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Games Are Not Art: A Rebuttal
Posted on Thursday, October 22 2009 @ 06:45:51 PST

Melaisis made the meandering claim that games are art but not in the traditional sense. This is an idea that I can get on board with but his reasoning to lead to such a conclusion cries out to be debated.


“Games are art” is an enormously all-encompassing blanket statement and one that should, perhaps, not be uttered. After all, it’s difficult to see how Big Momma’s House, The Pussycat Dolls and It’s Not What You Think (written by ginger nut Chris Evans) could possibly be described as art and in the same sense we shouldn’t try to claim that Gears of War is a work of art either. Although Melaisis brought things down to accessibility it is plain to see that the above film, band and book are all easily accessible. It is difficult to describe just what makes something a work of art since art, by nature, is subjective, but watching Martin Lawrence parade himself around in a fat suit for two hours isn’t it, in fact it may be slightly perverse.


Instant accessibility is nice, it’s nice enough to have made the internet what it is today (so perhaps it only masquerades as ‘nice’ and is actually as twisted as a pig’s tail). However, pieces, whether they’re music, film, book, game or painting, described as ‘works of art’ are often not easily accessible. Many people see A Clockwork Orange as a violent depiction of the youth rather than the harsh judgement of humanity it actually is. This lack of understanding carries over for many great works of art; viewing a piece of art is easy but understanding it remains elusive to certain individuals. So perhaps true art is actually inaccessible for those who wish not to spend time prying open their outward facade?


Using that assumption it would not be a huge leap to say games are art because of their inherent inaccessibility. Working through Metal Gear Solid with its innovative use of controller ports and cigarettes might render Sniper Wolf’s scene even more gratifying. Perhaps Braid’s puzzles only enhance its reputation as an arty game. Maybe art is the reward gamers struggle towards?

Melaisis says as much in his blog but he also indicates that this should not be the case by proposing the removal of the ‘game’ part of a video game. Games like Fahrenheit, and soon Heavy Rain attempt to create interactive experiences where the plot unfolds as a direct result of the user’s actions. There are no repercussions for failure; the plot simply ends in a different way. While this is an excellent idea and makes the game more accessible to the less able or willing it is also an idea that is not translatable to all games. Can you imagine a Metal Gear Solid 4 where Snake just gives up? An Uncharted 2 where Drake gives in to temptation? A Super Mario Brothers where Mario just ignores Princess Peach? Removing the challenge of these games dilutes the message and removes the entire reason for the game.


If people don’t want to sit through a game for the experience of playing it then that’s fine but such a reaction is a reflection of their own shortcomings rather than the game’s. Impatience has led them to miss out on Mass Effect’s glorious story, Abe’s Exodus’ obscene and unconventional humour and LittleBigPlanet’s endearing charms. The art of these games is ripe for the taking but requires the takers to possess certain attributes. Similarly paintings require viewers to possess sufficient cognitive faculties to understand the underlying message, films need their viewers to understand the concept of the metaphor and books want readers to understand complex sentences and creative word structure. Art is not about accessibility so much as it is about conveying a message in an unorthodox way.


Video games can be art. Braid, the Metal Gear Solid series, Final Fantasy 7, LittleBigPlanet, Mass Effect, even Bioshock, prove as much. But for every beautiful game there is another that just cannot be classed as art thanks to its penchant for unnecessary violence, generic game play or lack of decent message. These games are not necessarily bad but they are also not art. So yes, video games can be art, but they don’t have to be.

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