Login | Signup

Video Games are Art

Tamsin Oxford

While games are still perceived as the dirty-uncle-with-an-anorak of the artistic world, they have delivered unto us delighted gamers unbelievable imagery. Sure, they are starting to get some recognition but there is still a level of snobbery that looks down upon the humble art created by the video game.

Video Games are Art


I appreciate art but could not have any kind of serious discussion about the merits of Wyeth or the drama of Monet. I know who painted the Mona Lisa but I don’t know what the cultural or emotional symbolism of it is. And I can go to a gallery and go “Oooh” over a particularly powerful image but there’s no chance I’d be able to explain why, or what paint they used. So please don’t expect this to be an educated analysis of gaming art that postulates its impact on society or economy (or chickens). For that you’d need to visit Cracked.com and read this article where they have actually provided you with powerful examples of artists whose work looks remarkably like our favourite games.

In the absence of an art degree I decided to use the magic of Google to find out a definition for art. Among the many examples that leapt up I particularly liked these...

“The creation of beautiful or significant things; “art does not need to be innovative to be good”.

"Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elementals in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions".

Just by examining those two phrases I can already see how the work that is put into gaming visuals slips firmly into the category of art. Are the amazing graphics and imagery of Indie hits like Machinarium or the rich magic of Fallout not exactly this? As far as I can tell the only difference between the images in video games and those in galleries is that ours happens to move. A lot. They definitely do appeal to my senses and emotions. I’ve been known to jump behind my chair when I’ve had a fright in the midst of a good game.

Video Games are Art

Game designers are the unsung heroes of the video game world and are often not treated particularly well. Why is it that their work is not given the same credit as some random splotches on canvas? We all know that the hours they put into these games are insane enough to inspire them to cut off an ear or two. A moment's silence for those that make our eyes happy is in order about now I think.

Personally I think a large reason that games aren't quite up with the big guns just yet is because most art critics would rather die than look at a game, much less declare any images within one to be of artistic merit. I know I’m making a sweeping generalisation here, there are probably some art aficionados with a Playstation 3 lurking in their lounge, but overall I don’t believe that games have the right levels of street cred.

Video Games are Art

We’ve all shared our frustrations over the tarnished image that games hold in the public conscience and, at this moment, there is very little we can do about it. Like books and comics and modern art before it, a time will come when perhaps games are appreciated in a more artistic light. It may be soon, it may be twenty years from now but I honestly believe that there is no way that such a rich resource of creative genius can be downplayed forever. Certainly this article written by Darshana Jayemanne is thoughtful and raises some intriguing points. She even sees the minimalism of Space Invaders as a form of art. I was very impressed.

So, as a member of the visual world and one who, by dint of owning a pair of eyes, can see if something is visually striking or not, I’ve decided to bore you with my top games that I think rate as art. These, to me, are far more stunning than some of the hideous creations that have been thrust before me in art galleries (and some people’s houses – ssshh).

Video Games are Art

To start with I have to agree with Crazed and say that the Fallout series definitely rank as the top of the lot for artistic merit. The entire series drips with paranoia and edgy disturbia. There is so much attention to detail that you find yourself walking about the house in a daze afterwards, struggling to separate yourself from the game for a while. It’s fantastic. I must add Portal and the Half-Life series for the same post-apocalyptic feel, rich detail and use of light and colour.

Video Games are Art

Finally I add to this Machinarium, Eufloria and Final Fantasy.  Still, while games may not yet have reached the hallowed ears of “those who determine art” just yet, there are plenty of institutions that have started down the path. Take the Smithsonian, for example, they plan to hold an exhibition in 2012 and then there’s Burlington City Arts doing the same thing until Feb 2010. So what do you think? Have I missed a title? Do you think this is a ridiculous debate? Let me hear it.

Add a comment2 comments
Roy  Dec. 24, 2009 at 14:07

Saying video games are art sounds like people dont think it is. If its not art then art doesnt exist. Also I wouldnt worry about so called art critics. They are not interested in art.

Matt Gardner  Dec. 24, 2009 at 16:16

I agree with everything you're saying here Tamsin. To add to the list, Braid kick-started a recent trend for watercolour-soaked indie games, and proved to be a wonderfully unique little 'artsy' game.

I think you're right....it's only really a matter of time. Unfortunately, I suspect that quite often a medium's worth is culturally defined (at least in part by those who would remain aloof) by the most vocal aspect of that medium's community. Part of gaming's low rep may have something to do with its perceived synonymity with youth, and not always in a good way. Thankfully this is changing, although gaming could still use an injection of PR.

Part of me thinks that we also need more 'highbrow' critics to perform a more emphatic role in terms of cultural mediation. I like the fact that EDGE's 10/10 has become something of industry lore, that it is a publication that at least has the image of being slightly more intellectual, but I think more publications need to follow suit. I like the fact that there are prominent critical articles one can turn to now - that gaming has developed a critical discourse, because it needs it.



Leave a Trackback from your own site

Email Address:

You don't need an account to comment. Just enter your email address. We'll keep it private.