Lately a lot of media pundits have been banging heads over the games as art debate, once more, as it rears its deformed head to the light of day. How were these fires stoked from glowing embers you ask? Well what happened was that MoMA (New York Museum of Modern Art) announced four days ago that the museum will be exhibiting 14 videogames as part of an Architecture and Design collection, starting in March 13. Games included in the exhibition will be Grim Fandango, Chrono Trigger, Space Invaders, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario 64, Portal, Pac-Man, Katamari Damacy and Tetris. This has again enraged the masses across the internet who agree with Roger Ebert’s archaic notion of what can be deemed art, and the flame wars of yesteryear have resurfaced. When I saw the online reactions, I slowly began to facepalm and mentally cry at the stupidity of the debate which is pretty much as rhetorical as they come. Really, in all truth, there is no ‘right’ or ‘objective’ answer that will solve the debate.
So why is this news ‘serious business’? Largely because the New York Museum of Modern Art is a worldwide institution and authority of what is deemed ‘modern art’. By actively exhibiting games in such a context as a form of ‘modern art’ means broader recognition of games as art, and for some people particularly those against ‘games as art’ this is irrevocable damage to their baseless opinions about ‘art’. This is just a case of fanboyism, except the fanboys are art lovers and critics who see such an exhibition as an assault on the integrity of ‘true’ art. These are the same type of people who consider this video of a live performance as art. People like Jonathan Jones from The Guardian who sought out to attack MoMA’s decision to hold such an exhibition as a foul act, and an inconsiderable move to discrediting true art everywhere. This is part of what Jones said:
Casting my mind back to the philosophical debate I spied on in Oxford, I remember a pretty good argument for why interactive immersive digital games are NOT art. Walk around the Museum of Modern Art, look at those masterpieces it holds by Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and what you are seeing is a series of personal visions. A work of art is one person’s reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition. Art may be made with a paintbrush or selected as a ready-made, but it has to be an act of personal imagination.
The worlds created by electronic games are more like playgrounds where experience is created by the interaction between a player and a programme. The player cannot claim to impose a personal vision of life on the game, while the creator of the game has ceded that responsibility. No one “owns” the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art.
This is the essential difference between games and art, and it precedes the digital age. Chess is a great game, but even the finest chess player in the world isn’t an artist. She is a chess player. Artistry may have gone into the design of the chess pieces. But the game of chess itself is not art nor does it generate art – it is just a game.
Firstly, many games, most notably indie games, but even in AAA games with the likes of BioShock, Gears of War and Metal Gear Solid have largely been the “personal vision” of one person so insular to the creative development of that game. These individuals are intrinsically linked to the development of their respective games. They are comparable to ‘auteurs’, as the French deemed directors of the great films with “personal vision” and investment. If anything, the whole indie game movement is a proof of this. Peter Molyneux is also certainly an indication of the notion that games can be ‘personal visions’ even when there may be large staff or teams behind the creative director of a game. Most games are founded on the “inner response by a human creator” and are acts of “personal imagination” and to think otherwise is both archaic and a purist’s hate case.
In the case of art, it is similarly an interaction between the medium and the viewer as games are, games just have greater depth than the two dimensional surface of the typical artwork. Immersion is the key to understanding the personal vision of the creator, or creators, behind the development of a game. The game interacts with their personal vision. So Jones’s second claim is proven invalid. One also needs to consider that the great artists also had help in the creation of their master artworks, one just has to name Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, and look into the deep annals of history to find that their personal visions were interpreted and integrated by other individuals into their own masterpieces. They were just never acknowledged. Games acknowledge all those involved in the development of a personal vision. There is a greater degree of transparency then what was found in the past of many art movements. This does not discredit that a game’s starting point is usually one person’s personal vision. Most games are born from such situations. This is undeniable.
With the wider recognition of games as an artistic form, on both this site, and across the media means that denying ‘games as art’ is a difficult proposition because modern art itself is a state of flux, and the critics themselves can’t find a stable definition of what is truly art. This is the paradox of art, and a conundrum which many try to dismantle and find conclusive arguments for what is and isn’t art. The problem is that like I stated before this is all rhetorical because essentially it comes down to one thing. You either believe games to be art, or you don’t. If you don’t think games constitute ‘art’ just remember that wider recognition of games as a modern art form is discrediting your stance each and every day. There are two clear cut views on the debate, and that’s all that there is to it. It needs to die now, for the sake of my sanity and every gamer on the planet.