Dear Esther

By Peter T. Parker Posted Wednesday Nov 5, 2014

Filed under: Nerd Culture 118 comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was annoyed that some of my co-creators failed me today without warning, leaving me with no content. My daughter Esther (pictured above) heard me complaining, and to cheer me up she wrote this. The topic and the words are entirely hers.

Hello, My name is Esther. You should probably know me by the few posts my dad has written with my name contained within the pixelated borders of his posts. Anyways, I'm here to talk about video games as an art form, or art forms in general more like.

There's been an ongoing argument since, well, long before I was born at least. About what is/isn't ‘real' art. People have spent decades arguing about this concept that differs so heavily from person to person, that it is almost an indefinable concept. For some, it is the ancient and the awesome. Only the greatest and oldest qualify for the title of ‘art' and anything less is thrown aside. For others anything that seems to hold a deeper meaning. Such as sentimental value, or a story can qualify. For others its anything pleasing to the eye.

But the concept of art, in and of itself, is rather silly. The fact that we will throw aside one creation because another one is ‘more artistic' is almost laughable. Because honestly we're never going to get a specific, shining example of art that will push aside all other ‘fake' art forms. Of course, it's possible that there is some aspect of art that is very important to our current society. But if there is, I don't know it. But even if there is, we aren't going to get anywhere by arguing about what is and isn't a ‘real' art form.

Like video games for example. Some people think they count as a medium for creating deep, interesting stories. Others consider them a plaything. Another device to pass the time. But when you compare them to writing, painting, sculpting, and all the other things that have fought their way into the ‘art club'. Videogames may seem to pale in comparison to the great artists of history.

Except, as I said before. Every art form we know today has had to fight against waves of skeptics and connoisseurs who refuse to accept anything new into their exclusive little group. Which makes it just that much harder to tell which category they fall into, not to mention the fact that with all the large companies churning out shooter upon shooter, each one discovering more and more shades of brown. The argument that video games are art, could easily die off as quickly as it came. And video games would suddenly, like movies. Be completely industry controlled, with only a few REALLY good ones coming out every few years. only given to us by a few companies that still know what they're doing. Of course, once again, film is still thought of as an art form, even though big companies have taken to big shitty blockbusters with budgets bigger than the net worth of an entire state.

The people who decide what is art seem to be rather unpredictable when it comes to this concept. And even if they are accepted, do they have anything to say? Video games could easily be thought of as interactive paintings, a glimpse into the creators mind. But at the same time, they can easily become linear, boring old, gun filled, action filled shooters. Like a set of toy soldiers that tells the same story over and over. Even if you get a new set. each more and less interesting expensive than the last. But even so. There is still one thing developers can't touch.

Indie games. Indie games like papers please and little inferno are the games that make video games feel like a true art form. Each one is an individual glimpse into the creators head with a new story each time. Sure they aren't all GOOD. But they are different, not to mention things like flash games, and even oculus games! Like with many artistic mediums, games have many different forms. Each one is new, different, and exciting! Not to mention the fact that we're still making more!

In conclusion, I don't know if video games count as an art form, but in my book they're as artistic as any other medium, and are probably going to stay that way for a long time.


From The Archives:

118 thoughts on “Dear Esther

  1. Shamus, how could you not title this post, “Dear Esther”?

    You monster.

    1. Shamus says:


      That’s too good to pass up.

      1. Mephane says:

        Now we can debate whether games are art and whether Dear Esther is a game at the same time. XD

        1. This post was just a reading simulator!

          1. We’re through the looking glass, people!

  2. Shamus says:

    Further context: She banged this out in about an hour. I doubt I could have worked that fast when I was 35, much less 15.

    Do be polite.

    1. Dragmire says:

      This would be pretty damn good overall even if the time to produce this were longer.

      Very interesting read, thanks to Esther for making it!

    2. Kamica says:

      Watch out, she might steal your job!

      1. Sigilis says:

        So begins a Dynasty of bloggers.

    3. Rick says:

      I kept thinking this is a pretty good article to hash out in a morning… then saw that it took an hour. Epic.

      Some very good points, and interesting the whole way through… nicely done, Esther.

    4. ZeroKills says:

      Any 15 year old that can write a piece like that in an hour is either really smart or… nope, that’s pretty much it.

    5. Jokerman says:

      When are we not polite? :P

    6. tzeneth says:

      Wow, this was an interesting article and I’m surprised she wrote this in such a short time. Maybe I’ve been writing too many legal arguments but it feels like this should have taken more than an hour. Good job and I’ll reiterate: be careful Shamus, you might be out of a job soon if she continues down this path. :P

      1. Totino says:

        Yep, before we know it Esther (and the rest of the Spoiler Warning/Diecast/etc. gang) will create all the content, and Shamus will end up so busy managing the site he’ll not be creating any content any more and will just be a big publisher!

    7. Narkis says:

      So ,when should we expect the next post by the younger Young?

    8. Chris Robertson says:

      Politely pointing out that And video games would suddenly, like movies. Be completely industry controlled, with only a few REALLY good ones coming out every few years. should probably only have one full stop in it. The first full stop appears as though it should be a comma.

    9. Classic says:

      Everyone who’s telling you this article is good? Maybe they’re right. But you can’t listen to them. You don’t want good writing. You want great writing. Great writing, as far as I can tell, is something the author suffers through (I also hear the author dies at publishing, but that’s something else). I’ve heard stories about authors having publishable first drafts, but they sound apocryphal and are attributed to the old titans of art.

      Edit critically, edit repeatedly, and rough something new before you sit down to edit something you’re too close to.

      Looking forward to seeing you ghost write something and thinking, “Wow, Shamus really brought his ‘A game’ on this one.”

  3. krellen says:

    The best definition of art I’ve seen is simple. Anything that is not directly related to survival is art. Producing/procuring food or shelter, procreation, not getting killed are non-art. Anything – anything at all – other than that is art. Running away from a tiger isn’t art. Jumping on to a low-hanging branch to avoid a tiger isn’t art. Laughing at the tiger as it tumbles into a ravine is art.

    I consider any other definitions largely meaningless now.

