To further elaborate on Part A's comments, every week will come in a Part A and Part B format. A is a response to a very specific question, whilst B tells me to analyse something and report in my own words. This week? Are Games Art?
Are Games Art?
Art is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” ("Art", 2018). Now, this definition is fine to be going on with, however I would like to note my distaste of the “visual” exclusivity inserted here, as I personally believe literature and music to be innate elements of art. I will be examining the inclusion of games within the artistic genre with this in mind.
It is my opinion that games are works of art, and that this is clearest seen when looking at games as a sum of their parts. Each game contains a myriad of other art forms. Visual elements, such as texturing, architecture and sculpting. Auditory elements such as music, audio-scapes, SFX. Literature in the form of lore, storytelling and poetry. And the viewer that considers even a single one of these facets to be art, must concede that games therefore have an artistic element. And it is not only the inclusion of these facets, but the way in which they are combined. Game design does not look at music separately from the game, but as an integral part, to be considered beside the visual theme and game genre. Music often fluctuates dynamically as game situations change, with fast paced, bass focused tunes for thrill, and floaty, dreamy music for exploration.
But why are games made? The answer to this question bares striking similarity to the answer of why art is made. For profit. For education. To create emotion, and to create meaning. To escape reality, and to enforce our opinions about elements of it. Furthermore, it may be said that a purpose of art is to communicate with an audience, to share ideas or argue concepts. We see examples of this within the gaming sector with the political concepts raised in the Far Cry ("Far Cry 5", 2018) series, and the exploration of character mannerisms in Thomas Was Alone (Thomas Was Alone, 2018).
Roger Ebert writes “The divide is between the narratologists and ludologists.” (Ebert, 2011) Narratologists focus on the storytelling aspects of gaming, comparing them to the traditional artforms of canvas, authoring and cinema. Ludologists focus upon the gameplay elements, finding meaning within mechanics and systems.
Within both of these viewpoints there are great arguments to be made for gamings artistic integrity. Narratologists may look at games such as the Witcher (The Witcher, 2018) series, a set of action role-playing games centred around Andrzej Sapkowski’s books. Widely acclaimed for being one of the most immersive story telling games made, this game immerses the player in music, beautiful landscapes and character development on an unparalled level.
This may be contrasted to Valve Games Portal and Portal 2 (Portal, 2018). A puzzle game set in a science laboratory, this game tasks the player to progress through increasingly harder challenges using only a simple portal mechanic. This game is a masterpiece due to its ability to provide atmosphere and flow using only the most basic of tools. An environment with whitewashed walls. Some splashed liquid, a cube and a disembodied voice. Using these, Portal has created a game lauded as one of the greatest emotional adventures created.
Harking back to Oxfords definition, they state that “emotional power” is a key component of an artpiece. Looking at the pieces I have presented, games that cause glory, suffering, rage and elation, I can find no other classification for games, other than as art.
Finally, I wish to look at the practical applications of art. A graffiti artist, Banksy, is known for making stark political and sociological statements using his artwork. He has become known as one of the greatest social critics of this age. An example of this was the literal “defacing” of a bust depicting a cardinal, where Banksy removed the face from the bust, and replaced it with coloured tiles meant to represent a pixelated face replacement ("banksy: cardinal sin", 2018). This was said to be in commentary to the Church’s continual child abuse scandals, and the little to non-existent punishment for said infractions.
Where we to look for an artist such as this within games, I would say to look no further than auteur Hideo Kojima. Designer and producer for the Metal Gear franchise, almost all of Kojima’s games have had a socio-political comment, largely focused on military decisions. The most recent example of this was within Metal Gear Solid V (Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain, 2018). A 3rd person shooter, you play as the leader of a mercenary company in the middle of storyline so complex that no one really understands it. Within this game, the player may build up their base, adding defences and weapons to the various agents within it. Toward the end game, the player has the option to purchase/build nuclear armaments, as a way to dissuade attack. A “Nuclear Deterrent”. Kojima programmed into this game an achievement, received only when all players have deactivated their nuclear arms. Kojima’s purpose here was to provide evidence of possibility. If we can do it within a game, it may happen within real life.
I thus conclude once more that video games are art. I would like to hear any comments or counterarguments, a good debate is a lively debate!