The question of whether video games should be considered art has been around for literal decades, and though many feel that the matter was settled some time over the past twenty or thirty years, there are still many who have a problem with others calling video games art.
You don’t have to search around online all that much to find someone saying something along the lines of, ‘Video games should not be considered art.’
And based on what we’ve seen at least, many of these people base their argument on a pretty shaky foundation.
If you hadn’t already guessed, we’re going to be tackling the basis of this statement and then follow that up with some of our own reasons why video games should probably, definitely be considered art.
A Major Issue with This Argument: Defining “Art”
Have you ever asked yourself what the word “art” really means? If you were a liberal arts major in college, then you’re probably nodding your head, but just in case you don’t fall into this category, allow us to discuss the complexity of defining such an abstract concept.
If you search for a baseline definition on Google, you’ll get the Oxford definitions for the word, the first of which is, “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
To its credit, this definition attempts to remain somewhat open-ended, but it ultimately addresses what we consider to be a common misconception: that “art” refers solely to the visual arts, such as painting, sculpture, photography, and the like.
Along these lines, the word “artist” conjures images of a painter, palette in hand, sizing up a bowl of fruit or an unclothed model.
But in the minds of many artists and art critics, this is a very narrow conception of what art really is.
The second Oxford definition attempts to open things up: “the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.”
Here, art forms outside of museum-specific works are graciously included. Music and literature are creative mediums, too, so why shouldn’t they be considered art as well?
For us here at GL, the most useful phrases from these definitions are, “creative skill and imagination,” and “creative activity.”
On the other hand, perhaps the most useless portion of these definitions is, “producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
This is a rather outdated interpretation of the purpose of art. There is no one set purpose behind the creation and exhibition/distribution of art. Artists create art of many different kinds for many different reasons, and audiences enjoy and appreciate art for many different reasons.
In line with this reality, critics, journalists, academics, and artists regularly discuss the nature and purpose of art, and that understanding continues to expand. There are also disagreements in this area. Arriving at a single definition of “art” may be useful on a practical level, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct, or that it applies to all art that exists in the world.
For the purposes of this article, we will define art this way: “the product of creative expression.” This may be a broad definition, but it’s still rooted in the official definitions given above.
Based on our definition, video games absolutely qualify as art. They are the product of creative expression, often the collective creative expression of a team of people, similar to a film.
Those who argue that video games should not be considered art are likely just using a different, much narrower, definition of art. So, in other words, they’re not wrong, according to their own definition, but that definition is probably quite outdated and doesn’t consider that we’re not just trying to determine whether video games are visual art.
Moving forward with our definition of art, a definition that, hopefully, many would agree with, let’s discuss some specific reasons why video games are indeed art.
Why Video Games Are (Probably) Art
As we already talked about, video games are the result of creative expression. Artists, designers, and even programmers can contribute some sort of creative expression to a game.
Are games made up entirely of creative expression? No, of course not. Similar to film, there are many technical elements that facilitate creative expression. But these technical aspects can be likened to the tools and materials necessary for other types of artistic creation.
Painting requires paint, brushes, and canvas. Writing requires pen and paper or a computer and peripherals. Paint, on its own, isn’t creative or expressive. It’s a tool that artists can use to realize their vision.
This isn’t to downplay the work that goes into the technical elements of a video game. Just because these elements aren’t purely creative doesn’t mean they don’t contribute massively to the creation of art.
Most importantly, the end result of a team’s contributions to a game is a piece of art. Even if the intentions of that art are only to entertain, it still makes the cut.
That first Oxford definition mentions “emotional power,” and trying to argue that video games don’t offer emotional power is going to be a losing battle.
Even the most seemingly basic, arcade-y style games can elicit strong feelings in players, and as for more narrative-based games, it doesn’t take much looking around online to get a sense for just how many people have been deeply affected by interacting with those games.
Ok, yeah, we talked a whole lot about viewing art as something that’s purely visual is way off-base, but the visuals of video games do still help make the case that video games are art.
The guiding principles of the visual arts also guide the visuals in video games.
Even when players are given full camera control, the visuals of each game are carefully considered and curated in order to support a specific tone and experience.
And we also have to take into account the massive number of specific pieces of visual art that go into each game, from character models to environments to menus.
That’s All, Folks
Honestly, most people at this point seem to agree that video games are indeed art, but it’s still worth having this conversation.
We hope that we’ve done a decent job of explaining why the anti- argument here doesn’t have much ground to stand on, but hey, go ahead and comment if you’d like to extend the conversation further.