Games Are Art

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Apr 17, 2007

Filed under: Video Games 45 comments

Roger Ebert made the assertion that videogames aren’t art. Demosthenes offers a rebuttal, which is so comprehensive that there is little for me to add. Jaquandor takes on the role of a cunning provocateur by soliciting my opinion on the matter.

But for people making the games-cannot-be-art assertion, I would issue the following assignment: Give me your definition of art. This is a difficult task, to come up with a description which would include all of the established and accepted forms of creative expression and yet somehow exclude videogames. It will require some degree of verbal contortions or qualifiers which have no other purpose than to define around games.

It is strange to see Ebert (who I enjoy reading) dismiss games like this, although it doesn’t get me too riled up. For a while there were people who assured the rest of us deluded fools that Rock and Roll wasn’t music. Without exception this claim came from people who hated Rock music. The games-aren’t-art position is the same thing in another form. It’s coming from people who don’t play games and don’t care to. That’s fine. His position will go the way of the Rock-and-Roll haters in another generation. The only time I get heated up about this issue is when I see it in this context:

“[There is] no conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech. The court finds that video games have more in common with board games and sports than they do with motion pictures.”

— U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr. (2002)

And here Limbaugh demonstrates his own art, which is the weaving of ignorance and apathy into the very fabric of our laws. I don’t care for the performance myself, but I have to hand it to him: The guy is good.

What can we say to the Eberts and Limbaughs of the world? Is sculpture art? Is architecture? Is storytelling? Is acting? I’ve never heard anyone suggest that any of these lacks art, and yet all of these arts are employed in the making of videogames.

Case in point – Jade Empire:

The characters of Jade Empire were crafted by 3d artists, without using art.
The characters of Jade Empire were crafted by 3d artists, without using art.
Those 3d people in the gameworld were made by a human. Someone shaped them, formed them, designed their faces, their bodies, their costumes. The artist didn’t work with pewter, or clay, or iron, or silly putty. In this case their chosen medium was polygons, but I fail to see how that would deny them their artistry.

Who would deny that storytelling is art? Guess what? Games tell stories. Go into the software store and count the number of games which tell no story at all. You won’t need both hands.

The floating Imperial Palace of Jade Empire was envisioned and realized without the use of art.
The floating Imperial Palace of Jade Empire was envisioned and realized without the use of art.
The buildings in the gameworld were also designed by a human. They chose a style, thought about how the places would be constructed, how they might be used, and what they would be built from. Architects do this all the time, using a computer. In fact, if you were to peek over the shoulder of an architect and a game “level designer”, their work would look more or less identical. It’s the same job, it’s just that in the case of games nobody takes the final step of putting together the lumber and concrete.

Patrick Stewart did voice acting in Chicken Little, bringing an animated character to life through his vocal performance. He did the same thing in Oblivion. Is one of those performances art and the other not? Is one acting and the other not?

The characters dance, emote, and perform graceful martial arts without the use of art.
The characters dance, emote, and perform graceful martial arts without the use of art.
Andy Serkis brought Gollum to life in Lord of the Rings by performing the motions for the character. That’s performance art. Lots of motion capture actors do the exact same thing, using the same process, only the resulting character appears in a computer game instead of a movie.

You can buy the Jade Empire Soundtrack if you like. Is music deprived of its art when it is played within the context of a videogame?

Is there some way in which games could not be art? Is there some process where we might take all of these varied forms of expression and deprive them of their art without destroying the works themselves? Does the act of combining the work of all of these sculptors, architects, musicians, storytellers, and actors somehow result in a final work which can contain no art?

Games contain art. Games are made from art. Games must therefore be art. You may dismiss them, dislike them, mock them, or denounce them, but to deny their art is to proclaim willful ignorance.


From The Archives:

45 thoughts on “Games Are Art

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Well said, Shamus. And, don’t forget, when talking about 3d models and such, that there are many artists today that only do digital drawing.

    I’d never actually heard anyone claiming games weren’t art, so I hadn’t thought about it much, but after I read the first line of your post, and before continuing, it got me thinking and I realized what a silly proclamation that was.

  2. Matt` says:

    hmm.. so I go for a geeky computer-game related career, I can then claim to be an artist in order to impress people who don’t know me very well

    Sweet! :D

  3. kat says:

    Well said. I’m not a fan of a certain class of video game (GTA is a good example), but then, I’m not a fan of certain classes of movies, music, and books, either. That doesn’t make the entire friggin’ medium “artless”. And it’s rather egotistical to assume that something you, personally, don’t enjoy is utterly without art or merit.

