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.