Latest news
Impartial thoughts on gaming as art
by Cathal Geoghegan

What is gaming? What defines a game? According to the The Free Dictionary, a game is "an activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime". To me, that definition seems quite blunt, yet we are constantly being bombarded by the now-clichéd "are games art?" debate. For some time now I have sat, rather bemused, listening to and reading the words of opponents and proponents. Often I will laugh at the arguments put forward, but even more often I will enter into a small state of solitude and contemplate what has been put in front of me.

Before one can deliberate on this however, one must first have a clear idea of what 'art' truly is. According to the Free Dictionary, art is "human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature". Now, you may be thinking that is a clear confirmation that games are art. Before you do that, however, take a few moments to contemplate what art is to you, personally. A definition may give a clear meaning but it cannot gives us the true meaning, and the connotations that each individual person will have. If you took that definition literally, you would have to include trivial tasks such as mowing grass as art. For are you not altering the work of nature when you cut the grass?

Personally, I would not consider mowing the grass as art.

We have a problem. My whole argument is based on the definitions I provided, but I have also subsequently argued against one. Does that make all the definitions open to discussion? Could we not change the definition of art, or the definition of gaming, for that matter? That's often the problem with debates and discussions. One small, insignificant fact can topple your argument like a house of cards. I have seen this happen many times in the Games vs Art debate.

Mediterean Landscape by Pablo Picasso

Therefore, how does one decide whether games are art? That is a question to which I don't know the answer, probably never will. As far as I am aware it will take general consensus for games to be considered art but fortunately art does not rely on general consensus. Therefore, whether games are art is, in fact, a decision that you can only make as an individual.

Personally, I'm undecided as to whether games are art. I consider many things to be art, but I am on the fence when the term is applied to videogames. Look to other forms of expression and you'll see that not everything is considered art. George Orwell's 1984, for example, is considered to be a masterpiece by many, but the same could be said for the work of Steinback, Dickens, Tolkein, Austen, Dickinson, Yeats, Shakespeare or Wordsworth. Not everyone will consider their work art, but some will and do. There are also those who will vehemently oppose any notion of these being called art. The very same is seen in painting and sculpture. I love abstract art but there are many people who don't understand abstract art and will not count it as art.

As you may have noticed, a trend is appearing. Whenever someone has a piece of art, there is someone there to oppose any notion of it being art. To apply this to games and gaming in general, if I had to choose a game to be considered art, there are in fact very few that I would bestow with such a privilege. Games are still in their infancy and they're still trying to adjust and settle into their stride. The likes of Shadow of the Colossus, Portal, Heavy Rain, Bioshock and Uncharted are, perhaps, some that I would consider giving the term 'art' to. Why would I choose these few games? Fantastic graphics? Well-written story? Or is it more likely that they hold a mirror up to the world, and present us with something out of the ordinary, a triumph of human effort? I would very much prefer if it was the latter.

The Shadow of the Colossus: a modern masterpiece?

Are games art, or are they something completely different? I very much hope that you will go away and refuse to accept both ideas. What I do hope is that you go away feeling either amused or angry at my ramblings, but also open-minded in the future. I hope that you will look upon the 'Games vs Art' debate in future and know that both sides are right and wrong, as everyone has their own definition of what they consider to be art. Some might not consider games 'art' in its purest sense, but could concede that games are an art of some form.

I know there are some reading this that are getting ready to dissect my arguments and theories and argue passionately why games are not art and never will be art. I will do as before and remain on the fence, but I will not support anyone putting forward one theory as superior to the other. Art is like beauty: it is in the eye of the beholder.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

- Cathal Geoghegan

Discuss this article in our friendly forums

Sign up to our community today and discuss our articles, debate over upcoming games and organise matches and playsessions with like-minded people just like you.

Liked this? Spread the word - share with your friends!

Done? You might also enjoy these!

All comments are subject to our commenting policy

GGTL Classics
Some of the very best articles dug out from deep in the GGTL archives, written by some of our past and present wordsmiths alike.
Your continued use of this website and/or any others owned by Gamer's Guide to represents your acceptance and indicates your full understanding of all of our legal policies and terms. Our legal policies and terms are legally binding. If you in any way disagree with or refuse to be bound by any part of said legal policies and terms, you are advised to leave this website immediately.