The Problem With Gaming and Art Discussions

I may be very late to the debate. It may be a fairly settled matter; most gamers and even the general public generally assume that video games deserve to be categorised as “art”. However there is one glaring issue that still bothers me about this debate and that is: most people do not agree on what “art” really is!

Most debates on gaming and art seem to go along the lines of: “look at this! This thing this must be art!”, to which people debate and say either “yes it is” or “no it’s not”. Games such as The Last of Us or Limbo possess such a striking  aesthetic that people proclaim they must be art. Yes, I agree that there is a great deal of beautiful games out of there, and yes, they may well be art, but first tell me what art actually is – otherwise you are not saying anything at all. You might as well being saying video games are “rup”. See, makes no sense does it? Without a definition we are really saying nonsense.

In order to make this debate clear, we must look at what art really is. While this may seem very easy for many people on the face of it, there is no clear and definite definition of what defines art that we have all accepted what defines art. We could look to a dictionary but I think we would find problems in such definitions; there are 15 individual listings of definitions, none of which are finite, and more importantly, people still do not agree on these definitions. Many people will say books, paintings, poems and plays are all art. They are things and artefacts of beauty, and therefore they are art. In William Kennick’s essay Does Traditional Aesthetics Rest Upon a Mistake?, he makes the analogy that if we were all to run into a warehouse full of all things the world possessed and take out what we deemed to be art,then we would all take out different items. Me, I would been seen running out with some Picasso and Final Fantasy IX, but what the next person takes could be completely different, and most importantly, they would take them out for different reasons.  A dictionary definition is not enough to encompass every one of those individual reasons.


“For many people, the value of an art piece is held within the art piece itself; for the very beauty of the artefact, whether that be the Mona Lisa for its alluring beauty or for the beautiful scenery in Ori and The Blind Forest”

For many people, the value of an art piece is held within the art piece itself; for the very beauty of the artefact, whether that be the Mona Lisa for its alluring beauty or for the beautiful scenery in Ori and The Blind Forest. Surely then, art is akin to beauty. The problem with this is beauty is subjective, at least to some degree. Everyone’s idea of what makes something beautiful is different; I list in my Tinder bio that I am beautiful but for some reason the masses must disagree because I have few matches…

Is art therefore subjective? Is art down to a person’s opinion? Maybe. So then what does it matter if video games get classed as art or not? Personally, I believe that classification is important as art suggests more than just beauty.

There are things that I find ugly that I can still appreciate to be art. Playing through the purposefully hideous imagery in The Binding of Isaac definitely isn’t a beautiful experience but it is one I appreciate in an artistic sense. Maybe we can say it is beautiful in an ugly way perhaps, but that seems to take away the reasons why I enjoyed that experience as an artistic one.

The Binding of Isaac 2-min
The Binding of Isaac’s aesthetics certainly aren’t “beautiful”, but does that mean it isn’t art?

Many people, myself included, play games for their stories and the way they can interact like no other medium can. If you have ever played through a game just to understand the world and its characters then you must feel that story is art, in the same way many literary scholars hold Shakespeare as art. However, if the value we held in art is just aesthetic beauty then Shakespeare surely has a problem. The story and how it is told is the art; the meaning and the world that has been created. This is now far removed from any physical object of art, and it also asks questions of motivation. Can you make art by accident, or is art the intentional display of meaning? If Hideo Kojima just blundered lines together would it mean the same to us when we played Metal Gear Solid, or is part of the value the way he tried to play with your emotions?

Even if we have this looser definition of art, performances fail to fall into this category. Have you ever watched a sports game and listened to people discussing the art of the game, or the art of the technique? Can a one-off performance be art; the art of speedrunning or the art of playing Dota 2? Is there an artistic value in having that much experience and know-how? If that’s the case, then art isn’t even in an object such as a game or painting; nor is it even a meaning. What I am trying to explain is how difficult it then becomes to discuss whether or not something is art without having a concrete idea of what art is.

“For me, art is about its intentions and interpretations. Every artefact or display of art tries to do something to its intended audience”

For me, art is about its intentions and interpretations. Every artefact or display of art tries to do something to its intended audience. In this regard, almost anything can be classed as art – and to some, this is a problem. A stop sign has a message that the designer has chosen to get across using the conventions of society and colour to display. That doesn’t mean it has a more complex message than Bioshock Infinite; just that we can more plainly see its intentions and its interpretations. Super Mario Bros. is art because it was designed so well to entertain, using its medium as intelligently as Shakespeare used a sonnet. Games have typically chosen to entertain. Even if you think you are just playing, there are a million choices that a designer must make in order to enable and push that desire. For those that don’t see video games as art; it is just not art that was designed for them and while I wish they would join us, they are the ones missing out.

Game designers are the new Duchamp but in my opinion, have much more meaning. I will happily be proved wrong and I’m sure this theory of art is flawed, however, what I hope I have brought more clearly into the picture (if you pardon the pun) is the notion that art itself needs to be discussed before we even get to video games.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you see video games as a form of art, and why or why not? Comment below to join the discussion!