There's been a lot of debate about whether videogames are art or not. Then again, there's been a lot of debate about whether art is art or not, so buckle up! This can get philosophical.
Humans feel the constant need of communication, and videogames are a form of communicating with the weird world living outside the developer's minds. Going deeper, there are games that have succesfully achieved the subtle ways of storytelling (more on games and storytelling in an upcoming post). So, if a novel is considered art, why shouldn't a videogame be considered art as well?
There are people who say videogames should even have a museum, there are other people that feel like videogames are as close to art as a white canvas in a pretty frame, which, considering the standarrds of modern art, is pretty close.
I believe that videogames can be art, or not, depending on the feelings that they convey on the player. I can't think of a videogame such as Braid not being considered a form of art, which is why I honestly believe that videogames are art's second cousin twice removed. They are definetly younger than other forms of art, and they have definetly artistic potential, so they sure are family.
What does it take for a videogame to be considered art?
It's not about the pretty graphics, or the pretty sounds... it's about the complete experience, it's about having that precious feeling of wonder while you play the game, at all times, even though the game might convey other additional feelings. Here's a list of 3 videogames that I consider pure art and the reasons why.
Braid: The atmosphere that Braid creates is dense with metaphores and intense feelings of loss and regret. The player almost doesn't want Braid to end, the whole experience is so subtle and yet so strong that he can't help but feel satisfied and overwhelmed at the same time. Braid provides a well balanced combination of music, art, storylines (all art forms), and best of all, it allows the player to be a part of it.
Limbo: Another atmosphere game, however this case is so less obvious than Braid to many people because of the graphics being so simplistic. Limbo empowers the concept of minimalism with (get this) not a very audible music and not very elaborate graphics (huh?) Limbo is not about flashing awesome things at the player, but about hiding awesome things from the player. The feelings of dispair and fear of the unknown are intensified by blinding and deafing the player, the mechanics are neat and the complete experience is so immersive that the average player flinches with every Game Over. Many paintors have tried to achieve these same feelings in their audience to no avail, and Limbo manages it while keeping the player with a genuine sense of wonder and avid for more.
Thomas was Alone: One of my favorite games, Thomas was Alone is narrative done right. It transmits a powerful artistic feeling similar to the feeling one may experience after reading a life-changing, paradigm-shifting book, so why wouldn't it be considered art? The player is led to believe that he's playing a game, when he's actually reading a story, with game rules, again, something only games can provide.
Braid mainly gives the player a feeling similar to the one he might feel by watching a great painting while listening to empowering music, Limbo mainly makes the player feel like part of a minimalistic work of art and Thomas was Alone mainly makes the player feel part of an amazing story. All these have one thing in common, they not only throw art at the player, they also make the player be a part of that through immersion.
Games are unique because they can mix some great music, great graphics and amazing stories and reinforce all this with a solid and coherent gameplay to invite the player to get in and be an active part of the whole thing. Which painting have you seen that can do that?
Why are some videogames not considered art?
Not all videogames have artistic qualities and make the player feel like he's reading the most beatuiful of poems, so here are 3 un-artistic videogames.
Grand Theft Auto: Robbing cars and wrecking cities, however artistic it may sound, ruins the atmosphere. This game has it all: good graphics, good music, cool mechanics, but they somehow don't interact between one another in harmony, making the player feel that he has a rather boring life. The feeling of wonder at the message of the game gets lost between all the complexity and roughness of the mechanics. To me, the greatest feeling that this game conveys is the feeling of cash falling out of your wallet.
Wii Sports: Being a fan of all things Nintendo I must admit that some titles lack that artistic component, Wii Sports is one of them. This game makes the player feel like being at a sports playfield listening to the music of a doctor's waiting room, it's meant to be more of a sport activity than a gallery-sightseeing activity. Since art is such a personal thing that speaks differently to each one of us, it's more difficult for multiplayer oriented games like this to convey art, so sometimes they don't even try to.
Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures: This is a very fun un-artistic satire. It is made as a cult to the history of gaming, regarding gaming as the classic, geeky, frustrating experience that stuck after the 8-bit consoles went in business. Although the graphics are fun to watch, the humor is hilarious and the gameplay is marvelously frustrating, this game feels to me like whatever fun feelings I get when I watch Saturday Night Life.
Not all games are art, and that's all right, because not all games are meant to be. Each game has its own unique purpose and not all the developer's need to connect at such a deep level to make a great game. What's true is that all games have the potential to become art, because they are family.