Are Video Games Art?

April 19, 2018
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I must admit, when I read the prompt for this argumentative essay on the Washington Post, I thought I could take it easy. Little did I know, this would be the hardest prompt I’d ever have to tackle, as it deals with the meaning of art, what can BE art, and how to be objective about art overall. Honestly, I think that video games are art. It’s a very special type of art, but art nonetheless. This idea of video games as art has been extremely controversial, as many famous critics like Roger Ebert have been very critical with the current artsy video game scene. I’m here to prove why I think video games are, at their core, art at a primal level.


One of the main arguments I hear against my claim is that
“Interactivity undermines art. Art is intentionally made by an artist to communicate something specific, if the audience is allowed to tailor the message to their liking (through interactivity), then it ceases to become art because it's no longer the message of the artist. A recorded play of a video game can be art, because it's static and is created by an artist, but the game itself can never be art.”  (Ebert{AlonditeMX}) Now, this argument seems a little strange. Usually, the gameplay is there to complement a certain message. Look at a game like Papers, Please. The message of that game is that sometimes in life you have to live in a moral gray area to help the people who you love, even if it makes you a terrible person in the process.


The game has you playing as a border patrol officer letting people in or kicking them out into a cold war-esque world. The introduction of new mechanics (when processing travellers and more expensive living conditions with each passing day in the game) and less time to make money makes you feel the pressure. Are you going to play the good guy and not take bribes or illegally detain people but have your family suffer for not making enough money or are you going to be a terrible jerk and do all of those things previously said? No one wants any of that! It’s up to you as to the extent of your corruption. That's why the game works so well. You have to be a horrid person SOMETIMES, and the fact that you feel it in the gameplay and mechanics makes the message even clearer!


Another big issue people have with the “video games are art” shebang is how robotic and thoughtless most big budget triple A games on the forefront of the gaming industry are, with them being made just to give you that sweet dose of dopamine, with nothing artful or any message to be had with their gameplay. While I admit that most of them are just bland, boring husks of what they used to be famous and fun for, some of the newer games on the forefront of the gaming industry are extremely innovative and interesting, like Titanfall 2. I think we should go on a little trip down memory lane with some of these games to understand how art can be felt through the mechanics and movement of a game.


Take the Call of Duty series, a series in my opinion went from fine art to actual, robotic garbage. In a game like COD 2, the movement with the gunplay and the speed of everything turns every battle into a fast paced flurry of movement and shooting and quick thinking while also making you feel like a god AND a vulnerable soldier that can and WILL die a lot, with an intriguing story to boot. COD 2 is in a way art BECAUSE its interactive, with its mechanics and systems working together to create a truly beautiful experience. Maybe video games will never be traditional art, but that’s not a terrible thing. When I first played COD 2 last year, I was sucked in. I was a skeptic, to be honest. All I had seen of the cod series was utter trash. The only reason I even owned the game was through a friend of mine. When I got on to play the game, it was 9 am in the morning.
When I got off, it was about 6 pm.


It captivated me that much with it’s strategic and fast paced gunplay, and movement which felt more like a dance than a man fighting for his life on one of the deadliest battlefields in history. And that’s not even mentioning the story.


I think one of the main reasons video games have not been truly considered an art is the community for it. Many have resorted to baseless name calling and screaming to try to get their point across, which is just making it harder for the people who truly care about this and try to push our point forward with clear thinking and respect for other mediums of art. Even the Roger Ebert comment threads are safe from a name-calling session, with one person saying “The fact that you get get an emotional response from voiding your bowels invalidates your entire argument, and makes you appear to be a complete imbecile” (Ebert{Devin Matlock}).


I believe the “video games as art” pro debate succeeds in both a technical and a very human way, with it being a style of art that you can FEEL. Such a beautiful artform should not be sent to the sidelines. There have been so many people who cry out in vain to finally have video games step out of the shadow of it’s older brothers, but they have been silenced. I admit, many have been misusing the word art and have been extremely unreasonable and violent when it comes to video games, but that doesn't discredit the medium, does it?






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