Editorial / Are videogames art?

Are videogames art? What is their place amongst the entertainment world?

This feature aims to answer two questions: can videogames be considered an art form, in the same vein as a film, or a piece of music, or even a painting? The second question is pondering the videogame’s place in the world of media today. What is their place and how well do they stack up to other entertainment mediums? In order to answer these questions, I think we have to look at a number of factors and a lot of them relate more to the industry than the actual games themselves.

Music and film have long been considered artistic mediums, but what about videogames? To truly understand, we have to step back and take a look at the past and the future of gaming. Once stereotyped horribly as something a lone male would do in their mother’s basement, gaming has evolved faster than either music or film over a shorter period of time (and frankly I think modern music is regressing anyway but that is another debate for another website). In recent years, gaming has become a different medium altogether. Online multiplayer has brought people closer and closer and therefore expanded the appeal. Couple that with more ‘realistic’ games such as Call of Duty and FIFA and you have games that everyone will feel comfortable playing, rather than potentially embarrassing titles such as The Legend of Zelda, some of which will still be synonymous even today with the stereotype of a gamer in a basement.

I in no way endorse this kind of linear thinking. It’s just what happens. I for one would much rather play the latest Super Mario than FIFA. At the same time though, this thought process has done wonders for the medium of gaming. It is the fastest growing medium, overtaking film while games like Modern Warfare 3 destroy sales records like there is no tomorrow, eclipsing every film box office record around. If that does not say something about gaming’s position as an entertainment leader then I do not know what does. Innovative new consoles such as the Nintendo Wii helped videogames expand their reach to families and gaming was seen as something more than just geeky pastime. Not only this, but big, hugely anticipated titles sometimes even have red carpet launches as well and midnight premieres. For example, Halo: Reach even had people dressed as Spartans coming in via jetpacks in the middle of London. High profile? Quite possibly.

So we can see from this that gaming has become a far more widely regarded form of entertainment medium. After all, gaming even has its own BAFTA award ceremony now. So we have managed to find an answer to one of the questions asked. It would appear that in today’s day and age, gaming has found a respectable place among film and music in the entertainment industry, in some cases, even above them. With some games completely shattering records set by the film industry and having their own premieres and red carpet venues, it would appear that gaming is fast becoming as high flying as the rest of the media industry. But can gaming be considered an art form? I think there are multiple ways of looking at it.

Back in the days of 8-bit pixels it was difficult to make games look visually appealing. Mario even had to wear a hat because the designers found it impossible to create his hair. These days however, game graphics can flourish. Look at titles like Okami for example, a very unique style which incorporates a watercolour style painting touch to its graphics. Considering the game itself is essentially a moving painting, can that not be considered ‘art’? Yet when it comes down to graphics, it’s not only the very extravagant that should be noticed. Even games that have a, for lack of a better word, dull palette, such as Gears of War, have their own forms of art. The architecture in the world of Sera is portrayed as ‘destroyed beauty’ and the games even come with art books, featuring concept drawings and the like. Some of these are hugely intricate and make me wonder if they cannot be considered art forms in their own right.

Is what constitutes ‘art’ not a matter of opinion anyway? There are a few more reasons as to why I feel gaming could now be considered an art as well. Rather than simply forcing the player onwards towards a linear goal with the only snippet of story being something along the lines of, ‘your princess is in another castle,’ most games attempt a fully-fledged storyline with memorable character development and epics that take a trilogy to come to a head. A lot of games these days are story driven and you find yourself wanting to know how it will all end. Games like Heavy Rain for example, are pure story and engross the player completely. With the writers and developers on hand today, games can provide a sense of tension and atmosphere unlike ever before. On top of this, some, such as Super Mario Galaxy, have entirely orchestrated soundtracks meaning the music in the games can itself be an art form as more effort is put into making them as epic and as resounding as ever.

So with these components, the graphics, the storytelling and the music, games these days certainly do have the capacity to be considered ‘art’, at least in this gamer’s eyes. While it is apparent that videogames still do not completely get the recognition they deserve, they are certainly getting there. Arguments rage as to whether they can truly be considered an art form but I believe, all things considered, they certainly can. Through the innovative use of graphics, colour, sound and story, games bring images to life like no other medium around. The sound only helps to enhance the effect and can easily, in most cases, be considered an art form in itself. Coupled with the fact that most games come with art books showcasing the painstaking detail poured into concepts, I think it is fair to say that although some people may not see it as art, it certainly is extremely intricate and interesting to watch and grow.