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Programming Games

"Are Games Art?" and the Intellectual Value of Design (timconkling.com) 153

itwbennett writes: Tim Conkling is an independent game developer whose current project, Antihero, is a strategy game about running a thieves' guild in a Dickens-inspired Victorian city. Recently he had the opportunity to talk to (i.e., was held captive by) an elderly and 'accomplished playwright, set designer, and painter' who quickly dismissed game design as 'not art.' The question of games being art or not isn't a new one. Roger Ebert was on the 'games are not art' bandwagon in 2010. More important to Conkling, who wrote about this interaction in a recent blog post, is the notion that any 'intentionally designed' piece is worthy of intellectual respect. "Nobody would ever seriously write off, for example, an Eames chair or a Gehry building; whether these objects fit some random definition of 'art' is inconsequential to their perceived cultural value." writes Conkling.
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"Are Games Art?" and the Intellectual Value of Design

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  • you can get away with.
    • Re:Art is whatever (Score:4, Informative)

      by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @02:33PM (#50728867) Journal

      Cite your source:

      Art is anything you can get away with.
      -- Marshall McLuhan

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      Art actually seems to reflect more intention than anything else.

      Someone can put up a urinal and sign it, and it will become art. It was intended as art to have some sort of message. I would explain that message, but you are not worthy of Dada, so I will now explain how you are all cows instead. And tricycles. Potato.

      Ahem.

      A video game can be created with the intention of being art, and so it becomes art. You may think it is rather shitty, but that's just your opinion, man.

      • Mod parent up. Well said: art is defined by intent.

        Even John Cage, who once said "My purpose is to eliminate purpose" had to concede eventually that intent of some kind was inescapable in art.

      • by njnnja ( 2833511 )

        The reason why fountain [wikipedia.org] was art was *not* because of Duchamp's intent. He intended it to be art but it was rejected in its day. However, it was revived in the 60's and was put into museums, and therefore became art. Art is defined by the system that it lives in, and can only be defined within some system.

        That said, when you have "artists" such as this reject games as art, what they are doing is trying to reinforce the system that they are currently successful in. But like Duchamp's Fountain, as systems ch

      • That's just like your opinion man.

              ftfy

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We had this debate back in 2010 when Roger Ebert attacked video games. http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/video-games-can-never-be-art

    • We had this debate back in 2010 when Roger Ebert attacked video games.

      When Roger Ebert attacked video games, they were a low, popular medium. Not "art" in the sense that he was talking about as something with lasting value across generational and even cultural lines.

      Video games have come a long way. But as with most things, corporate influence is squeezing out any possibility of art. Because art doesn't come with a guarantee of profit (although profit is certainly possible). There's a level of risk-tak

    • Exactly. Roger Ebert was a fucking idiot.

      So let's get this straight ... A game can include:

      * Music
      * Pictures
      * Videos
      * Writing

      Basically, 4 different art-forms and yet these retards try to claim that somehow a game "magically" isn't art??? Yeah right.

      The medium is irrelevent for art.

      Movies, aka screen-play weren't considered art either at first. Gee, looks like history repeated itself.

      • by keko ( 1010009 )

        Well... I definitely think that games are art, but because of themselves. Not because they have some music... that's just consequential. Cinema is art too, but not just because they also use music. Games are an unique art form by itself.

        If it's good, bad, beautiful, or a piece of crap, it's a different thing. All art forms have plenty of every option. But this discussion has been on for decades. Here's the deal:

        Most people who thinks games aren't art are going to die soon. They're usually old people reacti

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @02:36PM (#50728901) Homepage Journal

    "art" could mean just about anything in English, so yes video games can be art.

    Other languages are different. For example in Korean, art means painting/drawing/sculpture. Music is not art, it's music. So for Koreans, video games are not art.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      But video games are a conglomerate of digitally drawn and painted moving pictures. So yes, they are. Just as cartoons and comic books are. Video games are just an interactive medium.
    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      "art" could mean just about anything in English, so yes video games can be art.

