Yesterday, I spent the majority of my time awake playing the newly released Portal 2. It was fun, compelling, dark and everything I’d expect and more from the sequel of Valve’s surprise hit. This week also marks a year since Roger Ebert angered nerds around the world by saying video games can’t be art. After finishing Portal 2 last night, I wrote a post for CliqueClack’s new film section explain just some of the ways I feel the Portal series can be seen as high an art as film as well as entertainment (I’ll post the link once it goes through my editor). Still, even as I mention this game series in particular being miles ahead of the majority of games on the market when it comes to story, characters and visual design, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the industry is moving towards their products being art.
Granted, not all video games are supposed to be art. Just like many forms of artistic expression, there are some pieces that are made solely for entertainment purposes and aren’t even considered art by the creator. Just because some video games aren’t art doesn’t mean that other (and more importantly, future) games aren’t either.
It’s also important to remember that far too many forms of expression we see as high art were once seen as anything but. In Shakespeare’s lifetime, theater was seen as obscene. Even in the late 1800s, American-written theater was sometimes considered low-brow (and actresses were synonymous with prostitutes). Heck, fifteen years ago most people didn’t know what a graphic novel was – let’s be honest, too many would assume it was something dirty just from the name. Even now graphic novels can be cast aside as “kid stuff.” And don’t get me started on cartoons. If Hayao Miyasaki‘s work isn’t art, I don’t know what is? And yet it’s still animation, which can be childish or funny or entertaining… just like video games.
I know there are still arguments against video games as art, but why can’t we at least say they have the potential to be art? I feel like if we can at least agree to that potential greatness, the right game developers will want to rise to the occasion.
Whenever I run into somebody going on about how video games are not art, I tell them this.
Writers : 2 minimum, working on the plot and structure for a game's narrative. They lay the framework for the game, they formulate an idea of how the game world should look, they write the dialogue for all the characters. In essence the writers for a game do what a novelist does but take infinitely more time and effort in this endeavor.
Artists – Graphic designers, coders, cinematographers, etc, etc. Numbering sometimes in the 1000s, these are the people that flesh out the world created by the writers. These people create designs and environments that are both dazzling and disgusting. They take the idea of a world created by a writer and expand on it greatly, adding touches of art here and there, designing gruesome or unusual creatures and giving physical form to the game's heroes/villains/and everything in between.
Musicians – 100s to 1000s of musicians/sound technicians/composers/etc. give sound to environments, creatures, objects thought of by the writers and artists. The sound of rain falling on a character as they walk through a lone forest, the roar of a fire heard as a player walks wearily through plane wreckage, all these things an more add realism to the world in which the player interacts within. The music played during certain portions of gameplay, a drumbeat increasing, some guitars entering in a moment later, as your blowing walls apart in a tank, the background music creating a sense of excitement within the player. The music/sound within a game add to the mood of it tremendously and can both excite and scare a player, making them forget that the world their in is only fictional
Actors/Actresses – Many MANY well-known and not so well-known actors an actresses lend their voices and movement to games. These people, give true life to characters within a game. The voicing of a character can make the player feel empathy or disgust towards a character. Combine this with the actual movement of these actors/actresses given in MOCAP studios and the like and the player is sucked even more into the game and the experience of this new world, the realism of the characters their interacting heightened to almost eerie levels.
To say video games are not art is ignoring all other forms of art. It is ignoring music, movies, books, paintings, and everything that makes us feel or think differently.
Video games push the medium of art, while celebrating and combining all existing artforms. The more critics, reviewers, etc understand this fact, the more they'll be able to experience new worlds and emotions and thoughts they never were able to explore before.
Ok, I am rambling at this point, figured I'd put my two cents in here about this though. Sorry about the length and coherency. I originally submitted a comment a little shorter and way more sensical but blogger ate it when I tried to submit it.
Your rant was heard before you even made it.
I always make a point when this issues arises that, by the standards of what is the current definition of art (Not what I believe, but the constant belief for most commentators), that art must have no other purpose but to be unto itself, and it is how the individual views it as how it is interpreted. This is why things such as video games, cartoons and the like are rarely considered any kind of art form, yet things like art house cinema, extensively the same sort of idea, can be defined as such.
For the most part though, we have to recognize that 'art' as we see it now is rather pointless; supposedly the best art work from the 1900's was a urinal signed with a false name. Now, do we want to be associated with such an idea that strikes this as brilliant? Of course not, but we do want what is a beautiful, majestic piece of work such as Okami or Red Dead Redemption to be recognised as such.
We must always remember one thing though; the people qualified to commentate did not grow up with this. As our generation matures, and we slowly become the 'experts' in the field, we are of course going to end up recognizing art as anything beautiful, majestic and the like regardless of the form it is in. Our kids will also be getting at us for not recognizing their generations work as art, and we will dismiss them just as the likes of Ebert now.
In the end, all we really have to do is wait and be open-minded; when we are in the position of authority to say so, video games will be art. all we need is patience (something the internet appears to have stripped us of; another issue for another time).