Why Video Games Should Be Considered Art
It is incontrovertible that the debate around whether video games can be considered an art form or not is a contentious subject. Some believe it is the ultimate medium of expression, combining various art forms into one and making it interactive. Others believe that considering video games as art devalues the works of various artists in different fields. Although video games are legally recognised as art forms, the debate is still widely discussed. I personally believe that video games combine many beautiful art forms into one incredible interactive piece. You can learn from and experience situations you may never have been in before. The public's view on art and what mediums should be considered art vary as widely as the pieces of art present in our world.
In 2011 it was ruled by the Supreme Court that video games should be protected by the First Amendment.
“Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas – and even social messages – through many familiar literary devices…and through features distinctive to the medium.”
- Anthony Scalia, Supreme Court Justice
Even legally protected as an art form, many don’t see the artistic nature of video games.
People view art in different ways and without a clarification of meaning it can be hard to differentiate between the mediums. Jonathon Jones wrote for The Guardian on the matter stating that:
"...any definition of art is one person’s reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition."
Understanding that this is a valid point if that is how you view art is applicable, however the basic component of this definition is that art is a reflection of life. If you take the opinion of the famous playwright, Oscar Wilde, he believed that ‘life imitates art far more than art imitates life,’ having varying personal definitions of art harms our view of video games as art.
So when definitions aren’t clear it is hard to define what should fit the unstable definition of art. Perhaps, you may argue that there are much more established forms of art and their importance is greater. It can’t be denied that prose, song and visual art have been established far longer than video games. However, this does not mean it isn’t an art form--video games simply haven’t had the time to gain the prestige of other art forms. Furthermore, what are video games but an interactive medium comprised of prose, song and visual art? Albeit not every video game is a masterpiece, but neither is every single book. When video games combine these three traditional art forms and use them masterfully, they create a soulful experience.
For example, if we are to start with visual art there are plenty of examples of video games that are visually appealing. There is no one true style when it comes to the visual aspect of video games. You can have a completely realistic style with a game such as Uncharted and be blown away by beautifully rendered landscapes. Or alternatively a game such as Limbo has a simpler art style, but carries the sinister nature of the game. It is not simply how we use the visual style but how it adds to the tone of the game. What Remains of Edith Finch is an absolutely stunning game and emits a sense of quiet and mystery even from its art style. The visuals match the purpose and the narrative of the game.
The same can be said for the writing of an individual game. Nobody could deny the power and heart-wrenching nature of the opening to The Last of Us. It set the entire tone for the game. You understood Joel’s character and knew why his interactions with Ellie were tenuous at the beginning of the game. A game with a good narrative does the same thing any piece of prose does: it makes you want to continue on. Whether you’re running home to read the next chapter of the book you’re reading or complete the next mission of the game you’re on, good writing makes you want to continue the story.
In addition if you played the first season of TellTale’s critically acclaimed The Walking Dead, you would know that at the end of the season there was not a dry eye to be seen. And what about video games that take inspiration from a piece of prose? The Witcher 3 reached legendary game status back in 2015, with many games, such as Final Fantasy XV and Assassin’s Creed Origins desiring to implement many mechanics from the eponymous game. The Witcher 3 had fantastic source material. (I highly recommend the books to anyone who is a fan of the series.) Does having source material based in more established art forms make it better? No, good writing comes from the team who are passionate about the game they’re making.
Lastly is the soundtrack. Song is an incredible part of human nature. Folk music is a testament to the longevity of song, and when a video game has the right soundtrack it makes all the difference. Life is Strange is a perfect example of this. It has a soundtrack that carries the message of the game, but the tracks are in themselves pieces of art. I have been introduced to so many new artists through games such as Life is Strange that I would never have found otherwise. Even instrumental music composed for a game carries a tone and a beauty within it, such as the Assassin’s Creed 2 opening instrumental. It carries an emotion and purpose that a video game would be lost without.
When you have the combination of so many brilliant art forms, how can you not justify video games being classed as an art form?
“Video games are also the only form of media that allows for personalizing the artistic experience while still retaining the authenticity of the artist,” - Chris Melissinos
is one opinion standing for the validity of video games as an art form. You’re not just a passive consumer when you engage with video games. You’re directly part of that experience and with more and more games implementing various choice paths in their games you can see the appeal. Video games allow you the option to interact with a whole new world and sometimes make it your own. You’re still experiencing someone’s vision, but you’re also part of that vision--which allows anyone who plays the game to become part of the art.
What is your opinion? Should video games be considered art or not? Leave a comment below with your opinions!