Games are art, just as finger-painting is art

Are games art? Sure they are. They’re a juvenile art that (like finger-painting) we don’t generally tend to spontaneously think of as art, if we were pressed to name categories. That’s actually our fault as a society and as gamers.

Remember when cinema wasn’t art? You probably don’t, and neither do I, but it was an important phase in cinema.

Of course cinema was art even then. We know that now, but at the time? No. A few people believed that cinema could be art, but they didn’t really get much in the way of funding. It was the juvenile period for cinema – not only in the sense of being young, but in the sorts of content that was funded and created.

Even the attempts that were made early on tended to flop more often than not. Just how to bring art to the cinema screen successfully eluded many. It takes time to figure out how to make a medium work well in support of art, but even more time (perhaps) before we start to accept it. Art is art, even when you screw it up.

The games industry is like the old-time cinema industry. It’s young (a mere 30-something years old), and like the big studios of yesteryear, isn’t really all that interested in paying for something that a game-developer thinks is artistic.

If a publisher could package manure in a box and get it to sell off game store shelves in similar numbers of units, then you’d need a peg on your nose just to walk into the shop. Publishers, like the old time big studios, don’t really care about art. It’s just not important to them, because (as yet) whether the game you buy at the store next is art or not doesn’t really matter to you.

Sales figures don’t seem to be noticeably affected by whether the story is excellent and well told, whether characterizations are deep and meaningful, whether or not it is emotionally moving, by whether the lead character tends to intersect what are supposedly solid objects or by whether it’s just another WW2 shooter.

That didn’t affect your decision to buy, so clearly you’re giving the message that being art doesn’t really matter all that much. Likewise you don’t stampede to the few artistic games any more than audiences of previous generations stampeded to see art in films in their day. Art in games is still very shaky, and uncertain.

As long as we keep treating and selling games as being somehow juvenile, they’re not likely to evolve out of that with any swiftness, just as babying your child well into her twenties is more likely to stunt her emotional growth than not.

Eventually, the elements we associate with art in storytelling will make their way into games and be relatively ubiquitous. We’ll ache when it isn’t there. For now, though, it’s just a matter of waiting out the peep-shows and nickelodeons (albeit with the occasional gem), until something better comes along.

It’s what we’re paying for.

4 thoughts on “Games are art, just as finger-painting is art”

  1. Did somebody say “category”? I’ll give you 3:
    * Research
    * Application
    * Participation

    Art Research or “fine art” or “high art” is work that strives to rethink / reconsider / critique culture.
    Art Application is decor, media, etc
    Art Participation is anyone doin it themselves – regardless of conceptual or technical level, there is power in “ordinary” people “singing / dancing / painting / etc”

    More Here:
    http://vaneeesa.com/2010/07/28/research-application/

  2. There have been a number or artistic games. I remember Loom, Ultima 7, Quest For Glory 4, even gems from the pre-graphic period like A Mind Forever Voyaging. The last really artistic game I played was Deus Ex (though truth be told, I’ve had Thief laying on a shelf for years now without ever getting to play it yet). The problem, however, is only partly that we don’t demand artistic games. So far, with what little time I have for playing, I got very picky about what I want to play and certainly pay attention to it being capturing. But the problem is also, that publishers, and even game designers, don’t love games as they need to. In many ways, the game industry has become as big and expensive as Hollywood, and just like Hollywood will only go the safe route that will bring guaranteed revenue. And artistic games don’t grow on the safe route, since there’s no safety in them being appealing to a mass audience. That doesn’t mean they can’t appeal to a mass audience, it just means the risk is too high, and there’s too much to loose. So now we end up with publishers who don’t love the product they make more than the money they make, and artists who see themselves as mere “content creators”.

  3. most GAMES are GAMES..with more in common with MILTON BRADLEY products than MIRAMAX’s.
    30 years?.. the film industry gave us great films by then. KING KONG anyone? Still is better ART than the 2003 remake that took more from games than film as a balance.

    Again just because thers big money involved and fan culture ala the film industry, we assume the games industry will make products like the film industry… except for many bad elements from the middle men of the film industry, the games industies actaul products…are most successful in actual dollar value, when thought of as toys and games from that other industry of the industrial entertianemnt age.

    many already see this… go see scott pilgrim vs the world… then go see david crohenbergs “virtuality”” forget name– decade ago?… jude law..etc… both show humans caught between story and game, and both show the true disconnect from any healthy reality.

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