    (Oh, and in your LOTR example… Golem = Gollum. You had me kinda confused for a minute, as I didn’t remember any mythical Jewish robots in that movie….)

  4. Mordaedil says:

    I agree too heavily.

  5. Shamus says:

    “Golem” fixed.

    Too much jade empire lately. :)

  6. Preach it, brother Shamus!

    There’s also another take on it by
    John Brownlee at Wired, offering an interesting thought experiment on the subject – focused on the hubub of the Slamdance game competition.

    And then there’s my own take on it, not quite as smart as the others that have been referenced.

    I think the claim that games aren’t art is ludicrous, a defensive and arbitrary reaction by critics leery of the “new kid” entering the scene. That’s really all it is. I guess I’m not really mad at them, either… just annoyed, and I guess I kinda feel sorry for them. I don’t know why they are so threatened.

  7. Are board games art? If not, then this argument fails, because they too are made from art. (The little monopoly pieces were sculpted, somebody drew the pictures on the cards.)

    How about my computer desk? Somebody probably designed it in a CAD program (the architect argument above). Somebody drew the little logo that’s stamped on the side. It’s components are art, so it’s art, right?

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree that games are art. I just don’t like this argument much.

  8. AJ says:

    So, just to play devil’s advocate a bit here, Shamus wrote:

    “Games contain art. Games are made from art. Games must therefore be art. You may dismiss them, dislike them, mock them, or denounce them, but to deny their art is to proclaim willful ignorance.”

    I would counter this by asking if the Louvre is art. Certainly it’s architecture is artistic, and no one would argue that it contains art. However, left without it’s parts, is the entity itself art? I believe an argument could be made that games are a medium for art to be shown, but a television is the same thing. The tv is not the work of art (usually) but instead is a method by which art can be observed. A book holds art in the form of a story, but the paper object we read to find the story is not usually itself art.

    The music, animation, voice acting, and story within the game might be art, but the game itself could arguably be called nothing more than a medium generated by technology, just like a tv or a book.

    For the record, I actually don’t buy my own argument, but a lawyer could make it an awfully compelling case I think.

  9. MasonK says:

    AJ, by that argument, a movie would not be art in and of itself either. And I’m pretty sure Ebert wouldn’t buy that one. :)

  10. Mrs T says:

    What a silly thing to say. If games haven’t produced a transcendent work in the thirty years since Pong then they can’t be art?

  11. My entry into this argument:

    1. Define “art”.

    2. Read off from your definition of “art” whether video games are art.

    In my opinion, anyone who wants to skip step one either has an ulterior motive (the presupposed need to declare “X isn’t art” because they already believe it to be of low value), or is exhibited the muddle-headed thinking typical of the artsy crowd.

    Because it ought to be transparently obvious by now that there is no one definition of “art”, any argument about what is and isn’t art that doesn’t start off by selecting a definition is just a waste of time.

  12. Andrew Cory says:

    When I play clue, and it turns out that my avatar “did it”, I certainly do not feel a sense of betrayal. I don’t stand there in shock and say “damn you, Colonel Mustard! I trusted you!”…

    But when Aeris died, I cried. And if a game can be a storytelling medium capable of moving me to tears, it must be art. What else could it be?

  13. theckhd says:

    For the record, the district court ruling by Limbaugh was overturned in June of 2003. That doesn’t excuse the blatant demonstration of ignorance in the first place, but at least the ruling didn’t survive longer than a year.

    I suspect that in 20 years (or even 10 years) this will be a non-issue. The judges on the bench now all grew up with movies, music (even Rock-and-Roll), and accurately recognize them as forms of art. They did not, however, grow up playing video games, and so their unfamiliarity with the medium leads to the sort of confusion that resulted in the 2002 ruling. Ten years from now, the people sitting on the bench will have grown up playing video games, and to them the claim that a video game is not art will be looked upon exactly like the claim that Rock-and-Roll isn’t music would be today.

  14. Lee says:

    I don’t want to agree with Jesse… but I rather have to.

    What you’ve successfully argued is that video games contain artistic work. In many cases, taken on their own merits, those artistic works would be considered art if analyzed as a separate piece. This is in much the same way that the soundtrack to a movie, or a still photograph from the film, or a frame from an animation, would be considered art by many. But do those individual creative works make movies an art form, or are movies art by turning their individual pieces into something greater than their sum?