      Well, there's a bit more to it than that. "Art" allows any expressive medium, and so indeed games can be art to the extent they convey artistic intent.

      Is painting art? Well, when painting a house, typically not. Is a random game art? Typically not. But there are certainly games that would fit most definitions of "art" that don't prescribe a medium, from evoking emotion to ambiguity of interpretation to varying schools of expression within the medium. And this of course surpasses mere presentation of o

      • Is painting art? Well, when painting a house, typically not.

        Again, English nebulosity (is that a word?) is at play here. Painting your house walls with Home Depot products is a completely different concept from an oil painting or watercolor on a canvas, yet English uses the same word for both. In Korean there are separate words for artistic painting and coloring your house with Home Depot stuff.

        I'm not criticizing English btw, the loose nature of English allows for a rich literary culture and I think Shakespeare would've been frustrated had he been born Korean. On t

      • Very well stated.

      • Well, there's a bit more to it than that. "Art" allows any expressive medium, and so indeed games can be art to the extent they convey artistic intent.

        That's certainly one definition of "Art," which owes a debt to the values of German Romantic philosophers of the 19th century. It frequently tends to show up these days in extreme form from pretentious people who like to shout, "But I am an artist!"

        In the real world, "Art" is defined by culture, not by someone's capacity for "artistic intent." There are plenty of people in the world who want to "express" themselves in their "art," but no one pays any attention to them because what these "artists" are do

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          In the real world, "Art" is defined by culture, not by someone's capacity for "artistic intent." There are plenty of people in the world who want to "express" themselves in their "art," but no one pays any attention to them because what these "artists" are doing seems weird or obnoxious or even insane to most people. In essence, there is a failure to communicate. Art is a cultural product that requires both a creator and an audience who can find this "expressive" stuff which you talk about and can value it.

          That's definitely art: it's bad art. Unless it's so incoherent it isn't even an "expression". But that's not usually the case - usually it's clear what's going on, it just sucks.

          BTW, I don't buy that mere "aesthetic engagement" is sufficient for art. Just because something's painted on canvas with skill doesn't make it art! It also has to communicate some idea or emotion. The Mona Lisa is art because of the smile, not the paint. Robotically playing the piano with no emotion isn't art unless the lack o

    • Of course music is art, and classical-type composers and symphony orchestras have done versions of music from Zelda, Mario, and others. As for visual art, there is a rich vein of it in gaming -- I've seen some breathtaking work, and I'm not much of a gamer.
      • This. Music is an artistic expression rendered in sound. So yes, it's art.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Of course music is art, and classical-type composers and symphony orchestras have done versions of music from Zelda, Mario, and others. As for visual art, there is a rich vein of it in gaming -- I've seen some breathtaking work, and I'm not much of a gamer.

        Video games are more a medium - they can show artistic merit in many different ways. It's like TV - there are very many aspects of "art" that can be expressed through TV, and there are many aspects that can be expressed through video games.

        At a basic comp

    • As a videogame developer, I care about 1000x more if it's "fun" than if it's "art".

    • by bioteq ( 809524 )

      This is an interesting concept -- language itself.

      At what point, does an idea, transcend language? "Art" in English is, as everyone else has stated, "Whatever you want it to be." and in Korea, as Spy Handler stated, "Painting/drawing/sculpture" - so where do they meet? Can one put a mathematical proof to "art" that would bypass language and culture, independently?

      IMHO, art is in the eye of the beholder. I am a firm believer that many musics are art forms. Paintings are art. Some video games are art. Tattoos

    • Art in Finnish is "taide", related to "taito" meaning skill. Similarly, science is "tiede" related to "tieto", knowledge. In my understanding, the English "art" is more vague in the sense that it can mean "skill" without the special esthetic connotations, as in "the art of circuit design".

      Shameless plug: Is mathematics art? See sig...

    • "art" could mean just about anything in English, so yes video games can be art.

      Other languages are different. For example in Korean, art means painting/drawing/sculpture. Music is not art, it's music. So for Koreans, video games are not art.

