The Monday ‘Joe: The Old Art Debate

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

A recent article on Gamasutra touched upon an old debate regarding whether or not video games are a form of art. The question as presented in the article discusses whether games are more akin to a form of craftsmanship instead, but it nonetheless brought up the old debate. That’s hard not to do whenever the term video games is used in the same question-forming sentence as art. This week thus addresses that old debate.

Are video games a form of art? Do you consider them craftsmanship instead, or do you think of them as a mix of both? Why or why not?

Joshua Moore: I personally think of games as a little of both. As I consider storytelling, music, and CG art forms, it naturally follows that games, who provide a mix of that, would be considered a form of art. A good storyline in a game is as compelling as a really good book, and in some cases emulates one, such as in visual novels. Now granted, most visual novels have subpar plots, but two exceptions that come to mind are 999 and Fate/stay night. Both of these games had something that compelled me to keep playing and reading for hours and hours at a time, something that’s hard to do in a game with no real cutscenes.

On the subject of music, I habitually attend various concerts, both classical and modern, that play video game music. I’ve been to Final Fantasy Distant Worlds, Video Games Live, and some smaller things. What makes these events spectacular is that they’re acknowledging the great music that has been overlooked by most in the music world until recently, yet they’re just as good as many other pieces. A good game soundtrack is akin to a good movie soundtrack, but the individual songs are often great on their own as well. My favorite soundtracks include those by Nobuo Uematsu and Daisuke Ishiwatari.

Likewise, I also consider games at least in part craftsmanship because it takes a great balance of story, visuals, gameplay, and sound to make a truly memorable game. It takes skill to really achieve that balance and also a large amount of care by the development team. There are individuals and entire teams that become renowned for their skill at the craft as they manage to consistently put out exceptional titles. Those that come to mind are Shigeru Miyamoto, Gabe Newell and Valve, Team Ico, Masahiro Sakurai, and various others.

Video games introduce a variety of different aspects into the over all product. This naturally makes it a mix of everything, and I truly believe that’s what makes them so damn interesting.

Mohamed Al Saadoon: I used to think about this for ages back in the day. Hour after hour, I would debate online on why video games were art and inspired emotion in my generation far greater than contemporary films and music.

But then I came to a startling realisation: Who gives a shit? Think about it. Let’s say I staged an attack on Roger Ebert’s house and forced him at gunpoint to admit that games were art. What would change?

If I were to go back home and play Super Mario 64, would it be a brand new cartoon experience? When I break out Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, will I be amazed at the intricate level of the sprite work? When I hit up Metroid Prime, will I finally notice the exquisite and haunting soundtrack?

No, because I already appreciate the colourful world of Super Mario 64, the amazing animation of Street Fighter III, and the beautiful soundtrack of Metroid Prime. I didn’t need some approval from some higher authority on what is and what isn’t considered art to enjoy them. And this also corresponded to my general disdain for art snobs as a whole. Someone pisses into a jar and places a Jesus statue in it and that becomes art, but Okami isn’t?

Fuck the pretentious assholes. I’m going to go kill some aliens.

Nathan Wood: I don’t think there is a true answer to this question because it’s not really a question that is exclusive to gaming. There have been a number of other mediums throughout history which have been met with resistance in gaining recognition as an art form. In fact, I don’t really agree with the criteria currently out there that decides what is art and what isn’t, but that’s a whole other story. I personally believe that art is a completely subjective matter and truly in the eyes of the beholder. We all have an opinion. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that jolly stuff.

But really, what does it matter? Let’s say that video games are accepted as an art form by some board of judges somewhere and it’s official. So what? Do you really think that will change anything? Because I don’t believe so. A magic tick for This is Art, Baby isn’t going to suddenly appear on the box art wowing people all over, and the games and experiences they provide aren’t going to be any different just because of some official recognition. David Cage will still be David Cage, FPS games will still churn out, and some outrage from gamers will happen every week.

People who weren’t into videogames before aren’t suddenly going to be into them just because they’ve now met some sort of criteria. It also goes the other way as I’m not going to suddenly abandon video games because it’s now an art form. I find the argument to be pointless, really. The only redeeming factor for me is that I’ve discovered a lot in what criteria each person holds to judge something as a piece of art, which is an argument that’s far more engaging and interesting, I must say.

Christopher Bowen: What is art? Is it Picasso? Is it Michaelangelo? Or is it some hipster art student throwing paint cans at a canvas doing a mosh pit jump into the whole thing and saying that’s his/her creation?

My take is that art is in the eye of the beholder. Frankly, I tire of the argument. I think video games are art. Where else can you get the interactivity to allow someone to not only pretend they’re in another world altogether but also to actually move their created avatar? However, I refuse to argue with people that disagree with me. Am I supposed to be insulted that people like Roger Ebert don’t get video games? Frankly, I could care less. As my Livestreams have shown, I’m quite adept at escaping into the world of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect or into my Nord in Skyrim.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks is art or craftsmanship or what not. David Cage will come out every two weeks or so and say that video games need to be something else (read: like the games he creates), everyone will huff and puff, and we’ll repeat the process two weeks later with even more blowhards talking to hear themselves speak. This isn’t an exercise I care to engage in because it’s fruitless. As an industry, we have more important things to worry about. I’m more concerned with the “artists” behind the games—the game makers, developers, and QA people—and how they’re being chewed up and spat out by an industry that uses them like disposable commodities, not in a debate like this.

M. Ngai: I think of video games as a hodgepodge of different arts and crafts coming together to form a larger piece. You have artists, you have programmers, you have writers, and you have actors in more recent times, never mind the numerous other people who take care of the business side of things. Video game development is like movie making in that sense. Whether or not they’re really art, however, is one large part in the eye of the beholder, another large part in time, and a third in how many people a work resonates with. None of these qualities are a guarantee in defining what art is per sé, and neither can they be quantified with numbers. After all, a movie that wins dozens of Academy Awards won’t necessarily stand the test of time like Star Wars has. Who’s to say video games haven’t gone through something similar, and who’s to say they won’t continue to do so? The ones who will really determine that, as with famous movies, books, paintings, and what have you, will be the public at large.

To expand on my first statement, a work made up of different forms of art would, logically, be art in itself—assuming it was put together well enough that it doesn’t fall to pieces the second its makers step away from it. So it follows that my earlier statement of video games, being a hodgepodge of different arts, would also be art. It isn’t necessarily all good, of course, but we’ve certainly found some gems over the years; e.g. a plumber jumping off turtles on his way to save a princess. You know who I’m talking about without my having to drop a name, and it’s that level of recognition that comes with the test of time.

The bottom line is that video games are a form of art, and just like other art forms, only a few really achieve widespread and timeless acclaim.

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The Gaming Bus staff consists of some of the brightest minds to enter the field of games journalism, bringing perspectives from all over the world and from all genres.