Thursday, 22 April 2010

Can games be classed as art?

Another time old argument about games revolves around whether they can be classed as art or not. Films have their own category of titles that have been claimed to be art, yet every time games attempt to make advancement this way they get beaten back. Why is this? People who aren’t gamers seem to lack the capacity to be able to take games seriously, and if a game tries to portray a serious issue or get somewhere in an artful award ceremony you can bet a sea of complaints will follow.

I’m not really a fan of the “art community.” I use to be when I did Art and design at school, and attempted to continue it at college. In the end I quit in order to focus more on my programming and game design skills. I still enjoy drawing from time to time, but when I do I can now do what I want on my own terms. I remember in art being given a huge speech about how it was a creative, passionate subject, yet being present in that class somehow managed to kill my own interest in it. The fact is I feel like I can be more free and imaginative thinking through the logic of a program than I ever could be in art where I was constantly being told off for not wanting to take the modern approach. How can a subject be free and creative when everyone is expected to follow the current trend – that’s how it felt to me anyway. I didn’t want to make any of that naff talentless stuff you see in art galleries these days, like messy beds, signed toilets and block coloured canvases. It feels like it has no point, except to convey a meaning that you can’t really get without reading the sign, and even then it’s not very enjoyable to stare at for too long. It just feels like in order to get it you have to be in the exclusive art appreciation club yourself, otherwise if you’re like me you’ll find most art galleries to be incredibly boring places. (I apologize to any art lovers reading this right now, but there are a lot of people like me who would just rather sit home and play games over visiting a gallery any day – Louvre being the exception of course :P.)

Anyway, I started to think of myself as being the logical artist. When I design my games I think of it as a craft, and what I’m building is interactive art – a lot more exciting than any static painting. Designing a big game will involve a large number of concept artists, designers, script writers, programmers and sound engineers. That involves a lot of skill and time, but the end result should be fun, enjoyable and probably a lot nicer to look at than any of that modern art. If you look at the following definitions of what art is there’s no reason for why games can’t be considered as art themselves:

“The products of human creativity; works of art collectively; ‘an art exhibition’; ‘a fine collection of art’ – Google

I think it’s perfectly safe to say that a game is a product of human creativity, and I’m speaking from experience – well I felt like I was being creative at the time when I designed that RPG anyway.

“The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” –

In all honesty I don’t find most fine art that aesthetically pleasing. I go back to the messy bed example – why would I find that beautiful to look at? If I did I could just stare dumbly at my own bed every morning minus the gallery entrance fee. On the other hand games, graphically and through style can be very aesthetically pleasing.

“Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture, and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.” - (I’m glad to say games are actually mentioned further on down the article.)

I’d say games are capable of affecting the senses and emotions, be it tension, fear or distress (I wrote an article concerning this a while back, Are games deeper than films?) It states that music, literature, film and paintings are included in the category of art. Let’s just break that down a second. Games contain music (check), games contain literature(check – creative scrip writing/dialogue), games contain film (check – Animation in cut scenes) and games contains paintings (check – well they involve creating drawings and paintings for concept art anyway.) You could even say they involve sculpture in some way if you can include 3D modelling into that. Games overall involve more craft than all of those mediums put together, so how come some people still can’t accept them as art?

Art also feels to me like a realm of elitists. If you look at film for example, not all of them seem to be considered in an artful way. On numerous occasions popular films have lost out on awards to more artful, less heard of films, such as the biggest movie of all time Avatar loosing an Oscar to Hurt Locker. It feels like popularity and entertainment value means nothing compared to something that shows a meaning (same problem I had with fantasy art VS modern art.) It’s no different to stating games are artful and then being forced to give an example (thinking hard on the spot, most would reply with something like Okami or Psychonauts.) These are very good games, but in the crafting process I imagine they would take no more effort and time than any other game. By the very definition of art, there’s no reason why all films and games can’t be classed as art. I was actually forced at one point to sit through a showing of art films created by students, and I was left pretty unimpressed. Most of them were dark, depressing and pointless, plus I wouldn’t really ever watch any of them ever again – give me Avatar any day.

Games of course, will always overall be classed as an entertainment media first, but then so is film and literature. When it comes to discussions of art however, I see no need to dispute the fact that games are an art/craft in any shape or form. If people can’t accept that then I guess I’ll just say that they even transcend art to be something better that more people can actually appreciate over messy beds.

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