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The Stagnancy of the First Person Shooter

Official: Games = Art

How many times do we have to put up with people claiming that "games cannot be art"? Johnny Pi at his Design Synthesis blog has a post commenting on (and refuting) yet another attempt to exclude games from the culture club of art. It reminds me of the insane man I heard on the radio the other day who claimed that waxworks were "not art" because they lacked anger. Which freaked me out, since I've heard art conflated with the evocation of beauty, but never anger - it's readily apparent there is plenty of things we consider art which lack anger. Where is the anger in the Venus de Milo (whose butt crack I admired the other week) or the gorgeous Cupid and Psyche statues?

Why do people try and exlude things from art? Because they have a category definition in their head for 'art', and they try and apply it to the outside world. Which is where they go wrong, for art is fundamentally subjective. Breaking news: you don't get to decide what is art. Ever.

I consider anything man-made which evokes any kind of emotion to be art, and I consider this to be a very good definition, but this isn't about definitions (dictionary definitions for art struggle at best)... It's really quite simple:

Art is subjective. 
Anything that anyone considers to be art must be art.
If this were not so, there would have to be an objective criteria for art, which is something that will never be. (We will never build a sensor which "detects art").

Whenever you hear someone claim that something "isn't art", I believe they must inherently be mistaken. Now "good art", that's a different story. If you want to claim that most games are not very good in artistic terms, I'd agree, but there's plenty of wonderfully artistic games out there.

This latest attempt to exclude games from art began with the following definition:

Art is the vision of an artist. It's a precise and defined work, whose meaning can be open to interpretation by the viewer, but whose content is always the same.

Why anyone would think this doesn't apply to games is a mystery.


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I was reading Caillois on cheating... he suggests that cheats are still respectful of the laws of a game, they simply try to flout those rules. Nihilists, on the other hand, ignore the rules completely, and so have a tendency to spoil the game.

Any discussion of art is naturally going to be driven by emotions - or, at least, this is the behaviour we see. Rational attempts to invalidate emotional arguments have no place in discussions of art since they don't break the 'rules', they ignore them... and so spoil the game. Boo!

The game of declaring what should be excluded from the sphere of art strikes me as mean spirited, and seems to contribute very little to culture but vacuous arguments. One does not cheat in public; I see them as attempting to exclude players from the game of art. If they excluded on grounds of race or sex, they would be considered racist or sexist respectively.

As they attempt to stomp on the sandcastle of those whose artistic expressions they wish to exclude from the sacred space of art, so I stomp on their sandcastle by denying the meaningfulness of their claims.

Perhaps I just value the game of art more than the game of "what art is not".

As games are intentional, creative human artifice created to communicate meaning, I think it's pretty unequivocal that games are art (though I have a rather broad definition of art here, though I think that makes it the most accurate as well.)

Of course, on the other hand, no game I can easily think of poses important questions that challenge our beliefs. Additionally there is the problem of the auteur - most games do not have a singular artistic vision, which may (or may not) determine whether it was art. Thus I think it would be most comprehensive to say that while the medium of the game is most definetly an artform, most games thus far have been primarily entertainment pieces and not deep expressions of meaning. Not that there isn't room for both however; and I would say that deeply emergent games like chess and SimCity perhaps are even artistic enablers that are both art and a medium unto themselves - I know I have joked with friends about Street Fighter playstyles, calling them "abstract expressionistic" or "highly formalist." While those remarks were made in jest, perhaps it is evident that deeply emergent games can be their own artform, with the players being both the audience of the developer and a practicing artist in their own right, exploring new patterns and systems of meaning within the context of the game.

Of course, it's a misconception than a singular artistic vision defines art... Nobody accuses Gilbert and George of not producing art. Also, although the director (generally) leads the artistic vision of a film, the art of a film is developed by many participants, such as the cinematographer, the composer and musicians, the wardrobe and makeup crew, the editing crew and, of course, the actors. Games are in exactly the same position.

Also, as you say, many games act as artistic enablers. Graffiti Kingdom springs to mind - drawing the little beasties and having them spring to life is a joy in itself.

"Breaking news: you don't get to decide what is art. Ever."


(johnny pi was being facicous - but i read him wrong just the same until reading the comments)

"Of course, it's a misconception than a singular artistic vision defines art... Nobody accuses Gilbert and George of not producing art."

I'm not neccessarily adamant about this, but I think it is something that needs thought. They certainly don't need to be made by one man, of course, but how important is the persona of the auteur in defining art? Naturally, Kurosawa films would not be recognized if it were not for Kurosawa. Does a game need to have a singular artistic vision to be art? I don't know; I would think so (otherwise it's a jumbled mish-mash) but in any case it is an issue that deserves thought.

"Graffiti Kingdom springs to mind - drawing the little beasties and having them spring to life is a joy in itself."

Right, but I was thinking of non-art making games. Mario Paint et al are obviously artistic enablers - I'm thinking a little farther than that; I'm thinking games like Starcraft and Chess where there are great depths to plumb and explore. Is the act of playing these games an expression of art? I think so, but that will be a hard sell to the salons ;)

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