Archive: Video Games As Art?

(February 2014)

If there’s anything a question mark in a title does suggest, it’s a controversial discussion. But the rise of artistic expression seen in various aspects of video game development from graphics, backgrounds, and renderings, to soundtrack and aims have had the care and attention usually admired of pieces of art.

These things are often overlooked, and while I understand that at first glance a lot of games seem to be teeming with the ‘kill as many as you can as fast as you can’ simplicity, it is once they are fully appreciated that video games come into a whole new level (gettit?) of being.braid

I thought I should express this, as more and more people are finally recognising the abundance of talent and skill required to produce a visually ok looking game, nevermind the beauties that can be found on PS4 and X-box 1 at the moment. Visuals like Madden, Flower and Assassins Creed are so richly textured and detailed down to a hair that it’s ignorant to forget that they are illustrations, a creation and depiction of one developer’s ideas and view. The effort that it must take to create these flawless images cannot be overstated.

It’s not just newer, more expensive, flashier games that are constituting art for me at the moment. People don’t really value the visuals of retro games, classics – early Mario and Zelda games, Crash Bandicoot, even arcade pioneers – Asteroids, Pacman, Space Invaders each hold their own unique merit. Perhaps it is a love or a particular screenshot, a particular memory associated with the play of certain games, a favourite storyline or a memorable high score that sweeps us into a coma of nostalgia. Or perhaps it is the fact that these games have now become icons themselves, the simplicity of the graphics representing just how far technology has come and celebrating its origins. Whatever the reason, defining features of these games have become art.

However, art constitutes so much in the modern day that it would be a crime to place these images in the realm of art and not others. Art can be whatever the viewer considers it, so many aspects of gaming can be considered art. The whole gaming experience can come together to create profound messages. Games like Rain are both visually stunning and, in the specific case of Rain, poignantly bittersweet. Illustration, as well as narrative, soundtrack, interactivity and the general atmosphere created by all four components can collaborate to portray ideas seen in grand paintings, great works of literature or box-office smashing film.

So why isn’t this being recognised? I believe it is, slowly. Type “video games as art” into Google and you are rewarded with several articles, some cynical some, like this, desperately hopeful, of the idea that a hobby that has previously (and ignorantly) been noted as time-wasting and a breeding ground for violence and low attention spans can be considered alongside works of art.

Just as a poem, a literary work of fiction or indeed a graphic novel reveals expression and discussion, video games represent the same expression of developers, just in a 21st century manner, with the abilities afforded us in this, the digital age.

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