Games as Art?


This topic has been debated many times in many other forums all over the internet. Usually, I argue in favor of games being considered an art form. Lately though, I’ve been starting to think otherwise (I said STARTING… don’t light your torches just yet).

Now, I realize that obviously there are many artists involved with making the games we all enjoy. The designers who draw all the fantastic graphics. The composers who provide the musical scores that wind up stuck in our heads. The writers who add the dialogue that helps bring us the whole sense of immersion (I knew I could work that word in here somewhere). So, all these folks are artists, I don’t dispute that.

Here’s my point: Video Games seem to be the only form of art that are never finished. I’m talking about patches.

Imagine the reaction that would have occured if, a week after DaVinci’s Mona Lisa was unveiled, Leo walks into the museum with his paintbox and says “Y’know, I didn’t notice before, but the smile is a bit crooked, let me just fix that real quick.”

It’s the day before before Warcraft 3 is released, and Blizzard already has a patch out for it. It’s been what? Three years in the making? How many times have they pushed the date back? Beta testing for six months now?

“Oops, we didn’t make the Demon Lords pissed off enough.”

So the day before the game comes out, it already gets it’s first patch. The first of many, mind you. It will be a long time before the game is actually “finished”.

I guess when you think about it, the movie industry has the same ability. Look at Lucas. Except, of course, the last changes he made to Star Wars pretty much sucked. Why’d he do that anyway? The THX widescreen version was fine. Now put it on DVD, and leave it the fuck alone.

“No, no. Greedo has to shoot first, that was how I REALLY intended it.”

Thank you, Mr. Lucas, for laming up one of my favorite flicks. I guess since it’s your movie, you have every right to make it “nicer”. I’m just glad more movies don’t have patches.

Now, I’m not against patches (although, as I read over what I’ve written, it sure seems like I am). Most of the time, they do make the game better.
So they are a neccesary evil, like the McDonalds just down the street.

All of the statements I’ve made don’t really change the fact video games should be considered an art form (Oh, and a hearty fuck you to the judge who doesn’t even consider them protected under the First Amendment). Game developers just enjoy a luxury that your average painter or sculptor doesn’t have, they can fix the things that don’t work as far as the public is concerned.


All right, James, don’t make me start linking, Bub-style, to old columns.

Games are not art. They are entertainment. If you call games art, you open the door for anything to be art. For instance, if games are art, I defy you to name any form of entertainment that isn’t art. Rap? Country music? Magic tricks? Stripping?

BTW, there are plenty of art forms that constantly evolve and change. Sacred literature. Oral folklore. Director’s cuts of Army of Darkness.

Okay, I’m done. For now.


But games are finished. Planescape: Torment is no longer being patched. Neither is Grim Fandango, Tass Times in Tonetown, or M.U.L.E.

Whether you think games are art or not, depends on your definition of art. I think of art as something that produces a reaction in a person that goes beyond normal, bodily physical emotions (hunger, thirst, lust), when a product can move a person beyond that, I am tempted to call it art. (As well as to say that art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.) Despite having elements of visual art, music, storytelling, and drama in them, games are a unique form (of entertainment or art, take your pick) and should be judged by that.

Of course, I avoided courses in the fine arts like the plague in college, so what do I know?


A finely crafted set of chess pieces can be a work of art. Each chess piece carved into a work of art. Beyond scale, there is no logical difference between a carved statue and a chess piece.

Likewise, there is no hard-coded difference between a scan of a painting and a brilliantly drawn piece of artwork created for a computer game.

There is no reason that Infocom’s text adventures could not have been as brilliant as any novel, had one of the Infocom writers been a truly great writer. The Douglas Adams game “Bureaucracy” is as good as that author’s short story. I’m not saying that the writings of Douglas Adams are great art, but there is no strict barrier between his short stories and that game.

There is no one holding a gun to the head of the musicians who compose music for video games and forcing them NOT to create the occasional masterpiece. Whether or not one has come along yet is debatable, but if film music can transcend commerce, so can game music.

I don’t really see you making a strong case for this strict division between art and entertainment you’re proposing here.


Yeah, how many unfinished symphonies are there from the greats? Da Vinci never got around to Mona Lisa’s eyebrows. And there are Tom’s examples. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but patches aren’t exactly a silver bullet in the debate.

