Games Are Not Art

GTA IV Jack Thompson
GTA IV Jack Thompson

If you couldn’t already tell, I like games. I want to spend all of my time writing about them or playing them. I won’t ever stop playing them, or at least enjoying them, no matter what happens. Why did I just say that? Because I’m about to piss a whole lot of gamers off, and I want them to remember I said that when we get into the meat of this article.

At this moment in time, games are not art.

It’s not that I think they’re bad, they just aren’t what one would define as “art”. Do I have a concrete definition for art? Absolutely not, and I could care less about it. We seem to be looking for the entitlement that comes as an “art form”. While I would like it if society stopped thinking that games are for kids, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are an art form.

Games are not currently art in my opinion, because of what art is, in its current form. It has several properties which exclude gaming. The main one is simple: Games are meant to be played. You do not interact with most things that are classified as art. But there is no piece of artwork that can be played. The difference being, that you view art, you absorb art, the only way you interact with it in almost all cases is to see it, in some respect. You cannot “view” a game. If a piece of art has outside influences that inherently change it, then it is currently not art. Simple as that.

Flower game screenshot
Flower maybe the closest we get to an "art" game

It’s an observation vs interaction argument. Some art can be interacted with. Some people make sculptures that can be moved, but that isn’t changing it, just rearranging it in a way that is intended. Games aren’t meant to be observed. Games by definition, cannot be observed. You play a game. You are controlling the character, making decisions that inherently change the game. In Flower, you control the breeze, but there is still an objective and things that you must complete in order to progress. Current art doesn’t have that. There’s no part of a book that will stop you from reading it until you’ve successfully read every word on every page to the book’s satisfaction. If “The End” snipes me on my ass every time I play Metal Gear Solid 3, (assuming I don’t cheat) I will not progress further into that game. I will never be able to see the ending, or how the story continues because I cannot progress any further.

How many times has that happened to you when you were a kid playing games? There is this one part that you just can’t get past, and you put the game down and never pick it back up again. For me, that happened in The Bouncer. I got to the final boss, and just couldn’t beat him. I never got to see how the story ended, and never got the satisfaction of seeing the man that I had worked so hard to build up the energy, stamina and power to defeat, actually get defeated.

If I wanted to, I could skip to the end of my Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit book and figure out exactly how it ends. Nothing will stop me from doing so other than my own notion not to spoil the ending for myself. When I watch Salt or The Social Network, nothing’s going to stop me from skipping to the end of these movies and looking at the conclusion that both those movies will probably be terrible.

Braid screenshot
Games can be pretty, but can't be "art" right now

Can games eventually be art? Of course, once they change the definition of what “art” is. When art can be interacted with, engaged, enjoyed with and through the person using it instead of enjoyed by the person seeing it, then games can be art. But allow me to ask a simple question:

Why in the hell would games want to be art?

Games are so much better than art. The point of this article isn’t to prove that games aren’t art, it’s to prove to you that they shouldn’t be considered art. To say that games are art degrades the games themselves. If it is true that games are not art because art is not generally interacted with as I just said, then that becomes a limitation of art, not an expression of art’s superiority. Art isn’t better than games, no matter what Ebert wants us to believe. Games are better than art, solely because they can be interacted with. In books you are forced to use your imagination, because the limitation of the book is that it can’t show you moving pictures. The limitation of the movie is that you cannot interact with it, you cannot take control of it, you are essentially just a person viewing it with no control over the events. In games you get that control. You control the main character. Your actions are his actions, and you are being led through worlds that could be replicated by movies, but not with the same feel. Games are far better than art, and game designers don’t wear those pretentious hats and act with an heir of superiority. Why are we fighting for a position that is beneath us? Do you fight for second place in Crash Team Racing? No, of course not, so why is it that gamers are so hell bent on trying to be given a title that is currently beneath them? If anything, art should be begging for games to be in its little club. Instead, (as the medium before it always does) they act like they are somehow better, more pure or are superior to the medium that surpasses it simply because they can’t keep up.

So no, games are not art, in art’s current definition. But I am proud to say that games aren’t art. When art’s ready, we’ll be waiting. Until then, we should be the ones with the sense of superiority on our faces. All movie-goers can hope for is to be us. To give the person interacting with it the sense of control, of bonding and of attachment with the main character. At the end of a movie, the audience cheers for the main character’s triumph, or cries at their failure. At the end of a game, we are that main character. We’ve been through what they’ve been through. Lets see any type of art do that.

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