Monday, December 10, 2012

Crescent's Thoughts On: Are Video Games Art?

Sorry for the delay on this post. Computer problems and a task I had to do yesterday delayed the composition of this post. Anyway, I'm sure you have heard this question before: Are Video Games Art? This is a question that I think every form of entertainment has to come across as it grows into a more accepted medium. Video Games is just the most recent medium to try to cross the threshold of "Mindless Entertainment" into the posh realm of what we commonly refer to as "The Arts." People from within and outside of the Video Game industry have given their thoughts on the qualifications that Video Games have to meet in order to be considered an "Art;" however, my own opinion of this topic differs mainly because there is a question I think we need to answer FIRST before we talk about whether or not Video Games are Art. That question is: What IS Art?

Probably one of the pictures I least expected to use.
The core of the problem of the "Are Video Games Art?" question is the lack of clarity of the definition of "Art." All we really know about "Art" is that it somehow elevates mediums from being crude meaningless expressions of creativity to being sophisticated meaningful expressions of creativity. As such it is a heavily sought after goal of any form new medium to be elevated to the status of "Art" because then those who dedicate their lives to the study of such a medium can gain a certain amount of respect. But the problem remains as to what is "Art." By the most basic and widely accepted definition, "Art" is pretty much expression through painting or sculpture. By this definition, Video Games are certainly not "Art" as they are not paintings or sculptures. However, this is not a definition that is held by people who dedicate their lives to the study such mediums as Movies, Music, and Literature, claiming these mediums deserve the same amount of respect as the paintings and sculptures of old, thus these should also be call "Art." However, by this same token newer mediums, such as Video Games, demand the same recognition, to deny them the classification of "Art" is to have a double standard. Of course this doesn't stop some people from imposing said double standard to keep Video Games, Rap Music, and Comic Books out of the exclusive club of "Art."

You'd think a declaration like that would settle the matter.
So what is "Art"? What are the qualifications that include media such as Movies and Books, but not Video Games and Comic Books? Well, that comes solely down to who you ask? It seems the definition of "Art" is largely dependent on the person and what HE/SHE thinks "Art." Author of "Understanding Comics" Scott McCloud defines "Art" extremely loosely in his book stating (and I'm paraphrasing here) anything that doesn't comes from our primal desires of survival and reproduction. This was open enough to allow his view that Comic Books are "Art," but also Video Games to wander in unimpeded. However, the problem with this definition is that it might be a little TOO loose, allowing things like "sitting in a chair" to be defined as "Art" making the term next to meaningless. Other definitions I've come across add qualifications such as "adding something to the society at large" or "creating a strong emotional reaction" to define "Art." How can we decide on what is or isn't "Art" when each person uses a different definition to describe the term? It's like talking about two completely different persons named "Fred." Even as we have new Museum exhibits called "The Art of Video Games" the question of whether or not "Video Games are Art" is still not settled, and I don't think it will be settled. Even if we unanimously declared Video Games as "Art," we are just postponing the real question until the next new medium comes forth to demand "Art" status.

Is this "Art"? I can't tell.
So what do I think about the question of "Are Video Games Art?" Well, as I have stated though out this post, the answer is highly depended on the definition of "Art" used; therefore, any answer I give is meaningless until we come to some understanding of what "Art" is. With that in mind, if I'm allowed to choose which definition of "Art" to use, my preferred definition of Art is: Anything that triggers a strong emotional response from the subject viewing it. This definition is riff with problems, as since it is heavily dependent on the subject for the definition to apply to anything, and it is so broad that you can consider virtually anything as "Art," I still prefer using this definition over others because to me it gives the word "Art" value. Having an emotion trigger is a powerful experience, and being able to trigger a particular emotion by creating a piece of medium gives what I consider "Art" it's value. We as an audience want to be emotionally engaged, it doesn't matter what emotion it is. It could be anger, joy, sadness, or any combination and implementation of any emotion. If it can, though being just what it is, can make you laugh or cry or anything in between, then that is Art. So do Video Games fulfill that requirement? Is there a Video Game that ever made me cry? Well, yes. There has. In fact, it is a Video Game series that has caused me to begin to cry because of it. That series is rather well known of late. It's called "Persona" and recently even the latest game in the franchise "Persona 4 Arena" a Fighter spin-off game of the main series, has caused me to cry again. I will not spoil what happens, but if you have played the game, you probably know what I'm talking about. If not, here is a hint: Labrys.

Now that I'm coming to a close here, let me ask you a question: What is "Art" and why is it important? To me Art is all about triggering strong emotions, and it is important because those emotions show us things about ourselves, even when what triggers those emotions are works of fiction. And if you have an answer to that first question then ask yourself: Are Video Games Art?

Until next time

-Crescent, If you didn't cry at by this point, then you have no soul.

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