    See, you haven’t yet quantified the *game* as art. Worse yet, your arguments can be applied to other things… is a medical textbook, containing detailed, well-crafted drawings of the human body, art? Is a map of New York art?

    These people who refuse to classify games as art are (generally, or perhaps hopefully) well aware that games contain artistic works as part of their composition. Their sights, however, are set firmly on *gameplay* as definition of the entire work itself. Whether that’s appropriate or not, it begs the question: Does gameplay qualify as art? That’s what they’re asking, and we’re not yet giving them a well-argued response.

    They have good reason, to. It’s hard to judge art soley by gameplay. Is the thrilling final fight in your favorite RPG art? What about a headed game of Tetris? What about a challenging Sudoku puzzle? A crossword? They do make a point: When judging gameplay alone as art, one cannot give it special credit just because it is digital and has a prettier backdrop than the Candyland board does.

    A movie is not judged as art purely by the quality of its filming, or the beauty of its location, or the tone of its soundtrack; it’s primarily judged by the story it tells. These individuals aren’t getting to see the Illiad of video games; they’re being shown Dick and Jane Beat Up Hookers. They watch people run around; it’s like watching Star Wars and only remembering shots of ships approaching planets. They’re missing out because they won’t sit down and *experience* the exemplary works of the medium.

    The primary challenge for us, then, is to sit down and realize what they’re saying, why they’re saying it, and where they’re coming from. If we were to fill in the missing details with our own viewpoint, we’d be no better.

  15. Ryan Frank says:

    I tend to agree with Scott McCloud’s definition, that anything not immediately and directly part of the twin instincts of survival and reproduction is a means of expression on some level and, therefore, art. Then again, some could argue that even survival and reproduction are expressive, especially once you get into the realm of performance art. In other words, I agree that games are art, but I’d also say that virtually anything is art.

  16. wumpus says:


    I wonder about the context of the judge’s ruling: the way I read it, he could be talking about the ‘performance’ of a player of a video game, given that he’s making an analogy to other games and sports. Even there, I think he’s on weak ground, but it is true that we call master sports players ‘athletes’ and not ‘artists’ despite the obvious analogy to dance, theater, and other performing arts.

    One obvious level of muddlement here: are we talking about art as a process or art as an object? I invite those who don’t think of designing video games (or other software) as an art to find some other characterization that applies. It sure isn’t a science. And ‘craft’ is a weasel word that usually means ‘art that I don’t acknowledge as sufficiently artful’. (I’ve heard any number of composers referred to as ‘craftsmen’, not ‘real’ artists.) After that we can debate whether flecks of paint chipped from the Mona Lisa are ‘art’.

    Returning to the judge, though, how can he say that board games aren’t artful? I’m pretty sure game designers would take offense. Sure, the actual object isn’t generally considered an object of art, and any particular game probably isn’t a great performance, but designing the game itself?

    Finally, why on earth was it important to decide if video games were art or not? Copyright? It’s like having the state rule on whether a particular religion should be recognized…


  17. Roy says:

    Some people already touched on one thing I was going to point out- the fact that a game is created with art direction does not necessarily make it art. Everything has design in it, that doesn’t make it art. I’m not sure that most people consider martial arts “art” in the same way that, say, The Thinker is art.

    I think that part of the problem is in attempting the sweeping claim that Video Games are Art.

    Rise of the Robots is not art. It’s crap.

    Of course, movies aren’t art, either.
    Or paintings.
    Or sculptures.
    Or X, Y, or Z.

    The problem is the scope of the conversation. It’s not “Are video games art?” it’s “Is this game an example of art?” Or, more generally, “Are any video games art?”

    I wouldn’t think to call PCU art, but Citizen Kane?
    A billboard is probably not art, but Starry Night?
    A store dummy may not be art, but Venus de Milo?

    The story-telling elements of a game are one of the most obvious aspects that make some games art, but I don’t see a reason why a game with particularly innovative or interesting game mechanics couldn’t be art, too. Art takes many forms. Performance is sometimes an aspect of art, and I think that some games can take advantage of that, and use gameplay as an element of the art.

