There’s a strong desire in the games industry to see games as an artistic medium. You often hear questions like “Are games art?” and you get answers that go from a radical “no”, over to “some games are art” and “they might be, some day” to “yes, absolutely, all games are art”. And then, inevitably somebody brings up the notion of bad art…
One of the things that confuses me when people in the games industry discuss this issue, is what kind of art they are referring to. It often doesn’t have much to do with what can be seen in museums and galleries nowadays. Perhaps, they are referring to “popular” art forms such as film and comic strips rather than to the highly conceptual constructions that are on display in museums of contemporary art.
Game developers, perhaps as a result of limited art education, seem to think of art as something that expresses an idea or an emotion. This is a concept from the nineteenth century that has long been abandoned by contemporary art. Only the other night, I heard an artist define art as “objects or situations that provoke cultural discussion”. Defined as such, games are most undeniably art! Especially games like Grand Theft Auto, Postal, Bully, Rule of Rose, etc. But that is not the point: the point is that, apparently, contemporary artists can simply make up any definition for the word art that suits them. So the question whether or not something belongs in a category that anybody can redefine whenever they see fit, seems absurd.
In games-related discussions about art, however, people seem to skip over that whole modern art era and stick quite closely to dictionary definitions like
“the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects”
“the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance”
“a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination”
“that which is made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind and or spirit”
Don’t get me wrong: I personally am a lot more comfortable with notion of art as an expression of something, art as something that is beautiful and meaningful. I did have an art education. I have even produced art, lots of it, both analog and digital. Contemporary art, no less: ironic, clever, non-emotional, discussion-provoking, and all that. And I have abandoned that practice. One day, I consciously decided that I would just ignore most of the art made in the 20th century and find inspiration in a pre-modern art practice. Game technology seemed like the perfect tool for landscape painting and storytelling. Hence my choice.
But is that art?
In the contemporary sense of the word, it certainly is not. This sort of art practice only exists in popular and amateur arts these days. The “museum-quality art” is very very different. That is not to say that there is no interest: our Endless Forest has been shown many times in contemporary (media) art exhibitions. But it seems to be an exception: art curators and critics tend to prefer art about games over actual games.
This is nothing to be sorry about. The contemporary arts scene is a very marginal one, even if it still seems to act as a validator for culture. With our games, our popular-culture-games, we can reach a much wider audience of people who are actually paying attention to our work.