    1. Mechaninja says:

      What about building a corporate intranet? Art or survival?

      1. krellen says:

        Art. Most business is art.

        1. syal says:

          The Art of War. HEY-OHH!

    2. overpoweredginger says:

      Did you hijack that from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics? I’m not refuting that, since I did the same thing, but I’m just curious.

      1. krellen says:

        Yes. I forgot the source, but I think that’s right.

    3. Ambitious Sloth says:

      This is actually a pretty nice working definition. The only thing I’d say against it is that your definition leaves out the concept of intent. Which is what I’ve always used in my own definition, “A thing (or concept) is art if it is done or created with the intent of being art.” Which mainly has the problem of leaving the question of whether the thing is art in the hands of the creator, and not people who view/use it. It’s not perfect, but in my book that’s an OK fault for the definition to have. At least it’s all-encompassing.

      In your definition I can imagine some edge cases that would raise questions. For instance, what if I was gathering food (in your examples, a non-art thing), but I was doing to make a fantastic food hat that no one would eat. Can you make create art from non-art actions?

      1. syal says:

        Of course you can. Breathing is non-art, but it’s a pretty big part of making a balloon.

        1. Rick says:

          It’s not just the action, but the level it’s taken to. Yes, breathing for survival may not be art, but going to extra effort and using your breath for something non-survival related (blowing up a balloon) can be.

      2. Justin says:

        This is almost exactly the definition I prefer also (now anyway). I would claim that the two categories can overlap sometimes though.

        For example: cooking your dinner so you are less likely to catch a disease is survival; carefully butchering a cow, picking a specific cut of meat, seasoning it with painstakingly gathered herbs and spices, and heating it for precise times and at precise temperatures so that the outside is seared but the inside remains warm and moist? Art and survival rolled up into one, and no hat required.

        Sorry to any vegetarians, replace the above description with your own favorite dish.

      3. Richard says:

        That’s my definition as well:

        Does the creator(s) of the work intend it to be a piece of art?

        If they do, then it must be art. Not necessarily any good, or something I would spend time and/or money on, but art nonetheless.

        The only entity who gets to say whether or not something is art is the entity who created it.

        That’s why a Pollock is art, but an accidental explosion in a paint factory isn’t.

        Everyone else can proffer an opinion as to whether the piece is great, good, indifferent, bad or even a terrible waste of time and resources that could have been better spent directly increasing the entropy of the universe, but the question “Is it Art?” is not up for discussion.

        1. What if an artist caused the explosion in the paint factory? :)

          There’s also something called “found art,” which is more of tweaking stuff you come across. Like a rotted piece of wood that has an almost-artistic shape that the artist modifies, or a piece made from broken car parts, etc.

          The possibilities for pedantic definition are endless, I fear.

    4. Mephane says:

      I like this definition; it is quite similar to my definition of the even broader term “culture= anything that is not nature”. I was always on the side of being as inclusive as possible with regards to what would be considered art.

      Yes, “art = anything that is not for survival” sound like a very good equation. :)

    5. Csirke says:

      But I don’t see how you can make even this distinction clearly. If an artist is producing art for money, consequently for his food and shelter, do you not call what he produces “art”? Or do you mean “survival” only in the caveman sense, like hunting animals or collecting berries? In that case 99% of what we do in our daily lives today would be considered art, and that would make the definition meaningless.

      1. krellen says:

        It is only meaningless if you wish to be able to label something “not-art” in order to diminish its value. This definition serves to give value to everything we do – we are either contributing to the survival of our species, or we are creating art. Both are laudable goals.

        1. Daimbert says:

          The way I always look at things like this — with broadening definitions — is if in doing so I’m going to have to re-introduce the same distinctions with different names. So, doing this, am I going to have to distinguish art forms like paintings, sculpture, music, poetry and all of the other “traditionally art” things from things like twiddling my thumbs? If yes, then this definition isn’t doing much; it doesn’t resolve distinctions or questions, but just masks them for a short time until we realize that we still need those distinctions. And I do think we’d still need those distinctions.

        2. Abnaxis says:

          But there are plenty of things people do that aren’t laudable, and I don’t think I’m comfortable calling that “art.” Can you really say an abusive parent is engaging in an artistic endeavor when they inflict their abuse on their children?

        3. Csirke says:

          In general, I really don’t care about what is or isn’t art, it doesn’t influence me at all, though I understand it might influence others.

          But I think that words are useful if they tell you something, so if you label (almost) everything “art”, then the word doesn’t have any meaning anymore. People who are happier if their creation is labeled “art” won’t be happier, in my opinion, if you tell them “I consider everything to be art, so, sure, your creation is also art!”.

          I don’t think the original intention is to use “not-art” to diminish the value of something, but to use “art” to highlight how valuable something is. The flip side is of course that you can deny that label out of malice, but that’s true for every positive adjective, that’s no reason to broaden our definition.

      2. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Well there we can turn to the consumer. The consumer doesn’t purchase art for immediate survival needs (maybe long term, keeping sane and not killing one’s self needs but not for immediate concerns of survival).

        That said, I personally prefer the definition that art is something created to provoke a response (I assume in this context an emotional or intellectual response, not a more basic stimulus response). This even begins to form a loose, though still subjective, basis for judging how good art is (how worthy is the goal the artist is shooting for? How well did they succeed?)

        Esther, I think you’re on the right track. I think the powers that be are a bit arbitrary in what they declare to be art (or at least seem to be in comparison to a normal consumer).

        For this I draw a connection to something your father wrote not too long ago. Critics (the ‘powers that be’ in this case) consume a lot of content in their field of criticism. This leads to them being less and less affected by tropes and other artistic devices that would affect the normal consumer. They seek novelty, originality and interesting new experiments and devices. Where the average gamer might be cheering and feeling awesome after beating a boss, the critic might be rolling their eyes and comparing it to ten other games that invoked the same tropes. Then they turn and marvel at a novel game like “Gone Home” while the average gamer is put out because they still want more power fantasies.

        Paradoxically, critics from other fields may be so unfamiliar with video games that they don’t have the context that a typical gamer would have to appreciate what the developer is trying to do. Thus critics are often either overly familiar or not familiar enough to be impacted the same way you or I would be.