Personally, I don’t think you can exclude computer/video games completely as a form of art without also doing the same for film and television. Saying something can be art is not the same as saying they ALL ARE art. Yes, many games are simply entertainment, but I think some come awful close to crossing a line (the same way films do). I also think the consideration of games as art should be inexorably tied to the consideration of a gameplay aesthetic. What I mean is it has to go beyond the audio and visual presentation, and even beyond the story and characters. If we only consider those facets then games are simply a new medium for film. It’s that oh so inscrutable gameplay upon which the argument hinges in my mind. We all know there is good and there is bad and there is also great gameplay out there. Frankly, the Japanese are closer to hitting art in this respect than western developers.

Brad Grenz


The previous post was directed to Tom.


I defy you to name any form of entertainment that isn’t art. Rap? Country music?

Why does the broader topic of “music”, which is considered by many to be art, get to be broken down into sub-genres? Comparing video games to rap doesn’t seem fair. Compare video games to music, and FPSs to rap. (Or pick genres of your choice…That’s not meant to imply and specific similarities between rap and FPSs.)

I’ve said it before: If books, movies, and music can potentially be artful, then so can video games. Certainly, there are more instances in which any of those media aren’t qualified to be called art then are, but I think, potentially, video games could qualify, too.


Two words: Console games. Now please restate your argument.


Two words: Console games. Now please restate your argument.

Gentlemen, I give you… The Xbox!


I’d just like to say thanks for starting a “Games as Art” thread. Now I feel like the transition to the new message board is complete.


Yeah, Brad beat me to that one. I’m certain there will be patches for the Xbox. Obviously though, I didn’t mean ALL games aren’t finished. I’m pretty sure no one is refining the code for Duck Hunt.

As far as restating my argument goes; I wasn’t trying to incite one. I was merely trying to start a discussion about art, games and their relation to each other (if any).


Okay, yeah, games can be considered art. They have artistic elements, so if that’s your definition of art, knock yourself out experiencing the art that is Eternal Darkness. I prefer a definition that sets Faulkner apart from Remedy’s Max Payne dialogue.

I guess I’ll just have to go ahead and do this. Sorry, but you were warned.


And while we’re dismantling James’ original post (I agree with where you’re going, James, but there are easier ways to get there), I should point out that both Mahler and Schubert have Unfinished Symphonies. I’m not sure why they’re called that, since they end normally; it’s not like the orchestra just stops playing and packs up its instruments.

Schubert’s is better and, I think, kind of famous. As far as symphonies go.


How convenient that CGOnline would post that artcle just in time to correspond with this thread, huh Tom?

By the way…Regardless of our differing opinions, that’s one of my favorite Three Finger Salutes you’ve ever written.


Tom wrote:

Is it any coincidence that a computer game costs about as much as an opera ticket?

Are you implying that opera is art? In what ways does opera qualify?


That was me.


Heh… you aren’t an artist, are you? Artists like to tinker. If you let them, they’ll never “finish” anything. That’s the danger of digital art, I’ve discovered. It’s far too easy to go back in and make changes after you are supposed to be “done.”

Game developers just enjoy a luxury that your average painter or sculptor doesn’t have, they can fix the things that don’t work as far as the public is concerned.


As for games as art, I consider pretty much any creative human endeavor to be “art.” Games are comparable to film, as an art form. Take that for what it’s worth.

I prefer a definition that sets Faulkner apart from Remedy’s Max Payne dialogue.

There are books that feature narrative that isn’t much better (or is worse) than Max Payne’s. But if you use that as justification to toss out prose as an art form, then you lose As I Lay Dying and A Light in August, too. The fact that most games are crappy art isn’t a very good argument against the media’s qualifications as an art form, because that’s true of any media. Books, music, paintings, film… if quality of the majority of works in any of these media is the deciding factor, then none of them are art.


It’s easy to confuse craftsmanship with art.

The biggest barrier to games being art is that they are participatory. How would Shakespear play as a Choose Your Own Adventure play where the audience votes on whether Hamlet dies at the end? Once the piece is taken out of the artist’s hands and reshaped by the audience, it’s not the artist’s work anymore.


So art cannot be participatory? Do all the “games cannot be art” proponents agree with this definition of art? Don’t actors, directors, and costume designers all participate in a performance of a Shakespeare play? So live theater isn’t art - which I’ve always suspected. Neither is film, opera, or television. Though a script could be, I suppose.


Maybe if a game designer set up a camera to film himself playing a game he designed, the resulting footage could be art.