The concept of what constitutes art is a fairly broad and nebulous one, encompassing everything from ancient cave paintings to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, from stand-up comedy routines to Shakespeare.
It is also a perpetual source of debate, with each new artistic movement arriving on the scene to praise from some quarters, while others claim that there is either no merit in the boundary-pushing works, or that they are undeserving of being labelled ‘art’ in the first place.
Video games are the latest cultural phenomenon to get caught up in this great conversation about the nature of art. For sceptics, they are entertainment without value beyond their commercial impact, while for advocates they can be as immensely significant as any great work in other mediums.
This discussion is further complicated by the sheer breadth of works within the world of videogames, from the simple yet effective slots found on Casumo casino to the intricacy of blockbusting franchises like Grand Theft Auto.
This issue is far from settled, but it helps to consider all angles on the question of whether or not video games are a form of art so that you can make up your own mind.
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There tends to be a very clear distinction between those who see video games as art and those who do not, and it is drawn very much along generational lines. While it is not universally the case, it is certainly difficult to deny that people who grew up without access to immersive digital entertainment of the kind that is commonplace today are more likely to turn their noses up at claims of its artistic importance.
Even so, it is not sensible to write this off as snobbery without first examining the carefully thought out arguments that have been made by sceptics.
Perhaps the most persuasive, if controversial, counterpoint to the elevation of video games to the status of art is that they confound the presence of the authorial intent. This is an intriguing and potentially tricky idea to unpick, since it requires us to also accept that the author’s involvement in the art they produce is sacrosanct and unassailable. Interacting with a game is conceived of as having a destructive impact on the role of the author, or authors, which in turn frames ‘art’ as necessarily being something that audiences experience passively.
The simplest way to dismiss naysayers is to point back to the fact that every single evolution and revolution within the artistic ecosystem to happen over the centuries has been met with a backlash that is very similar to the one being heaped upon video games at the moment.
The greatest painters of the Impressionist movement, for example, were lambasted at the time because their works veered so far away from the accepted norms of this particular artistic niche. The same fate was suffered in the early years of cinema, and is still being debated today In many ways the video game market veers far closer to this than any other area of art in terms of its reception and its fragmentation.
Like the movie industry, video games can be separated into two groups consisting of big budget mainstream releases that put sales and sheer entertainment above all else, alongside independent creations which are by nature more experimental, esoteric and thought-provoking. There are clearly exceptions to this rule, but those who want to support video games as a form of art tend to point to works in the latter group to back up their claims.
Perhaps the real reason that there are still people who do not believe in the artistic value of video games is because there is something of a barrier preventing those who have yet to experience the most worthy examples of this genre from getting involved. Anyone can sit down and watch a movie with no prior knowledge, but having to pick up a controller and familiarise yourself with the means of interaction that are second nature to millions of gamers is a major obstacle to understanding in this case.
By this point it could be thought that the question of whether video games are art has been settled, with advocates outweighing detractors. Even so, it is always important to scrutinise, examine and chip away at receive opinions on any topic, no matter which side of the fence you sit on.