Are Videogames Art? My Two Cents

Since I’ve been involved in game design, everywhere I go, there it is. That damned and useless discussion: Are videogames art? So here are my views on that. I will be focusing on videogames, because I haven’t really thought enough about other sorts of games, so I’ll be using “videogames” and “games” indistinctly.

For me, games are art. Here’s why:

As I see it, the ultimate goal of art is to express something, by crafting experiences. This is seen in all sorts of art: Visual arts, music, writing, even dancing.  Even in non-fictional writing, the aim is to intentionally influence the reader in some way, to communicate something. So I thing it’s safe to say that art is the collection of the expressive media.

Now, back to games.

According to the “art as intentionally expressive media” definition, the quiestion that remains is: Do games express something, or influence the player in any way?

Well, games like Braid do. Braid, in the words of his creator, tries to create some “aha! moments”, that happen when you didn’t know the soution of a puzzle, and then suddenly you do. It’s like when you are looking at an abstract painting and you don’t know WTF’s going on, and then you read about it, or someone explains it to you, and suddenly it takes a lot of meaning. Jonathan Blow created the entire game, in order for the player to have those “aha! moments”.

Personally, I think that is very much artistic.

But what about games like Halo? What is the deep, meaningful experience that Halo tries to convey? Well, Halo has a much broader appeal, so it may (and will) vary from player to player, but personally, I play Halo for the empowerment sensation. The fact that the face of Master Chief is never shown, and the First Person camera all contribute to make me believe that it could be me slaying the Covenant. This is called avatar empowerment, and is only one way the game influences the player.

But, the definitive evidence that games are art is in one of the few academic papers that have been published on Game Design: Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics. This paper presents the concept of “Aesthatics of play”, which are the reasons why the player plays videogames for. Most of the videogames I know follow one or more of the aesthetics described there.

So, if someone plays a certain videogame in order to get a certain type of experience, that turns them into an expressive medium, right?

Social games like FarmVille are another very different story, though.

Those are my insights in the question.

For more information…

– The Extra Credtis video on The Aesthetics of play here.

– An awesome talk, by Jonathan Blow, here. Watch the Q&A for the full commentary on Braid’s “aha! moments”, and more.

– Again, the MDA paper. A must-read for game designers, here.

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One thought on “Are Videogames Art? My Two Cents

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