      That is completely correct but entirely useless .

      Clearly, you are a mathematician [tvtropes.org].

  • Or in the pixels my eye perceives. Art is about experiencing the artist's perspective or portrayal of a subject. If artist and the viewer are requirements for art to exist, so if someone creates a thing and both parties agree its art who can argue otherwise?
    • so if someone creates a thing and both parties agree its art who can argue otherwise?

      Internet pedants.

    • Or in the pixels my eye perceives. Art is about experiencing the artist's perspective or portrayal of a subject. If artist and the viewer are requirements for art to exist, so if someone creates a thing and both parties agree its art who can argue otherwise?

      It looks like you are begging the question though. Of course, if artist and viewer consider something to be art, then it is art. There's no argument there. The problem comes when the artist considers something to be art, but the viewer does not. Or vica versa. What if the viewer sees art, but the "artist" does not. Perhaps the artist does not even consider himself to be an artist. What then? Does this change the artness of whatever it is we are talking about?

      Also, what about when neither "artist" no

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @02:38PM (#50728925)

    It's not a matter of opinion. The quality of any work of art is subjective, but its status as art is an objective, self-evident, irrefutable fact.

    And it's not just the "best" games, or the ones that meet some arbitrary threshold of "artiness". Yes, Braid and Bioshock are art, but so are Duke Nukem Forever and Custer's Revenge.

    Nor is it just video games. It's all games. Everything from tag to checkers to D&D to Monopoly is art, too.

    There is not, never has been, and cannot ever be a game that is not art.

    • There is not, never has been, and cannot ever be a game that is not art.

      I give you: Big Rigs over the Road Racing.

      Or just possibly, it's a very elaborate piece of performance art.

    • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @04:33PM (#50730333)

      There is not, never has been, and cannot ever be a game that is not art.

      Sure. Just as there cannot be a door knob that is not art. Or a zipper pull tab that is not art. Or ballpoint pen that is not art. Or a chair. or a pizza box. or a monthly credit card statement, or screwdriver, or a coupon for cat food. All of these things required some creative choices ... colors, textures, fine details, and their placement, etc. It's all art.

      So yes, if that's the threshold, then "all games are art". That's not a very interesting thing to say though.

      So when people ask whether games are art, they ARE invariably referring to a more nebulous definition of an artistic pursuit wherein an artist is attempting to evoke a response from his audience. Are games THAT kind of art is what they are asking?

      And yes, absolutely, some games, most definitely do rise to that level of art. You named a few yourself.

      But a simplistic knockoff freemium game on the app store that is little more than a skinner box attached to a nag screen for your credit card number... it's art on the same level as the coupon book from mcdonalds I got mailed yesterday is art.

      It has nothing to say. It's not trying to get you to think (and really it would just prefer it if you didn't think and just entered your credit card number for some more coins/gems/whatevers). And anything thinking you do end up doing is entirely incidental to it's raison d'etre; and probably a detriment to it fulfilling its purpose of distracting you into extracting a few more dollars from your wallet without your noticing.

      And seriously, even Duke Nukem had things to say and even caused controversy and was an intentional parody of it's genre.

      But a lot of the stuff i see on the app store. Yeah, some guy drew some cutesy icons and animations, and that's "art" but the game itself is no more interesting artistically than a dollar store toilet brush. That is to say: yes its art, but so what?

      Ditto for tag. Tag isn't artistically interesting.

    • Tycho over at Penny-arcade made the point:
      They hired dozens of artists who worked together for a year to create something that looks nice. Sounds like art to me.

      One the other hand, if you're asking for Great Art, something that moves your soul, and changes the way you view the world, most isn't but neither is most of anything.
    • It's not a matter of opinion. The quality of any work of art is subjective, but its status as art is an objective, self-evident, irrefutable fact.

      And it's not just the "best" games, or the ones that meet some arbitrary threshold of "artiness". Yes, Braid and Bioshock are art, but so are Duke Nukem Forever and Custer's Revenge.

