Ceci n’est pas une Chainsaw Gun: Games and Art

I’m sorry, but it’s time.

I know this has been an issue sharply dividing our opinions for years, but it’s really just time we take a look around and acknowledge the elephant in the room of our collective obsession. To discuss what we’re going to do, if anything, about this. It’s a touchy subject, making a lot of people uncomfortable, but it’s time.

We need to talk about art.


What? No. No, not Art the weird guy at the Starbucks who draws hearts in your latte foam every day. I didn’t even know his name was Art. And also, just ignore him, he does that to everybody.

No, I’m talking about art. Like paintings and stuff. Or, to put some wings on it and send it into pompous land via Encyclopedia Brittanica, “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.”

That’s all fine and good, but why does it need to be discussed here? This is a video game blog, about video games, for video game players living in a video game universe and operating on a video game wavelength. Games are games–they’re totally different from paintings, or sculptures, or, you know, that thing where the French guy stuck a toilet on a wall and said, “Here you go. Le art. I’ll take my immortality now, s’ilvous plait.”

The discussion of the video game as art is, not surprisingly, pretty controversial. But if we go by the definition above, it seems pretty cut and dry: “Skill and imagination?” Check. “Creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences?” Check, check, and check. “That can be shared with others?” Chiggity-chiggity-check! A 3-D artist creating a character model, a composer writing music for scenes, a writer telling an interactive story? Seems like art to me.

Look at a site like deadendthrills.com, and tell me that’s not art. Go on, tell me. And I’ll tell you to get bent.

But then, it’s not me who decides. Turns out there is a group out there (referred to as “critics”) who gets that job. And they say, more or less, that even though graphic design, music, and storytelling are all traditional art on their own, the combination of these elements into a “game” is where it falls apart. A “game” is not art, whereas an “interactive installation” containing all the elements that a game does, is. This, as explained to me, is called “logic.”

Checkers, they say (I’m pretending they said it, actually), is not art. It is a game. No game can be art. Although Ants in the Pants does come pretty close.

We know there are games aspiring to be art; games like Shadow of the Colossus, Machinarium, and Super Columbine Massacre RPG (this last is controversial in its own right, but I’m taking the creator’s word it was meant as an artistic rumination on the nature of the events rather than a self-promoting shock-piece). But whether the establishment chooses to accept these and other games as art, we must look within ourselves as gamers to see whether this is just a way to waste our lives, or if it elicits something from us making it worthwhile beyond the visceral.

No, checkers is not art. Neither is chess nor Parcheesi (I don’t even believe “Parcheesi” is actually a real thing). But what happened the first time you saw a sunrise in Skyrim? Or stormed the beach at Normandy in Medal of Honor? Or watched Aerith di–you know, that thing that Aerith did in Final Fantasy VII (sorry, spoilers). How is this any different than the feeling you get when you see The Mona Lisa? Or listen to Bach? Or read Shakespeare? Or watch Saving Private Ryan?

Nothing, I would say. The only thing holding back video games from being seen as art is society’s inability to see gaming as different from playing games. Like film before it, as the genre matures, and those who decide are those who watched it mature, video games will get the recognition they deserve. They offer a rich tapestry of experience and emotion unique and exceptionally compelling. They uplift the human spirit leaving us better than we were.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gots to go pwn some noobz.

Editor’s Note: For more on games as art, check out our previous story about the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games Exhibition.

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