  18. Cadamar says:

    Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to locate the comment so that I could read it in context. It seems an odd thing for a man like Roger Ebert to say. I usually have a lot of respect for him and agree with most of his reviews; he is the man, after all, who introduced me to the extraordinary works of Hayao Miyazaki with his review for Princes Mononoke.
    It would seem to me then that his comments were made out of ignorance, as if he hadn't seen a “video” game since the late 70's.
    Since then the computer game industry has grown larger in revenues then the movie industry could ever hope for. This is not due to the release of numerous titles of mindless entertainment. It is due to the computer game medium growing into its full potential as a story telling medium and art form in its own right.
    It may be argued that computer games have yet to produce that “transcendent” work, but the art form is still very young, less then 40 years old. How long before the movie industry produced its first great works of art? A trip to the Moon in 1902? Nosferatu in 1922? Metropolis in 1927? The motion picture camera was developed in the 1880s, but can you point to any “transcendent” works that would mark the medium as an art form within the first 20 years? The first 30? The computer game medium started in 1971 with Pong. In a mere 36 years it has grown larger then the movie industry and has produced titles that are equal if not greater in depth, meaning, and emotional intensity then film even after 120 years.
    Given the immersive and active participation nature of games, the medium has the potential to be the greatest story telling medium in history, rivaled only by life itself. However, it is still in its infancy. The medium is still exploring itself and technological improvements are opening up new possibilities faster then the implications can be realized. Give it time. That truly transcendent work is just around the corner. Soon such comments will be seen as absurd as saying “film has never produced anything of import.”
    Games are just getting started.

    By the way, Shamus. DM or the Rings is da Bomb! I laughed myself to tears the first time I read through it. Thank you and keep it up!

  19. Steve says:

    [Shamus] (re: Video games not art) Well, neither was the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.


  20. Downtym says:

    I feel the age old question of what is and what is not art is best summed up in the following quote from JACOBELLIS v. OHIO (1964), the opinion of Justice Stewart:

    It is possible to read the Court’s opinion in Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, 354 U.S. 476 , in a variety of ways. In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Court, which in those cases was faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable. I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court’s decisions since Roth and Alberts, 1 that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard-core pornography. 2 I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

  21. wererogue says:

    In an industry which largely blanket classifies tattoos as “not art”, there’s a long way to go before games will be generally considered art.

    However, in the same way that there is the occasional gallery which will run an exhibition of tattoo photographs, or of the artist’s work in the flesh, as it were, games have an exhibition in the form of “game on”, so I suppose the movement has started.

  22. BMGCanuck says:

    I’d like to use the term “Functional Art”, when it comes to video games. Sure in a broad dadist sense everything IS art. But to refine this further i would say that art is meant to convey some sense of personal expression. Now not every pixel in a video game is the personal expression of the artist, though still artistic in nature. It is functional in the fact that it performs a specific task.

    So i would consider video games functional art, in the fact that they fulfill their decidedly (by me) unartistic function (to represent your ass kicker in a pixelated world) through artistic means.

  23. Jimmy says:

    “Are videogames art?” is really two questions muddled together.

    The first is, “Can a videogame be art?” For reasons already outlined, the answer is yes.

    The second is, “Are videogames GOOD art?” or “Are there examples of videogame art that rise to the level of timeless human achievement like Citizen Kane, the Sistene Chapel, and Shakespeare?” This, I think, is what Ebert was (inartfully) trying to ask.

    The answer, I believe, is no. There have been some impressive games, but they’ve been impressive mainly because most games are pretty awful dreck in the emotion department. Even the greatest games, like RotC, probably won’t be remembered centuries from now.

    That doesn’t bug me, because it’s a young medium; artists are still working out how to use it. We had motion picture technology from the 1860s, but Metropolis (one of the earliest truly great films) wasn’t made until 1927. Check back around 2040 and see how we’re doing.

  24. bruce says:

    If we look at the history of art it started with cave paintings and crude statues. Around the renaissance painting and sculpture was perfected to realistic human figures and buildings and scenery with correct perspective. However once you can draw, paint and sculpt to photogaphic likeness, where can you go? Photographic realism becomes a technical exercise where you are just copying what has gone before. But is it still art. Is the guy who can paint like Da Vinchi an artist or is he just copying what has gone before. So art becomes experimental and about creating something. They experimented with lighting and colour effects (impessionism) or the unreal (surrealism) and many others. Now a pile of bricks, a blank canvas or an unmade bed is considered art. I guess anything that is created is art. It’s hard to even argue what is good art or bad art as it is just a matter of opinion.

