Video Games Are Art, And It’s Awesome


Circulating through social media platforms, still, is a tornado of frustration and anger between two large groups of video game lovers. Both groups see a big pile of flaws in how one of the things they love the most is portrayed and discussed. I’m not here to discuss the big issues–they’ve been canvassed painfully elsewhere. But as I’ve slogged through the hashtags and tweets and links from friends on both sides of the fence, there’s a trending thought that keeps popping out at me: A worry, a terror even, of video games being considered art.

The “Are video games art?” discussion is no longer open for debate. Gaming has already been widely accepted alongside music, dance, visual art, and the others as the newest mode of creativity (Links are to a handful of examples among many). And rightly so. Games are a conglomeration of other art forms; they are the product of creative expression; they speak to the human soul and express truths about the human condition. All qualities of art.

What I want to tell you is that, if we consider video games art, it will be okay. It is not the death of gaming, or art, or anything else. It will be okay. Maybe even good.

Articles like Polygon’s recent piece, and a lot of upset people on social media, are terrified of this. That if we consider video games art, then the games they love most, which maybe don’t meet someone else’s standards, might cease to exist.

Yet the idea that “art” must be some high, lofty, culture-stuffed thing operates under a fundamental misunderstanding of what art encompasses and inspires. Art is not some dead, dull thing we lock up in a museum. Art is living, breathing, and constantly happening. Art is a silly play, a beautiful new musical score. It can be a Broadway musical, childhood watercolors, ballet dancers, Monet, and improv comedy.

Art is not the death of games, but games might be a new life for art.

One of art’s most wonderful qualities is the way it embraces everything that belongs to it, whether that thing is “artistic” or not. The games people are afraid of losing could be compared to a lot of the music we hear on the radio. We love those songs, we listen to them, perhaps they make us feel passionate or joyful or sad, but probably they don’t have the same artistic quality as Mozart. Such songs are still part of the art of music, just as games considered “less artistic” belong to video gaming equally as much as “artistic” games such as Journey. In a similar way, I can rock out to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio and enjoy it for what it is, but I can also enter into a serious discussion with others about the themes, musicality, and artistic expression of the song. Regardless of how I’m enjoying it, the song is still art.

Art is creative venture and endeavor, and the wonderful thing about art is that it doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to say something meaningful, or move someone to laughter or tears. When a young person begins to enjoy art of any kind, we encourage them to love the art for its own sake. They love it for the spirit and passion they put into their creation, and the enjoyment that will hopefully be invoked when that creation is viewed by an audience. Art is, among many other things, really darn fun.

Art is not a death sentence for games. Calling video games art will not suddenly make developers, big or small, look at the games they love making for you and say, “I must make this serious. I must make this ART.” If a developer wants to make a deep, moving game, he or she will do so. If that same developer wants something silly, light-hearted, gritty, or just plain entertaining, that’s the game that will be created. If more people want a certain kind of game, that game will be created more often. Speak with your wallets and buy the kinds of games you want, and more of those games will appear.

But also speak with real words. Because art of any kind or quality is subject to criticism. Criticism comes from all sorts–journalists who are cutting their teeth on their first few articles, seasoned critics and reviewers, young kids on forums, adults who are playing their first game, and everyone in between. You won’t always agree with it, and it won’t always be “right”. That will happen, because game reviews and commentaries come from human beings who have had particular experiences that shape their views of things. Sometimes the criticism will get serious, and involve deep themes or social issues, and you will disagree. Write back. Write back with kind words, but firm ones. If you write well, people will listen to you, too. Remember that one person’s dislike of a game or trope means very little, but that a large group’s dislike of a trend will inspire change over time, hopefully for the better.

Art is not the death of games, but games might be a new life for art. Already, real symphony orchestras perform music from video games, and shows are filmed that talk about gaming and gaming culture. As their artistic qualities become better known, more and more people will want to use them to tell their stories, bringing new talent to the field and creating games unlike we’ve ever seen.

Games are new and exciting and still changing, still young. They offer audience involvement in a way that even live theatre hasn’t quite been able to capture. They offer artists of varying skillsets (music, visual art, storytelling) to collaborate and form something beautiful. And they offer gamers a chance to, using the same medium, experience a silly romp through a kingdom of mushrooms one day, and the next day be moved to tears by an ultimate sacrifice.

Whether we like it or not, in the coming years we will see games taken more and more seriously as an art. Don’t be afraid. Celebrate the possibilities: you are the artists, the audience, and the critics. Keep loving games. And keep talking about the issues that are important to you with others, because if they’re talking about games, they probably love them just as much as you.

The views expressed in this article explicitly belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of, nor should be attributed to, GameSided as an organization.