Answering Big Questions #002

We’re back with a second Big Question asked by none other than the Well-Red Mage himself. You may remember last time, when we talked about things we had learned since we started blogging. The next question we’ll be tackling takes a much more philosophical turn. As the Evergreen Sage Mage posed:

“Are video games art? Should video games be considered art pieces? Should some games be considered art, and not others? Why? What does it all mean?!”

Again, here’s how to participate. More opinions mean more fun, after all!

  1. Leave a thoughtful and inspiring comment below about what you’ve learned about blogging/writing/marketing/communicating/reviewing/life, complete with a link to your very first blog post and a quote from that post!
  2. Instead of leaving a comment, the more verbose among you are welcome to write a full blog post on this subject and what you’ve learned since then, in which case you should definitely leave a link below to that new post about your first post!
  3. Explain briefly why you decided to start blogging and why you picked that certain topic as your first blog post.

Although the Well-Red Mage didn’t leave any particular badge this go around, I took the liberty of using the following one.

big questions

So, after you complete your comment or post, be sure to pass this challenge on to your blogger friends to raise awareness!

Are Video Games Art?

“What is art?” is usually the first response-question that comes to mind with this. I hate to preference anything I say with “As a… (fill in the blank)” as if that makes my opinion somehow more valid, but in my experience as a musician (and therefore, as someone who could fall into an “artist” category), art is one of those things that means different things to different people, and that causes unending headache to both artist and consumer alike.

liara-facepalm

To me, art is a piece of media that has been created purposefully by a human to express something, either a thought or a feeling, that is meaningful to them. That includes the scribbles of a two-year-old who colored outside the lines in their excitement to Klimt’s “The Kiss” to Pollock’s “Shimmering Substance,” from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to Stravinksy’s The Right of Spring to Cage’s 4’33”.

Under my definition, art is something that either makes you feel something meaningful, or makes you think about something maybe you hadn’t thought about (or thought in that way about) before.

The sticking point, however, is that there is “no accounting for taste,” as the saying goes. What might be meaningful to one person is considered awful to another. I can already hear internet trolls saying something like, “It did make me feel something. Profoundly angry! It’s not art!”

y-u-no

The other sticking point is that sometimes artists – all of us – get so wrapped up in our own feelings and ideas and visions that we forget other people aren’t in our heads and might not see the profound thing we’re trying to convey. So no one “gets it,” and it doesn’t commercially do well.

But that doesn’t stop it from being art.

Should Video Games Be Considered Art Pieces?

Ah, here we go. My short answer is yes. Yes, video games should be considered art pieces, but I have a pretty wide definition of what an “art piece” is, as you can see. So I’m going to reference this article explaining why video games aren’t art, and refute each point.

here-we-go

“Art is bullshit.”

There are not enough words in any language for me to express how awful this statement is. The author’s claim that art is only art because it’s hung in some museum and some person says its art is woefully narrow-minded – and incredibly disrespectful to artists, at the very least. This person has apparently never had a meaningful connection to any work of visual art, music, literature, or dance, if he throws all of that away in favor of trying to belittle that captured talent by calling it bullshit. Art is not bullshit. Your relationship to it is what is bullshit here.

*takes deep breath before continuing*

“Games go beyond “art””

He mentions interactivity. Video games are not more interactive than, for instance, visual arts or music. Watching someone play a video game is just as non-interactive as watching someone play an instrument, but when you’re the person interacting with the medium, well, it’s a lot more interactive. I have complete control over the music that comes out of my violin, after all.

Image result for zelda instruments
Yes, I know this is a cello.

I can change the outcome on my whim, I can improvise in the middle – heck, I can spontaneously make up a whole piece of music that never existed before and will never exist again once I finish playing. Not to be salty, but… can video games do that? No.

Saying a video game is more interactive than art because you personally don’t partake in any other art form is, again, narrow-minded – or perhaps is stemming from a narrow view of what art is.

“Sports Don’t Need to Be Art”

He means sport video games, to which I say: why not? They make you feel connected to players you idolize in real life, they make you think critically about games, they make you feel things you wouldn’t otherwise feel… Again, maybe expanding what defines art is what’s necessary, here.

“For the People”

I literally had to walk away from this article and come back. Art is for the people.

charming and open
Cheers to that!

The author makes a point earlier in the article that art has been taken away from the people, and that the ones with the training and the clout decide what is and isn’t “art,” and the common-folk have to toe the line.