    On that level videogames are art, but are they creating something new or copying what has gone before. Are they good or bad art, all we can do is give our opinion, but how can you say it’s not art. In it’s day Pong was art. It had never been done before so in the same way as the first person who painted their hand and slapped it on a cave wall created the first art, it was the first of it’s kind. Now we have videogames with entire worlds, full of realistic creatures and scenery. The art is in seeing what they’ll create next.

  25. bruce says:

    P.S. Love the comic, the comments and everything else on your site, it’s art…

  26. DaveJ says:

    GAMES CANNOT BE ART! Not if the common people touch them. Would anyone like the mona lisa if children kept rubbing their grubby fingers all over it? I rather doubt it!

  27. Heather says:

    As a trained artist (via an art minor in college) who argued “What is art” with numerous professors and fellow art students–I have to chime in.

    The real problem here is the definition of art–which was the same problem 10 years ago when I was arguiing the topc with fellow students. Some insisted that it had all been don eand therefore art was dead (so why are you an art student? was the obvious response). Some argued that anything and anything that was created was art–the pop-art Andy Wharhol is god crowd. Other’s argued that it was a matter of intent.

    Some games are only art in their parts just like the Louvre contains art (although I know plenty of artist types who would argue that the Louvre because it has beome a symbol of art, much like the OMO IS art) but is not art itself. Some games are art in and of themselves because they came together into a coherant work, just as some movies do. I think the tv verses show theme doesn’t work because the game is not the vehicle–the computer is.

    The artist who designs the package and game board considers himself an artist, regardless of whether the rest of the world does. The artist who forms the mannequin considers herself an artist regardless of what the rest of the world says. The artist who designed your desk considers himself an artist regardless of what the rest of the world says. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that all of those people, in their title, probably have the word art or designer in there. Art directors can be found in any place where something has to be created before it can be produced. And that goes for games as well. There is an art to creating a game, regardless of the quality, and programmers and those who create the art for a game are creating, which is, in essence, what an artist does, and what does an artist create if not art.

  28. Chef's Slaad says:

    Why is it important whether games are defined as art ort not?

    No, seriously.

    would game designers get some form of grant if it were? Does it give games some sort of status i’m ubaware of? I just don’t understand why you would get riled up about it.

    On various levels, many forms of ecpression have been derided in their own time, from mozart to jazz to rock. Comic books are another good example. Please enlighten me.

  29. Rebecca says:

    When did Ebert say games weren’t art? Why didn’t you link to it?

  30. Farvana says:

    “GAMES CANNOT BE ART! Not if the common people touch them. Would anyone like the mona lisa if children kept rubbing their grubby fingers all over it? I rather doubt it!”

    And how many people get to muck through the source code of a game? How many alter the work before, during, and after the game is compiled, shipped, and sold?

    Interactivity isn’t the same as touching a painting.

  31. ngthagg says:

    Here’s how I decide if something is art (whether it be a book, movie, video game, etc.): is it merely entertaining, or is it enlightening? Does it satisfy a recreational need, or does it fulfill a deeper intellectual or even spiritual need?

    Obviously, this answer may vary from person to person. It also depends on what I mean by “enlightening”. I’m quite happy with this subjectivity, since quantifying art is an oxymoronic effort.

    There is one thing I want to make clear (quantify, if you will). Video games are not art. Movies are not art. Novels are not art. Neither is poetry or sculpture or painting or music or anything of the sort.

    Genres are not art. A specific piece of work may be art, but to try to classify an entire group of work as art is to invite millions of counter examples.


  32. Shamus says:

    Rebecca: He did, some months back. I didn’t link to it because I couldn’t find it again.

    Chef’s Slaad: As I said above: I don’t care what people THINK of games, but when judges make rulings and senators pass laws using this premise (that games are not a valid form of expression) then it starts to affect me.

