Technical Art

What is art? Is art art? Are we art? This question has plagued scholars, bloggers, writers, artists and Lisa Turtle from Saved by the Bell for years and still a formal definition of art cannot be given. Maybe this is due to the fact of art’s fluid and subjective nature. One person’s art is another person’s ..well you get the gist. Art can be blocks of color or melted crayons splashed across a canvas, but for one critic one thing will never be considered art: video games.

Courtesy of Michael Kwan from Flickr

Roger Ebert is largely regarded as “the” critic on movies and art as a whole. However, Ebert maintains on his blog that games will never be considered an art form, “No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets,” Ebert says.

Has he seen what the industry has created lately? The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword’s Monet-like backgrounds? Mass Effect’s gripping story and heavy emphasis on the toll of war? Heavy Rain’s plot of despair, guilt and the loss of a child? Sounds like any movie plot to me. So, why are games still regarded as toys for immature adults just wanting to be kids again when the industry has become a billion dollar endeavor?

Gamers spend hundreds of hours finishing a finely crafted story, spending hundreds of dollars and waiting for countless hours in line just to be one of the first to play the latest in a RPG saga. How can something that garners that much attention, devotion and money not be considered something worthwhile?

Personally, a lot of what many consider as art I find to be a modern mess. Colors and blocks mixed together in a chaos of paint is consider a fine piece of beauty while a well-crafted, emotional, and meaningful story told through a digital mouthpiece is considered a toy even as full orchestras harmonize to game soundtracks by Nobou Uematsu, Koji Konda and many other composers influenced by the emotion of these games. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do: inspire the masses to be better and create beauty?

One question I have to ask, is if gamers are children and games are toys why haven’t we tossed them aside like this year’s Christmas presents? Why do we spend hundreds of hours and dollars to these media forms.

Because of the story.

The story includes the world in which the fleshed out characters reside. The complexities and struggles the character and their world has to live through create a dramatic story that sucks the gamer into that world.

Gamers can connect with the characters (main or side), the plot and the difficulties of life. These games have a multitude of masks any gamer can wear whereas movies only go so far as its extras budget.

But not everyone agrees that it is the story that creates art but rather the interactivity that games provide as argued in this article: .

I believe that interactivity cannot and should not be the only reason why games should be considered an art form. I firmly believe that it’s the finely tuned story that turns these painted pixels into art. Why is it that the betrayal in Macbeth is more beautiful than the betrayal and death of any game character? Don’t get me wrong, Shakespeare knew his craft and created beauty with every quill stroke, but why can’t modern game writers and developers get their due.

I believe it is the media stigma that has created this divide between games as art and games as toys. The media did the same thing with comics when they first came out: “a genre suspected of having a great influence on the morality of young people” (Heer 4). By educators and parents alike, these comics were seen as the destruction of children that would fill their minds with violence and evil values even though it touted heroes like Batman who’s only goal is to fight evil with just his human mind and body (and a whole lot of cash).

Art historian Annie Renonciat described comics’ true nature beautifully as, “Because they are printed, comics seem to be more closely related to literature; furthermore, in addressing children, they are expected to make a contribution to their education by helping them learn to read, encouraging them to love “beautiful texts” and “great authors” (Heer 6). I would postulate that games are just like comics in the fact that these games tell a story through the written word as well as new forms of visual representation. Combing the verbal, written and visual presentation of a story brings to light the potential this combination has to tell a beautiful story. New animated films such as Spirited Away and Toy Story have been awarded and lauded as beautiful pieces of art, but why can’t video games (which basically do the same thing only allowing the player to take the plot into their hands) receive the same acclaim?

In my opinion, any new media form is quickly examined and judged negatively until it becomes so mainstream the media has to change its tune. Comics were seen as “ugly” and a harbinger of moral destruction until those children and the media grew up.

So any time a new media comes around, mainstream media needs a while to adjust. But don’t just adjust the screen, adjust your perspective and see these games like how you would any movie, book or painting, just with pixels, choices, and one heck of a story.

What stories, characters and worlds have made you see game as art? Share your thoughts and personal experiences!

To read more of Heer’s work:

Ebert’s blog post:


One thought on “Technical Art

  1. Katie- really interesting post. I’m not a gamer myself, but I have a friend who designs them, and his work is definitely artistic, despite being constructed in code. Just thought I’d let you know that Game Informer Magazine is the only magazine in the top 25 US sales to show double digit growth in the past decade (I wrote about it last month, ) so that’s more proof that video games are an increasingly relevant part of our culture.

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