All right, get ready, ’cause I’m gonna lob an overused bomb your way:
Are games art?
Oh, SNAP. “Not this again,” you are no doubt thinking, especially after yesterday’s story! Many an Internet columnist has hammered this very selfsame subject into the ground over and over on dozens, nay hundreds, of different occasions. Roger Ebert has been cursed to the high heavens upon many a screen. Since we’re talking about Art Style this week, I think it’s more than appropriate to dredge up this old topic again.
I mean, “art” is in the title of that series. If that’s the case, it’s gotta be art of some sort, right?
Well, I don’t exactly agree, for a number of reasons. Let’s start by defining what art is in the first place. In case you don’t remember, the Wikipedia entry defines art as follows:
Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, and paintings.
Note the conspicuous absence of video games. Not that Wikipedia is the definitive source for everything. Webster’s Dictionary defines “art” like this:
the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced
Now, this definition is a bit more all-encompassing, and if we went strictly by this meaning, games could likely be included. But should they be?
I’m not trying to raise more questions here; I’m trying to answer them. Here’s how I see it: games are not art. I do not play games to be inspired. I play them for my own enjoyment and entertainment, or occasionally as a bonding experience with others. Now, do games evoke emotions or affect senses? Yes, that part is is definitely true. So why is it that I don’t consider games to be art?
It’s a somewhat complex answer. The way I see it, art is something that you look at or hear. Something that already exists and that you, the beholder, can only experience passively. You affect a game just by playing it. Sure, there are predetermined outcomes and limited possibilities, but every so often, you can do something special. In a game, you can go beyond what the developers intended. You can find new solutions to puzzles. In Portal, my friend Jake had carried a cube over several yards of floor in order to place it on a switch, only to be astounded when I created two portals that caused it to instantly fall upon the switch without my direct interaction.
A better example of this would be Street Fighter II. The developers at Capcom were astounded when arcade players started improvising multiple-hit combos. These sequences of attacks were unblockable if executed correctly, and were not a part of the game’s original programming. Players were learning them through trial and error, finding new ways of working through the game’s set variables. Of course, later, these were worked into the game, which is why you can do fifty billion damage points as Morrigan and Tekkaman Blade in Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom. In essence, players created a new series of possibilities within the game itself. They changed it.
So, in a nutshell, that’s my argument. Games aren’t art because art is something you look at or listen to. Games are something you do.