It has been a long-standing debate amongst the artistic, and gaming communities; whether or not video games are indeed a form of art. These days many gamers are united in the statement that it is, most studies and polls gauging over 90% positively answering the question “Are Video Games Art?” However, it irked me a little that the opinion of non-gamers never seemed to be subject to any studies, so, I had a go myself. Prepare for what I think might be a tedious bit of explanation before I get back to talking normally…
I made a short questionnaire, taking age, hours of games played per week, and the type of genre preferred of participants, and then asked them to rate how much the agreed with a series of statements using the typical: “Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree” style of rating. First of all, I said: “Video games are art.” then the statement “This is art.” over several questions with varying media. The first being a still image of a landscape in ES6:Skyrim. Secondly, a piece of music; Aeris/Aerith Theme from FF7. Thirdly an array of clips of gameplay from Limbo, an indie game by PlayDead. After these statements I then offered the first statement again “Video Games are Art.”With the intention of seeing if any participants mind’s had changed after seeing the examples from games.
…And breathe! I had the pleasure of being surprised by my results, I had expected the shorter the game-time, and higher the age, the more the participant would be inclined to disagree, although my sample size wasn’t amazing. I found that most agreed with the initial statement that video games were art but on the scale, people agreed with the fact the still image of Skyrim, or the Final Fantasy Music, was more “Arty” than the clip of gameplay and video games as a whole.
Disclaimer: I’m aware of the weaknesses of this type of scale, and if I ever have higher coverage I’d love to try this or something similar with a massive sample size and perhaps revisit the topic in the future.
This leads me to 2 possible conclusions to why video games are Art. First of all, it’s possible video games are a form of art due to the combination of other art mediums. It’s possible that video games can’t be, by themselves, art but through the mediums of Visual Imagery, Animation, and music, they become Art. Like some odd hybrid, piggybacking off of all these other established art forms.
Now, however, although it’s possible that maybe I don’t agree with it and I’m hoping whoever’s reading doesn’t either. My theory is that people are misinterpreting what they think makes video games art, as throughout childhood we grew up learning how to draw, and make music, a lot of us to a professional level. Due to this we see these forms of art and say: “There it is! There’s the Art!”It’s no one’s fault but it’s definitely the cause of “Graphic-whoredom” (I don’t know if that’s a phrase but if it isn’t it should be.)
Now I don’t wish to take anything away from these amazingly talented people, people who if I were to attempt their job we’d have a game populated entirely by stick-figures, (No offense Brad Borne), but all this “other” art is extra, it creates ambience or immersion, evokes extra emotions and occasionally adding depth to the make-believe world. So I’m not saying it doesn’t do anything, there’s music in movies and there’s music in games, music adds to movies it doesn’t define the medium. In the same way, graphics and music can’t define the Art of games.
Now some of you might be thinking, shit, it’s looks like video games aren’t art, but hold your horses, despite all the words I’ve been typing I’ve not finished explaining. What my results didn’t seem to indicate, is that most, in fact almost, everyone forgets the keyword; gameplay, this is where I think the Art lies. Think about it, have you heard of a good game with bad graphics and music? Have you heard of a bad game with good graphics/music but doesn’t play well? With the rate of technology as it is you only need to go back a generation or 2 to find a game featuring relatively bad graphics and sound quality, it’s the timeless games that go beyond that and what it boils down to is that the graphics and music in those games really were extras.
