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Games Are Toys... NOT Art. Do We Need To Rebrand?

Jonathan Lester
Art, Game articles, Opinion piece, rebrand

Games Are Toys... NOT Art. Do We Need To Rebrand?

We're going to start the proceedings with a little thought experiment. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then let's begin. Think back to why you started playing videogames in the first place. If you're being honest, you'll start to glaze over with fond memories of stolen lunch hours and afternoons playing with your friends (virtual or otherwise) and having a laugh. You didn't get into gaming to immerse yourself in an emergent form of high art. You played games because they were a fun toy that every kid coveted and enjoyed. This, dear reader, leads us on to one inescapable conclusion.

Games are toys. Not art.

Games, by their very definition, are things that you play... and this classification is absolutely fine for the overwhelming majority of our medium. Most developers design their wares to be disposable pleasures: like the latest Mattel craze, airfix kit or jigsaw puzzle that can be enjoyed, completed and discarded in the fullness of time. Most of us game simply because it's fun, and there's nothing wrong with that. Our focus, as gamers, ought to be to revel in this fact as well as the wondrous entertaining baubles that we can eventually throw out of the pram when their inevitable sequels hit the shelves... rather than stubbornly (and incorrectly) insisting that our entire industry represents high art every time someone stands up and challenges us.

Games Are Toys... NOT Art. Do We Need To Rebrand?

Who still doesn't react like this? I certainly do.

But don't scroll down to the comments just yet, folks. Here's where things get interesting. What of the tiny minority of titles that strive to be infinitely more than just mere playthings? I'm sure that you're raring to name a few, because the likes of ICO, Braid, Flower and Every Day The Same Dream speak to us on as as many levels as a Rembrandt or a Mozart symphony. They are works of art. Many are nothing less than true masterpieces. But so long as these titles are classified as "games," they can only aspire to be the shiniest toys in the toybox as far as the mainstream media and critics are concerned.

So here's the thing. Maybe Roger Ebert actually had a point. Maybe "games" can never be art... but something else could. Maybe we need to rebrand.

Games Are Toys... NOT Art. Do We Need To Rebrand?

As discussed above, there's nothing wrong with games being games and being recognised as such. But there's a growing call for a highbrow segment of our medium to carve out a new niche- free of the association with toys and playthings. Names like "virtual experiences," "simulations" or "Interactive Media" don't quite do it justice, but a consortium of like-minded artists (yeah, there's it is) can come up with a description that adequately conveys what they're striving to create. 'Games' just doesn't cut it. An entirely new brand would allow even mainstream critics and audiences to appreciate and critique their work relative to their peers. It would require some serious graft and probably some decreased revenue in the short term... but artists seldom get rich straight away. They deliver great works because of the love of their medium.

Games Are Toys... NOT Art. Do We Need To Rebrand?

At the end of the day, it's important to never lose sight of the fact that gaming's primary objective is to make money and provide a fun toy for adults and children to enjoy. There's no denying it. But by letting developers willingly rebrand a portion of our industry, we could free them from this classification and allow them to explore higher concepts that can be judged on their own merits. For the sake of it. And for the sake... dare I say it... of art.

Okay, it's time for you to get involved. Do we need a rebrand? Fancy crushing my argument like a plastic cup and laying waste to my musings? I'm looking forward to a lively debate in the comments!

Add a comment5 comments
Gunn  Nov. 26, 2010 at 14:00

Flower and Flow stand out as experiences that you could easily imagine being in a modern art gallery.

Jonathan Lester  Nov. 26, 2010 at 14:04

Indeed- and I've been reliably informed that a number of similar experiences are eyeing up PSN as a platform. But their association with games will arguably stop them from being recognised as true works of art.

EDIT: In fact, Flower is such a good example that I'm replacing Limbo with it. I pictured it after all!

Mike  Nov. 26, 2010 at 19:29

By definition, a game is any system of rules which involves participant(s) and an outcome. This means that regardless of how they are 'branded', these interactive masterpieces will always be games.

The problem here is not that interactive art stands so obviously on the shoulders of throwaway entertainment. If that were an obstacle, then cinema would never have risen from its novelty roots to achieve its widely-recognised potential for artistic merit.

The problem is that most people (wrongly) define art as something which must be dictated by an artist to an audience. Games by their nature must be interactive, and in playing a genuinely original game, the player feels like as much of an artist as the person who wrote the rules.

So there's no need to think of a new name. If games can be appreciated in any aesthetic sense, then they already have artistic merit.

truth  Nov. 26, 2010 at 22:15

toys are art!

wonkypops  Jan. 29, 2013 at 12:35

A toy is an object that can be played with. A game is a system of rules understood by all players, which according to the philosopher Wittgenstein includes work, logic and language. Besides, who cares what Roger Ebert thinks of anything? All you need to know about him is this:

"The movie's weakness, however, is that it allows the special effects technology to overwhelm its story… the movie isn't really interested in these people -- or creatures. The obligatory love affair is pro forma, the villains are standard issue, and the climax is yet one more of those cliffhangers, with Ford dangling over an abyss by his fingertips."

From Ebert's 1982 review of Bladerunner.


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