Videogames as Art Essay
Videogames as Art
When people think about art, I’m fairly certain that most of them don’t thinkof videogames as their prime referent, instead opting for paintings and sculptures. In the mind of the general public, some believe art lies in works that are complex enough and that mimic reality accurately. Others judge art as the Fine Arts, which are those intended uniquely for beauty instead of utility, like a painting or a song. For critics and connoisseurs like Robert Belton, “art is the product of a human activity for a clear audience, say a museum, and with the intent of expression or education, amongst others.
” Now, putting these definitions in context one wonders how can videogames not be art? Is it violence? Is it the lack of maturity in the concepts handled? Is it the fact that their purpose lies in entertainment and relies heavily on interactivity? Not really, yet the general public and critics alike fail to deem videogames an art form due to misconceptions or lack of proper examination. From my experience as a frequent user of videogames, I’m capable of saying that they are in fact art because they meet the aesthetic criteria in the same way a painting or a sculpture does.
By watching sports, I gathered that there are some that are considered art, like gymnastics, while others are not, like football. This is due, in great part, to their completely different evaluation criteria. While skating and diving are evaluated on aesthetic criteria, football and basketball are evaluated simply on how many goals or points teams get. Videogames are being evaluated the same way football is, and they are consequently overlooked for their artistic potential.
Movies are lauded as a technical achievement capable of expressing powerful ideas and evoking strong emotions on viewers because they are evaluated on those grounds. How are videogames different in that respect? If videogames were evaluated the same way movies are, then they would most definitely be considered art. Yet most people believe that videogames cannot be judged on aesthetics because there is not anything to judge on. Still, contrary to popular belief, videogames serve as a form of expression for both the author and the players.
While the designer of a videogame may utilize the medium to express his ideas on totalitarianism, like Bioshock, the player may utilize the medium as a way to relieve stress or unweave his creativity, like in Minecraft. As a matter of fact, videogames can be evaluated on aesthetics the same way chess is. While the main objective of the game is to capture the king, there are awards for the most efficient move or the elegance and resourcefulness of the winner’s strategy.
The same criterion applies to videogames, which nowadays judges players based on the grace and simplicity and the moment of solving a puzzle or surpassing an obstacle. There is no denying that videogames are entertainment objects, yet they are capable of much more. If videogames are inspected further, they can be considered as a powerful medium of expression and realization of feelings and ideas, and therefore be considered art. Critics must open their minds and stop leaning themselves on prejudices before even experiencing the game itself. Not once have I heard people complain about operas not being a form of art.
Actually, operas serve as an artistic milestone due to the fact that they encompass several forms of art, like singing, dancing, and acting, amongst others. By means of thorough evaluation of videogames, I realized that it serves as a medium in which other art forms gather. As a matter of fact, videogames not only congregate several art forms, but do so extremely well as to present a cohesive product that is both aesthetically appealing and rewarding (Smuts). As Perry says “Video games combine elements from narrative fiction film, music, and sports”.
One of the ways videogames integrate acting is by the use of motion-capture, a technique that translates the actor’s movements and expressions into the virtual world with almost perfect fidelity. They also use music and environment design to create an immersive atmosphere that allows the player or viewer to gather the most out of the experience. Even though videogames encompass already established art forms to be considered equal and may seem cheap or dull, they nevertheless develop further by embracing interactivity with the player.
While a painter limits the interactivity of the audience based solely on what they see, videogames tailor the player’s experience around their interaction with the game. No two games develop the same way because of the heavy interactivity between the players and the game, and this alone makes videogames an unrivaled medium in terms of interactivity. Videogames are art by themselves and by the sum of their parts. The fact that videogames oblige players to transform and interact with the game to one’s desire gives them an edge over more traditional art forms such as novels and poems.
Now, for all those skeptics out there that are still unconvinced about the artistic potential of videogames, I want to show a brief historical recap that may clarify things. From the very beginning of the development of the arts, society has always been against new aspiring mediums that go against the status quo, yet they are nowadays regarded as excellent examples of art. If one thinks about the process movies and comics went through to be considered art and compares them to the one of videogames, few differences stand out.
The fact is that videogames are in a period of transition, by which they are challenging the usual beliefs, but society and critics alike are against change. This in turn limits their possible conception as art as people are not capable of acknowledging something as art when it alters their previous conception. Moreover, one must never forget that some art forms went through a series of movements to earn their art status. In the case of movies, they developed the auteur theory in response to the critics that said it was not possible to define a clear author in a huge collaborative work like movies.
The theory stated that movies could have a single author because the director’s work could be easily recognizable in several of his or her works. I believe many of us can spot the difference between a Walt Disney film and a Quentin Tarantino one as they conserve their most recurrent elements in most of their works. These theories are yet to appear for videogames because they are in the process of changing the common conception of games as a simple, mindless form of entertainment, into a much more mature and developed art form.
Actually, have people stopped to think about the real starting point of their beloved art forms? As Gapper explains, “Speech didn’t start as the beautiful art form that is singing. In fact, it started as the most raw and basic manner for delivering warning”. Similarly, writing did not start as the universally acclaimed art form of poetry, but as a record keeping technique. All these serves to show how videogames are still an evolving medium that has untapped potential to develop into what could be considered art.
Still, even though most of the people do not acknowledge videogames as art, the Smithsonian Museum of Art has taking the first step into proper recognition by hosting an exhibition called “The Art Of Videogames”. I believe that such a renowned institution is giving videogames an equal status a painting or a sculpture is a very powerful statement that further solidifies the fact that videogames are art. Even after extensive research, people still cling unto common misconceptions to quickly dismiss videogames as pure entertainment, but not art.
Some say that art is not looking for profit, and seeing that the videogame industry is a multi-billion dollar one (Perry), videogames cannot be art. But the thing is that money and profit have always been present in art. Let’s take for example how patrons sponsored artists such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci, only for advertising or decorative purposes. I’ve never heard of anyone criticizing Da Vinci for his desire for profit, let alone question his works as being art. Still, I urge those who say that videogames are not art because of profits to say the same of Renaissance artists.
But how about those who say that videogames are mindless experiences targeted to 8 year olds or teenagers with short attention spans? They continue to believe that, due to their immature audience, they cannot aspire to dwell in mature concepts. Once again, prejudices and cliches plague the industry, as the most prolific audience in it are, contrary to popular belief, young adults ranging between the ages of 28-35. The average age of a gamer is 33, yet many people still believe games are immature, and disregard their artistic potential.
Additionally, one of the most frequent complaints is that videogames fail to mimic reality due to their simplistic nature. This complaint is most present in Ebert’s argument on why videogames should not be considered art. Even though people believe that the more the work represents reality, the more artistic it is, this cannot be further from the truth. Picasso’s works are absolutely abstract, yet people never deny they are art. Nevertheless, if one still believes that art must mimic reality, I thoroughly believe videogames are doing a great job at it.
Technology has evolved in a way that videogames such as Skyrim can deliver strikingly realistic experiences through character interactions and dynamic environments, and one should look no further than games like FIFA 13, which resemble the sport in every conceivable way. The fact that the judgment of videogames is based on prejudices, cliches, and misconceptions is very discouraging. Yet, it is not hard to repair this because videogames actually have the capacity of being art as they meet the required aesthetic criteria.