The Debate Over Video Games as Intentional Art

By Chris Faylor, Mar 19, 2007 11:54am PDT Adding more fuel to an already raging fire, Gamasutra's Bryan Ochalla pokes the minds of various industry figures in yet another discussion on video games as art. This time around, the subjects include Double Fine founder Tim Schafer, Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack, and Lionhead Studios designer Peter Molyneux, all of whom agree that games are--or can be--art.

Several of the designers point out games can be exceedingly broad in their level of artistic intent, and should not be judged on their potential solely by their extremes. "Like film or TV or painting, there will be different modes of video game craft," said Bogost, founding partner of Persuasive Games and co-editor of Water Cooler Games. "There will be pop-art games and self-referential postmodern games and exploitative games and games made solely to cash in on intellectual property like Sponge Bob."

After tackling criticism from film critic Roger Ebert, the debate eventually moves into whether games should be consciously designed as art. "If you care about injecting subtext and meaning into your game, then you definitely should [think about creating art as you make a game]," expressed Grim Fandango and Psychonauts designer Schafer. "But if that doesn't interest you then you should spend your time on the part of the game that does, and that's great too. Games don't all have to be the same thing to all people. They can--and should--be completely different depending on who's making them. That's one of the things that makes them art."

"Does a painter decide to make art or paint a picture? Does a composer decide to compose a piece of music or make art? Does a film maker want to make a film or art?," mulled Fable and Populous designer Molyneux, suggesting that the question is largely academic. "I want players to feel a range of emotions, not just excitement—that is my ambition. If on this basis some critics describe this as artistic, then I will feel like I have succeeded."

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  • Having never commented on this issue, I read over the Wikipedia page on Art for inspiration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art

    The issue it hit home for me is just how many qualifiers have been used to gauge artistic value. Art may be used to denote the skill of the creator or quality of the resulting work, the work's effectiveness in communicating emotion, and the level of creativity or imagination employed in the work's creation.

    Blockbuster movies, accepted by many as an art form which I have also taken issue with, are the closest comparison to video games that we can draw on, not only because of the way in which they interact with their audience, but also due to the manor in which they are created. Many movies, like video games but on a much larger scale, are the result of the collaboration of an extraordinary number of people with varying roles and specialties. The idea of an "artist" is obscured to the point of being indistinguishable.

    Can something be art without an artist? Certainly, the same qualifiers of artistic value can be applied to absolutely anything, but this level of accidental association to art is not nearly as interesting as intentional art, as noted in the title of this news item. Rather than relying on particular examples of great video games which have attained amazing artistic qualities, we should consider the viability of video games as a medium of expression for a given artist.

    If a creative child tells his parent that he wants to be an artist, should his parents encourage him to become a game designer? I really don't know the answer to that question. I think Remo's example of Shigeru Miyamoto's ability to translate his ideas and emotions into captivating experiences for a large audience is telling.

    Thus, whether or not video games are currently viable as an art form may be a reflection on the accessibility of the industry. How effectively can any artist can take the reigns and create the work of art they intended to create? Both in the cases of video games, and movies, I would stress great caution with assuming that they afford artists such a level of control. So should a medium such as video games truly be considered a form of art if it is limited to a privileged pool of artists? Perhaps not.



  • Here's the problem: Video games mix art with toys (V = A + T). Art being audio/visual (including reading words that evoke audio/visual) and toys being something that you do that is fun (ie: gameplay). You really have to seperate the two in your mind before you can talk about video games as art. Using a crowbar in HL2 was not an artistic choice, it was a gameplay choice. Having people spurt blood when you hit them is an artistic choice.

    You can further seperate the engines from a game from the art: engines being the tools that the artists work with. This helps to understand why many games are neither interesting to watch nor fun to play: all the time was spent making an engine and little was spent on the art or the gameplay. These games don't realize that a better engine does not necessitate better art. The most startling thing about playing old Lucasarts adventure games is how much art they contain with how limited their tools were. The expressions on Monkey Island characters beats out most games in the last 5 years, despite that fact that they had only a handful of pixels in them.