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Video Games Can Never Be Art

posted by Rather Dashing on - last edited - Viewed by 3.5K 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.
235 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • Rather Dashing;293097 said:
    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.
    You ignored context before I came into this topic or conversation. You have no room to talk about that. I'm willing to acknowledge that games may not apply under one form of context, but you have to be willing to acknowledge that it does ABSOLUTELY apply under another context. Wait, what am I saying! Games are the work. It's the workmanship that is the art.

    I also edited my above post to address Roivas.
  • tredlow;293095 said:
    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.
    I really wanted to split this up into different sections so I could discuss them individually, but your point is both succinct and pretty well thought out. However, I will have to debate one point. The reason that programming isn't considered an art and painting is largely is due to the fact that programming is 100% repeatable and the only thing that separates the best programmers in the world from someone with no computer ability is knowledge.

    That's not to say that art doesn't require knowledge but it is one of the mediums in which two people can create the same thing and have it look different. While two programmers might not create the same kind of program, if they both fill the same function the differences are of interest only to programmers.

    You can split hairs and say that two art pieces, such as reproductions of great works, can look exactly the same and the differences are only made clear to artists but that sort of misses the point. If a programmer sets out to exactly recreate someone's code he can do so perfectly if he just reads their code and types it in. If you give the same code to me and tell me to type it in I can remake the best programs in the world.

    Since knowledge is the barrier between the greatest programmers and some random guy skill is the split between the greatest artist and Roger Ebert, I would suggest that programming is a knowledge based science. It is repeatable, understandable, and logical. Art tends not to be.

    Of your point of us wanting games to be considered art, I certainly am not trying to diminish their impact. Games can be one of the most individualistic forms of entertainment and no two people will have the same thoughts as they play through a game. Some people enjoy watching Let's Plays for this exact reason. They get the chance to hear another person's thought process or verbalized thoughts as they play (sometimes).

    I think the elements of a game should be considered art but the design portion is more a process of knowledge based execution than an art. I love making games but I don't pretend to be making art, more of a toy maker than an artist. The games are meant to be picked up and enjoyed than deeply considered for their reflection of the human psyche.
  • avistew;293098 said:
    But taking a specific game, like S&M 3, can you play it if you remove all the artistic elements?
    Actually yes you could. Take out all the art, the story, and the humor and you would have a floating dot collecting shapes or pieces. Basically, Sam and Max would then devolve into a point and click version of Adventure for the Atari 2600. You would move your dot on the screen to other shapes and when you click on certain dots they would enter a menu. You could then use them to solve puzzles such as a square shaped hole needing a square shaped key.

    Would that be the same game? Not even close. But you would have the same gameplay, it would simply cease to be enjoyable. The program could still function without anything but placeholder art (shapes to represent characters and items) and the gameplay would actually remain unchanged.

    Can you do this with art? Not really. If you take apart the specific elements of a musical piece you have sounds with no impact. A game with purely placeholder art can still convey proof of concept in some games and these have been used to get game projects started. But if you take a piece of art down to the paints and use that as proof of concept of painting you haven't done anything except invented paint... again.

    Games don't need to have art in them to be games, but they need art in them to have impact.
  • Roivas;293109 said:
    Actually yes you could. Take out all the art, the story, and the humor and you would have a floating dot collecting shapes or pieces. Basically, Sam and Max would then devolve into a point and click version of Adventure for the Atari 2600. You would move your dot on the screen to other shapes and when you click on certain dots they would enter a menu. You could then use them to solve puzzles such as a square shaped hole needing a square shaped key.

    Would that be the same game? Not even close. But you would have the same gameplay, it would simply cease to be enjoyable. The program could still function without anything but placeholder art (shapes to represent characters and items) and the gameplay would actually remain unchanged.

    Can you do this with art? Not really. If you take apart the specific elements of a musical piece you have sounds with no impact. A game with purely placeholder art can still convey proof of concept in some games and these have been used to get game projects started. But if you take a piece of art down to the paints and use that as proof of concept of painting you haven't done anything except invented paint... again.

    Games don't need to have art in them to be games, but they need art in them to have impact.
    A dot has to be drawn.
  • avistew;293098 said:
    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.
    I think the difference in our viewpoints here is pretty clear to map out: You're putting the "rules and objectives" as just an equal aspect of the game, whereas I'm using it as the definition(correct me if I'm wrong here). Paintings and sculptures are created on top of materials, yes, but those materials by themselves are not considered art.

    I cannot consider games a separate art, much the same way I couldn't consider film a separate art from writing if raw text scrolled along the screen. If it was just written words on screen, it would be just another way to display writing, not an art in its own right. If the rules and objectives that separate games from other media are not art, then games themselves are not art, but merely another means to show the same arts we already have.
    Secret Fawful;293099 said:
    You ignored context before I came into this topic or conversation. You have no room to talk about that. I'm willing to acknowledge that games may not apply under one form of context, but you have to be willing to acknowledge that it does ABSOLUTELY apply under another context. Wait, what am I saying! Games are the work. It's the workmanship that is the art.
    Fine then. Games are a Work of Art under the same definition that allows "installing drywall" to be an art.
  • Surely the design of the video game is art - sometimes good art, often bad art - and the video game itself is the medium. What you then do with the art when it's in your possession is up to you but it doesn't stop it from being something that someone (or rather some people) has/have uniquely designed and created.
  • Rather Dashing;293113 said:
    Fine then. Games are a Work of Art under the same definition that allows "installing drywall" to be an art.
    And yet no matter how you so weakly tried to insult my point and intelligence here, not to mention the integrity of the medium as a work of art, you still know deep down that games have much more worth, meaning, and expression in them than drywall. Unless it's E.T. or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which case I'd rather spend five hours staring at drywall.
  • avistew;293055 said:
    i thought one of the main points of art was that it wasn't useful.
    best... Definition... Ever :D
  • Walter Gropius would have given you a slap.
  • Secret Fawful;293116 said:
    And yet no matter how you so weakly tried to insult my point and intelligence here, not to mention the integrity of the medium as an art
    I'm sorry, but installing drywall is an art. Look in the dictionary if you don't believe me, after all. The installed drywall is a work of art. I can't insult the integrity of the word "art" when drywall fits nicely in the given definition.
    you still know deep down that games have much more worth, meaning, and expression in them than drywall. Unless it's E.T. or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which case I'd rather spend five hours staring at drywall.
    I'm pretty sure we weren't talking about that definition of "art". I'm pretty sure we were talking about whether or not skilled people happen to make games with techniques, because that's the context that you said I was ignoring, that's the context you've been attempting to shoehorn into the conversation, despite its irrelevance.

    No, I don't think that games mean more than drywall. The other art forms applied to games can and do, certainly, but there's nothing special about the actual games.
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