Video Games Should Never Be Art

Are video games “Art”? Let me quote screenwriter John Raffo:

“As a writer, I’m not an artist… or don’t look on myself that way. Rather, I’m a craftsman… a shoemaker[.] I try and make a good shoe. But here’s the dichotomy… there are ugly shoes and there are beautiful shoes. I want to make beautiful shoes that people want to wear and want to walk in.”

Everything you need to know about my answer is contained within that quote. Hint: Video games are not Art.

But let’s go further. Why would you want them to be?

Art, since the 1920’s, has been shit. Literally! The Dadaists came, they conquered, and they left behind a vapid landscape of fetishized vulgarity, like vomiting on a canvas. It’s no accident that one of the few video games proclaimed as Art allows you to massacre students at Columbine High School.

By these standards, video games are not Art. And I hope to God they never will be.

9 thoughts on “Video Games Should Never Be Art”

  1. That’s really narrowing the definition of art. A lot of the point of “out there” art is that there can be no objective definition for what creations qualify as art. If some thing is either created as art or perceived as art, it is art. Doesn’t mean we have to like it, though.

  2. Well, I don’t want to argue the definition of art… today. :) When people talk about Art though, including performance art, “the art community”, “modern art”, and so on, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

    Art used to be great and inspiring. I have nothing but respect for the work of classical Greek sculptors, Renaissance painters, even the cave paintings of Lascaux.

    Art used to be great, but since the 1920’s, not so much. Now it’s pedestrian and uninspiring.

    And you’re right, people can call anything Art they want. I just prefer the work of people who are craftsmen first and foremost, because people who call themselves Artists tend to produce subpar work.

    A game designer who calls themselves an Artist will almost certainly produce inferior games. Which is why aspiring to such a thing is a bad idea.

    Some day a game designer may make something worthy of being called Art. My theory — and it’s just a theory — will be that such a person won’t refer to themselves as an Artist, but will instead be labeled as such by others.

  3. I have no doubt that the past was littered with mediocre and hack artists. Their work just doesn’t survive the winnowing of time. That’s the only real judge; what survives is great. What is not great, fades. There are great artists living today, but sometimes they are obscured by the noise of pop culture.

  4. I’ve been going through your archives, and having a good time doing it, but I don’t agree on this one. Video game creation is a craft that can be mastered, with many different elements going into it, some technical and some creative, in order to craft something entertaining and in rare cases enlightening, helping us see something in the human condition. “Dear Esther” tried to be art but failed in the sense that it wasn’t entertaining; it was a visual experiment.

    But “Journey”? “Journey” was video game art. It is a near-perfect game that is not only beautiful to look at but ALSO entertaining, and through “Journey” you form a bond with another human without words. It tells you something about the human condition, it’s visually beautiful, AND it’s really, really fun besides. A remarkable achievement.

    Or Kan Gao’s “To the Moon”. It’s fairly close to a visual novel, but on the other hand there really isn’t a lot less gameplay than “The Walking Dead”. And “To the Moon” is brilliant. The soundtrack is simply sublime, and the story is profoundly moving and hysterically funny in equal measure. “To the Moon” is art as much as any book you’ll find out there.

  5. Not to take away from your points, because I’m not disagreeing with them, but they don’t address my contention:

    To be considered Art, in the modern world, a work cannot be beautiful, not can it be entertaining, nor can it be bourgeoisie.

    Video games should never be *that* kind of Art. Period. Full Stop.

    # # #

    There is an artist who made an excellent presentation on exactly this subject: the banning of beauty from Art. He talks about the differences between classical art and modern art, what kinds of art the modern establishment hates and derides, and why the modern definition of art is so debased.

    Once again, my contention: If by “art” one means Modern Art, I hope video games never become Art.

    His series shows why, including depicting what Modern Art really is.

    Series starts here:

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