        But in spite of anything I or anyone else have said, you’re free to make up your own mind. Your thoughtfulness shows through even in such a hastily assembled column. I expect your conclusions will be interesting and I’d like to read a follow up column when you feel you have more to say. :)

    6. Patrick the horrible role model says:

      I like this definition. It works as good as any other. Obviously it is not perfect, no definition of something intangible like art can be, but it gives perspective and helps eliminate what isn’t art, which is extremely helpful.

      I would also define art as something that cannot be duplicated. It cannot be cloned or mimicked. Starry night is undeniably art no matter who you ask. But if I bought paint, canvas and some brushes and produced a replica, that replica would not be.

      As this pertains to games, I don’t know that I would consider the annual iteration of Madden, latest WoW expansion pack or latest CoD ‘art’ either.

    7. Zak McKracken says:

      We had a slightly similar discussion in an AD&D group once … what level character do you need to be until killing Orks stops being self-defense and survival and starts to become an art?

      As in: People holding a mirror next to you so you can see what you look like while trying to decapitate the next one while turning around to face his successor … a little more elegantly then last time please!

      I think survival can be art, too. It becomes art the moment you raise above the panic, start to know what you’re doing and do it “in style”: You run only three steps, grab the spear and have the tiger run right into it. Smiling.

      After all “martial arts” should count as art, too.

      Then again, I wouldn’t count all non-necessities as art. If someone hates their job and does the bare minimum to not be fired — that’s not art. For an activity to be art (whatever it may be they’re making or doing), it’d either have to contain things consciously done outside of the requirements or be the intricately-balanced precise minimum that doesn’t get you fired … it needs to include a conscious effort to make it something more. Something that can in any way be considered a statement.

      Elegant code is a statement, a deliberately botched job is one. Sewing a dead cat into a car seat is a statement. I’d count those as art. The result of “whatever, I just want to get home” is not art.

      …that’s by my definition. And that definition does not regard whether it’s “good” art or people like it. So Hollywood blockbusters and serial FPSs may have very little art to them, but this certainly has a lot:

      1. Classic says:

        “Martial arts” uses a slightly archaic definition of “art” which more means science, skill, or practice. It’s the same way in which we describe computers or nuclear reactors as “state of the art”.

        Yes, individual martial arts performances are probably art. I’d also argue that fighting is to some degree an expression of self, which kind of makes it art. But the point of this tangential comment is that English is changing.

        1. TSi says:

          Well, I think that this “archaic” definition still stands today where “state of the art” is merely the expression that whatever you’re talking about is defined as the best in a particular domain. A synonym would be “cutting edge”.

          To make a piece of art out of a nuclear plant, you would have to build it with great care and attention to every single detail from the smoothness of the concrete walls to the way the cables connect and are laid out along the walls or ceilings. From the great care any electronics is soldered or the alignment of the buttons and knobs on the panels to how precisely and smoothly you slide the combustible down into the water without making a ripple… etc… should it be technologically advanced or not doesn’t matter.

          Something simple as serving tea or hammering a piece of metal to make a sword has been refined to a point in Japan where it became an art.
          You can pretty much transform anything into an art like Zak expressed. Another example could be the art of the table or the art of fishing.
          It doesn’t even matter if you’re the only one doing it or seeing it.

          Pick something you do often and like doing then try to find the essential movements, you have to think constantly about how you can improve what you’re doing to achieve your goal. Then try to refine every movement you dedicate to it, make it so that it seems that you’re floating or at least, that your movements are smooth and delicate.

          Back on topic.
          The indie games Esther talks about for example, take a simple concept or gameplay feature and try to make the most out of it. The gameplay, sound, level design and visuals are often simple but refined like a Greek statue, chiselled as much as the dev could or though was necessary to build his work.
          Sometimes it’s too much refined and you almost feel like there is something missing in there. Something simple that could have given the game this little spark that would make a masterpiece out of it.

          ( Like Bad Robot, it might in fact be too refined “wink wink” )

    8. Zak McKracken says:

      Actually actually: I think the only meaningful definition of “art” that does not include almost everything to at least some extent (that I can think of) is: Something that I* see something in which goes beyond it’s physicality. A meaning, however diffuse; an emotion; am unusual thought;

      Kind of foggy, but that makes it easier to argue about it.

      *And this “I” means that the definition is necessarily subjective, too. Which guarantees that people will continue quarrelling over it forever, as they have since before Esther** was born.

      **That’s anyone named Esther, ever.

  4. DaveMc says:

    You go, girl! (Had to be said.)

    1. Mephane says:

      Is something wrong with me if I hear this phrase in the voice of Postal Dude from Postal 2?

  5. Mechaninja says:

    I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“art”], 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. (I assume this is about an Uwe Boll movie.)

    I find this to be an interesting juxtaposition and it feels to me like a match for “But the concept of art, in and of itself, is rather silly.”

    At least to my mind, a work is art if you look at it and get something more than the surface value out of it. To some, a well designed motorcycle or car is art. To me, a well designed computer setup is art, or a picture of a dragon is art. The dice picture at the bottom of the blog pages is art to me. I sort of glaze over staring at pictures like that (things that I used to enjoy a lot, I guess?) and can find a sense of calm.

    Life is a largely subjective experience, and I try to avoid forcing my subjective lens over the top of the one other people use to see the world.

  6. Dave B. says:

    A lot of people, including me, have a hard time accepting something as art if it doesn’t fit their ideas of art. Like this sculpture for example. Is this art? It means nothing to me. I don’t understand it. It provokes no emotions in me, and doesn’t provoke me to think about life or human experience in a new way. I would not describe it as beautiful. But if someone wants to call it art, I can’t disagree. To do so would be to deny them their experience, opinions, and emotions.

    1. General Karthos says:

      I kinda like it. But then I like sleek, streamlined, metallic objects that serve no obvious purpose. If I won the lottery and could design my dream home, most of my surfaces would be metallic, as would all my appliances. Kind of like the current inside of the TARDIS.

      1. syal says:

        I like it too; it’s like a lonely windmill. I think it would be a lot less impressive in color though.

