Braid. Flower. Linger in Shadows. Even Prince of Persia, Valkyria Chronicles, Street Fighter IV, Echochrome and Killzone 2. All of these games—and far too many more—have been called “art.” We’ve all heard someone say that a certain game somehow blurs the line between gaming and art. We’ve all heard of the games that are nearly indistinguishable from art. Games that are, in fact, actually art.
It seems nearly everyone is pushing the same, tiresome argument. Be they members of the industry—developers, marketers and the self-styled journalists—or the general gaming populace. One week cannot pass without a story hitting N4G declaring the artistic value of one title after another. Games, too many people say, are rapidly becoming a new form of artistic expression.
The whole notion is brimming over with hot-air and bullshit, if you ask me.
How? More importantly: why? Games aren’t art. Games incorporate art, but cannot be art. Let’s look for a moment at what we’re dealing with. What is a game? What is art? To say it simply, art is subjective. Games are objective. The two concepts are diametrically opposed. That is, after all, why games have objectives. This generation we call them Achievements, or Trophies. You take two people, sit them in front of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and ask them what they see—you’ll get two different answers. Do the same with a game—with two hundred people—and you’ll only get one. The nature of any one artistic work varies according to the perceptions of the person viewing it, because when we look at art, we’re very rarely told how we should view it. Art isn’t explained to us—it’s something we explain to ourselves. How could anyone possibly think the same applies to games?
So there you have it. Games are not art. Games will never be art, ever. It is an impossibility. Why, then, do so many people wish so fervently for this mad dream to be truth? I see three possible explanations, all of which are likely at play.
Let’s look at Braid. An unconscionable number of people have leaped forth to label Braid as a work of art. Why? Explanation #1: it’s pretty.
That seems to be the most common argument for most games. If it’s pretty, surely it must be art! Braid is indeed a very pretty game. I won’t even try to argue that point. The backgrounds look lovely, and the music is beautiful. When you put everything together, the whole bloody symphony of color, sound and motion, it’s breathtaking. But is Braid art? No. Braid is a game. In fact, it’s a very familiar game—it’s Mario. It’s a spruced-up version of the same two-dimensional platformer we’ve been playing in various forms for decades. Yes, it has a nifty time-manipulation gimmick. Yes, it’s very pretty—but it’s very much, undeniable, a game.
So there’s the “how,” of the explanation. We gamers see a varied palette—a tragic rarity these days—and we take notice. Hell, these days any game that’s not a first-person shooter with a gritty, violent atmosphere demands our attention, few though they might be. The more spectacular the art in a game, the more likely we are to look past the game and see only the art. But we must remember that art is only one aspect of these games, not the sole aspect. Art is art, and games are games.
Why do we even want games to be art, anyhow? Even I think it’s pretty damned pretentious to go around saying one thing is art, and another thing isn’t. Good God—that’s what artists do. The people who hang out in museums and coffee shops, constantly criticizing the work of others instead of producing anything ourselves. All artistic communities thrive on arrogance and pretension. I, myself, have spent an uncomfortable amount of time with the literature-elite: writers and editors that exude an almost tangible aura of asinine snobbishness and narrow-minded stupidity. Why on Earth would any gamer want anything at all to do with the cult of art?
Page 1 Page 2