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Video Games Can Never Be Art

posted by Rather Dashing on - last edited - Viewed by 3.6K users
A lot of websites in the gaming sphere have been discussing Roger Ebert's claim that Video Games Can Never Be Art, generally without reading the post or even really thinking about the point. A lot of gamers strive for games to be given the "Art" label to give the industry a sense of legitimacy, importance, and purpose, and react powerfully and negatively to the assertion that games can be anything else.

I agree with Roger Ebert, for the most part. Now, considering many people may just read the TITLE of his blog post and go into a rant, I'll at least try and get someone to read some of it by quoting a relevant section here:
Roger Ebert" said:
One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.
Note games, especially those often considered "Art". Consider Ebert's role in the film industry. He is a critic. A film critic's job is to take in everything in a scene, understand the message shown, to gauge the value of something with an understanding of its basic mechanical workings. Think of the mechanical workings of a game, stripped down to the barest elements to keep its definition.

Okami is pretty. But at the very base level, Okami is a set of rules and objectives. It has nice graphics, and those might be considered "art". A game with an amazing story is still that: a game with an amazing story. The mechanical workings of the game are still a set of rules and objectives that should be met. If you then go ahead and claim that no it's not, that's covered above. Because those aren't "games" anymore, they're interactive art pieces.

Think of adventure games. Now, many people may argue that these are art pieces. After all, they're heavily story-focused, generally rely heavily on writing, and until recently a lot of them even used hand-painted backdrops. But then you go into what an adventure game IS? It is a series of puzzles that must be solved to win. These are puzzles that are heavily supplemented by writing, graphic design, and other artistic elements, but however thickly these things are draped over the core mechanics, the point remains that the mechanical workings of a game are sets of objectives and rules that should be completed and followed. A game is meant to be won, or possibly lost.

I am arguing that video games as we know them are not art, though various aspects of them can be considered art. You may say that the graphic design of a board game, the picture made by a jigsaw puzzle, or painted game pieces are "art", but would the actual puzzle be art? Would the actual board game be art? No, they're games, supplemented by artistic elements.

There is only one game I know of that even begin to consider "art", and that is Lose/Lose. Is it a GOOD game, is it GOOD art? I don't know. But its very mechanical workings are set to make you reconsider what you value, and whether or not that message happens to be conveyed well or not, the point is that it is a game by definition, and I think it's likely art by definition.

tl;dr version: I hate video games and the entire gaming industry. This isn't art, these "video games" are GARBAGE. Also, I slept with your mother. By the way, she should know that she should get herself checked.
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  • I must admit I've never actually thought about this topic at all. It's never occurred to me that games may or may not be considered art.

    Maybe it's because video games are full of art. A lot of games have storylines, and almost every game has graphics and sound of some sort. Tales of Monkey Island even has choreography!

    So right now, I'm starting to think of games as perhaps an "art gallery" rather than art itself. But I suppose it's still debatable whether an art container is art itself.

    But haydenwce27 has a good point about films; they're usually thought of as art even though technically that's what their made of. Personally, I think the reason I have always considered film to be an art form is because that's all it is.
  • Rather Dashing;293079 said:


    Who is using this definition? Anywhere? Specifically, colloquially. I'd like to know. I believe we all understand that we are talking about:
    I am. That's who. When you ignore that definition its easy to continue this argument. But once you acknowledge this definition you have to come to terms with the fact that Ebert's argument becomes null and void, and that would make you wrong.
    It has been awhile since I messed with "Cloud", so I may be wrong with this, but I'm pretty sure it's not a game by Ebert's own definition. A game has objectives, Cloud does not. Cloud is an interactive art piece, which is entirely different from a game.

    Flower is not art. Flower tasks the player with obtaining pedals to advance. The process of collecting things is not art, and the need to collect a certain number, the competition to obtain them? This is not art. It is a collect the dots game with many artistic elements contained within.
    That's funny. I think I was playing Cloud. On my computer. With my keyboard. I guess that must not have been a game then. I must have been staring and drooling, because of my short attention span, at a damn bloody painting. I didn't know you could play a painting. Could it have been, GASP, that Cloud was an ART...GAME? A game that IS a piece of art? Oh but you couldn't possibly admit that, NOOOO. You don't even know what you're talking about. And you refuse to accept any other points, no matter what they're saying. You ignore them and attack them at their basest level while ignoring the point. If you were right that would be a different matter, but you aren't.
  • Does anyone really care whether one person considers a piece art or not. Every definition of art is fairly vague, thus it is entirely subjective whether one considers something art or not.

    Everything is art, art is everything, art is nothing, some things are art and others are not. None of those statements are intrinsically wrong, art is what is perceived by the observer, user, etc.
  • Secret Fawful is using "art" in a way that I almost never see used in modern, colloquial English. If anything, he's using one that is uncommon, especially in discussions of this variety, and it comes off as being somewhat pedantic. Same with "game", where "anything I happen to be capable of interacting with without express purpose other than to use idle time" is a game. Many people consider "toys" and "games" to be separate thanks to the idea that games have rules and objectives.
    Oxford Dictionary said:
    art1
    • noun 1 the expression of creative skill through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture. 2 the product of such a process; paintings, drawings, and sculpture collectively. 3 (the arts) the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, and drama. 4 (arts) subjects of study primarily concerned with human culture (as contrasted with scientific or technical subjects). 5 a skill: the art of conversation.
    avistew;293086 said:
    ... What about a painting? It's not art! It's something (a blank canvas) that art is added to.
    It's a bit silly, I mean, art is always expressed through a medium and has a container most of the time.
    No, that's silly. The painting is art, the canvas is not. I'm saying that games are not art, because they are(by definition) a set of rules and objectives. Anything else is not part of "the game", they are elements that you can separate and call art without a game even being there. A game is more like a canvas than a painting.
  • Secret Fawful;293085 said:


    Art is defined as skilled workmanship, or a craft or trade using principles or methods.
    A light bulb could count as art under this definition.
    Secret Fawful;293085 said:
    Painting itself can be considered a system as well. It requires many components such as lighting, composition, color, anatomy, etc. to make it work. Without one of these, the piece won't function.
    That's just the medium of art, not the expression behind it. Because the expression of games is not only subjective but completely transformative to individual play styles Pac-Man could be the deepest game in history to one person and Braid is just a Mario clone.

