Games as an Art Form

*I must apologize in advance that most of this probably doesn't make sense at all and is just terrible rambling. 
 
The question of whether or not games are art has always been on my mind. In my opinion, "art" is a synonym for "expression" and is any form of expression, more intent on voicing the artist's opinion. So therefore, when Michael Bay decides that he should make another movie because he's low on the moolas, and only for the sole reason to showcase a bunch of explosions and attractive women in skimpy outfits, and actually voice no real opinion on anything, it's not really art. However, if Soulja Boy were to one day think about how much he wants to beat up puppies, and he wrote a song about it, since it is his own opinion and voice on a subject I would consider it art, but even though what Soulja Boy is rapping about is technically art, since it's told through his crap-tastic rapping, it doesn't make you care and is therefore bad art.
 
Now that we have what I mean when I say "art" out of the way, I'll actually write about video games as an art-form. Now games, much like most other forms of media, are in most cases--and from most points of view--are art. When you look at it from the perspective of a game developer who worked on this game for two to three years of his life and poured his heart and soul into it, the game is art. But, when you look at it from a publisher or a marketer's perspective, it's just another way to make money. Games like Halo 3 and Gears of War are by-the-numbers stories that have you shooting things, which try to shove some message and feeling into it. It ends up not being good art, as instead of thinking about what the game is trying to tell you, you're instead thinking about "HEY MAN I JUST SHOT THAT GUY IN DA FACE!".
 
However, I'm not trying to say that all shooters are solely stuck to making you think more about what you are shooting than the message it gives you. I think that Call of Duty 4 is fine art. It's about how war really is hell. From characters you've known--and in some cases, played as--dieing or the brutality of the combat, some things really hit hard, make you care, and make you think. The fact that the main campaign doesn't really have any co-op also helps make this message hit harder. While don't get me wrong, I love co-op, but trying to get someone focus and think about consequences when their friend is yelling about how there's no Mountain Dew in the fridge is nigh-impossible, and comes across as just a waste of the player's time.
 
On the other hand, you have games like Shadow of the Colossus: a game that not only gives you a momentous feeling of accomplishment when defeating a colossi, but also managed to make you care about everything you were doing. You cared about your girlfriend. You cared about the world. You cared about Agro. You cared about those colossi that you killed and what you were doing just for one life. Shadow of the Colossus didn't just make you think "that's awesome": it made you savor the bittersweet feeling of the fact that what you were doing was indeed awesome, but also in many ways wrong.   
 
Now that I'm done talking about these "mainstream art games" I'm assuming you're looking for my opinion on indie games. I think that 90% of indie games' messages just come across as forced and pointless. For the first few chapters of Flower,I freaking loved that game; it was a beautiful and relaxing experience. However, when the game started getting grey and wanted me to think about technology's slow destruction of the environment, I couldn't care less. The message felt forced. It's as if thatgamecompany thought that you can't have an independent game without some garbage message about the environment. Jason Rohrer's Passage also disappointed me. While yes, it did have some fine points and a message, the game's thoughts on death felt yet again forced. I think that when a game (or Hironobu Sakaguchi) says that playing this game will make you cry, or have some life-changing message, and then markets the game on such, is pretentious, and is simply begging for headlines. When a game only offers a promise of invoking emotion in you, it might as well be a short film or an actual film. 
 
In order to make an actually good, artistic game, you need to incorporate some strength that games have. Be it the ability to choose and have consequences for those choices (which Passage did actually decently, and Mass Effect excelled in), the immersion and fact that you are the character you played as (Half-Life 2) or have some actual interaction. This actually brings me to Heavy Rain, a game that I am very much skeptical of. Mainly because true immersion only truly works when you are basically the character, so when Norman Jayden reaches down for a fix, it's him that's doing that--I don't want him to. You are just basically watching a movie, and deciding what will happen through an over-glorified choose-your-own adventure.

23 Comments
24 Comments
Posted by Red

*I must apologize in advance that most of this probably doesn't make sense at all and is just terrible rambling. 
 
The question of whether or not games are art has always been on my mind. In my opinion, "art" is a synonym for "expression" and is any form of expression, more intent on voicing the artist's opinion. So therefore, when Michael Bay decides that he should make another movie because he's low on the moolas, and only for the sole reason to showcase a bunch of explosions and attractive women in skimpy outfits, and actually voice no real opinion on anything, it's not really art. However, if Soulja Boy were to one day think about how much he wants to beat up puppies, and he wrote a song about it, since it is his own opinion and voice on a subject I would consider it art, but even though what Soulja Boy is rapping about is technically art, since it's told through his crap-tastic rapping, it doesn't make you care and is therefore bad art.
 
Now that we have what I mean when I say "art" out of the way, I'll actually write about video games as an art-form. Now games, much like most other forms of media, are in most cases--and from most points of view--are art. When you look at it from the perspective of a game developer who worked on this game for two to three years of his life and poured his heart and soul into it, the game is art. But, when you look at it from a publisher or a marketer's perspective, it's just another way to make money. Games like Halo 3 and Gears of War are by-the-numbers stories that have you shooting things, which try to shove some message and feeling into it. It ends up not being good art, as instead of thinking about what the game is trying to tell you, you're instead thinking about "HEY MAN I JUST SHOT THAT GUY IN DA FACE!".
 