      Nor is it just video games. It's all games. Everything from tag to checkers to D&D to Monopoly is art, too.

      There is not, never has been, and cannot ever be a game that is not art.

      Well, ok, but that's just like saying that if a two year old draws two circles and calls it a cat, or if I whistle the Close Encounters motif out of tune, then they're "art" too, because they are drawing and music.. Having such a wide definition reduces the term to meaninglessness.

      Is me laying a rotten plank of wood over a puddle "civil engineering" as much as the Golden Gate Bridge?

  • Usually not.

    Can they be? Unquestionably, yes.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Don't let the hipsters know that, they'll get butthurt because their walking simulators and games with 1980's graphics aren't doing so shit hot.

  • "There is such a thing as bad art, you just never see it."
    • Indeed without context it's purely subjective. The fellow in the article should have directed the guy who didn't call his game art should have directed them to this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      Although he gets publicity either way and I think that was the point.
  • Dada... (Score:4, Funny)

    by wardrich86 ( 4092007 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @02:51PM (#50729045)
    If a urinal on a pedestal is art, a game can certainly be art.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know ... even that standard is too high for a lot of AAA games these days.

  • Okay, if you can take the "Bloody Penguin from Yeti Sports" and simply give it a fresh look and walk away with millions, then "the intellectual value of design" is clearly there. Since it's samzenpus's pick I always automatically assume it's a monetary issue. The word "art" is much like the word "natural", everything and nothing is depending on the context.

    An example of the value of art: http://news.nationalgeographic... [nationalgeographic.com]
    Personally, I learned how to code, and how to speak English all because of a game
  • Are games art? Well they definitely contain art and require some creative input and material. So maybe Zork or other text-based games might technically not count as art; call it adventuring or role playing or something? It's like asking if an art gallery itself, is technically "art" (Not really? Sort of? Maybe? but it contains artworks).

    The most important question is, who cares whether video games technically count as art or not? I could take a dump in a styrofoam container, cover it in rainbow spr
    • It never really took off(outside of 'Choose Your Own Adventure" books for kids and a few '80s futurists who thought that hypertext was going to inaugurate a new form of literature); but I don't think that there is any particularly strict requirement that writing needs to be intended to be read back in a linear and deterministic order in order to potentially qualify as 'literature' and 'art', so even text based games arguably have a shot.

      That said, though, the fact that there's an argument for almost anyt
    • I could take a dump in a styrofoam container, cover it in rainbow sprinkles, put some edgy label on there like "GMO free" or "Monsanto", and sneak it into an art gallery - and people would be convinced it's technically "art".

      I call prior art [wikipedia.org]!

  • by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:02PM (#50729145)
    I think games utilize art. Textures are art, the music is art, the plot line may be art. But a game itself is a computer program that brings all these different types of art together into a form of entertainment.
    • You can say that about a movie or a book. What is the point?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

      I think games utilize art. Textures are art, the music is art, the plot line may be art. But a game itself is a computer program that brings all these different types of art together into a form of entertainment.

      Here's the thing: the word "art" is used to mean different things. It can be "state of the art" or "term of art" or the notion that the pictures my daughter drew with crayons when she was four were art.

      When Roger Ebert complained about games not being art last decade, he was lamenting how little h

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:05PM (#50729185) Journal
    I find it hard to understand why "are games art?" strikes anyone as enough of a question to even be asked. Unless you hew to a far narrower definition of 'art' than even most critics and artists do; it seems pretty obvious that they have the potential to qualify.

    This doesn't mean that most of them are anything but sophomoric schlock produced entirely for mercenary purposes; but the same is true of music, film, photography, etc. and nobody seriously advances the "Music can't be art; because boy bands and pop tarts!" position or argues that Uwe Boll refutes the artistic status of film.
    • The problem is , its a question that has institutional meaning that can have effects in quite significant ways.

      As Art, it is speech, and thus owed protections under the first ammendment. If its not art, then its hard to argue that its anything more than an industrial product.

      As Art. its eligible for arts development grants that can be vital to starting indy game devs towards being financially self reliant.

