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Analyzing the artistic merits of video games

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Defining Art: Don’t Do It

Posted by Nick Dinicola on January 23, 2009

In my first post I tried to define what is “art,” or at the very least set some parameters that a work has to achieve before it can be considered art. My original plan was to define art with that first post, and in subsequent posts I’d write about how a particular game fit that definition and was thus a work of art. However, “art” proved to be a tricky word to define since there are several categories of art. I then decided to write a series of posts about the different types of art, defining each type while providing an example of a game that fit the definition, proving once again that games are art. But I no longer think that’s the right way to go about this discussion of “games as art.” While I still agree with the points I made in those posts, I disagree with the fundamental idea that games have to be defended as art before they can be discussed as art.

In most discussions of “games as art” that I’ve seen or read, the discussion always gets bogged down in defining art. The word is so subjective, and everyone has their own definition, so those discussions usually consist of people stating their personal definition of art and then explaining why or why not games fit into that definition. People ignore the games themselves, and the whole thing becomes a question of “what is art” as opposed to “are games art.” This is the wrong approach to the subject.

It’s difficult to defend the medium of games as art because, let’s face it, not every game is a work of art, but neither is every film, play, book, painting, song, or statue a work of art.  But when people discuss those mediums they don’t discuss them as a whole, they discuss The Godfather, they discuss Hamlet, they discuss 1984, the Mona Lisa, Moonlight Sonata, the Venus de Milo. We should be doing this well. Instead of asking “Are games art?” we should be asking “Is this game art?” Instead of making the argument for games as art, let’s make the argument for Shadow of the Colossus as art. Instead of arguing over the semantics of a definition, we should be arguing over the merits of a specific game. This kind of focused discussion can only be good for gaming.

Therefore I’m no longer going to try to define art. Instead, I’m going to write down my immediate, emotional reactions to a game, as well as some thoughtful reflections, and hopefully through doing so convince you of the artistry behind that game and that game only. Of course, since that’s kind of what I’ve been doing, this is really more of a change in personal philosophy than a practical change in writing style. But I decided to write about it because I do think there’s an important distinction between defending games as art and discussing games as art.

So there you go, the discussion is over. Games are art. Now let me tell you which ones are and why.


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