Last week I talked about the ability that games have to affect their audience in a way that other entertainment mediums don’t. Video games, by their very nature, require the player to put a certain amount of personal involvement into the work. Obviously, this can have a huge emotional impact on a player, but does that qualify games as art?
Over the past couple of years, there has been a big dispute among those who discuss video games on the topic of whether or not video games are art or, for that matter, ever even can be art. This is an argument that has been raging for a while now, and it’s certainly not one that can be ignored, especially if we’re interested in talking about the future of video games.
Now, the first and most difficult thing to do is to define exactly what one means by “art.” There are people who dedicate their whole careers to defining the term, and it’s a topic that could easily take up several articles on its own, so for now we’ll just go by the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of art: “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
The phrase that sticks out to me there is “emotional power.” Who hasn’t had an emotional reaction to art ““ to me that’s what art is meant to do. So can video games have an emotional impact on a player? Yes, of course. As I said earlier, video games are probably more capable of having an emotional impact than any other medium. Just because they are capable of emotional power, however, does not mean that is their intended goal.
While I could delve into a whole different argument on whether art must be intentional, for this article we will assume that for a video game to be considered art, it must intend to have an emotional impact and must follow through on this purpose successfully.
What a lot of naysayers point to is the fact that in most video games, the player is attempting not to lose. How can a game successfully deliver an emotional message to a player if that player can, at any second, fail at reaching this message?
It’s true that some games serve primarily as a form of competition or sport, and a lot more offer the player the chance to lose, thus denying them the full artistic message embedded within the game. Nevertheless, there are still games that offer the player only an experience.
The game “Flower” for PlayStation 3 is one of those games. In “Flower” the player controls a flower petal riding gusts of wind through majestic valleys and gorgeous scenery, using intuitive controls that draw the player in. The game is not about reaching the end or not reaching it (in fact it is impossible to fail in any way); it is simply about the experience and the emotions it evokes in the player.
I’m not naive enough to say that one or two artistic games makes the entire medium an art form, but it would also be just as naive to say that video games can never be art. In the same way that most films are meant simply to rake in box office earnings, so too are most games meant to make a profit, but just as there is “The Artist” for every “Expendables,” there is also a “Flower” for every “Call of Duty.”
As long as you are willing to look for them, artistic games are out there. If this article has piqued your interest even a little, I highly recommend you do some research on the topic of video games as art. A lot of better writers than I have commented on the topic, and there’s a long debate with plenty of insight from both sides.
It certainly couldn’t hurt to get some additional insight, regardless of what side you find yourself on.
If you want more information on this topic or want to start a conversation, email Overstreet at [email protected] “Joy Sticks” runs every Thursday.