This defeatist attitude is fine if it fits you, but I have no problem with giving art back to the people. This is similar to what happens in the music world. While I personally think people should dress up when they go to concerts out of respect to the musicians, I want people to feel welcome at concerts, so I don’t get upset if people wear jeans. I want more people to “understand” classical music, so it’s not this scary thing that people avoid, so I like when conductors take the time to explain the piece that’s about to be played. You really liked that part of the music? Go ahead and clap between movements! I won’t glare at you!

Art should belong to the people, and it can if we advocate for it enough.

representation

“Does It Matter?”

Well, you and I just wrote a whole article about it, so it apparently matters enough, even if to the everyday video game enthusiast it doesn’t.

Should Some Games Be Considered Art, and Not Others? Why?

“Art” does seem to have taken on a bit of a hoity-toity vibe recently, but I think to start calling bits and pieces of one medium art and other bits not art is complicated and irritating. What games aren’t art? War games? Does that mean that war movies aren’t art, either? If video games are going to be art, then the medium itself – as a concept – should be considered art.

Movies are art, regardless of the genre they show; visual art is art, regardless of whether it’s a clay pot or a Monet painting. Video games, at large, would thus need to all be considered part of that art form.

What Does It All Mean?!

It means we are still growing and developing as a medium, and trying to find our place in the world. Video games are no longer simply child’s playthings, or only found in the stereotypical arcades where geeky teens feed quarter after quarter into machines.

Image result for arcade

The fact that we are having these conversations – and that so many people have so many different opinions – means that we are just going through some growing pains.

So, Athena, Are Video Games Art?

To me, art is a concept, rather than a physical “thing” that can be examined. So many times, we argue over the minutiae (“well, is this game art?” “is that game art?”) and miss the real point of determining if the medium of video games can fit comfortably into the concept of what “art” is.

You guys have heard my definition, and so yes, I think that video games as a medium are art.

Now it’s your turn! Feel free to leave a comment about your opinion on the “video games as art” debate, or if you’d like to write your own post, please do so and leave a link in the comments so we can all read what wisdom you have to share!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

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19 thoughts on “Answering Big Questions #002

  1. I’ll answer what I did on that original blog post: yes. Easy question, really. Look forward to your next one!

    In seriousness, I think it’s an easy question because I feel the indie scene truly came into its own when they largely abandoned the super artsy direction it tried to pave back in the late 2000s. It’s a strange observation to make, I’ll admit, but the reason I say it is because what happened in the 2010s is that the medium started to find ways to make artistic statements on its own terms rather than conforming to guidelines established by traditional critics. Even before then, I watched a video interview with the creator of Space Invaders, and if it was any indication, quite a lot of artistic thought went into making a game even back in the seventies when the medium was in its primordial phase. The long and the short of it is that video games are art, though there are some people who legitimately enjoy the medium who wouldn’t agree. I think it’s the result of the medium’s overall lack of genuine self-esteem, and once it gains confidence in itself, it’s only going to get better from here on in.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I wholeheartedly agree, especially the part about the low self-esteem of the medium. This isn’t about asking other people to legitimize video games, but also asking games to realize they are important in our culture. I certainly hope things keep moving in a positive direction from here!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent response! So “Video games, at large, would thus need to all be considered part of that art form” is essentially the same conclusion I’ve reached thus far. It’s perhaps best and safest to say that video games are an art form rather than dip into an exhaustive conversation about which titles are individually art or not, which is I think a conversation you could still have with cinema: torture porn, sleazy comedies, Land Before Time 52, etc. Still, even in the “lower” titles (for lack of a better term), there’s still cinematography, music, acting (sometimes), scripting that’s employed, and we understand those things to be artistic activities. Back in games, they include a lot of the same things or analogous things, so I don’t see why an analogous courtesy can’t be extended to games as a whole as an art form. That’s the answer I’m most comfortable with. Thanks for the thoughtful response! I’ve collected a few answers from some of our contributors who are against the assertion, and that post is going up Monday.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks! I’m looking forward to seeing comments from the other side, especially if they don’t start off by calling art “bullshit”… sigh.

      I’m all for a broadening of the definition of “art.” There’s room for everyone to come and play! 🙂

      And thanks for another great Big Question to answer!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I forgot to mention that venturebeat article you linked to was one we batted around back and forth when we originally had this conversation in our chat. I was shocked at the 5 so-called “good” reasons that author thought up… The first alone was so dismissive of cultures and whole lifetimes of hard work, it seemed petty and angry above all else, as if the author somehow resented art. I get that they probably thought of art in terms of the “high brow snooty stuff” but even that is an irksome and tiny classification for what constitutes as art. ARG!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Exactly. Even stuff like Hatred and Postal, as tasteless as they might be, is still art. It doesn’t matter how disliked it is or how misguided the creators might be. Those people spent large amounts of time creating virtual worlds based on their own beliefs and feelings. It’s the textbook definition of art whether anyone actually likes it not.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I used to manage an art gallery. One really common thing that some of the organizations we hosted there would do with their exhibits was to just put up a long sheet of paper on the wall leading into the gallery room and invite everyone coming through to draw something on there. It was interactive, yet you still ended up with a piece of art at nearly every point there. The idea that art can’t be interactive has always seemed ridiculous to me, compared to that experience.

