back in another 30 years time and seeing how video game discussion and development has progressed…

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