However, I'm not trying to say that all shooters are solely stuck to making you think more about what you are shooting than the message it gives you. I think that Call of Duty 4 is fine art. It's about how war really is hell. From characters you've known--and in some cases, played as--dieing or the brutality of the combat, some things really hit hard, make you care, and make you think. The fact that the main campaign doesn't really have any co-op also helps make this message hit harder. While don't get me wrong, I love co-op, but trying to get someone focus and think about consequences when their friend is yelling about how there's no Mountain Dew in the fridge is nigh-impossible, and comes across as just a waste of the player's time.
 
On the other hand, you have games like Shadow of the Colossus: a game that not only gives you a momentous feeling of accomplishment when defeating a colossi, but also managed to make you care about everything you were doing. You cared about your girlfriend. You cared about the world. You cared about Agro. You cared about those colossi that you killed and what you were doing just for one life. Shadow of the Colossus didn't just make you think "that's awesome": it made you savor the bittersweet feeling of the fact that what you were doing was indeed awesome, but also in many ways wrong.   
 
Now that I'm done talking about these "mainstream art games" I'm assuming you're looking for my opinion on indie games. I think that 90% of indie games' messages just come across as forced and pointless. For the first few chapters of Flower,I freaking loved that game; it was a beautiful and relaxing experience. However, when the game started getting grey and wanted me to think about technology's slow destruction of the environment, I couldn't care less. The message felt forced. It's as if thatgamecompany thought that you can't have an independent game without some garbage message about the environment. Jason Rohrer's Passage also disappointed me. While yes, it did have some fine points and a message, the game's thoughts on death felt yet again forced. I think that when a game (or Hironobu Sakaguchi) says that playing this game will make you cry, or have some life-changing message, and then markets the game on such, is pretentious, and is simply begging for headlines. When a game only offers a promise of invoking emotion in you, it might as well be a short film or an actual film. 
 
In order to make an actually good, artistic game, you need to incorporate some strength that games have. Be it the ability to choose and have consequences for those choices (which Passage did actually decently, and Mass Effect excelled in), the immersion and fact that you are the character you played as (Half-Life 2) or have some actual interaction. This actually brings me to Heavy Rain, a game that I am very much skeptical of. Mainly because true immersion only truly works when you are basically the character, so when Norman Jayden reaches down for a fix, it's him that's doing that--I don't want him to. You are just basically watching a movie, and deciding what will happen through an over-glorified choose-your-own adventure.

Posted by stealthman

They don't care. You know, most people. They won't judge a game by it's artistic value. They simply don't care. "HEY MAN I JUST SHOT THAT GUY IN DA FACE!" seems good and tireless to them. And over-using the same recipe while still gaining $ seems healthy and tireless for game companies too. The only ones left without honey are the people who care.

Posted by eroticfishcake

The definition of "art" is still debated to this day. Some see videogames as an art form (things like story, themes, atmosphere, etc.) give the game some merit. Others see it as just a mindless medium of entertainment. Either way, I love playing games because they aren't movies! I'd say a bit more but I don't have the time.

Posted by OroYoke

The true definition of what art is, is really defined by any person.  Each person have their own standards in considering what is actually art.  For me, I dont consider abstract art as being art because I could do the same thing.

Posted by PureRok

I don't understand why it matters if games are art or not. It's not really relevant.

Posted by Smarter_Martyr
@OroYoke: This. 
 
If I slung my feces against a wall in various ways and said it was a commentary on the state of human interaction, some people would percieve it as art while others would see shit stuck to the wall.
Posted by OroYoke
@Smarter_Martyr:  There is a guy who would take slices of ham and toss it over his shoulder onto a bed.  This guy called it art, I call it a waste of time, energy and food.
Posted by warxsnake

The work that goes into making any AAA game alone is art, whether the game achieves visual and stylistic appeal or not.  
 
Which is why I think games like Crysis are art because of the technical process behind the creation of such a game and such an engine. Art isn't just a debate on whether something has style or not, it also includes technical merit.  
 
Most people don't know what it really takes to make games like Crysis..GeoW, Prince of Persia, like really, how painstaking it is not just for artists, but animators, programmers, SFX artists, GFX artists, script writers, level designers, etc. If people knew what the day to day workflow was like, they'd appreciate their games even more and definitely consider each one as art.

Posted by Metasin

What is and isn't art is all in the eye of the beholder. So while discussions like this are interesting they ultimately go nowhere.

Posted by FrEeZe

if you are confused about whether games are art or not because of differing games like Gears of War and Shadow of the colossus, then just look at how movies are considered as art. 
 
There are art films and there are summer blockbusters. They share the same medium Transformers 2 and Star Trek are not openly recognized as art. 
Same applies for games. 
 
