Are Games Art?
An Editorial By Karl Castaneda
What is art? Is it a panting, a symphony, or an emotional roller-coaster of a movie? Can art be interactive? And if it can, where is the line drawn that separates masterpieces from dregs? These are questions that pretentious, elitist, and self-proclaimed "artists" pose on a daily basis to their contemporaries. In every medium, its respective patrons seek to prove that their pastime is the pinnacle of human achievement - that their vision is "art." And as such, gamers have been trying to show the general public for some time that their hobby is worthy of the title.
Can a Game Make You Cry?
Yeah, but so can slicing an onion. It's odd that the emotional output needed to qualify as "art" is usually tied to sadness. Thus, when people give examples of interactive entertainment as art, they cite the death of Aeris (or Aerith, if you want to get hardcore on everyone's asses) - they cite ICO, they bring up Link's Awakening. The truth is, however, that any earth-shattering emotion can qualify as an artistic movement of the soul. Is the anxiety of fighting your first El Gigante not art? What about finishing the last level of Super Mario World with a scant 15 seconds left on the clock - is that excitement not justifiable as art?
Yes, crying as a result of overwhelming sadness (due to closeness to a game's storyline) can be called a reaction to grand artistry, but so can anything else as long as it's powerful enough. So you think Sephy giving the old Shanghai Shish Kabob to Aeris was so sad that it's art? Boo hoo - I'd much rather duel Ganondorf in Wind Waker's final battle. And that brings us to our next point...
Interactivity Breeds Bonds
Why do you think Shigeru Miyamoto pushes the importance of the touch screen on the DS or the 3D spatial capabilities of the Revolution's controller? The man is a master of manipulation when it comes to gaming, and as such, he wants each new release of his to reflect his strive for the rising of the bar - new levels of joy, fear, and yes, even sadness. But with every generation getting more powerful in hardware specifications, it won't be terribly long until developers will have to stifle their creativity to make their vision come to life on modern-day controllers. Yes, they can create beauty, but can the player reflect it with four face buttons, shoulder triggers, and a duo of analog sticks? Games will always been fun to see in this regard, but with an interface that'll soon need a re-imagination, for how long will they be fun to play?
That's something that the PC has had on consoles since the dawn of time. Yes, there are oodles of buttons, but the key is that the PC gaming market has historically been open to game-specific peripherals to enhance their experience. As such, there is so much more potential for interactivity.
Now you're thinking, "Yes, more interactivity means more fun; I get it, but what does this have to do with art?" Well, I've got a question for you. Why do you think we play games in the first place? Certainly not to see them, not entirely, anyway. We play games because it's a lot easier to become wrapped up in something when there are less barriers between you and what's going on inside your television. And as I've said above, it's that connection to what's going on that qualifies something as art. You can see video games, you can hear them, and you can play them. And when you can reach out and touch your game, then another barrier is broken and we get closer to true art. It is this that gives gaming the potential to rise above other mediums. The potential, at least...
Elitism Ate My Neighbors: It's the Personal Experience That Counts
So does this mean that games can be better than movies? To some people (such as myself), yes, playing an involving game is better than seeing a good movie. Does that mean that I'd rather play Madden than watch Garden State? Hell no. There are tons of good movies that are better than good games, but it goes both ways; what it really hinges on is what the tastes of the person are. And since that's different for everyone on the planet, you'll have to make up your own mind whether or not you accept what I'm saying.
The problem comes when a critic of one medium tries to step into another medium he knows next to nothing about and then tries to bring about judgment. If Roger Ebert had the knowledge of Will Wright, I might have listened. But seeing as how that's not the case, I'll have to give his "professional opinion" two thumbs way down. Similarly, I don't give a crap what Atsushi Inaba thought of Brokeback Mountain (well, to be honest, I don't care what anyone thought of Brokeback Mountain; prancing cowboys ain't my bag, but you get the point). It takes experience and patriotism to one's hobby that qualifies one as a justified critic. I suppose that's why I keep writing these editorials...
So what is art? Art is an emotional bond to what you're experiencing. And this emotional bond isn't exclusive to oil paintings, movies, albums, or interactive software. What makes someone an artist is the devotion to one's audience and their goal of pushing forward, making each new piece better, more refined, but most of all, moving.
So to answer the question my headline presents, "Are Games Art?", it doesn't depend on a myriad of persuasive arguments I present (not to say I didn't try, heh), it depends on the viewer of the painting, the moviegoer, the listener of the song, and the player of the game. It depends on you.