    2. Sigilis says:

      It’s art by the generally accepted definition, but I wouldn’t pay for it personally. Just because you have no reaction to it does not mean that others won’t see something of note in it. We can go down the meaningfulness rabbit hole for a long time, perhaps forever, but in the end almost every work of artifice is art.

      If that sounds like it is so inclusive that it renders the term meaningless, then you may want to recalibrate your perspective. Human beings are the only creatures on this planet that could conceive of the assembly of even the components of that sculpture, and we have existed for only a short while. So it’s at least somewhat remarkable for existing. Or not, whatever, it clearly made enough of an impression on you that you had to share it.

    3. Zak McKracken says:

      I think most of art is either unrecognisable or unintelligible to most people. It’s like a language.

      Someone who’s never played a video will have an entirely different opinion on AssCreed III than Shamus, because he’s got a different context.

      It’s like dark chocolate with chili. It’s an acquired taste.

      I once watched a play with a well-regarded theatre director and talked with him afterwards — I could not relate to anything that happened on stage except for one scene which he called “an incredibly cheap effect”.

      The fact that I did not understand what was going on does not mean that it made no sense because clearly everyone who (unlike me) watched theatre more often than the three plays at school, plus some light Shakespearean comedies and did see something in it. And would probably have been offended if I had suggested to go see “The importance of being Earnest” instead… because they’ve been through that a long time ago, and this type of theatre has nothing left to tell them, so they moved on to stuff that you only understand after being mired in theatre culture for a decade or two. It’s become a different language.

  7. Otters34 says:

    Mz. Young, thank you for taking the time and thought to compose this. It’s good to be reminded why I first started visiting this site, and why I return.
    Also good to see such coherence and intelligence. I certainly wasn’t…ever. It’s heartening.

    For myself, the question of “are video games art?” was easily answered. The mechanics, themselves, are not art. They are the work of craft, literal mechanisms. I know, coding and balancing and fine-tuning mechanics has an element of art as well, in that it allows surprisingly complex personal expression. It’s what those mechanics, the methods that allow people to interact with the programming, support and combine that makes the whole thing art.

    Movies, for instance. The film stock is not itself a work of art. The audio recording is not art. Those are pieces of craft. But they CONTAIN, they support art forms.

    Paintings. The pigments are not the art. The canvas is not the art. The frame is not the art. But they make the art, the expression and vision they contain open to others.

    Video games are not art in themselves. They, like the frame of a painting, like film stock, like the pedestal of Michelangelo’s David, they are what makes the art visible to others, and possible to interact with. They are a part of artistic expression, but are not the expression itself.

  8. First of all, it looks like it’s time for Shamus to retire. That’s some kickass writing right there.

    And secondly, well said.

    An artist expressing themselves is the basic of what is art or creating art.
    Art are one of few things that do not have nor need any purpose or value.
    It may have meaning to only the artist, or it may have meaning to others.

    Personally I feel art is when someone create something because they “just felt like it”, like a game developer adding content in their spare time to a game they are otherwise working on.
    Or an old fart (read: Shamus) creating some music just because he felt like it.
    I consider stuff like that true art. If it’s forced it’s no longer art and becomes work instead.
    Creating art also means you will fail a lot, as the worst critic of a work of art is the artist themselves.

  9. Otters34 says:

    Also, Mr. Young, please allow me to congratulate you on being able to count such an insightful young lady as part of your family. In that respect, her writing reminds me very much of Mrs. Young’s.

    Hope there is occasion for her to write for here again.

  10. syal says:

    “Because honestly we're never going to get a specific, shining example of art that will push aside all other “˜fake' art forms.”

    I believe somebody is unfamiliar with the majestic majesty of the Blue Duck.

    1. Mike Olson says:

      I thought you were referencing this.

      Which I found to be just as funny in context.

    2. RCN says:

      Man… the Dilbert animation was so ridiculously clever. For me it greatly surpassed the shallow Dilbert strips.

      One should not forget… The Gruntmaster 6000. Maybe one day they’ll discover what it actually did.

  11. James says:

    So after reading this, and it is a good read i very much doubt i could be anywhere near as good at writing anything at 15, i decided to ask myself what is art?

    Is art something that can be defined for everyone to agree on?
    or perhaps is it something more personal, more intimate then that?

    I decided to think about what i think art is, paintings are art, sculptures are art, ornate egg things are art. Are Video Games? i think so,

    I also realized at times I’ve considered some things to be art, but something similar to not be art, because i thought it was stupid or whatever.

    Do definitions have to be internally consistent? yes, no, maybe, i don’t know (can you repeat the question)

    What i think is that art is different for everyone, just as the feelings about art is, when some people see the Mona Lisa or listen to Bach, they feel one thing, and someone else something else entirely. someone who loves Bach might hate Aerosmith they might call Bach art and Aerosmith just noise, that doesn’t make Aerosmith any less artful then Bach, its just different.

    So is Call of Duty artful? or is it noise?

  12. Andrew says:

    Well, I think we can safely say that the day is coming soon that we will primarily remember Shamus as “Esther Young’s father.”

    1. Henson says:

      “Come, come round the fire, children, and listen to a story, a story as old as anyone can remember. A story of the Esther Father and his selfless efforts to build something that would last, a ‘webzone’ they called it. He would build the Twenty Sided and teach the Esther the paths of enlightenment, so that one day, she could teach us.”

  13. Mike Olson says:

    Cross-generational blogging! I am so proud of you both! Especially since I have known Shamus since pre-Esther times, this really touched my heart. Keep it up, both of you :)

    Also, I feel old. Thanks for that too :P

  14. Henson says:

    Art (n):

    1) A term used to validate one’s personal tastes in a creative medium.

    2) A classification of creative media meant to address emotions and issues which are deemed by society to have more value than others.

    3) A synonym for ‘creative media’.

    4) A play by Yasmina Reza.

    6) A bimonthly topic in gaming circles.

