Feb 23 2012 4:00pm

Gaming Roundup: Resurrecting the “Are Video Games Art?” Debate

Few video games exist that allow a reasonable argument to be made for the consideration of video games as an art form, although Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Limbo, Okami, and Grim Fandango could construct rather strong cases. You can now add Dear Esther to this list. This indie experiment defies categorization — indeed, Dear Esther is best described as an instance of interactive, atmospheric storytelling rather than a game. To say more would run the risk of ruining a very worthwhile experience, but Dear Esther is at once a poignant, beautiful, and slightly melancholy journey worth taking. You can grab Dear Esther now on Steam for the extremely reasonable price of $9.99.

In other gaming news this week, Journey has a street date, Mass Effect 3 is going into orbit, and mechs hit the gaming scene once again.

  • If you’re in the market for a unique multiplayer experience (and lots of sand), Journey now has an official release date of March 13.
  • Mass Effect 3 has launched... into outer space. Really. No, really.
  • Have you grown tired of slaughtering the denizens of Steelport with mollusks and giant purple dildo bats? Change it up and kill aliens instead. The Gangstas in Space DLC is now available on all platforms for Saints Row: The Third.
  • The former editors-in-chief of Joystiq, Kotaku, and The Escapist have launched a new gaming blog over at The Verge. Check it out!
  • CCP is working hard to try and make EVE Online more accessible and newbie-friendly.
  • Attention, adventurers! Naughty Dog has released a new map pack for Uncharted 3, and is also teasing the release of a new co-op survival mode in March.
  • Do you long for the days of MechWarrior and Shogo? Get your mech on with Hawken, which will be free-to-play in December.
  • Film noir fans, rejoice — Max Payne 3 will be here soon. While you wait, check out the latest trailer over at Rockstar Games’ official Max Payne 3 site.
  • Grab your jetpack. The Tribes: Ascend open beta hits this Friday, and is free-to-play.
  • Craving some tropical island mayhem? Check out the latest Far Cry 3 trailer, which slightly reminds me of a cross between Hostel and The Ruins.
  • And finally, Team Ico (whose games are, in keeping with our theme, among the strongest existing arguments for video games as art) confirms that they are, indeed, continuing to chip away at their latest project, The Last Guardian, which is (extremely) tentatively scheduled for release later this year.

If there are games you’d like us to cover or blogs you think we should be following for more news, please let us know @tdelucci or @pritpaulbains.

1. trench
For me the idea of video games not being art, is a big slap in the face of any decent song, movie, book, or painting. For me art comes from someone's desire to express an idea through any medium, be it a verse of poetry, or by telling a story which the viewer/reader/listener can some how make a personal connection with and there by give it even more meaning. Art is an idea, an idea the artist has rendered into a visual or audio form of communication. To say a video game is not art is to tell a chef that the meal they created is nothing more then a delivery mechinism for vitamins.

For me what holds video games back from being considered art by the masses is that the form itself came about in our day and age of consumerism, most games that are made and released are done so for purely monitary reasons. But just because a company makes a game just for the purpose of filling out the bottom line, does not some how make it not art, it just makes it bad art.
Christopher Everett
2. MidwestMedic
I completely agree with the comment above. Games can be art..and can be crap, like so many things. A well made meal vs McD's value menu... it's all how you look at art.
Mordicai Knode
3. mordicai
The fact that ICO & Shadow of the Colossus were the flags that people raised in that debate as "the best examples of art in gaming" really did my heart good, since I happen to agree.
Pritpaul Bains
4. Kickpuncher
@ 1 & 2: I generally agree, fwiw.

But for the sake of argument, no gaming/art debate is complete without a reference to Roger Ebert's take:

In Ebert's case, it seems like it comes down to, as a commenter noted, either you "get" it or you don't.
5. politeruin
Games not being a valid art form is an absurd and ignorant argument usually made by people who haven't the first clue about games as they don't play them and think they're the reserve of teens playing the latest US army propaganda led arab kill fest. Of which there are a worrying many but i like the first poster's opinion that these are just bad art and like any medium there is a ton of dren out there. Play such games as portal, half life 2, braid, deus ex, amnesia, ico etc... and have your mind opened. Going to add dear esther to that list because it's superb, the sense of isolation and subjective story really stuck with me long after i played it (not so much played it as experienced it). If something like that comes along which seems to split people into those who loved it and loathed it then it's probably doing something right.
6. BDG91
It's quite sad that some people say video games aren't art because it can tell a story unlike any other medium. It is the first medium I have seen that can effectfully tell a story that includes the player/reader/watcher. It's your choices that effect the world around you and that's a powerful device that I don't think has been to it's potential within the medium.
Theresa DeLucci
7. theresa_delucci
In Roger Ebert's defense, he did apologize for some of his misinformed comments on games. He fully admits that he just doesn't "get" gaming and never will. People bought him a PS3 and told him to play SotC.

@5, I know a lot of people like the one you just described and I think Ebert falls into that category. I just really don't "get" how anyone can say a game is any different from a book or a film. We call those art and is there anything more consumer-driven than the film or music industry? You made an interesting point there, #1.

I've played a lot of games, but only a handful have ever really moved me to tears or left me with interesting questions to ponder. That doesn't mean anything less is without worth. Sometimes I want to get swept up my emotions, other times I just want to blow off some steam and shoot zombies with my friends. But I probably will think poorly of someone who enjoyed Duke Nukem Forever. That's just plain bad taste.
Ian Gazzotti
8. Atrus
The 'games can be art' debate should really have ended in 1997 with Riven. Anything else is redundant.
Pritpaul Bains
9. Kickpuncher
Both Myst and Riven could be included in the OP. Forgot those.
Ian Johnson
10. IanPJohnson
At times like this, I like to quote Penny Arcade…

"If a hundred artists spend five years creating something, how could the result not be art?"
David Edison
11. DavidEdison
Funny, I was Tweeting about this just today. The whole debate of "Is ___ art?" seems wrongheaded to me, because no person has the authority to answer the question. Who's the President of Art, and would her answer change the way we play games?

(Also, it's wrongheaded for a bunch of other reasons, not the least of which is: If you have to ask, you're not ready for the answer. Check out the similar fuss in the long-long-ago, when Impressionist painters suffered the same inane examination.)

The game industry en masse likes to ask this question because it's an industry forever insecure about its place in the world. Journos like to ask the question because it generates an invigorating discussion. Lots of non-gamers like to ask the question because, rilly, they hope the answer is 'No.' But gamers and game developers know the answer.

...Duke Nukem Forever notwithstanding.
12. ThatOneKid
Video games can definitely be art. I mean, come on, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was described as a painting come to life!

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