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Wolf Kanno's Crazy Ramblings and Incoherent Statements

Defining Gaming as Art

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This was going to have a subtitle, but they all sounded like pretentious academic papers and that kind of goes against the point of all of this.

So recently I began reading a very in-depth article series about two series worked on by one of the more influential game designers/writers in my life, Tetsuya Takahashi. I'll leave it up to Google for you to figure out why. Anyway, it was mostly a really well written and interesting analysis of the works and I actually learn a few things I never knew about some of my favorite games, so far a pretty solid read.

That was until I got to the last section of the article, which quickly devolved into a murky diatribe about games as an artistic medium and how only the types of works done by said creator can really be considered art for their gripping and thought provoking narratives over most modern games that simply work as self-gratification. Basically going on to say that most games are simply like pornography in that both serve a purpose of self-gratification and wish-fulfillment. Now, I find this assessment to be thought provoking, I also found it to be very narrow minded on how one defines art, let alone gaming's place within it. It didn't exactly help that the author sort of shot their argument in the foot by quoting the creator's of the game series he's trying to elevate, saying how the game could have actually been any medium, a video game is just what it turned out to be.

The fact this work was made as a game is simply happenstance and it easily could have been created as a number of mediums because of how it's expressed. A thought occurred to me though when thinking about this, why do we measure the artistic merit of games on the same standards we do for film? I guess because it's the medium that is the closest to it, but gaming has not always aped how Hollywood does thing. While some games certainly borrowed from the more cinematic narrative of film, many games don't. I feel it was this evolution in technology that allowed gaming to have greater presentation that really invoked the idea of games as art, but I also feel it may have shackled gamers to this notion that gaming can only be considered works of art when they follow in the footsteps of the works they try to imitate.

The idea that only a cinematic or narrative focused game can be the only way to define as game as art seems silly if a bit narrow minded. Why can't art be defined like we define it as say... architecture? You know, not just its beauty but also the craftsmanship and purpose it invokes. A game like Super Mario Bros. was crafted with a design to help players and not completely trial and error, nor pure skill. Listening to some commentary from Miyamoto about designing the game's first stage and how enemies are placed to teach you about the use of items and that secret blocks exist by forcing you to "accidentally" discover them seems to me a brilliant design and one that I feel shows an artistic merit because the creator is trying to show the player and teach them.

Then again, why should we define art with the same rules of one medium? Film seems like a good parallel to gaming because both are multimedia platforms that serve mainly as entertainment but video games involve an interactive element to them that is completely foreign to the passive experience that film brings. Even plays, which have an element of audience interaction is still subdued from the level of interaction that gaming brings to the argument; so why do we continue to try to define it with criteria that obviously doesn't work for it? We should set up new standards that can perfectly define the mediums merit.

Most great art was created for mundane reasons, but we have elevated it from it's humble origins due to the craftsmanship that went into the work. This is despite the fact that many works of art were made to pay bills, not actually "invoke" some great emotional response. Perhaps some of it was but, we'll probably never know for sure in regards to all works of art. So I sometimes wonder if in a few hundred years, people will look back on Tetris and Super Mario Bros. as these great works of art while we here in the present time continue to look at them as archaic and cheap entertainment?

We often hear people and game sites that argue for and against the artistic merit of the medium, but I often feel that we're all looking at this subject matter with the wrong set of criteria. As long as people continue to define gaming with the same criteria of other mediums, and not look at the unique merits that this medium brings to the subject of art, there may never be a satisfactory answer to the question of whether video games can be art.

*walks off his soapbox*


  1. Fynn's Avatar
    Well, in my opinion, all games are art. There really can be no denying it. How pleasing or how thought provoking it is is irrelevant - it was created through some manifestation of a person's (or a group of people's) vision. Everything has some sort of vision behind it, even if it's trout. Art can be trout too. Really, from a postmodernist perspective, everything is art.

    There was this cool episode of Brows Held High where Kyle talked about this very topic. Granted, it had next to nothing to do with JRPGs specifically, but it was still really interesting. I am super mad that the blipocalypse happened as I can't find the video anywhere on Youtube
  2. Karifean's Avatar
    Huh. To me having the interactive element be part of the artistic merit of a video game is something so obvious I never even thought about it being ignored.
  3. Pumpkin's Avatar
    I think gaming is an art, although I can't describe why. It's invoked feelings and emotions in to me stronger or on par with some movies and some literature and some paintings and whatever. So I would say it is
  4. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Karifean
    Huh. To me having the interactive element be part of the artistic merit of a video game is something so obvious I never even thought about it being ignored.
    It's something I've noticed when some people discuss it. Often people will say certain games are art because of story alone and others like Roger Ebert suggested that the interactive element of games disqualify it from being art because art is meant to be static.
  5. Fynn's Avatar
    Really, these types of discussions are actually all doomed to go nowhere because it is impossibe to reach an agreement on what art is nowadays
  6. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Fynn
    Really, these types of discussions are actually all doomed to go nowhere because it is impossibe to reach an agreement on what art is nowadays
    Very true. It's one of the reasons I suggest we need to talk about defining the criteria of what art actually is. Course this is a bigger discussion than the one concerning gaming.
  7. Fynn's Avatar
    It's a discussion that's been going on in academia for centuries. I really don't think we'll be able to settle on a definition here

    Still, it's nice to see what people subjectively think of it. I mean, I also subscribe to one approach that feels the most valid to me, but that doesn't make it undeniable truth