  15. Chris says:

    Great writing piece Esther! :D

    Art is about as well defined in our culture as beauty, ie. in the eye of the beholder. My cousin’s portfolio caused a professor to sneer that it “wasn’t art”, because fantasy renderings of dragons “wouldn’t be found in a museum”. (Glad she didn’t end up going to that school.) Meanwhile one of my profs at college defined art as “Something created to catch the attention”, which means advertisements, commercials, and t-shirts could be defined as art.

    How can someone -not- classify video games as art?
    Boring repetitive shooter? – have you seen some of Andy Warhol’s stuff?

    Possibly part of the issue is that people want to break video games down as they would a movie. Then it becomes something that contains art, and a plot (most of the time, ..maybe), and music, and sound, and so on. People often like to dissect pieces of artwork to nail down the parts that make it work.
    All too often though when you dismantle something you stop seeing it as a whole. But a screenshot can’t capture what videogames add to the art field that wasn’t possible before. Videogames are a subjective experience, what one person experiences cannot be precisely experienced by another. And that “audience-experience as part of art” is going to be a tough hurdle for the art-world for a long time to come.

    1. Neil W says:

      So what we have here is the definition “Art is what we see in a museum,” which is one of a couple of unexamined definitions that tend to float about amongst people who haven’t spent hours arguing about ‘what is art’. Which is disappointing as one hopes that a professor of art has spent time arguing about that topic. (Or been to, say, the British Museum.)

      This is also why people get upset about things they don’t think of as art (due to another common definition, “Art is what I was taught about in art class in school/in the art book I read/by my parents”) ending up in museums and therefore being “officially” art, when they’ve been taught otherwise.

      (On a side note I would have disagreed with, but respected, the argument that illustrations of dragons are not art due to being derivative of commercial hack work. It at least has a point that doesn’t rely on the taste of museum curators. Seriously man, you’re a professor of art! Have an opinion of your own!)

  16. Isy says:

    Art, for me, is something attempting to communicate in ways other than standard human language. A dance communicates to our sense of balance and movement – that’s something very hard to write down and get the meaning across. The reason Campster’s emphasis on narrative/mechanics dissonance is so important is because the mechanics are effectively speaking their own language. Thus, I think games are very important in the world of art. They offer something few other mediums offer, which is being able to interact with it and have it respond.

    (I mean, you can interact with statues and paintings, but the museum guards yell at you when you do that.)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      But what about oral story telling and stand up comedies?Those use human language,yet are art.

      1. Isy says:

        So does poetry. I only exclude it in my comment since things like dry textbooks aren’t what people think when they hear “art”, even if I think they could be considered such.

        To put it another way, “art” seems to try and convey some manner of abstract, human experience from one person to another. Thing like textbooks do their best to eliminate this, but it still exists in them.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        Yet they communicate something that’s not expressly said.

        The aim of a joke is not to inform you of the fact that a man went to the doctor and what he did there.

  17. BitFever says:

    Good on you for helping your dad generate content for his site. When I was your age I was much to stupid and pigheaded to do something like that for my parents.

    I’d say that any creation can be considered art. What varies wildly is the quality of the art as well as the intent behind it.

    1. When I was her age a “website” was wherever a spider was trying to catch its dinner, and “adding content” just meant throwing bugs at it.

  18. CraigM says:

    *sniff* They grow up so fast.

    Congratulations Esther, you did good. You’ve obviously picked up a few things from your dad along the way, but it’s nice to see the next generation learning to embrace, engage, and overanalyze games just like we’ve learned to.

    As for arguing the definition of art, well I find that best used as a distraction to get cranky old academics arguing amongst themselves. I don’t care what they ‘officially’ term art, I just care what reaches me as art.

    Shamus, watch out, seems like you’re raising a competitor to this ‘writing’ thing.

  19. Joveus Molai says:

    An excellent post by Ms. Young! One thing I wanted to say:

    While it is true, as you pointed out, that attempting to define “art” (and in so doing, what is and is not “art”) is at best extremely difficult, trying to do so still becomes useful for certain practical considerations.

    For example, let’s say that the government decides to set up a big fund, one that gives money to artists to help people create more art. For now, let’s call it the Art Fund, and for now, let’s define “artist” as “someone who creates art”. (Such a fund actually exists–one is in the form of the National Endowment for the Arts.) The Art Fund only has so much money to spend, so that means it can’t give money to every single person who wanders by and holds out their hand–the people in control of the fund have to decide who gets some of the money and why.

    Part of this inevitably involves figuring out what is and isn’t art. If the purpose of the Art Fund is to “help create art” by “giving money to artists”, then it would be straying out of its bounds if the people in control of the Art Fund funded something that ISN’T art. For example, if the Art Fund gives money to start up a convenience store that only did typical convenience store things (sell food and drinks, cigarettes, etc.), we can say that the Art Fund is straying out of bounds because we know that convenience stores tend not to have anything to do with art.

    So when someone goes up to the Art Fund and asks for $10,000 so he or she can develop their awesome videogame…what is the Art Fund to do? It has to figure out whether this strange new medium of videogames is art, because the Art Fund’s job is to fund artists to ultimately help create art. The Art Fund can’t give money to something that isn’t art, because to do so would be to go against its very purpose.

    So for certain practical considerations, someone, somewhere, needs to sit down and figure out what is and is not art, since money all too frequently ends up being involved with creative works.

    1. syal says:

      I don’t think they’re interested so much in what is “art” as what is “original art”. I doubt they’re paying people to make lawn gnomes either, but those are totally art. They’re looking for creativity, which means it hasn’t been done before, or hasn’t been done often enough to exhaust the variations.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      I’m not familiar with how the US art fund works but what I think should happen (in an ideal world…) is that the grant should not depend on the medium but on the artfulness of that person’s project:

      You can make art out of anything, and you can turn anything into industrial products (including each into the other). And to some extend, most things are both at the same time, but to different extents.
      This means that the Art fund should not give money to your three-year-old daughter to buy a ton of crayons (though I’m sure her paintings are wonderful to you), nor to Michael Bay, but to someone whose project cannot be made without the funding, and who can make a credible claim of being able to produce something that will be perceived by a sufficient number of people to be foremost art. That number of people not being “the mainstream”, but the funding distributed in a way that most people will find something that they like.

      … that, again is probably impossible to put into anything close to a law.