      As Art, we recognize it as a legitimate topic of review and critique, and as something important to soc

    • I find it hard to understand why "are games art?" strikes anyone as enough of a question to even be asked. Unless you hew to a far narrower definition of 'art' than even most critics and artists do; it seems pretty obvious that they have the potential to qualify.

      This doesn't mean that most of them are anything but sophomoric schlock produced entirely for mercenary purposes; but the same is true of music, film, photography, etc. and nobody seriously advances the "Music can't be art; because boy bands and pop

    • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

      I find it hard to understand why "are games art?" strikes anyone as enough of a question to even be asked.

      Because, for better or worse, we've given our government the ability to censor things that are not "speech" and the government has decided that artistic value is one of the things that it will use to decide what is "speech" or not.

      Because, for better or worse, certain people have been agitating for years for the government to come in and start censoring videogames. (This predates the current batch of a [slate.com]

    • I find it hard to understand why "are games art?" strikes anyone as enough of a question to even be asked.

      You'd think so, but right now there is a small but vocal subset of gamers who are resisting anything which resembles cultural criticism of games and the game industry, but cultural criticism is one of the prices you pay for using the label "art".

    • Art is in the mind of the beholder. A lot of the people who declare things art are somewhat snobbish, it's just like literature where they refuse to consider anything that's popular as being art. Games are popular, therefore they're not art. A movie may have the best cinematography, but the snobs don't consider it art if it was a popular movie rather than an art house movie from a tiny production company. Even "pop art" wasn't really popular art but a look at popular culture.

      For games, I can see them ha

    • It's not about the question, it's a way for our cultural elite to make derogatory comments about video games, and by extension the people who play them. Asking the question is an elitist trick to separate you from them.

      If videogames were art, then they must also accept that the people who play them appreciate art. It would elevate Mario to the level of the Mona Lisa, and a gamer to their own level of rarified cultural sensitivity. Since that can never be allowed to happen, games can never be art.

      For the res

  • So what? Games don't *have* to be art, they have to be games. If we get into the debate as it is presented (ie "are videogames art?"), we concede on a very important point that we shouldn't: art is not better than games. Games don't have to "rise up" to the level of art, they're already on the same level. They're important for human development in their own way, just like art is. How come nobody goes up to an artists and asks "this is nice, but is this a videogame?".

  • by grub ( 11606 )

    I remember playing the controversial game Manhunt back in the day.

    I popped a plastic bag over a bad guy's head then as he was gasping for air, I kept punching him in the face until he was dead. Then I used a shard of glass to stab out another person's eyes. Disemboweling scumbags with a sickle was always fun. Then, of course, the chainsaw on PigMan was the crowning glory.

    So, yeah, video games are art.
  • When I was young many programmers claimed programming was art. In our days we see discussions on /. whether if there is any engineering involved in "crafting software". Some people even claim there is no "computer science" as software has nothing to do with science (in relation to medicine or astrophysics).

    My opinion is pretty simple: everything starts with the trade, or the craft, while you improve your craftsmanship you might look at the same problems more from an engineering and later a scientific point

  • If you thing that games are art, then you are using a different definition of art than the art community. Unless you have taken art and design classes, then you probably do not understand what they mean when they say art. You can trivialize it all you want, and use the lame "any word means what I think it means." But in reality, words mean things. Very specific things. Sometimes they are hard to understand unless you have the correct background. And in that context, no, games are not art.

  • Looks like video games match every single English definition of the word "art" out there:

    art - noun \'art\

    * something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings
    * works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings
    * the methods and skills used for painting, sculpting, drawing, etc.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/art [merriam-webster.com]

    * The expression or application of huma

    • The eternal lynchpin of this discussion is the definition of art, and certainly some video games meet the dictionary definition. Two examples that immediately leap to mind are Grim Fandango (from 1998) and Limbo (2010). Both indisputably works of art in my mind.

  • Unless we are going by the definition of "anything I don't like is not art", then only the artist gets to decide.

