Nah, I Think I’ll Still Call Games Art

No, Video Games Aren’t Art. We’re BETTER by Spiderweb Software’s Jeff Vogel is an alpha strike against…I guess people who talk about games as an art form?

While I don’t disagree with many of his points, I don’t think it ever really lands home the argument that games are somehow “SuperArt,” beyond mere art and evolved into something that is somehow more.

I love literature and theatre. I love great movies. Yet, I can’t remember any work of art, no matter how good, that consumed and drained me as much as the Cyberdemon in DOOM.

You could make the same argument about sex, which is also not something that someone would argue is art in the first place.

Arguing that games are financially doing well, incredibly culturally relevant, and published in great numbers is somehow arguing that games are doing great and don’t need to be forced to grow up and become art…as if someone is making this argument?

Artistic accomplishment? Creativity? Look up any Best Games list from 2014 or 2015. Video games are breaking new barriers in craftsmanship and artistic expression every year and turning profits while they do it.

I’ll bite. From PC Gamer’s 2014 list:

Game of the Year 2014: Alien Isolation, so basically Metal Gear Solid with horror? EGM’s quote according to the Wikipedia article: “”succeeds as a genuine effort to capture the spirit of the film franchise in playable form.” So a SuperArt form that is oddly derivative of the art it is supposedly beyond.

Best Singleplayer: Dragon Age: Inquisition, a sequel. It may be an awesome sequel, and perhaps they did some innovative work there, but it’s a sequel.

And 2015’s version of these awards went to Metal Gear Solid V and The Witcher 3. More sequels.

Sometimes I go to movies to see sequels, as well, but when gaming’s top offerings for the last decade boil down to space marines (to the point that Ubisoft publishes a game called “Space Marine”), World War II first-person shooters, and sequels to successful franchises, sports or otherwise, it’s hard to argue about how creative the game industry is. Even Minecraft, which don’t get me wrong, is incredible and not only offers a lot of ways to BE creative, but also involved quite a bit of creativity to implement, was originally based off of Infiniminer, and steals (and gives back) from Dwarf Fortress, among other games.

But then, Microsoft always liked to claim innovation with the caveat “for the first time on Windows…”

Listen, I don’t think anyone looks at certain popular films or novels as high art. Some of them are just candy, and candy sells well. So I don’t look to best of lists for innovation. I look to them for popularity. What’s everyone playing? Quite frankly, most everyone is playing sequels to games they already liked, overlooking some of the truly innovative work that is out there. That’s popularity for you.

No, I don’t think poorly of the game industry. I think what we do is amazing, and I have also argued against people like Roger Ebert who thought games can’t be art.

But when film was new, people thought it was a poorer form of theatre. Theatre was ART. Film? It was never going to live up to theatre’s ability to be art.

Then film came into its own. I’m sure people argued that film’s capabilities were so beyond theatre’s that art no longer was an appropriate term to describe it. Speculation on the future of film in its infancy leads to such flights of fancy.

Games are interactive. They pull you into an experience in an active way, which can be considered superior to the passive way a movie or book does it. Games can be elegantly well-designed. Games can do more than film, writing, sculpture, painting, or any number of art forms…in certain kinds of experiences.

But not all. It’s why people still buy books and watch films and go to museums. The fact that more people play games and more money is spent on games changes nothing.

When I write a game, I try to make you feel like you have power. Then I try to make you feel the awesome, terrifying responsibility of having power. When I force you to make a tough decision, for a brief moment, I can reprogram your brain and take your thoughts somewhere they’ve never been before. This is amazing.

It IS amazing.

It’s also not unlike art, which can take you out of your comfort zone and make you rethink your outlook on life. People cry at performance art. People have changed their careers and lives based on books they’ve read. And games have also changed people’s lives in meaningful ways beyond sweating and dopamine hits.

We haven’t begun to come to terms with the power we’ve unleashed with these toys, these addiction machines.

Oh, ok. We’re beyond art, but we’re nothing more than a drug?

It’s one thing to argue that games don’t need to worry about denigrating themselves by calling themselves art and being associated with the lower mediums.

It’s another to make that argument and then kick the legs out from that same argument by making it sound like the people behind games are nothing more than drug pushers looking to exploit those looking for their next high. “Video games are popular to the point of global invasion. Find me a human, and I will find a game that can addict them.” So, games are just an opium for the masses?

I hate it when a good game is described as “addicting.” Call it compelling. Call it irresistible. Call it riveting, spellbinding, or anything else your thesaurus can throw at it.

But don’t compare games to mere drugs. While some games might aim that low, many more don’t.

And as awesome as our medium is, art is art. We’re not “beyond art.” We’re just a different form of art. An awesome form of art, to be sure, but I’m still going to call it art.