Can Video Games be Considered an Art Form?

Art. What the hell is it? Is it a beautifully realistic painting of nature, an emotionally captivating piece of music, or simply an expression that portrays the largest amount of ideas using the smallest amount of material? It’s already hard enough to define what art is; heck, it’s probably impossible. However, there are still many things that can widely be considered art, many things cannot, and many things that are along the fence. Here I will be balancing on that fence and diving headfirst into the long-running debate of whether or not a video game can be considered a work of art. It really is a nasty subject to dive into, with a lot of people on both sides, but I’m in the mood to write a good rant and I’m not doing anything else with my time, so lets get to it. Can a video game ever being considered a form of art, or is it nothing more than entertainment?

In my very own personal opinion, video games are undoubtedly an art form. Aside from their most basic purposes of entertainment and giving us something to do on Saturday mornings because most modern cartoons suck, many of them cast us into a world of complete wonder and fiction. In some cases the world created in a video game is so creatively developed that it can pass as an alternate to our own. And lets not forget the some of the animation seen in video games is absolutely remarkable; with the world of graphics advancing more and more each year, it won’t be long before video games appear as real as your hand on the mouse. Altogether, video games are an art medium that can not only be visually captivating, but also artistically compelling as far as story, characters and themes go, enough so match other mediums, such as literature.

If you read a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck, two of the great American writers, what is it about their work that makes it so artistic? Is it Fitzgerald’s poetic style of painting a scene with little to no literal descriptions? Is it Steinbeck’s rough, simple style of describing a scene, but still presenting a myriad of themes, symbols and metaphors? What is it about their books that differs from anything a video game can do? I’m more than positive than any video game is capable of achieving the same level of storytelling, characterization, themes, and morals that any book can do.

Lets take one of my personal favorites as an example: Dead Space. This short, action-packed Horror-Survival presents us with a universe featuring a plot that could rival most movies and books. By picking up audio and text logs while you play you get a realistic feel for the world that has been created, and many of the gaps you get by playing the game are filled. So, aside from the world you experience as Isaac Clarke, you also become familiar with an entire story that happened before Isaac even became involved. By the end you are left wanting to know about this entirely new world that has been created and exists on a simple disk. For a game to give us this much story in what could otherwise be a simple premise is quite impressive and truly the mark of artistic glory. This is all without even mentioning the extreme attention to detail that the graphics and audio gives us, which alone is enough to give this game high merits. Overall, aside from being a terrifying space zombie thriller, Dead Space is also an example of the artistic capabilities video games can offer us.

Another game I’d like to bring up is probably the expected example, so I won’t spend too much time on it: Shadow of the Colossus. While it offers us nearly nothing in terms of plot, characterization and development, the graphics are absolutely stunning for its time and the world created is gorgeous. The scenery of this 3D environment is beautiful enough to compete with famous landscape painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Cole. Many areas of this virtual world are places that you aren’t even required to go to as part of the story, but you can spend hours simply exploring and admiring the fine attention to detail given by the designers. Another point I’d like to make with this game is that despite lack of amount concrete material given to any character or plot development, you can still get a strong attachment for these characters and eventually put an emotional stock in them by the end, which is pretty hard to do when the only word the comes out of your protagonist’s mouth is the name of his horse. That is what I call a multitude of ideas expressed with minimal material.

Just to name drop a few other games with an artistic legitimacy, I’d like to list titles such as the Half-Life, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Portal, the Silent Hill series, and the Final Fantasy series.

And it can’t be because video games are simply “games” and are only meant to entertain us, because that would mean that film and comic books would not be considered an art form either, and many a time have movies and graphic novels proven to be just as artistic, if not more so, than a painting, novel or orchestra. Both movies and comics have proven to achieve a level of artistic value that sometimes succeeds over other art forms. For a lot of people reading this blog, you’re also familiar that animation can be a work of art, with such examples as the work of Satoshi Kon, Hayao Miyazaki, or Anno Hideaki, each of which have proven themselves as more than capable of making the anime genre into something artistic.

One of my favorite directors, Guillermo Del Toro, also brings up an interesting point regarding the topic of video games as art, calling them today’s modern comic books.

I believe it is only a matter of time before video games will be widely considered a legitimate art form. Give it a few years and we’ll start seeing more and more games like, or even better than Dead Space and Shadow of the Colossus. I’m sure that the gaming industry will soon have a revolution of new and artistic video games, and it won’t just be us hardcore gamers appreciating the medium anymore. It happened with comic books; it happened with film; and at one point, even the best literature wasn’t anything you’d consider “artsy”. The gaming industry is simply following the same natural path of evolution that every other art medium has gone through, and it’s high time more people accept that.

So, are video games a form of art? It’s really depends on which game you’re talking about, but ultimately it relies on the person playing them. Either way, you certainly have my vote for “Hell Yes!”