  20. Rike says:

    Bringing indie developers to this topic is really timely decision.
    In discussion with my pal his point, which was “games are not art”, was based on the statement that art is a form of social consciousness. This statement belongs to Marx, and he is one of the classic philosophers. When indie developers are coming to the scene, this statement works more for the “it is”-answer. People have ideas in their minds, and they want to realise it as games, not as books or movies. Even more, they are able to realise this ideas solo.
    Maybe it is also correct for 80s and 90s, but doubtly. Situation with instruments was different.

    Now this statement works fine for me. It has enough roots in real life to look alright.

  21. Michael says:

    “I don't know if video games count as an art form, but in my book they're as artistic as any other medium”

    But if other mediums are considered to be forms of art, and video games are as artistic as those mediums, then doesn’t that mean video games are a form of art?

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Kitsch and shlock are still art.Art says nothing about the quality of the product.Therefore,mass produced big budget mega hit shooters and action movies are still art.Yes,even transformers and call of duty,even though they are yearly churned out manufactured fast food.Just like pop songs.

    1. Neil W says:

      Yes! One of the things to remember is that just because something is art doesn’t mean it’s good. Some art is very, very bad, but that doesn’t get it thrown out of the art club.

      Also, things can be art AND other things. For example some of Eisenstein’s films are magnificent works of art and also (especially to modern eyes) quite blatant and unsubtle Stalinist propaganda. Does that make it bad art? I say no. (Propaganda is generally bad art as the artistry is a secondary consideration; it only needs to be good enough.)

  23. RonC says:

    Hate to make this comment on a 15 year old’s option piece, but….

    Another medium that has just has hard time being classified as “Art” has been Pornography. And that debate has been going on for centuries. So, when she is in college, she can research the debates and merits of classification of “Art”, legally and culturally. Of how some painting, writings, and other media types that were classified as “Pornography”, but are now consider classical “Art”.

  24. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Im disappointed by you people.Oh well,it goes to me to say it:


    This is not a blog post,this is just some linear writing simulator.

    1. syal says:

      Writing Simulator: from the folks who brought you Surgeon Simulator.

      1. A writing simulator like that would be more about fanfic, and probably have more blood.

  25. Daemian Lucifer says:

    7 years from now,Esther will write a video game about people in old aztec empire,and Shamus will finally be able to retire.

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      Huh? You will have to explain that one.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The podcast,when they talked about how Butskarn was 14 when Shamoose started making his mark(or something,I forgot the specifics).And now he made a video game,set in india(a not western white dude country)in the past.

        1. syal says:

          Oh. i thought you were making some kind of Marlow Briggs reference.

  26. Disc says:

    If it evokes emotion, then it can be considered art. Ultimately there’s little point worrying about the acknowledgement of people outside the medium when their frame of reference is not even really applicable to it in the first place. It’s a unique medium that is still growing and we’re growing with it. It might take a while, but as time passes, the cultural significance of games will inevitably increase. It’s happening even right now, with the older generations of gamers becoming moms and dads and raising new gamers. You and your siblings are the proof of that very change happening.

  27. Supahewok says:

    I have two things to say.

    1) I just today turned in a group paper for a college class that I was in charge of editing together. You write more clearly and eloquently than my partners did, with better grammar. Not perfect grammar, but no essay has perfect grammar without proofreading, which I doubt happened if you belted this out in an hour. Even without proofreading, you had better spelling and sentence structure than my project partners who had days to fix their mistakes.

    In short, you write better than college students. :) Keep at it! You could be something special.

    2) You really are your father’s daughter.

    1. Daimbert says:

      In short, you write better than college students. :)

      Rather faint praise, don’t you think [grin]?

      1. Otters34 says:

        That hurts, comrade. Harsh but true.

  28. Zaxares says:

    I define art as any man-made item that elicits an emotional reaction from the viewer or end-user. This can sometimes mean that even items which were not originally designed or produced to be art can be re-purposed, or even naturally transform, into art, as long as the audience perceives it to be so.

    It ALSO means that one person might view as a sublime work of art is also a colossal pile of manure. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.

    P.S. You have a real talent for writing, Esther. :) Well done.

  29. Mephane says:

    churning out shooter upon shooter, each one discovering more and more shades of brown

    I like how you casually put in a full rant about mainstream shooters in a subclause; I had to chuckle.

    However, in defense of these games, I consider them art regardless. It doesn’t need to fit my taste for something to be art. And I think more people should learn this lesson, because many a discussion about what is art and what isn’t is driven by people of different tastes merely proclaiming anything they don’t like as “not art”.

    1. Dev Null says:

      Of course they’re art. No one said they were _good_ art.

  30. Just needs a couple of hyperlinks for the games and some for the companies and you got a good internet story. Still pretty good as it is tho ;)

  31. Jonathan says:

    There is a video game history museum being set up in Frisco, TX next year. One more step towards “art” status.

  32. Patrick the Horrible role-model says:

    I once paid Esther $5 bucks to eat an entire stick of butter at a family Christmas party. If i had filmed it…would that be art?

    And I also still owe her the $5.

    1. Neil W says:

      Yes? Bad expolitative art?

      Also you are a terrible patron of the arts; $5 is a lot of money to a starving artist. Even one who’s just eaten a stick of butter.

    2. krellen says:

      This comment is art.

    3. Chris Robertson says:

      It was performance at at the time that it happened.

      The movie resulting from the filming thereof would be another form of art.

      The retelling of the event is yet more art.

    4. Zak McKracken says:

      I’d say that pretty much anything can be made into art, even doublecrossing your brother’s kids for fun. It’d depend on a few details, though, like how easy you got away, for example. :)

      “Con artist” is in my view a fitting description, provided the person does it well :)
      (just watch “the talented Mr. Ripley” or “Catch me if you can” and say there’s no art in what the protagonists are doing)
      … that doesn’t mean it’s the type of art I’d be paying for but that’s not part of the equation here.

  33. Daimbert says:

    I just recently started a tag on my own site called “philosophy of gaming”, and this was my first topic. So I consider this to be doing philosophy of gaming. Spread it around; I’d like this to become a thing [grin].