  33. Matt P says:

    Long time lurker as the saying goes. As someone whose interest in art has grown I felt like commenting. I have to disagree with those who claim that while mediums can be art, not every example of them can be. Some are just “crap”. It seems logical nd I almost agreed but such definitions lead us to the same absurd justifications and definitions that declassifying video games as art leads us to. We then start arguing over quality which, while I’m not going to suggest is subjective, is very hard to argue with certainty. Why can’t we just agree that all those trashy examples that everyone has brought up are art, just not GOOD art? Of course we get into arguments about quality but those are the kind of arguments that are supported by art criticism, not the very questioning of what hoops should be jumped by each addition to its hallowed throne.
    Now I’ve pontificated about that, I’ll talk about something else. ;)
    It annoys me when people start setting guidelines for art in reference to video games. The worst is whether it tells a “story” or enlightens us on the “human condition”. The funniest thing about these claims is that none making them would argue that sculpture, architecture or dance are art forms. Sculpture and visual art- the medium- can but dance and architecture? Just as a joke I once challenged an artsy friend to justify why art- again the medium- was actually art since it didn’t tell a story like a novel. She got tongue-tied but I’d say that against someone who’d given it more thought it would have been obvious how stupid my premise was. Which is why I have to laugh when some idiot who hasn’t touched a controller in their life starts telling us that games cannot tell stories (or that without one a game cannot still be art), express emotions or enlighten us about ourselves.
    Another argument I remember Ebert making against games being art is that they lacked “authorial control”. I won’t start on this except to say that anyone who’s ever played a game in their lives and hit a designer imposed curb on their plans would disagree and even argue that a game with too much authorial control isn’t even a game at all.

  34. Space Ace says:

    This reminds me of a discussion I had with a teacher on one of the last days of school. We had a class that was supposed to raise our cultural awareness, and one of the book’s chapters concerned “computer art”. Knowing more of computer-culture than the entire faculty, most of the class and certainly the artists being reviewed (a geek reading a d20-themed blog/webcomic, shocking!) I refuted the view of the book and the artists treated in the class. One, for instance, was an architect who had simply made a map for Quake III. Without textures. When I mentioned that, and how games have such “architecture” and more, the teacher said I could have played and reviewed games for the class. Instead of experimental theatre and shit.

    That was a bit of a d’oh moment.

  35. PanDeSal says:

    Did anyone check if Jack Thompson was hiding underneath the judge’s table?

  36. Von says:

    The argument about whether video games are art is a bit of a fallacy, to be honest: confusing the content with the medium.

    AJ made the comparison to the Louvre – is the building art without the content? My answer would be yes, because it’s designed to be beautiful as well as functional. A multi-storey car park of the sort we Brits threw up all the time in the 1950s isn’t: it’s purely functional, with no thought given to its aesthetic qualities at all, and any artistic interpretations you might have of it are going to be scraping the barrel at best. That’s not to say they can’t be made, more to say that you can only take them so seriously and there’s only so much you can say about plain grey concrete.

    The point I’m trying to make is that “video games” are just a medium, not inherently works of art. What makes something a work of art (as opposed to a work of craft) is the quality of work and the degree of aesthetic intent evident therein. Art happens when you stop worrying about what the thing has to do and start thinking about how it looks while doing it.

  37. Modrons a'marching says:

    28 Chef’s Slaad Says:

    April 17th, 2007 at 11:14 pm
    Why is it important whether games are defined as art ort not?

    No, seriously.

    would game designers get some form of grant if it were? Does it give games some sort of status i'm ubaware of? I just don't understand why you would get riled up about it.

    On various levels, many forms of ecpression have been derided in their own time, from mozart to jazz to rock. Comic books are another good example. Please enlighten me.

    There is reason that it is very important when a judge makes a call such as: “[There is] no conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech. The court finds that video games have more in common with board games and sports than they do with motion pictures.” The greatest of these reasons is that if a medium/industry has no virtue that “could possibly amount to speech”, then the First Amendment does not apply to it, giving it little if any Constitutional protections. Once those are removed, it is very easy for governmental groups to regulate what is allowed in a game, *any* game. Governmental groups can easily decide games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ are offensive, and without First Amendment protections, they can be censored and distributors can be held criminally liable. This seems to be a very great danger. What movie critics think of computerized gaming is somewhat less relevant, other than it shows the attitude of many within the critics’ generation, including those held by lawmakers.

  38. I’m going to take a crack at this because I’ve been arguing that video games are *not* art over on Objectivism Online.

    thread address:

    Note: I’m an admin on Do not post there unless you are actually interested in philosophy and you ACTUALLY KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT OBJECTIVISM OR ARE INTERESTED IN IT. I’m not telling you this because I plan to ban you or otherwise smack you around in some way. You will simply be laughed off the board and create more work for myself and my cohorts and I’m lazy.

    Anyway, pursuant to this particular thread, I’d love to have someone come up with a rebuttal, but sadly I don’t think there are a bunch of professional estheticians hanging around so I’m not holding my breath. So:

    1. Ayn Rand defined art as “a selective re-creation of reality in accordance with the artist’s metaphysical value-judgments”. She also defined what she considered to be the major “categories” of art: Painting, sculpture, music, dance, architecture, literature, theatre. There are also sub-types under these categories (or you can call the sub-types categories of their own): movies, poetry, novels, etc.

