Can Video Games Be Art?

Posted by Ilya Malinsky ::


Most gamers think of ‘art’ in relation to the seamlessness of the visual gaming experience. Is that mutant blood dripping off the walls in a realistic manner? Have I forgotten entirely that my boss asked me to come in on Saturday again? These are all very practical concerns, integral to the game-playing experience. But do videogames themselves have the potential to be a true art form?

Some developers certainly seem to think so. The Experimental Gameplay Workshop at last week’s GDC showed that non-linear, non-representational game boundaries are still being defined. The forthcoming Spore re-thinks the SimCity challenge from an elemental, almost divine level: instead of planning commercial zones and laying down power grids, you’re planning for life itself by choosing between atmospheric gases and creating your own primordial ooze. A game that addresses the creation/evolution debate is pretty serious stuff, and arguably worthy of the 'art' tag. And what is the wireless Wii if not a mass-market participatory art installation?

Of course, the top-selling games are less explicitly concerned with ‘art for art’s sake’, while experimental, boundary-pushing games recieve less exposure. This model has analogues in other mediums: while the Spielbergs and Bruckheimers keep film studios financially afloat, the Cunninghams and Gondrys of the industry have more freedom to take financial risks and push artistic boundaries. Chris Hecker got one thing right during this now-infamous GDC rant: "We're at the beginning of something that could be an art form on a par with film and literature and music, and it's ours to f*ck up."

As a grade schooler, I approached SimCity on a very simple level: this was my beloved Lego blocks taken to the next level. In retrospect, the game raised my interest in ‘how things actually work’. Lower taxes and watch the population boom while the city budget flounders, unable to fund enough public works to keep the population healthy, employed, and entertained. Or at least that’s how the game made it seem. Entertaining, thought-provoking, AND politically conscious? If that’s not art...


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