No, Video Games Cannot Be Art.

This editorial is in response to our own David Lasby’s banter piece called “Should Video Games Be Considered Art?”. He argues his point by saying that video games:

“…should inspire, should challenge or move us to rethink ourselves, our relationships, or our world; and in so doing, to become better.”

– David Lasby

I’ve been moved by games don’t get me wrong, so I cannot counter his point, however we have to look at what video games are truly made in this “artistic” form. They are made to be played and interacted with, and with the player’s perspective in mind, to be bought and sold the world over. 

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Art is an expression of a creative vision, feeling, and emotion from the artists and/or creators. I can agree that the visuals themselves can be considered art, but when the powers that be discriminate, disseminate, and poke and prod these “artistic” pieces, who are they serving when they do so? The customer. A game cannot fit into the art space, because what are the points of video games? Playing. You are interacting and trying to reach a goal, encountering challenges, and hitting checkpoints. You are interacting, learning and employing a skill to advance. If this were the case to say “video games are art,” then we have to use the same logic with sports. Sports themselves are expressions of emotions, however the ultimate role of sports is to employ your own skills to achieve goals. As a fan, or viewer of sports, video games, or any activity where others are trying to achieve a goal, those specific activities are meant to satisfy or amuse the audience. 

The Witness (2016)

If we say that there are video games that lack these interactive elements, like walking simulators for example, and achievable goals, then it ceases to become a video game, doesn’t it? As Roger Ebert puts it, on his website

“…I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.”

– Roger Ebert
That Dragon Cancer (2016)

Art is not interactive. If you are watching a musical orchestra play a symphony, they don’t require you to pick up an instrument and play. Reading Homer’s The Iliad does not require you to “choose the next action” in order to finish the story.  

Art by itself, as stated before, is an expression of the artist’s vision. Games these days are play tested and focus tested, and developers are interacting with players to find out what they like, and what gameplay elements satisfy the most. Games are NOT made with the artists’ visions in mind, they are made with the “player’s” vision in mind. 

If video games were art, there would be no need for Metacritic scores, and leagues of websites (like the fine website and video game magazines critiquing video games left and right, and recommending or not recommending games to their viewership. Video game publishing companies are obsessed with these scores and reviews, and want to put out games that make you, the player, happy. Which, in turn, means more money in their pockets. Was Van Gough obsessed with selling his art for money? Was Plato writing plays, ballads and poems for fame and fortune? Video games are made to be bought and sold, and meant to earn profits. 

I can admit to myself that I have played many games that have evoked a wide range of feelings and emotions, like sadness, anger, happiness and wholesomeness. There are games out there that have given me pause and caused me to reflect and have great discussions about with others who have experienced the same, much like the experiences David Lasby mentioned in his article. However, I believe he misses the point when he calls video games “art” because it evokes these feelings and emotions. We can enjoy these moments with video games and not have to call it art. Because it is not. Video games are experiences we interact with. Art is a true reflection of the artist itself, and we all know video games are made with the consumer in mind. Art is not interactive, and does not require input from the viewer, or player. Video games are a product that is produced with the intent to make money. That’s OK, because it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying them.

Image Sources: Game Informer, New Statesman, That Dragon Cancer

4 thoughts on “No, Video Games Cannot Be Art.

  1. This is an impressively bad take.
    “If Video Games were art, there would be no reason for Metacritic scores”
    I guess movies aren’t art then. Ebert is double wrong.

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