Why people don’t think video games are Art.

I have said over and over on this blog that I believe video games are art, and I have posted examples to back up my case. I am quite adamant about this, and I believe that anyone who examines my arguments will find I am right.

However, I will say that I can understand how the non-gamer, and even perhaps some gamers who have never happened upon artistically ambitious games, would not immediately see this. That’s not their fault.

For instance, the revolutionary and widely acclaimed First-Person Shooter (it’s easy for a gamer to forget, but that term alone must appall the layman) Doom was made by id Software in 1993. It is one of the most famous games ever. And what is its plot like? It is as follows: demons teleport into a military base and kill everyone except the player’s character, who must fight through legions of demons and use the teleporter to get back to the demons’ own world and defeat them.

In 1996, id Software released Quake, another step forward in the FPS genre. Its plot is as follows: monsters teleport into a military base and kill everyone except the player’s character, who must fight through legions of monsters and use the teleporter to get back to the monsters’ own world and defeat them.

In 1998, Valve released Half-Life, another game hailed as a massive advancement for the genre, and widely considered one of the greatest games ever made. Its plot is as follows: aliens teleport into a research facility and kill almost everyone, but the player’s character must fight his way through legions of aliens and soldiers and use the teleporter to get back to the aliens’ own world and defeat them.

Based on this evidence, the non-gamer would be quite justified in concluding that video games are nothing more than an absurd diversion for people with little imagination who like to pretend to run around and shoot stuff. And the natural reaction to this could be anything from disinterest to outright horror, but definitely not “this is the stuff of great Art.” And this hypothesis would be further justified on finding out that Doom, Quake and Half-Life all spawned many sequels. And wait till the non-gamer got word of Halo or, God forbid, Duke Nukem!

Of course, this assessment is incorrect, but so many games, especially the really popular ones, are like this that it’s easy to see why someone couldn’t be blamed for coming to the “video games are not art” conclusion. They can be dissuaded by either showing them one of the few artistically meaningful games or by pointing out that the vast majority of movies, books, songs, paintings and so on are also nothing to write home about. Only the best of the best make any medium worthwhile.

5 Comments

  1. I agree that it is understandable for laypeople to not see merit in video games as art, and I think you hit the nail on the head here, it’s an issue of only looking at the surface. Ebert famously said he doesn’t, and would not, play video games in the same article in which he denounces them. Even great art can be described in a similar, base fashion:

    Monet painted a lot of pictures of flowers and water.
    Citizen Kane is about a man who really liked his childhood sled.
    The Old Man and The Sea is about a fisherman who, surprise, goes fishing.

    It is more about how the story is told, not necessarily what the story is about. Gaming is an emerging art form, and just like other media before it, they will eventually mature and become more accepted. In the meantime, we need to keep championing the cause, and more importantly, support the companies that make games because they’re art, not just because the gaming equivalent of a Michael Bay film will make them a lot of money.

    Excellent post, I enjoyed the read. I talk about the art of storytelling in video games in my blog, and it’s nice to see other people out there talking about why this medium is legitimate.

    1. Same here–I remember Unreal Tournament, though I admit that because I got it at the same time as Quake III, I have a hard time remembering what was in which game.

      Of course, I only played the single-player mode, which really isn’t what those were for.

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