Dev Talk: Are Video Games Art? (Part 1)

Hello, and welcome to Dev Talk, a new weekly iFanzine feature in which I ask a panel of indie game developers their opinion on a topic or current hot-button issue related to the games industry.

This week I posed the following question: “The late and legendary film critic Roger Ebert once said that ‘video games can never be art.’ What’s your take on this rather incendiary statement?”

Here’s what the devs had to say…

Megan Fox, Glass Bottom Games

My take is that he (Roger Ebert) didn’t even remotely understand the medium.

Sam Coster, Butterscotch Shenanigans

There’s no universally agreed upon definition of art. Arguing either for or against this point is like building a castle on shifting sands, because what he means and what I mean by “art” are inevitably not the same. With him slipping off the mortal coil, he and I can never have that prerequisite argument, so we’re stuck here. That said, art critics frequently reject new movements in art. So far as I know, Roger Ebert did not play many games. I don’t mind a film critic moving to analyze games, but I do mind someone with cultural prominence and little experience with a medium making devaluing statements about it. It strikes me as irresponsible at best.

Games are art in my book, and Roger Ebert doesn’t get any pages there.

Rami Ismail, Vlambeer

He’s free to have that opinion, even if it is wrong. Everything new faces this challenge, whether “YouTube can be professional,” “eSports can be sports,” “crowdfunding can work,” “Crypto has value,” “cars can replace horses,” “jazz can be music,” or “games can be art.” It doesn’t matter. Time moves on, and what is first a challenge becomes a given not through fighting, but through something simply passing the test of time.

Steven McDade, Groovy Woovy

If an unmade bed can be considered art, then I’m pretty sure video games can be too. 🙂

Jaakko Maaniemi, 10tons Ltd

While my degree isn’t in arts, I had the privilege to study in a school that included art degrees (TTVO represent!), so all the basic art classes were taught by superb art teachers. It was a real eye-opener. The definition of art as “anything the creator considers as an expression of something at the time of creation” is a good one. So if you want to create an art game and do so, it’s art. Nobody gets to say it’s not. If you as a creator feel it’s art, and created it as art, it’s art. And crucially you don’t need to use the word “art” in your thought process. If you’re *expressing* something, you’ve created art. Skill, quality, originality or whatever doesn’t make any difference. It’d be pretty brutal to say “this isn’t good enough, so it can’t be art”. Peoples’ capacities vary so wildly there can’t be any gatekeeping skill levels for creating art. So of course games can be art.

Not all games necessarily are art, however, as not all music or books or movies are, I think. For example some works are created more or less purely as commercial entertainment, with little to no ambition for artistic expression. I’m not sure a product like that is art. Some creators are adamant that they’re not creating art, and I wouldn’t force the label on them. I think the term “entertainment artist” is a good one. A work or product can be made as entertainment, but still include a whole bunch of artistic expressions and qualities from a whole lot of people, even if the audience doesn’t necessarily become aware of most of it.

Jinn Karlsson, Pastille Games

Roger Ebert raised an emotion. And that is what art does. Roger Ebert makes you think, that is what art does. What Robert Ebert did not do with that statement is create something artistically in the audio-visual medium.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe” — René Magritte.

Rob Green, FixedUpdate Ltd

I’ve learned that art can only be art to the beholder, it doesn’t matter what it is. Ebert was a legendary critic as you said but that doesn’t make him right.

Freddie Honohan, Sumting Sumting Software

Incendiary is correct. “Art” comes in many shapes and sizes. Be it static visual 2D art, 3D architecture, dynamic motion pictures, or even just a piece of music. All of these forms of art combine as a recipe for games with the crucial addition of interactivity which is an art form that is probably the most difficult to pull off. That dude must obviously be a shortsighted n00b as his statement basically amounts to “Apple Pie can never be food.”

Mat Loz, Lozenge Lab

Some games tend to focus essentially on visuals and forget about gameplay. I think it’s important that games stay games and not become just beautiful interactive images.

Trent Gamblin, Nooskewl

Older generations find it difficult to accept video games as art or even an acceptable thing to do. Anyone who has grown up with them knows there’s nothing that separates video games from other artforms like film or music.

Thairine Santos, Cookie Pixel

It is a statement begging to be challenged. It is not new and arises whenever a new form of expression confronts people’s traditional values. Impressionism, abstract expressionism, conceptualism, they were all deemed non-art or lesser art at some point. The same goes for digital art and cinema itself! We think video games are in good company.

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