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Are Video Games Art?
By Hurrairah bin Sohail - on 23 Aug 2013, 5:55pm

I had the good fortune to catch up with Victor Kislyi CEO of Wargaming.net, makers of the extremely popular free-to-play game World of Tanks, in Belarus. Besides revealing a few choice scoops about their upcoming endeavour World of War Planes, he stated his ambitions for the future.

"We want to make games that will compared with the works of Shakespeare" - Victor Kislyi

Equalling the illustrious works of such an artist is a lofty goal indeed. However it drudges up a very basic question. Can video games be considered as art? The matter has been debated before from all sides. Famed movie critic and art connoisseur, Roger Ebert has categorically stated that he does not consider video games to be art. On the flipside Kellee Santiago, a designer and producer of video games, has given an excellent TED talk stating a case for video games to indeed be considered as art (if you have 15 minutes free you can check it out here). And now it is time for this writer to throw his two cents into the ring.

Before the debate can proceed any further the term "art" needs to be defined. Simply put, art in my opinion is something that illicit an emotional response and is accessible to all. To add to that, I would like to add that great art also stands the test of time. The works of Shakespeare mentioned, definitely tick all these checkboxes. But whether video games meet this criteria is not as clear cut.

The Case For Video Games as Art

When broken down, many of the components of a video game, on their own, are already widely accepted to be art. As someone who plays quite a fair bit of modern video games, I find that the narrative arc for titles is getting to a point where it rivals the strength, depth and impact of literature. Developers are working towards making their in-game cut-scenes and gameplay meet the cinematic standards of movies. The visuals and art direction from Journey, created by the aforementioned Kellee Santiago and Thatgamecompany, have a strong claim to be garner a place in museums of modern art in my opinion.

The Starry Night vs. Skyrim. You have to admit both look spectacular don't they?

Even established artists from other mediums are crossing over to video games to ply their trade. Stephen Merchant, a comedian, writer and actor lent his voice to Wheatley for Portal 2. Composer Damien Korb helped score Bastion for what was easily one of the most engrossing albums of its year. Even soundtrack supremo Hans Zimmer has collaborated to provide audio for video game titles such as Crysis 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Unfortunately though, the sum of the parts sometimes does not turn out to be the same thing as their components.

The Case Against Video Games as Art

If the quality of "timelessness" is taken into account, the case for video games as art instantly becomes weaker. Video games arguably came into existence at the start of the 1970s, so they definitely have not had as much time to germinate as other mediums of art. Games like Pong (1972) and Space Invaders (1978) remain as engaging as when they were first released. But it is plain to see that gamers have moved on. Neither title is as popular or prevalent as they once were.

In fact the video game industry is built on constant improvement and forward progression. Having better graphics, more shaders and prettier effects is just the nature of the beast. Not only does this mean that the new Call of Duty is replaced with a shinier newer installment in under a year, but once new hardware shows up, older games become obsolete and inaccessible. PlayStation One games, no matter what their artistic merits were, cannot be played on the upcoming PlayStation 4. You can see how this may prevent a title from achieving the sense of timelessness exhibited by other art forms.


But perhaps the biggest reason why video games are not art can be found in the name itself. They are games. Games by definition have winners and losers. And with art there can be no winners or losers. Anyone can walk up to the Mona Lisa or listen to a piece by Wagner, form their own opinion and walk away. But if you don't have the requisite chops to get past the first level, you are denied the rest of the game experience.

I would consider myself a gamer. But whenever I have to explain what Starcraft is, I tend to relate it with chess rather than the Sistine Chapel. There is quite a way to go before video games could be considered art and they probably will not get to that point in my lifetime. But then again, whether or not video games are art is an entirely semantic discussion. It really isn't going to stop me from picking up the sticks and romping through GTA: V as soon as it comes out. And just because it is a video game and not art doesn't mean I am going to enjoy it any less.

Hurrairah bin Sohail

Hurrairah bin Sohail / Former Tech Writer

Good tech has good specs, great tech has personality. Keeping that in mind, Hurrairah expects character and performance from any gadget he spends his hard earned cash on. As a guitar player and 'struggling' musician, he has an appreciation for natural sound is tasked with reviewing speaker systems.