    I think this is a fine definition by the only standard that matters: it actually works. However for anyone encountering it for the first time it requires some serious explanation of *terms*.

    *Selective*: means that no work of art can or will or SHOULD capture every aspect of reality available to it. EVERY aspect of reality included in a work of art must be selected by the artist. This means that a photograph, even one produced by a professional using filters, time-lapse, whatever is not art. However, a photograph can be made into art by using it as a basis for further work.

    As with most philosophical subjects there are gray areas that need to be further hashed out: I’m only touching on the black-and-white definitions here, the grey areas must be hashed out by individuals using principles as a reference point.

    I should clarify that things that aren’t actually *art* can be very *artistic*. This is a term used to mean, among other things, that it displays *some* selectivity but not *total* selectivity or that the work has some other purpose than contemplation, which is the real purpose of art. Thus your photographs and wallpaper patterns and Warhammer 40k minis can be very artistic, but they aren’t art.

    *Re-creation of Reality*: this means that an actual work of art must DEPICT things. Paintings must depict people or objects. Music must depict emotional states. You get the idea. So, Picasso paintings are art. Paint splatters on canvas aren’t art, they are a *con job* by someone seeking to gain the title of “artist” without actually having to do the *work*. I don’t care if your smears are “angry”. It’s not art.

    *Cough* This is going to be a feature-length article if I don’t condense this a little better.

    Last term: “Metaphysical Value-Judgments”: now, this is something that everyone has, it is in essence a subconscious evaluation of the nature of reality and the things in it formed by the various experiences you have during your life. Ayn Rand also referred to this as your “sense of life”, which is an unfortunately vague term but she didn’t like neologisms because they’re even harder to explain and use than vague terminology. Anyway, your sense of life is how you feel about the universe. Do you feel that the universe is a realm of inevitable suffering in which your only hope is eventual escape? Or do you feel that the universe is a realm in which the good will *necessarily* triumph over evil if it doesn’t give up? These are basic, fundamental value-judgments that affect your entire outlook on life and, thus, what kind of art you will produce.

    So, now that I’ve given a (I hope) decent definition of art, I will attempt to explain why I think video games don’t meet these requirements.

    A. The category of “video game” is so broad in an *esthetic* context as to be virtually meaningless. Everything from Pong to Internet Hearts to Jade Empire is a “video game”. The term is meant to distinguish one type of *game* from another type of *game*, it does not take into account the *nature* of the game. Thus the statement “Video Games are Art” will necessarily fail at the door.

    B. If you narrow the category of video games you are talking about to, say, only story-based games where the plot is the driving focus of the game (excluding even games with a plot where the story is an add-on not really relevant to the meat of the game) what you end up with is something that is not readily distinguishable from a movie that contains numerous puzzles.

    Now, a new art form that adds on to an existing art form is possible: look at dance. Dance as an art form would not exist without music, but music does just fine by itself as an art form. However, with CRPG’s what you are adding on is not a new *artistic* element, it is a discrete element with a different purpose than contemplation. You are adding a *game*.

    If you take a glorious painting and turn it into a jigsaw puzzle you have not created a new art form: you have created an extremely *artistic* puzzle. If you take a novel and turn it into a bunch of pages where you have to make decisions about where you will go (Choose Your Own Adventure books), you have not created a new art form, you have created an entertaining diversion for children with ADD that can’t read a book all in one go.

    So, there’s my definition AND why I think Video Games are not Art. And I think politicians making decisions about what individuals are and are not allowed to see is evil.

  39. wumpus says:


    Sorry to add to this thread so belatedly, but I was provoked by the other belated addition above by Ms. Snow.

    I don’t know much about objectivism – philosophically I’m a pragmatist – but Rand’s definition of art seems to me to be hopelessly _unworkable_, contrary to Ms. Snow’s assertion that ‘it actually works’.

    It rules out whole categories of what is widely recognized as art, e.g. photography, and, importantly, abstraction. The latter flaw is critical, especially to a sometime composer like myself: music is perhaps the most abstract of the arts. How is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (or whatever musical work you consider art) a ‘re-creation of reality’?

    The answer: it isn’t, for any useful values of ‘re-creation’ or ‘reality’ (which is a very loaded term for a pragmatist).

    There are, additionally, serious problems with the concept of selectivity (artists _cannot_ control every facet of their work, especially when presenting it to the public), and with the idea that value judgements need to be embedded and/or can be extracted as intended.

