Video Games are Art. Now What?

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So, if you will recall, a few years back there was a big discussion, off and on, about whether video games could be considered a form of art. To my knowledge, the issue was never really resolved, and while it’s mostly died down, I’ve seen there be some resurgence of the discussion here and there.  When that happens, I tend to ignore it, because to me, the discussion isn’t really relevant anymore. I don’t think anyone’s really taken the time to talk about why that’s the case, though.

It seems that on the internet, there are a lot of times where current issues are talked about at great length and then completely forgotten. Which, don’t get me wrong, some issues need to be forgotten, and buried, and never spoken of again. However, most of the time, it would really be a good idea to remember some of the discussions that have happened before and think about how they feed in to the current context.

The context is, in this case, the fact that video games are being discussed as if they were art. Therefore, anyone who still asks whether they are art or not is completely missing the point.

Let me explain. It is my opinion that when you discuss something as if it had the same kind of cultural relevance as other, similar art forms, you effectively sidestep the question of whether that thing is art. You have, through context, elevated it to the same level as the other things being discussed. Now, I know that this may not be an opinion that is widely held, but I think it’s a valid one.

These days, when we have a discussion about the cultural impact of violence in our entertainment mediums, we generally are talking about movies, television, and video games. Movies have generally been treated as art forms for, at this point, a very long time, and television has as well (though many would argue significantly less so). However, video game violence has been discussed for far longer than the implications of artistic merit in video games has been discussed, so perhaps this isn’t the best example, even if it is the first.

So perhaps we should consider the similarities with music, then. I’m not talking about the actual music contained within a video game, but rather the extreme consideration given to genre and what qualifies. In music, just like in games, there are people who are exclusively devoted to one or two genres. There is also a similarity to be drawn in the argument some people make that certain games are not actually games. I won’t belabor that discussion here, other than to point out that both players and critics spend a great deal of time and energy trying to come up with criteria to dictate what does and does not constitute a game. In my own lifetime, similar discussions have likely revolved around rap music, and before that around any new style of music that entered the mainstream.

And as far as the comparison to anything with a long-form plot, well, I made those very comparisons myself in the post that started off my interest in blogging.

On top of the discussion of actual relative artistic merit, there is also the discussion of cultural merit as well. And again, I will put forth the idea that if a medium can produce things that are being discussed as culturally harmful, then that same medium can, and should, produce things that have cultural artistic merit as well. If we are able to discuss gender, race, and sexuality inclusiveness in games the same way that we discuss those issues in movies, music, and books, then we are admitting that games are at least starting to achieve the same degree of cultural influence. True, they may not be quite there yet, and as far as the issues themselves go, they might have a lot further to go, but video games are also a comparatively young medium and the fact that people are already having this discussion just proves how far they have already come.

And finally, there is also the simple fact that games are made by artists, writers, and musicians, as well as by the people who write the game’s actual code. People make the argument that games are purely the creation of the consumer entertainment industry, but at this point so is a lot of music, pretty much every movie, definitely every television show, and quite a few books too. Everything artistic that is also entertainment has an industry behind it, so saying that it somehow invalidates the work of the individual artists is not, in itself, a valid point. There are a great many extremely talented and creative people working in entertainment, and no matter what the medium is, they should be recognized as such.

So, where do we go from here? Well, I would say that achieving cultural relevance is just the first step. The next step is for the video game industry to use that relevance to actually better the culture within and around it. So, in short, congratulations. Games are art. Now the hard part starts.

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