If you are a video game enthusiast like myself, your first thought reading this title was probably… “Of course, it is moron!” Best believe I’m on your side but that’s not the end of the conversation. There is a large pocket of people that after 40 years of evolution can’t seem to wrap their heads around a video game being “art”. Why is this? It’s not just older people either. You have people that grew up in my generation that think the medium could never be art. So, what I’m going to do is explain why video games are not only art but have been ever since their inception into our society.
Video Games Being Art is Perceptive
Recently I saw that the Art Basel in Miami had debuted a new piece of art called the “Comedian” by Maurizio Cattelan. This work of art that had the attention of people outside that spectrum was a banana stuck to a wall with grey duct tape. Yup. A regular ass banana with some regular-ass duct tape. That’s it. The kicker here is that it’s not art because of how it looks, its art because of how it is perceived. To some it’s a symbol of a labor movement or a pawn in a discussion of financial securities.
All in all, it’s left up to you to interpret. Is this art? Yes. So, what about Duck Hunt? You know, the light gun game you play as a hunter trying to shoot down ducks with help from your dog that laughs at shit that’s not funny. That Duck Hunt. Is it not art? Did this not come from a place of conception only to be followed through into something tangible for consumption? I almost guarantee that most people don’t consider it art because… drum roll please… it’s a game. A stupid, meaningless game that only exist to appease that part of your brain that gets stimulated from success.
In reality, that’s exactly what it is. The art of it is in how the player perceives success and how to obtain it. It’s the same way the banana and tape are just that. Put that combination in front of a person’s brain in no context and they start to perceive it in relative to themselves. Art is how someone’s creation makes you, the individual feel while consuming it. I felt like a master woodsman while decimating thousands of plates and hundreds of ducks in Duck Hunt. I felt embarrassed when Mr. Peepers laughed at my failures. This game, 35 years ago was able to invoke emotion from its users. That feeling coupled with the design, look, and feel of the game ultimately made it a work of… “art”.
The Flexibility of Technology
Video games and technology go hand and hand. Video games wouldn’t exist without steady advancements in technology over the last 40 years. The accelerated progress in communications and computer programming lead to the big video game boom (and demise then boom again) of the ’80s. Arcade cabinets to home consoles, the technology surrounding gaming and game development were growing quicker than any other entertainment medium including music and film. I think this is the primary reason most people don’t consider video games art. How many people consider technology art? Or even science for that matter.
Usually art revolves around the creative mind used to exhibit and invoke feelings. How could a machine possibly do this? When people think of a painting, they usually don’t think of the brush that was used. It was poetry in motion when Michael Jordan dunked. No one ever considered the ball he dunked or the rim he flew to. Now, you do have the type of film and aspect ratio a film is shot in that can affect the feel of a movie. That’s how I look at technology and video games. The technology is the means to make that creative expression come alive in this from of interactive entertainment. It is the vehicle for the creative driver to take you for an expressive ride as a passenger. It’s the canvas and easel just way more technical.
The Maturation of Gaming
One thing I always tell people that ask me how am I an adult that still plays video games (and yes, I’m still asked) is that gaming and I matured together. Gaming went from just occupying your time for entertainment to telling intricate stories with nuanced characters through gameplay. This is the inevitable evolution of video games. Kids that grew up playing got jobs, had kids, found love and now their interactive experiences have to reflect those things. For video games to maintain relevant, they had to grow with the consumer.
There will always be room for high scores and mindless fun but games like Metal Gear Solid, God of War, The Last of Us ask serious questions about society and perception of reality. Kratos went from an angry god killer to a protective dad in training. Solid Snake fought for a country he grew to believe wasn’t exactly on the right side of good and evil. There are so many stories and characters that help mature the medium past Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. Those games were the inception of the art form. God of War 2018 and The Witcher 3 are the culmination of those groundbreaking games. All of these ideas came from a human being’s imagination for us to interpret what it emotionally means thus making it “art’.
For video games to not be art, it would have to come from a place that’s not creative. From a dark, soulless place that doesn’t contain any form of imagination. I think it’s obvious, even in the ’70s that it took creativity and innovation to create the medium as a whole. Now if you perceive it as art or not is ultimately up to you. But to deny that it took creativity which is the basis of art is blind as all hell and video games will continue to shine light in all of its 4K HDR glory until it finally gets the credit as art it deserves. Until then… who want this work in Fortnite!
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