Games are art

Someone I have never heard of before, Roger Ebert, has been making a big splash saying that games are not art. In my opinion he is wrong. What is or isn’t art is an oft discussed subject, especially amongst artists, here is a typical discussion . 

Nowadays a game production will involve many artists, who often have an art life outside of games. I was at Imagine when we first borrowed an artist from an advertising agency to get the clouds right in the Spectrum game, Zoom. But the use of artists in making something does not necessarily mean that what they produce is art.

My take, fwiw, is that anything is art if it’s creator (as per Marcel Duchamp) says it is. So if I float a shaving cream island across my bathroom sink and say that it is art then it is art. Another take is to say that art is anything that can engender an emotional response. By this measure games are definitely art. More so than some other media because of their interactive nature.

I am sure that when the moving picure industry started it was not considered to be art, just entertainment for the masses. Now it is universally regarded and referred to as art. The big change is just one of maturity. Exactly the same has happened with television. And exactly the same will happen with games.

One of the things that really annoys me is that the BBC (and many other media) report about computer games under the heading of technology. Yet go to their arts section and you have cinema and television. This is just so illogical, why are games judged by the medium and television by the content?

So, as ever, what do you think? Are games art? Is the BBC right? Discuss!


  1. Well, somewhat on a side note, the BBC lost all traces of credibility in my book when they reported the collapse of building 7, with the building still standing behind the reporter (the building did in fact collapse several minutes after the report.) So as far as journalistic integrity goes, the BBC may not be the wisest choice.

    I do agree that society has yet to accept our ‘medium’ as art, yet as you mentioned this follows trend (tv, movies.) I do feel, however, that we are on the cusp of the change. For example, has created a series of master class art books (of the coffee table variety) dedicated to digital art, many of which include game artists, and some of their commissioned work including 3d models; generally, these models are the high resolution versions used in cut scenes and for normal maps. Perhaps the most recognizable of which is the recent addition of the Gears of War models. Exposes and art books, perhaps an exhibit or gallery by the decade’s end? I sure hope so!

  2. Great topic. I am an artist of some 37 years professional experience, a painter of landscapes and light and atmosphere focus pictures, and have worked in many other media and mediums as well, having moved into 3D and game design and theory and research for the past 8 years or so.

    Ineed, Art with a capital A is a creation of each epoch, and time and culture and each time has its own versions of Art. Ours had many new forms of Art, including CGI games, which are many of them beautifully rendered, and crafted and I have found many fine examples of Fine Art in the games literature.

    There are a number of them as subjects of detailed study on my bloggy which is listed here, and my own work is featured on my site which I may put at the end, but possibly just share my sense of this fine topic.

    Art has enriched human culture from the very earliest times. It differs in form and function with each age and culture, but there are some overarching constants that seem to continue through it all. Beauty or a sense of aesthetic illuniates meaning and subject, the cave paintings of Lascaux have a similar impact as do the awesome wall reliefs and paintings of the XI dynasty in Egypt, the reliefs of the Mycanean cities and the roman illminist paintings that we see preserved in Pompeii and on Egyptian coffin portraits. Other forms of art abound for each culture and each tells a story of its creation and of the culture that created it. Each piece or work of art os the sum of the artist’s vision and the culture that contained both art and artist.

    In our time, we have recieved and preserved perhaps more differnt types of art from more past ages than ever before so we are a little schzoid about our own artistic identity. Also the ease of creation of some forms of imagery and the lack of connection to traditons and cultural identity have made modern forms of art a bit scattered.

    But there remains some basic feeling that something has artistic value and merit and power, and I see that in many contemporary comptuer games, and some from past phases, some of the pont and click games are simply awesome Kyrandia comes to mind as does some of the parts of the Monkey Island games and Gabriel Knight, Amber, certainly the Myst series which bridges the gap between point and click and 2D prerendered, such as Myst and Riven, and on into the fully realized full movemnt 3D marvelous worlds such as Oblivion, last two Tomb Raiders, Legends and Anniversary, a whole host of the graphic based adventure and FPS games, some like Far Cry as simply awesome, even tho somewhat photorealistic, Far Cry sets are some of the most beautiful and some of the mods likewise. So too are some of the allegorical and mythical games, the Atlantis series, Beyond Atlantis I and II particulary, Return to Mysterious Island, Jade Empire, parts of AURA, certainly the most recent of the Cyan games, URU is awesomely visually rich, and many of the other game environments are beautifully done. And there are timeles classics that will live far beyond the game entieis that they are now I believe like the Longest Journey, the first of the series by FunCom and Ragnar Tornquist, the Elder Scrolls series, the Kyrandia series already mentioned, the Myst series, particularly RIVEN and URU, and so many more. Some of the space sims are awesome, Homeworld, ORB, EVE, X3. And there is much that is articially beautiful in some of the FPS games the Doom III scenes, Unreal II, F.E.A.R., Half Life 2, Deus Ex IW, even BioWar whose subject apalls me in some ways, the settings are beautifully done and verge on Art many times.

    But you may say, those are not Art, well, why not? I am a artist who has made my living creating Art, and have a professinal interest in the question. I find much that is hanging in many of the famous museums of the world, though very accomplished and certainly masterful, not really my sense of Art, they are preserved wax flowers of prevoius ages, many of the famous works of art were that age’s and cultures’ version of wildly popular rock videos and pop stars, that was what those ages and times had to share imagery and meaning and pwoer.

    Now we have an abudance of ways of making images, and we are surrounded by a huge glut of such imagery to the pont where we are literally visually inundated and jaded.

    So games offer a release and a refuge for the tired eye, and the wandering and restless spirit. True, many games are story driven or frenetic and hyper active tests of adrenaline and thrills. But beyond that they offer settings and scenes and a feeling and ambience that is often quite stunning and captures the imagination and enlivens our lives.

    So what is Art if it does not do these things? So I would say after looking long and hard and startring my own game design and development reserach that there is must of Art in many games and much to enjoy that is artistic about them.

  3. What’s your definition of art? That should be the first question, as this differs from person to person.

    The big truth is anything can be considered art on its merits and also the meaning or message the artist is trying to convey to the passer by. If stirring emotions or positive/negative comment its considered art too.

    Those who don’t know games, never see the amount of creative imput that goes into a single modern game. They see what they want to see, which is usually negative, but at least they bothered to look and acknowledge it (all we really want is some respect though).

    Games are art. Like any piece of work, they take time, creativity and buckets of imagination (some with messages and others without). The best results keep the player engaged (like a piece would in a gallery) and do their job well. Others might be sleeper hits like a rare Van Gogh, a gem worth tracking down many might have missed. And others have talented people working on them, but turn out crap. (there’s has to be a few subcateggories of the question, to fish out the best and worse bits like this).

    Films are art, music is art, sculptures, photos, books are art, so games surely are too, IMO.

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