It seems obvious to me that video games *ARE* art and the argument that they aren’t strikes me as similar to arguments that Jackson Pollock’s splatter paintings aren’t art or that Picasso’s Dora Maar, Sitting isn’t art. Or that Karen Finley smearing herself with chocolate and talking about her childhood isn’t art. But me saying “the burden of proof is on you, dude!” isn’t really that useful given my readership of seven (of which he is *NOT* one) and also given the fact that he’s more or less retracted his statements and has more or less promised to never, never ever talk about this stuff ever again.
So I’ll lay out the case and, hopefully, make it as obvious for you as it is for me.
When we talk about “art”, there are any of a dozen things that come to mind. Painting is probably the first thing, but there is also sculpture, and poetry, and storytelling, and acting, and dance, and we can probably go so far as to include stuff like foodcrafting. I’m sure that all of us are cool with something as different as dance and a cubist still life painting of a bowl of grapes both falling under the umbrella of “art”, right?
Well, here in town, there’s a Fine Arts Center that has a section off to the side of “interactive art”. You know, for the kids you dragged to the Fine Art Center. It includes a bunch of sculptures that are *INTENDED* to be stroked, poked, prodded, felt, twiddled, and otherwise touched. Feel the negative space of a cube with a sphere slice carved out of the side. Turn a weathervane. Put your fingers in the eye of a carved stone Kokopelli.
We have no problem grasping that a good story told well can be art. Look at, oh, Citizen Kane. Or Huck Finn. Or an audio book of _The Island of the Day Before_ read by Tim Curry. Art? Of course!
Well, a video game is a mashup of such ingredients. A story well-told (if we’re lucky) that we interact with and, here’s the kicker, even cause to progress through our interactions. The game Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is a story told in retrospect by the main character/narrator to a woman he’s attempting to woo (and is full of delightful little moments where we see the character die and then hear the narrator say “that’s not what happened…” before we restart at the save point to try again). The Bioware games are stories of grand fantasy where worlds (or galaxies!) are saved. Instead of the person sitting and absorbing the art passively, like in a movie or (audio)book, the person actually has to move the story along him or herself… in the case of many RPGs, even the endings can be modified by the choices the player makes. This is art that is modified by the audience and tailor made for each viewer according to the whim of each viewer. (I want to play a good guy vs. I want to play a bad guy.)
Now, it’s true, that many (if not most (if not 90 percent of)) video games are crap. To compare the Godfather Part II to Ninjabread Man (I ain’t gonna link it) is, indeed, a comparison that makes Ninjabread Man look very bad indeed. It’s also possible to compare such things as Knights of the Old Republic to Clint Howard’s Ice Cream Man.
It’s cool to prefer scupture to poetry, or books to dance, or music to movies. Hey, we’ve all got our own inclinations. That’s cool.
But to say that this, or that, or video games cannot be art? That’s obviously wrong. Not even “are not” but “cannot be” art? That’s so wrong that even the person most famous for saying it has retracted it.
What’s interesting is the aesthetics that allow us to say “this is crap” or “this is good” or even “this is so good that the preponderance of people who engage with it will walk away embiggened”. But that’s another essay…