    As for the question at the heart here, yes, video games are art. I’ve never seen anyone try to make a credible claim that they aren’t without starting at the conclusion and working backwards. Art is different things to different people, of course, but I haven’t run into a definition that excludes video games that also wouldn’t exclude a lot of other things traditionally considered art.

    But, outside of a piece for conversation, I don’t think the distinction really matters. Games are what they are. Calling them art or not art doesn’t change their legitimacy or impact. For example, I finished up with Persona 5 a while back, and still spent about a week afterwards just mulling over the intricacies and ramifications of the story and how it resonated with me personally. Anyone can say it’s not really art, but it doesn’t change how the game had connected with me, nor how I enjoyed the game.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Very interesting experience with the art gallery. My response to “games aren’t art because they’re interactive” has always just been: “Dance”. Coming from a background in Hawaiian culture, dance is very much an art form, hula, which requires talent, skill, precision, practice, presentation, performance, and research among other things. It’s also interactive. Some forms of ceremony, symphony, and even things in museums as you pointed out are also interactive. Those making the claim that games are art are sometimes accused of seeking legitimacy but those making the opposite claim that games are not art seem to be approaching the question with the impression that art is paintings. And that’s it.

      And of course, you’re right that defining games as art doesn’t change our reaction to them. I don’t get any deeper meaning out of Super Mario Bros. or any less meaning out of the Last of Us just because we say games are an art form. It does however I think allow new nuances of conversation, discipline, and study to be applied to games in interesting new ways. For example, studying cinematography techniques used in games.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I love the idea of people making art and contributing to a gallery like that. It’s true – art is as interactive as you make it.

      You’re right that the “games aren’t art” arguments tend to go backwards, instead of examining the idea and drawing a conclusion. Art is a broad term, and a broad idea, so it’s hard to start excluding media without, well, forcing it in some way.

      I agree that to the day-to-day gamer, whether or not games are art isn’t really an issue, just like whether a movie is a piece of art doesn’t influence the average movie-goer. People will connect with what they connect with, and how they connect with it. But I think the fact that we’re talking about this at all attests to the fact that “Gaming” with a capital G is changing in some way, at least in how the royal “it” is viewed, if that makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. good, read, i think i’ll be joining and making a post about this very good topic. For the record, yes video games are indeed art, but for many different reasons that just visuals and music. I think interactivity and the way it’s handled or implemented can play a role in it feeling like art.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As someone who is not an artist but consumes a lot of it, I have my own definition of what art is. Most people do. Even art theory has several definitions of what art is or isn’t, or what it should aspire to be, so I get a bit wary when people, like Goldstein, talk about art in such, um, definitive terms? Which is why I respect Ebert’s opinion over Goldstein, and they are both saying that video games are not art.

    Onto the points of your article:

    -“Art is bullshit”:
    I feel like Goldstein is a bit confused by postmodernism and all its children. I know I am. Doesn’t mean I go thinking art is nothing (or BS). It just means that some art is not made for me.

    -“Games go beyond art”:
    Maybe, maybe not, depends on what you think art is. A poor definition of art, such as “something not interactive” means that “beyond art” could be absolutely anything and nothing is art.

    To me, play is performance, so gaming is art in that sense.

    -“Sports don’t need to be art”:
    Maybe postmodernism isn’t so bad, and accepting something can be several things at once (both sports and art) could offer a solution to this dilemma. 😛

    -“For the people”:
    While there are elitist artists and places of art, art comes from the people so it stands to reason it is for the people. I do understand the defeatist attitude though, because, well, “good taste” is a social construct that goes hand in hand with class, and sometimes it’s frustrating to be told that you have poor taste, or are too dumb to get “real art”. I feel like reclaiming video games for the people”is a way to say “you won’t rarefy this too”, even if gaming culture already has its own elite and a set of rules as to what makes a “good gamer”.

    ***

    I feel like I used enough quotation marks for a lifetime.

    As others have mentioned above, I am not sure if video games are art or not. That said, whether they are art, craft, plain games or something else, they do have artistic elements and they do make people feel and think, so they should be analysed as any other bit of media.

    Like

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