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Games Are Not Art: Response and Proposal
Posted on Wednesday, October 28 2009 @ 13:39:17 PST

Video games is such a diverse medium that it is somewhat easy to forget that differing opinions, however alien they may be to your own, are welcome for a critical debate. Recently, a forum user named Melaisis posted a rather interesting article titled “Games Are Not Art.” I won’t go into much detail here, but suffice to say, Melaisis gives the theory that due to the inaccessibility of certain games by the general public, games cannot, all things considered, be art in the sense that we may know it, due to either sheer difficulty or blandness of the gaming experience. Most people will never see the cinematic or artistic aspects that would make a game art just because it is not accessible to them.

Then, Maca2kx, the omnipotent figure he is, replies with a elegant rebuttal, giving reservations to the term and agreeing with Melasis on some points, but arguing it is not about inaccessibility, but rather ability to see these forms of electronic entertainment as works of art, or at least, some games. Other games fall into the category of processed, regurgitated entertainment that can be viewed as nothing but lowbrow to some gamers.
Both points of view are rather good, and in some respects I do agree, but I can’t help but point out that something else must be included in this equation, something that both touched upon, but never really explored, and that is the subjective aspect of this argument.
All forms of art and entertainment are subjective in their own way; one man can love soccer while another loves base, just as one might find pleasure looking at the works of Picasso over Pollack. The perception of the critic is perhaps the all-important outlook when beginning any argument of this, and admittingly, I am no better for I see certain games as pieces of art over others. But it is important to remember that all games can be considered art, just as all physical mediums can be.
Let me put it in another way. A game like Metal Gear Solid many would agree is a work of art, it is stylish, deep, and has the qualities of a big production movie that help it’s presentation. It’s story is widely praised, and it’s presentation is often considered a benchmark for video game storytelling, all problems with pacing aside. But this is not the only aspect that is focused on. The game is also a graphical one; the environments have a hyper-realism to them thanks to the processing power of the Playstation 3. The sound quality is excellent, ranging from the voice actors to the sweeping orchestral score, all adding emotion and tension to scenes when necessary, augmenting the experience. The controls work well, when used properly, and offer a unique experience when playing the game over each time. This is art.
Now take a popcorn game like Halo 3. Opinions on the game aside, it is still a work of artistic expression that can be viewed by many as a work of art. For starters, the design is well done, the music score augments scenes well, the controls work, and the story, as clichéd as it may be, is still adequate in relation to the game itself.
We can go on and talk about other games all day. Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece for many reasons, but it’s the perfect storm of the four core aspects of video games that makes it so. The same goes for Bioshock, and any Final Fantasy you can think of. Each has qualities that give it a hint of life, a breath of fresh style, substance, or a mix of the two that offers an experience.
For years I have always pondered why, as gamers, we keep going back and playing games, old and new? Gameplay and graphics are a part of it, storylines and sound can be another, just the experience of defeating a hard boss or finding a new secret adds to the excitement of discovering something new every time you play, from the early days to today. It has been fascinating to me that many gamers who have grown up with this industry have such a reverence for the past, something that many younger gamers today either never experienced or just neglect.
But the philosophical hyperbole aside, the point to remember is that games are art, if you view them as such. Be it a pixilated beauty of Muramasa or the polygonal powerhouse that Crysis is, it’s not just the midi music of Zelda or the sweeping score of Halo,nor is it the streamlined gameplay of Final Fantasy VII or the new school mechanics of Fallout 3, it is not the quality of the story such as Mass Effect against the lack of exposition  in Braid.
In the end, all of this is just one part of the painting, one aspect to pick apart and interpret from the canvas we can interact with. Any game, no matter how flawed it may be, may have a quality of it that can be interpreted as art. We forget at times due to the mainstream presentation of the game, the “sameness” of the product from a year previous, which makes us cynical to the idea of it being considered a work of art. And everyone, from me to the critics to the hardcore to the developers, becomes cynic to this at times; it is unavoidable in the end.
As subjective as all of this is in the end, it is not just the accessibility of a game by some people, or by the appreciation of the game itself.  If movies, from Citizen Kane to Big Momma’s House, can be seen as works of art by the respected crowds that do so, who are we to say they are not? We can disagree, so long as we shed the elitist attitude that accompanies debates at times, but we must remember this subjectivity in the end.
In short, games are art. There is no question about this in my mind, and arguably in many of yours, but what makes this a question is how it can be considered art to others. As video games grow as a medium years from now the accessibility Melaisis discussed will be eliminated, the rift between what can and cannot be art as Maca discussed will slowly disappear, and discussions such as this will be minor quips for students to debate.  Games stir emotions just like artists such as Steven Spielberg, Michael Jackson, and Rembrandt. You just need to look hard enough and enjoy, or loathe, the games in every aspect to see it.
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