Let’s have an example, and I’m going to stress with a lot of people that what is good today, and what seems good due to nostalgia are 2 completely different points of view, but let’s take Super Metroid. For those of you who don’t know, Super Metroid was released, as you may have guessed on the super Nintendo, in 1994 and is highly regarded as one of the best games of all time by a lot of different sources. Now if you were to introduce a millennial to this game you might get the initial response that the graphics are terrible, pixelated, and the music is too simple and plain. Which as much as I’d hate them for the disrespect, relatively speaking they would be correct, compared to main release console games today it’s appearance and sound aren’t exactly on par.(Though, I would argue the melodies and rhythms are a timeless quality in a lot of examples of video game music, as well are some character models) However, if you have this same annoying kid take the controller and asked them, how does it play? You’d be likely to get a positive response, the gameplay is timeless, it’s fluid, intuitive, progressive, and something modern game designers are still struggling to nail down. A game that plays so well that you don’t have to think about controls as you play it is quite a beautiful and sadly uncommon thing. I’m aware that to a certain extent this is also a sign of experience with a game, but there are those games which the controls just click, and after one play you could come back to it months or years that and still have the same effect, like the age old example of riding a bike.
Let me take something on the other end of the spectrum just to even things out. Sonic the Hedgehog, “Now wait just a mutha-fucking second.” I hear you say, but wait I’m talking specifically about Sonic the Hedgehog released in 2006. This game looked good, music was okay nothing special, very typical mix of electric-orchestra and J-rock sounds that had become typical in the anime scene of which Sonic had become part of after Sonic X. Both of which could have made at the very least a passable game, but the gameplay…. It was so damn hard to control where you were going it was laughable, considering a game where the theme is “Gotta go fast!” and turning corners was a struggle, not to mention the bad camera controls meant even if you did manage to go somewhere you had no idea where you were going! Not to make it sound personal but I sold my Xbox 360 a few years ago, Sonic the hedgehog is the only game I still have because no shop or friend would buy it from me…
I digress… my point being that this game wasn’t defined by the other “good” forms of art it encompassed, but judged negatively for the Art that actually mattered, the gameplay.
I think the library of indie games currently exploding out of steam, PSN, and the Xbox live marketplace are further proof also. These small game companies can’t afford Autodesk or a full orchestra, they survive with humility. Providing what they can in those respects, possibly filling a niche in design, or just doing something a bit out there. Then relying completely on their gameplay to make a name for their game. Recalling back to Limbo, that game has no colour, minimalist in terms of detail. A purely, ambience filled soundtrack engineered by one man, accompanied by addictive and precise gameplay that’s almost exactly replicated in Playdead’s newer game Inside as it worked so well for them.
Now I don’t want to get too distracted on rating games on an individual basis here, I suppose in the end it depends on what you consider art to be, I think everyone has a slightly different definition of art. Personally, I think anything created that invokes an emotion in the observer, or in a games instance the player, is Art. A few parameters on this, in the Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) example, the anger experienced trying to play it isn’t intentional from the creator’s point of view (as far as I know). There are a few people that see technology as separate from art, as in you need to create something physical and with your hands. I can see why people think this, but i consider it more of a traditionalist point of view and one that I don’t agree with. I suppose the same was considered of Film at a time, however, art and films both have an observer, games make the jump where the observer becomes a participant. While being immersed within other realities, I’d even make a jump to say video games have the potential to become a more influential form of art than any other, especially with VR(Virtual Reality) on the horizon. Though this part is strictly opinion for sure. Arguably the more immersed into a world/story a player is the more an emotion can be conveyed towards them.
I feel I’m getting more conjectured as I go on, not that I think anything I’ve said is wrong, especially considering it’s mostly opinions, but as this is partly predicting the future I’ve go nothing to back it up with.
As a concluding point, I want to get across that I think we need to distance ourselves from graphics and music being as high priority characteristics for a good game as they have become. They are necessary for certain games for sure, and graphics can add to immersion which as I said can add a lot to the ability to convey story and emotion, but gameplay is without a doubt the most important aspect. A game without gameplay just isn’t a game, just as a painting can’t exist without paint, it makes it what it is.
I feel I could go on and on for days in this monologue, if you’d like to pass on any questions, or have your own, similar or conflicting, opinions on the subject please do leave a comment. Otherwise, thanks very much for reading if you enjoyed my post please give it a like and be sure to follow for more!