Episode 251: Why Video Games Should Be Considered As Art


When I was studying in college, one of my instructors was a real art snob. I wouldn’t say he was in the level of pretentious but she was the kind of girl who believed that “true” art came from geniuses like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and other painters who were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or is that the other way around)? She was the kind of person who was rather hoity-toity and would only go watch those weird arthouse and indy films that concentrated only on “exploring the essence of being a human being” and would scoff at the very idea of pop culture ever being called art. To give you an idea of how she was against pop culture as art, she actually detests the works of Andy Warhol because she cannot fathom why the most prominent art critics would go gaga over paintings of soup cans.

My favorite is Cream of Mushroom

One thing that I distinctly remember about her is how she is extremely resistant to forms of media like movies, televisions and video games ever being called “true” art. Music like the ones composed by Beethoven and Amadeus were find because they “stirred the soul” but today’s music? Definitely not,  as today’s songs you hear on the radio and online were made for the explicit purpose of making money. Thus, they cannot be art. She would tout the same thing for most movies and television shows. But she had a particularly strong disdain for video games because, even if a game is made without making a profit in mind, video games just has no soul.

When she would go on these rants against video games as art, I would bite my lower lip and just nod my head while I fought off the urge to debate her on the topic. As much as I would’ve wanted to give my opinion that video games can be considered art, it just wasn’t worth the time and effort to do so. Now, I don’t have an art Ph.D or whatever degree she got from the University of Art Snobbery or wherever she went. However, I do think it’s silly to outright dismiss the thought that video games can be considered “true” art. And, since I do have my own blog section to post my ideas, I might as well go explain my position on the topic! Isn’t the Internet grand?

I don’t just mean the textbook definition of what art is because that would be lame and stupid. According to Merriam-Webster, art is defined as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects” as well as the produced objects. Under that definition, video games should be considered art. Then again, that would mean the guy in American Vandal, who thinks drawing penises everywhere is a true artist then.

And I’m not just talking about the aesthetic beauty of video games as well. As technology has improved, so have the visuals. Games can now be as cartoony or as realistic as they want to be… or as far as they can stretch the budget. They can be as beautiful or as ugly as they can because of high-definition screens, high polygon counts and whatnot. I still find it amazing that a lot of big budget games can program in vast fields of forests, deserts and mountains that look incredibly beautiful. Then again, I can’t believe how bad the original animations for Mass Effect: Andromeda are… but that’s a different topic altogether.

You have reached your destination: Uncanny Valley

No, when I say that video games can be art, I’m referring to what is “true” art to most people. This is the ability of an artist to instill his emotions into a piece of work and be able to stir something inside the viewer. I’m talking about the kind of art that’s supposed to inspire people or provide some kind of commentary on life. It’s the kind of art that’s supposed to make a person think existentially or something like that. In other words, it’s supposed to be deep and cut to the soul of a person. And I say video games can do those very things.

There are several games that have done a great job of getting a rise out of gamers. One game that does this very well, in my opinion anyway, is Gone Home. It’s actually the game that gave me the idea to write this. I know Gone Home is a rather old game but I just played it recently as I totally forgot I got this when it was free with a PlayStation Plus subscription a long while ago. I really didn’t know anything about the game other than it was free but I decided to give it a try and I had a weird feeling while I was playing it. At the start, I felt I was cheated as I was expecting a horror game. It’s easy to think that, especially with a creepy title like Gone Home and the spooky looking cover art.

Waddaya mean it’s not like Resident Evil?

I can’t say it was the most entertaining game I’ve ever played since you don’t really do all that much in it besides walking around an empty house and looking at objects. I did stick through it because I was curious on why the house was empty. As I kept playing, I uncovered little bits and pieces of the story and that just made me more curious with what happened. After I finished the game and found the last clue, I did feel some of my emotions stirring inside me and I felt a strange satisfaction from finishing Gone Home. It was a feeling of melancholy for the story and the experience of playing it was utterly breathtaking. I believe this is the same kind of feeling someone who reaches an epiphany when something just clicks when viewing some great art piece.

There are so many other games that are only able to tell a great story and affect the gamer because they allow you to take an active role in the proceedings. I heard about a game called Papers, Please, where you take the role of an immigration officer of a despotic country. Your character’s job provides you with a salary that allows your family to live a modest life as long as you do your job correctly. However, as an immigration officer, you will come across some people who want to cross over to your country but may not have the required paperwork. You will have to make some moral choices, such as allowing someone to enter the country to visit their spouse despite not having the proper paperwork or even accept a bribe or two so your family can live a little more comfortably. I’ve never played Papers, Please but I just love the premise and I do plan on getting it, just to see how my conscience would deal with the situations thrown at me. While Papers, Please may sound like just a video game, the premise of adding a human element does give it much more substance and letting people in and out of the country is more of a moral question than just admitting the correct people to get a score.

I think the biggest problem as to why some people like my former college professor can’t grasp the idea of video games as art is because people still think it’s mindless entertainment. There are the usual arguments that video games are just for kids and there is no cultural value to them. These people are forgetting the same thing can be said about a lot of other forms of entertainment in the past that are considered to be “true” art by today’s standards. There was a time when movies and comic books were just dumb entertainment but, as time progressed, some forward thinkers took the media to be more than just that.

Some smart people figured out that movies and comic books can have thought provoking stories that can convey complex messages and contain adult themes that reflect the period’s issues. Some people figured out how to make them tap into our deepest emotions to make us feel some deep seated emotions. I think video games such as Gone Home and Papers, Please have the ability to do those very same things. Besides, not all video games have to be art in the same way not all paintings and pictures can just be goofs and made just for laughs, just like the guy in American Vandal again.

Oh, I just remembered something my college professor said about art. She said that all art is subjective and it could mean something different for all people. Well, if that’s the case, it’s my subjective opinion that video games can be art then.

Do you think video games can be considered “true” art? What games can you think of that can be considered art? Let me know in the comments section below!

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