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Are Video Games Art and why does it matter?

The idea that video games are more than just an entertainment medium, that they make us experience something and have cultural value is a fairly complicated question. I’ll be breaking down the issues surrounding this and how it relates to nerddom as a whole. Let’s jump into it.

First, I’ll personally answer the question of whether video games are art. If we determine something is art by the following criteria: 1. Causes the consumer to have an emotional experience 2. Is a product of and influences the culture in which it exists in 3. Is analyzed critically. Based on this criteria than video games can be art but are not intrinsically art. When I say ‘emotional experience’ I don’t mean the emotions that you feel when playing a game such as pride or joy or frustration, but rather the emotions that you feel when consuming other categories of art. The second point is indisputably true.  The third point is perhaps the most complicated of all, which I’ll get to into a minute. This should be noted as being a rather loose definition of art. The primary reason being that I’m not an academic and I’m not terribly keen on a definition of art that’s arbitrarily exclusionary given how amorphous any sort of definition is in this day and age. This criteria also reflects the things that I care about.

While I don’t have much investment in whether games are considered art or not, I am much more interested in games as a craft. This is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that game design and mechanics are lot more interesting to me nowadays. Although I do find discussing and analyzing games within a critical cultural framework to be fascinating as well, I don’t need the validation of others saying games are art to have that happen.

There are many qualifiers involved in game criticism. First, is the accessibility of academic game criticism on two fronts. First is the literal issues of accessibility in that getting a hold of books and articles is expensive if you’re not currently enrolled in a university. Second is that by drawing upon well established theoretical framework that’s hard to get through for a common reader (but that’s another discussion all together) The other major problem with game criticism is how it’s currently playing out. Meaningful criticism of games in the popular sphere is incredibly stunted. When figures such as Anita Sarkeesian or Leigh Alexander have their work categorically rejected because they’re women who are seen as attacking games instead of engaging with games in a critical manner and having discussion involving their work as a starting point or reference. This in turns means that support for them becomes tricky as their points don’t matter, defending them for what they represents matters.

With that in wind, why does this matter in the grand scheme of things? I see three main categories for being invested in this. First, there’s a legal aspect to understand. Treating video games as art in the same vein of movies is important in that it gives it certain legal protections. Second, there’s a matter of validation. This still new media form has only recently entered into a sense of acceptance in the zeitgeist and there’s still a fair amount of distrust. Now as I alluded to earlier, this legitimacy demands criticism that isn’t exactly welcome in some circles. Third, there are people who genuinely want video games to be an art form and push for it.

That’s all I got this week till next time.


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