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Are Video Games Art? Part 1

Are Video Games Art? Part 1

In the last forty or so years video games have become a staple pastime for millions of people across the world. Games such as Call of Duty, Halo and Super Mario sell in their millions and produce billions of pounds for the companies which make them. The level of their popularity in today’s world is beyond question. However, one issue surrounding the gaming world which certainly is up for question is: can video games be art?


I’m sure many people who enjoy what some term “high culture”; who would prefer to watch an art film over the latest action blockbuster and would prefer reading James Joyce’s Dubliners to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, would say that they can’t. How can a trigger-happy game such as Call of Duty, in which the only object in the game is to gun down swarms of enemy soldiers, be considered in the same class as Beethoven’s unforgettable 9th Symphony?


This might be considered a fair point. Art is not only supposed to be a form of entertainment, but something created which moves the heart or the mind, and preferably both. However, when the well-known film critic Roger Ebert suggested in 2005 that video games would never be considered works of art, he found himself against a fair amount of opposition. He said:


“To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.”


It seems that others do believe that certain video games have the necessary qualities to be considered works of art, that they are more than simply a fun way to pass the time. One author, Matthew Sainsbury, who wrote a book called Game Art, which takes as its premise that video games are art, said in an interview:


“Think about the film industry: even people who don't really watch films know that alongside blockbusters like The Avengers there's a robust art-house scene. And everyone knows how important Citizen Kane is, but how many people have actually watched it? Not so many.


That said, games can certainly be described like art is in other mediums. We have experimental post-modernist stuff, cult art-house hits, and local industries producing games almost exclusively for local audiences, similar to what Bollywood does in cinema. Some game directors play a similar role in this industry to Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Jean-Luc Godard, or Antonin Artaud in film. It's all out there, and that's a basic fact.”


And one writer and gamer, Keith Stuart of the Guardian newspaper, who opposed a certain film critic’s diagnosis that video games are a bit of fun and nothing else, has said that:


“Why can't games just be fun? Because intelligent, thoughtful designers such as Navid Khonsari want to make games about serious issues like the 1979 Iranian revolution. Why can't games just be fun? Because Ryan Green is making That Dragon, Cancer, a game about how he and his wife are coping with the terminal illness of their youngest son […] Why aren't games just fun? Because games speak to people, especially young people, in ways that films and books and TV don't.”


Image: By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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