    Everything has to operate under rules, those rules are not the art itself. The rules that the art forms are more akin to a science.
    Secret Fawful;293085 said:
    Marble is a natural rock. It has nothing to do with this discussion. Building materials had to be mined or made, therefore they are works made by artists of their craft. Techniques are part of the art. Paper had to be made, by skilled craftsmen as well.
    Apparently everything is art, because the act of creating something requires the ability to move one's body in a way that takes skill, including this sentence.

    Which is closer to describing a game?

    Art:Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.

    Social Science: The term behavioral sciences encompasses all the disciplines that explore the activities of and interactions among organisms in the natural world.
  • Rather Dashing;293091 said:
    Secret Fawful is using "art" in a way that I almost never see used in modern, colloquial English. If anything, he's using one that is uncommon, especially in discussions of this variety, and it comes off as being somewhat pedantic.
    Well you just saw it used so start acknowledging it, no matter how grudgingly or "pedantic".
    A light bulb could count as art under this definition.
    No the light bulb is the work. The creation or workmanship of it is the art. Take a look at a light bulb sometime, and the intricate qualities of it. You'll find that it's actually quite beautiful to the eyes.
    That's just the medium of art, not the expression behind it. Because the expression of games is not only subjective but completely transformative to individual play styles Pac-Man could be the deepest game in history to one person and Braid is just a Mario clone.
    It could be. Then again, aren't all paintings and works of art objective. Isn't one persons impression of Mona Lisa different from anothers?
    Everything has to operate under rules, those rules are not the art itself. The rules that the art forms are more akin to a science.
    Then painting is no longer an art by this logic, but is a science.
    Apparently everything is art, because the act of creating something requires the ability to move one's body in a way that takes skill, including this sentence.
    One could say that proper language and grammar skills could be considered an art.
    Which is closer to describing a game?

    Art:Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.

    Social Science: The term behavioral sciences encompasses all the disciplines that explore the activities of and interactions among organisms in the natural world.
    For me, art. Art is also, once again, defined as skilled workmanship, or a craft or trade using principles or methods. Both definitions are closer to game design than social science. However a game is a work, not the art itself.
  • @Rather Dashing
    I think it's an interesting line to draw where interactivity is just interactivity and not somehow a game as well, thinking of driving a car right now.

    Objectives and rules can be art simply by the defintion of art itself.

    Can a mathematical expression or a formula be art? Yes they can, i would say e=mc^2 for instance qualifies due to it's simplicity and relevance.

    Can a pack of rules be art? Of course, there might be some clever and stellar balanced rules which enable an extremely entertaining game.

    I think you can see the whole package as well as you can pick out certain aspects of a game and both, the complete game as well as certain aspects out of it can be art, just like with a film or any other medium.

    I was suggesting more than once that you think more about the term art, not because i wanted to insult you but because i have the feeling that you're using it in a too narrowed way.
  • Roivas;293074 said:
    However, as much as we'd like to call programming an art it is not. Programming is a science with predictable outcomes and repeatable results, even if sometimes games don't perform as expected and have bugs or exploits. Programming is a science with rules and terms that must be understood into order to make a functional program. If you ignore these rules the program doesn't work.
    But isn't applying paint to a canvas a science? Sure, it's not as advanced and has less restrictions, but it also has a right and a wrong, such as pushing the brush into the canvas but without dipping it in paint first is wrong. The programming isn't art, it's science, but just because science is needed in the process doesn't mean that the finished work isn't a work of art.

    Though your post made me realize that I'm only arguing here not because I want video games to be considered art, but because I don't want it to be seen as a lesser medium than others. I also realize that it doesn't matter whether you think it is art or not, it's still pretty much the perfect medium of storytelling an expression of ideas, and it's still enjoyable.
  • Secret Fawful;293093 said:
    Well you just saw it used so start acknowledging it, no matter how grudgingly or "pedantic".
    The point is, "Processes people use to make things" is not a common usage of the word, and using it here is like demanding that "gay" refer exclusively to jovial people. Words by themselves don't just matter, context is sort of a thing too.
  • Rather Dashing;293091 said:
    No, that's silly. The painting is art, the canvas is not. I'm saying that games are not art, because they are(by definition) a set of rules and objectives. Anything else is not part of "the game", they are elements that you can separate and call art without a game even being there. A game is more like a canvas than a painting.
    But taking a specific game, like S&M 3, can you play it if you remove all the artistic elements? I don't think so.
    I'm just saying that if, because it has elements that are not art, a game can't be art, then a marble sculpture, since it has marble (which you said isn't art), isn't art either. And a painting, which is made of a canvas and paint, neither element being art, isn't art either.

    See what I mean? Just because it has rules doesn't prevent it from being art any more than having paint and a canvas prevents a painting from being art. You can't say "it has some elements that aren't art so it's not art".

    You say these elements are what defines a game, but I say a painting is equally defined by being paint on canvas, and a sculpture is equally defined by being sculpted in something hard. So I still fail to see your point. What defines them decides of the medium, not on whether it's art or not.
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