    There's been an ongoing argument since, well, long before I was born at least. About what is/isn't “˜real' art. People have spent decades arguing about this concept that differs so heavily from person to person, that it is almost an indefinable concept.

    Philosophy has been looking at the definition of art for a long, long time now. The concept, particularly in the general public, is a bit muddled. I think that’s because too many people conflate the value of art with the definition of art. A lot of people want to see video games or their favourite medium as art because they see art as being valuable or respectable in a way that they want to have for their works, and so don’t want their works to be seen as just, say, entertainment. On the flip side, a lot of people don’t want to consider BAD art art, and so define art by what they like. Once we uncouple why art is valuable from what art is, and note that other things can indeed have value and have the same value as art without being art, I think we can make a lot of progress on what art really is.

    And we definitely want a definition for art because if we’re going to ask if art is valuable to society or not, if it should be taught in schools or not, or if we should fund it publicly or not, we have to know what it is. Too broad, and everything becomes art and so talking about art becomes meaningless. Too narrow, and we exclude things from art that share all of its properties, and so miss useful generalizations (for example, most discussions of art focus on visual art … and leave out music, which is indeed typically art).

    Ultimately, philosophy has roughly concluded that art has some connection to the aesthetic. Exactly what that connection is and how strong it has to be is massively debatable, but art is critically aesthetic in some way. My own definition — argued for in an essay on my blog — is that something is art if it has as an intrinsic purpose of producing an aesthetic experience, and we judge the value of a work of art by how well it produces that. By “intrinsic”, I don’t mean “sole”, but mean that that goal is not done JUST to satisfy that other goal, but is done for its own sake. And I don’t mean that the aesthetic experience has to be pleasant either. This definition would leave out most Hollywood blockbusters and most video games, but it also leaves out essays, which is probably a good thing; essays probably shouldn’t be considered art.

    But if you want to include games like “Gone Home” as art, I also allowed — since it seems to match what people think of as art, even though I don’t think that’s the right definition — that you can call something art if it attempts to make a point BY producing a certain experience in the consumer, which still leaves essays out but would include movies and games that make a point. This allows us to not have to consider the latest shooter or Pac-Man art, but still allows us to classify those other games as art. As long as we understand that being art does not make something inherently good or valuable, and that not being art does not mean that something is bad or valueless, to my mind this can only be a good thing.

  34. Dear Esther,

    I present to you the PERFECT EXAMPLE of a video game as art:

    Japan World Cup 3

    1. River Birch says:

      You are now my favorite person
      joking, but I’ve certainly seen that particular piece of art. It takes quite the creative mind to do something like that.

      1. Isn’t it just pure AWESOMESAUCE?

        Everytime I watch the video I see something new that I missed before.

        It’s like a Japanese version of what a Monty Python video game would look like.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          “would look like?” You never played this, then:

          (can still be purchased these days, amazing!)

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      If that’s not art, then there art does not exist.

  35. Art is what the Iron Giant currently has in his mouth.

  36. Blackbird71 says:

    I was always fond of a definition of art espoused by a former local radio show host. As he claimed he would often tell his kids, “If daddy can do it, it’s not art.”

    Of course it was partially intended as a bit of humor poking at his own lack of artistic talent, but I’ve always felt there was some merit to the idea. In my mind, a true “work of art” requires some skill, talent, or ability to produce. Making a big pile of garbage is not art; it is something replicated daily by sanitation workers at city dumps the world over. Pouring gallons of paint randomly on a sheet of plastic is not art; it’s a mess. Now, if you use some skill and planning to dump that paint in a way that initially appears random, but a closer look reveals some underlying pattern, design, or symbolism, then it becomes another matter entirely. Now you have a person who has applied their talent to organize materials to create something unique and apart from the normal state of chaos and entropy that the raw materials would typically exist in.

    I know that many will vehemently disagree with me and take offense at my “narrow mindedness”, but I think that in this day and age we are too accepting and inclusive of what gets termed “art”, and frankly it devalues art as a concept, as well as the existing body of art created by humans throughout history.

    But hey, that’s just my opinion. As long as I don’t have to pay for it (or have my tax dollars pay for it), you can call whatever you want “art” if it really makes you happy.

    1. Chris Robertson says:

      Now, if you use some skill and planning to dump that paint in a way that initially appears random, but a closer look reveals some underlying pattern, design, or symbolism, then it becomes another matter entirely.

      This sounds me like “Art is in the eye of the beholder”.

      * an artist makes a pile of garbage
      * a viewer sees a pile of garbage and finds meaning in it (pattern, design, or symbolism)
      * the viewer is informed that the pile they found meaning in is not the one the artist made, but one pushed together by the janitor (or the wind, or a crowd of people)

      Does the second pile lose its status as art? Did it have that status at all?

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Weell, there are always people who want to impress others with their nonexistent exquisite tastes, and that can be great fun :)
        On the other hand: If you see something interesting in things that just accidentially happend … why not?
        I’ve sometimes been dissappointed to not have recording equipment with me while hearing some noises that I thought made a really good pattern. I wouldn’t consider the noises themselves art (since nobody consciously made them) but if someone was good and collecting that sort of thing and showed it to me in a way that made me see why it’s interesting, that would definitely qualify!

        And before I start sounding like avantgarde: I’m fairly unversed in all things art (with small exceptions) but I’ve seen enough to know that me not seeing sense in something that claims to be art won’t prevent other people from perceiving it as such. Also, it helps to try to have an open mind. And patience. And imagine what kind of previous experience the people may have had who appreciate something you think of as “definetely not art”. That can tell you a lot.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      “Meaning” is not something that a potential work of art objectively has, but it is something assigned to it by a viewer.
      There are forms of art that can only be appreciated by those sufficiently familiar with the culture that produced them. Try watching any parody movie when you’ve never anything like the thing it’s making fun of — instantly becomes a pile of sillyness!
      (even better, show the Marlow Briggs videos to someone who knows nothing of Indiana Jones or all those stupid Mayatztek clichà¨s)

      In order to appreciate a particularly good wine you need to have tasted enough lesser ones, developed a sense of orientation for comparing them, etc..