But the whole conversation of deeming things as art becomes meaningless when you think about how "art" is allowed to have different interpretations. One person might see a everyday object and classify it as art, and someone else might not. 
I understand art as something that allows for multiple interpretations by different people, just like the definition of "art". And in my opinion a very little amount of games can be art because Games go through a design process. A game designer's goal is to create a structure of rules and boundaries for a player to navigate through. This rarely allows for people to experience different things from one game. But every once in a long while, an exception comes along like Passage. The game has only one goal, to score as many points possible in the time alloted,  yet passage allows you to feel loneliness on one playthrough and companionship on another.

Posted by Famov

I do not understand why so many people need to saddle Ico and Shadow of the Colossus with the baggage of being an 'art' game. 
 
Unlike most art house movies (which suck), Ico and SotC are examples of quality entertainment. Is it because they're art? No, it is because the developers made great design decisions with an often clever use of the tech available to them. The atmosphere is fantastic, the games' challenges are compelling, and the adventures present an experience that sticks with gamers by virtue of being different from everything else. In this respect, it's the philosophical opposite of Donkey Kong 64 or the Banjo Kazooie games: No intrusive (excessive) menus and tasks that are more than glorified busy work. In short, the games are made to be fun to play.
 
It's the only reason any game is ever good.
Posted by ryanwho

Art is subjective /thread

Posted by eroticfishcake

Lady GaGa claims all her work is "art". 
 
If she can say that then every game developer have every right to say their game IS art. There is a defintion of Art-House games though.

Posted by TwoOneFive

FACEPALM  
/THREAD

Posted by stealthman
@warxsnake:

So you consider something being superior by it's fabrication process not by the actual result? You can't be farther from the truth.

@Famov:

No.

Posted by kashif1

they can be but aren't always,
discussion over

Posted by Famov
@stealthman said:

@Famov:

No.

Fantastic argument. Yet still, nothing I said was wrong.
Posted by Red
@Famov said:
" @stealthman said:

@Famov:

No.

Fantastic argument. Yet still, nothing I said was wrong. "
Actually, yeah, what you said is completely and utterly wrong. Movies aren't always fun, but they can still be incredible experiences that offer a different view and perspective on life. Saying that a game needs to be fun or that an artistic game cannot be fun is completely ridiculous.
 
@TwoOneFive said:
" FACEPALM  /THREAD "
Elaborate.
Posted by Famov
@Red said:
" @Famov said:
" @stealthman said:

@Famov:

No.

Fantastic argument. Yet still, nothing I said was wrong. "
Actually, yeah, what you said is completely and utterly wrong. Movies aren't always fun, but they can still be incredible experiences that offer a different view and perspective on life. Saying that a game needs to be fun or that an artistic game cannot be fun is completely ridiculous. 

I do not necessarily mean fun as in "YAY FRISBEE!!!" but I do mean fun in the sense that we pay games for entertainment and enjoyment. We also watch television, cinema, and read books for enjoyment of some sort. And I did not say that 'artistic' games cannot be fun. I said that a good game is so on its merits as a game, not by whatever immeasuable (intangible) criteria one uses to describe what is and is not 'art'.
 
Just as well, any movie that sells itself on providing "a different view and perspective on life" is so pretentious its disgusting. Nothing should ever take itself that seriously. But it may still be a good film if it is enjoyable to watch. 
 
People say Metal Gear is pretentious (and it is) but at least it knows to lighten up once in a while. And it wouldn't be worth playing if the game was not fun to play. 
 
To reference your original post, I am not sure that you can qualify Shadow of the Colossus as a more 'artistic' game than Halo 3 because it is completely impossible to quantify what is and is not 'artistic'. SotC may have more nuanced themes, or a quieter atmosphere, or a morally ambiguous hero (in comparison with Master Chief who just follows orders and shoots bad guys), but that's not inherently, and I keep putting this word in quotes on purpose, 'artistic'. 
 
I do not think that good game design is inherently subjective, but the made-up concept of 'art' is.
Edited by junkie

my instinctive response to the heading was;  games with a dominating 'autuer' fit better into the modern/western conception of 'art' than others. So i'm with the OP.
/imo modern art/post modernism (y'know that thing) has destroyed that conception though... call it the 'romantic' conception of art? and yeh i agree it would be good to see more of it in games...

Posted by stealthman
@Famov: We obviously don't play games for the same reasons.
Posted by Tomzombie

i just want to say "Passge" really feels like more of a piece of art than a game sure there a counter and you move from left to right but no objective then to get through life and die while you may want to experience with a significant other in this case its a women, or it could be a dude in drag or you are woman that has characteristics as a man. but be sides the fact there is not much game i would put it up with "The killer" by Jordan Magnuson. there more like pieces of art than games.

Posted by Qodot
It's generally considered undesirable to post in a topic that's very old (as this one is; almost two years old).
Posted by SoldierG654342

You ever wounder if people sat around back in the day and wondered "Are paintings art?"