    My inclination as a pragmatist would be to look at how the definition functions for Rand – it seems like self-aggrandizement – because it doesn’t function in any useful way for me in differentiating art from non-art. (A project I’m generally suspicious of in any case.)


  40. wumpus says:

    More obvious problems with Rand:

    – Photography isn’t art, but movies, which are a serial collection of photographs (with or w/o added soundtrack), are? (Or are movies included in the hedge that photographs can, apparently, be incorporated into art? I figured that hedge was for collage…) Or is a movie considered to be a recording of an instance of theater? (What of the special effects, then, or of movies which aren’t recordings at all, like animations?) Why is it important to classify photography as not art? It totally defies many peoples’ experience of photography both as creators and consumers.

    – Music apparently ‘re-creates reality’ by re-creating an emotional state (Man, is that a stretch by itself – how are emotions ‘reality’? Rand seems to be treating ‘reality’ as an object external to humans, so how can something as subjective as an emotional state be ‘reality’?), but abstract painting, sculpture, etc. don’t or can’t?

    – According to this definition, it is possible for someone with an extremely exceptional life (i.e. one which travels a probabilistic path very different from the average) to create a great work of art which no one else will be capable of recognizing as art (as their ‘sense of life’ will be alien to everyone else). I actually don’t think that this is a flaw in the definition, but it does underline the subjectivity of art and the uselessness of the definition in real-world application.


  41. dyrnwyn says:

    I’ve never tried to define art in my life and these posts have proved that that was a really good idea. I just clasiffy things as art whenever it suits my needs. I guess I really beleive that absolutely everything is art. most people just confuse “art” and “good art” or “intensively emotional art” or “art created by humans” but I probably wouldn’t deny the title of “art” to a tree branch.

  42. NBSRDan says:

    The “games are not art” crowd is just stubborn technophobes, trying to demean the medium while lacking a logical argument with which to do so. Even if you strip out the architecture, sculpting, animation, storytelling, music, and graphics, you’re left with a text adventure, the work of a novelist.

  43. Hipparchus says:

    Is the Mona Lisa not art if you are viewing it on an Xbox? Anyway, here’s how Calvin and Hobbes tackled the problem:

    Calvin: A painting. Moving. Spiritually enriching. Sublime. “High” art!

    The comic strip. Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work. “Low” art.

    A painting of a comic strip panel. Sophisticated irony. Philosophically challenging. “High” art.

    Hobbes: Suppose I draw a cartoon of a painting of a comic strip?

    Calvin: Sophomoric, intellectually sterile. “Low” art.

    This comic really shows how absurd it is to make divisions on what is art and what isn’t art. Just replace comic with videogame, painting with movie and you have the whole debate in a nutshell.

  44. Elizabeth Robson says:

    Right, well, don’t usually comment but I find this subject rather close to me.

    Video games are art, and they don’t even need to tell a story to be there. The two examples of this which are popular and I find to be art are without a doubt Pac Man and Geometry wars. Don’t balk too much, but under my own personal opinion of art, they very much qualify, that definition loosely being: It must be an appealing experience to partake in with distinct symbolism. In other words, I have to enjoy it, and it has to be distinct from others of it’s ilk enough for me to have a mental image of.

    Pac man and Geo Wars definitely do this, I love playing both games and if you show me a ‘character’ from either of them I’ll recognise them instantly and re-call events with glee.

    This is also why I tend to view Call Of Duty and alot of popular games of a simmaler ilk as not art. I very much enjoyed COD:4 and love playing MAG but there’s nothing overly distintive or unique symbolism wise about them to me.

    On the other hand, board games and sports could both be art under my personal definition, sports is full of symbolism, from the shape of the pitch, the tools used in the sport and the attitude of the players being individually distinctive. Board games (which I would love to design at some point) are basically at their best when it IS symbolism in some way, because unlike a fancy modern video game, a board game can’t hide it’s mechanics in any way, all it can do is blend together the mechanics in an interesting way that works for the theme if your doing Ameri-Trash design or if your making a euro they rely purely on symbolism to create a simple, well mechaniced game with a theme tacked on (see Meeples and how any carssacone player recognises them, and uses them as jewelry).

    So yeah… necroing topics but I’m basically reading through a ton of stuff of yours in sheer boredom. XD

  45. Its probably more likely that shifting a few innings to Hughes would not change things for either of them, so it wont matter either way.

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