The debate over whether games are (or, indeed, can be) art has been a point of contention for years for both gamers and detractors of what some call the “noble art of game development”. Last week, a blogger by the name of Hilary Goldstein wrote on VentureBeat that “games are not art” – and, furthermore, that it doesn’t actually matter if they are or not. I, for one, find his arguments flimsy at best (he resorts to an ad hominem attack in his third sentence; not exactly the best way to start an article like this, would you agree?) and I have prepared a point-by-point rebuttal to said arguments.
First of all, he claims that “art is bullshit” by citing his experience of a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, saying that “…art is manufactured as art. It’s not organic.” By this bold statement, are we to assume that the great works of art by pioneers like Antonio Gaudi were made only to sell to people? In fact, looking at the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral designed by the aforementioned artist/architect, “organic” is the very first word that comes to mind. I could cite nearly every other famous artist in history – Picasso and Beethoven amongst them.
Video games are a newer art form – this, however, does not preclude them from potentially being art. In fact, their uniqueness as an art form, with the interactivity that they so richly provide, makes them more likely to be art. When following this idea to its logical conclusion, we must find ourselves realizing that art (like beauty itself) is in the eye of the beholder – what is a masterpiece to one person may not even pique the interest of another.
Point deux: Mr. Goldstein attempts to pass off his first point’s inadequacy by saying that “games go beyond [art]” by allowing emergent narratives. Excuse me, Hilary, but isn’t that the point of art? To evolve, to develop as its subforms do? Granted, his idea of interactive narratives is pretty weak – his idea can be extended to saying that getting shredded by enemy fire in a Call of Duty game evolves the narrative – but I wrote last month that the burgeoning use of evolving/emergent (the latter being the buzzword that I like to throw around) narratives is a trend that the gaming industry, as a whole, needs to adopt (except in cases where games are meant to be a linear, controlled experience).
This brings me to my next point, which ties in with one of my points above: grossly linear, narrative-light games, such as the aforementioned Call of Duty, are as much art as the latest Michael Bay-directed Transformers films. Do people consider those art? I don’t, but I’m sure some do. Who are we to say what is and isn’t art?
His third point is that, and I quote, “Sports don’t need to be art”. Besides the fact that this article is about video games, and not rough-and-tumble football games, this shows a surprising tendency, by the author, to generalize.
“…And yet millions watch football… unconcerned with what Roger Ebert or anyone else thinks of what they enjoy.”
If I were to walk into a bar on the night of the Superbowl, and loudly exclaim that sports are for degenerate, drooling man-children, I would be met with the most vehement of disapproval – hell, I might even receive a few punches for my trouble. It is much the same with this argument; video game fans are often vehement in their defense of the smallest issues, especially when it’s the debate over whether games are art. Whenever words are written about this subject, they stir the hornet’s nest, and it never ends well.
The next point, though the writer has the general idea down pat (and I kind of agree with him on it), ultimately finds itself barking up the wrong tree. His argument that games are made for the general populace, though a populist view in itself, falls flat when you consider that “art” creations of the mass media, such as “Dr. Strangelove”, were both artsy as all hell and very successful at their points of sale.
Finally, to end this tirade of mine, I give you this choice quote:
I could write thousands of words on this subject, but I’ll keep it (very) short:
If nobody cares, why are you (and, by extension, I) arguing whether games are art or not?