    Now, art can be shit, but it is still art. Just like most video games, in fact.

  • Art can be many things. The term itself is subjective which is why we're actually having a debate as to whether or not a game is art. There are definitely art components to a game, but the end result typically is not. Can a game be art, absolutely. Art is a form of communication with an express purpose to cause a some specific reaction in the viewer to to help us realize something about ourselves or whatever else the artist is trying to convey.

    A game can defintely be beautiful, with many "art" components, b

  • Almost all games are art. Not all games are great art. Or even worthy of consideration.

  • It really just goes to Art quality. Why do people playing games demand to be taken so seriously?

  • My personal view draws some relatively bold lines between something being art and being artistic.

    The fine arts (music, dance, painting, sculpting, etc.) are obviously art. The value of the their existence is based squarely on their appraisal as art.

    An automobile, a house (even a Frank Lloyd Wright home), and a video game can be artistic when judged for their artistic elements, but since they have primary functions beyond art, they cannot be wholly works of art. A video game, first and foremost, must b
    • > a video game can be artistic when judged for their artistic elements, but since they have primary functions beyond art, they cannot be wholly works of art

      The word is called super set. As in Form + Function designed to bring out emotions.

      Guess what, most movies at the box office have a function beyond art too: Too make money.

      This is a red herring.

      > I don't think something can be art in the traditional sense if it is digital.

      You're going to tell me all those artists who used to shoot pictures/movies

      • by eepok ( 545733 )
        You sound very angry. I would personally love to respond to your post to discuss the topic further, but I get the sense that you are so entrenched in your own definition that discussion from my side would be civil and you would be on the attack. I'm disappointed because it looks like you have a great deal of insight from which I could learn. Another time maybe.
        • If I appear angry it is because after shipping games on PC, PSX, PS 2, Wii, etc., I get tired of other people without a fucking clue about game development constantly tell me what I do for a living isn't "Art" by their self-imposed and artificial definition. They need to get off their high horse.

          We make games because we want to entertain -other- people.

          That is the very definition of art.

          No different from a screen-play, aka, movies.

          It really doesn't get any simpler then this.

  • Almost anything could be considered art.

    This post is art.

  • Art is work intended to interact with the aesthetic sense of its audience.
    (Aesthetic sense is evaluation of a work other than for its utilitarian aspects.)

  • any 'intentionally designed' piece is worthy of intellectual respect

    Guess what that "respect" actually means? (a) Critics should discuss the work of art and how it criticises society and condemns the status quo, and how the artists uses various means to do that or (b) lining the pockets by inventing some new copyrightable or trademarkable or designmarkable (what the heck do we already have nowadays?!?) thing?

  • There was a music director that just about got fired for an implicit answer to that question: "Musicians to the left side of the room, vocalists to the right." (The department chair was a vocalist.)

    The boundaries of all the arts are fuzzy. Anyone who makes a claim that something is, or is not, art is telling you more about their thought processes than about the physical universe. Or they could be being prescriptivist about the social universe. They aren't talking about anything even in principle physic

  • Science starts with something complicated and tries to make it simple.

    Art starts with something simple and tries to make it complicated.
  • ... when people don't realise they're that.

    It's important to realise that the issue at hand is the definition of 'art', and that's not directly related to video games. If and when a definition that's agreed upon by all sides can be reached, deciding whether games are art would be easy.

  • Essentially it doesn't matter.

    Do you enjoy games? If so, awesome. If not, fine - there are plenty of other pursuits you can enjoy. If you do, then I hope you appreciate the mental, and emotional experience.

    If I declare games to be "art" does it in any way enhance that experience? If I declare them "not art" does it in any way diminish it?

    It's a pretentious label. Most gamers don't care whether it's art. They don't care whether books or music are art either. They just enjoy them.
  • There are games that are art but not all games are art.

  • Art is required in games, just as it is required in movies and books. But not all games are art, just as not all movies or books are art. Some far from it. 8-)
    For that matter, art is required in Engineering and Crafting. And some of those are art, even though some deny it.

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