      This is why some art is only seen as art by those who live in the subculture that appreciates that type of art, and even then there’s a learning process, as soon as something new comes along. How much new stuff you’re able to appreciate or acknowldedge as art is a direct function of how much of of that type of art you’re regularly exposed to: Children’s music is all harmony and simple rythms, regular pop music is somewhat more complicated and (occasionally) deeper, but if you actively listen to it for too long, you start to find it dull and look for other stuff. Until that becomes old as well and you move on … and before you know it your parents are giving you funny looks and how can you listen to such noise?

      … there is no objectivity in art, and art does not need to explain itself. Therefore, whatever one person perceives as art, is art. For that person.

      1. Blackbird71 says:

        “Therefore, whatever one person perceives as art, is art. For that person.”

        I will exercise my right to disagree with this statement, and the idea in general. I believe that the ultimate meaning in any creative work rests in the intentions of the creator. It’s like when I’ve seen people claim that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory for WWII, even when Tolkien himself stated that he despised allegory, and that the story was written for its own sake. As humans, we have become all too quick to assign meanings where none exists, and where we have no right to effectively alter the intent of others’ creations.

        Sometimes there are absolute meanings to things we would call art, and if we try to attach our own meanings to those things, then we have blinded ourselves to the message we were supposed to see.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          There are lots of creators who make their stuff deliberately so that different people can see different things in it and then are delighted by the various interpretations coming back. Good art is posing a question, not announcing an answer.

          Pretty much anything observed at any time by more than one person wil be perceived in different ways, and while there are of course truths in the cold hard physical facts (and I hate when people get them wrong!), beyond that, most things are a matter of perspective. And that’s why the old saying is only logical that art should never explain itself. If the artist needs to explain what they meant, it’s not working*.

          I’ll go as far as saying that the insistence that one’s own perspective be the only valid one is one of the (many) roots of evil. Even postulating that such a universal interpratation for anything that goes beyond measurable physical facts exists at all can be problematic. I’m sure some artists feel like doing that but in the best case that’s preventing your audience’s creativity, at worst it’s laying seeds for a religous war.

          * If you see something and then the artist still explains what other thing they meant and it opens up a different view, that’s fine of course! Also providing some context because perception is terribly influenced by context.

    3. Zak McKracken says:

      That tax dollar thing is a problem though: There is nothing out there of which everyone agrees that it is art. If everyone objected to tax money being spend on art they don’t consider to be art, then nothing can be spent.

      The problem, though, is that (for good reason!) states have always supported art, as a way of improving quality of live, with some exceptions of authoriarian regimes that funded only very very specific kinds that aligned with their ideology and forbade the rest.
      What I’m thinking is that as long as the majority of the money is spent on stuff that the majority can enjoy (but that isn’t commercially successful enough to stand on its own), and niche topics get funding roughly according to how relevant they are, then I can assume that “my” tax money is used for stuff I like, and some crazy art fan’s tax money on crazy art. That’s completely fine with me.
      A diverse art scene helps a lot with having a diverse and interesting cultural life. And I dislike incomprehensible art a lot less than monoculture.

      1. Not so much in Kansas. They cut funding in 2012. It was restored eventually, but the governor mucked it up so that federal matching funds wouldn’t show up again until this year.

        Tastes also evolve. Here in KC, we have these giant shuttlecocks on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in 1996. There was a lot of grumbling, a lot of people didn’t care for them, etc. Now they’re one of the city’s icons. Go fig.

      2. Blackbird71 says:

        Not to dive too far off into the realm of politics, as I would hate to risk Shamus’ wrath, but this is exactly why I feel that government has no business spending funds on art projects. If there can be no consensus on what qualifies as art, then what right does the government have to make that decision for us by spending our money on it?

        All art should be privately funded; that way anyone who thinks something is “art” is free to support it, and those who disagree are not forced to pay for such projects.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          You have a point.
          The government has no way of objectively figuring out what deserves funding, so there’ll always be room for bad decisions, or those responsible just supporting their own tastes.

          … whereas leaving it to private sector means the people with the money say what goes and what doesn’t.

          I think both concepts have serious issues, yet the best I can come up with is mixing them… This problem will not be solved in a comment thread.

          That said: I have no problem that in the country I live in, entry to all museums is free (though they persist partly on donations), independent of whether I like everything they present.

  37. RCN says:

    They talk! Soon they’ll begin forming opinions, Shamus. And then it’ll be too late.

    Hi Esther. Games as art is a topic I like to avoid. Mainly because I feel there’s nothing really to be settled. Games have nothing to prove. Games were art way back when a couple of geek guys took their wargames and decided to turn then into an adventure simulator. And the war-games that proceeded it. And the tennis for two made by bored scientists with radar parts. And the Royal Game of Ur from several millennia ago. All of these are art, as far as I’m concerned.

    Why? Because they’re the result of human creativity. They were created for reasons unrelated to survival, but as a form of expression. One could say that the guy who came up with the Royal Game of Ur spent much more effort, love and creative power into it than his contemporaries who were making small clay statutes, rudimentary paintings and songs. His contemporaries were just trying to visually recreate that what they saw. He was actively trying to create rules to be understood and interacted with by other humans. His was a task as herculean as the myths being carefully crafted and passed through the generations by oral tradition.

    You are completely right. The reason other critics and other artists are resistant to accept the (technically thousands of years old) “newcomer” is both defensiveness of their craft and ignorance to the depth of that which they scorn. Most of those think of games as just an activity where you burn your time and money to get useless “points”. Their idea of a contemporary game is either “Call of Duty” at best or “Space Invaders” at worst and most likely (by the way, while we’re here, it is good for you to learn this quickly: MovieBob is a pompous, arrogant as… jerk who likes to generalize opposing points of view into straw men to make his argument. He’ll condemn anything not-Nintendo and always provide Call of Duty as the proof of his argument. He is best left ignored).

    It’s been nice having this talk.

  38. EmperorErvinmar says:

    Ahh, “In conclusion.” I remember high school essays. That phrase is one of the pillars of the modern American educational system. Good to see young people participating in this fine tradition.

  39. Cuthalion says:

    Nice job!

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