ARTiculate: A blank canvas; an empty screen

In recent memory, the advancement of technology has increased the popularity of video games and their production. As the home-based video game turns forty, an argument has been raised as to whether or not video games can be considered art and whether the practice of gaming is an art form.

Beginning with The Odyssey video game console (manufactured by Magnavox and released in August 1972) popularity, accessibility and advancement in home-based video game consoles has grown exponentially with companies such as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo leading the way into the 21st century.

Video games have gone from simple graphics of a ball bouncing from one side of the screen to the other to three-dimensional, extremely detailed games such as Halo IV and Assassin’s Creed III. In recent years the production of video games has taken on new levels of complexity. Real actors are sometimes used for the characters in the games; historians are needed for the accuracy of the time periods; costume designers and architects for the clothing and building designs; as well as musicians and composers for the background music.

Furthermore, the storyline of a game takes as much creativity and is as complex as an author’s plot for a novel. Inevitably, video games take just as much research, creativity, imagination and development as movies, novels and other popular culture art forms.

Thomas Felix, an employee at Ubisoft in Montreal argues that for numerous years, video games have been an art form in its entirety, with the use of history, codes and techniques. “Even if they borrow and nourish many art forms … I think that at the final stage a video game in itself is art, but also each part that goes into the whole, i.e. the music, acting, painting, etc.”

William Robinson, professor at Concordia University, teaches the class Video Games and/as Literature and has written over eighty pages for his dissertation on the subject of whether video games can be considered art. He explains that there are more than one competing definitions of art; the most influential definition of art in art history, English and sociology is called the institutional position. The institutional position claims that art is the product of a network of artists, museums, scholars, patrons and spectators. It is a discourse between artists through their creations or performances.

John Sharp, an art historian from Georgia Tech University holds the institutional position, believing that because game designers are not in a dialogue with art historians or other artists they are not making art.

Berys Gaut, a philosophy professor at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, offers ten definitions for the cluster definition of art in his book Interpreting the Arts: the Patchwork Theory varying from possessing positive aesthetic properties to being the product of an intention to make a work of art.

In Robinson’s thesis he argues that game playing can also be artistic: “games are like scores and scripts which are played and performed for ourselves and our audience. If a performance of a game of chess is creative (i.e. it is original, valuable and produced without following a recipe) and if that performance is viewed for aesthetic reasons, for instance if it is conceptually worth looking at for the sake of looking at, then, bam!, you have reason to believe that it is worth calling such a performance artistic.”

All arguments are sound and make for interesting discussion but give no straight cut path for deciding with which to agree. It depends on personal opinion. In any case, whether video games are considered a form of art or not, it is indisputable that they are not achieved without much precision, time, research, creativity and imagination, and therefore a product to be appreciated in its own respect.


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