Why Video Games Are An Expression Of Art

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“The greatest artists, you see, want to communicate in the most popular media of the time, they want to be heard. That’s why Shakespeare wrote for the lice-ridden but packed theatres of London, that’s why Bertolt Brecht collaborated with Fritz Lang to bring his theories to Hollywood, that’s why Dickens and Dumas had their novels serialised in magazines. Why aren’t games just fun? Because video games are now a language and language is a tool of expression and change. A bit like art, yes?”

This view of Keith Stuart echoes what a lot of game designers and creators feel about the close connection of art with video games. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of whether the graphics, multimedia, simulation and effects in Video Games can be considered as art.

The ongoing debate between video game creators and art critics has raised a lot of questions in the minds of users and art lovers. It resulted in the Supreme Court of the United States of America giving a verdict last June that video games should be considered an art form, as deserving of First Amendment safeguards as “the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them.”

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The main argument presented by the opposition consisting of the art critics was that video games do not qualify to fit into the definition of art.

But then, what is art?

This is a question that has been asked for centuries without any definite answer. Art does not necessarily have to be a painting or collage on a canvas, art is without any restrictions and limits. Art is not the thing itself, but what the mind thinks of it. So in this case, many people think of computer games as art and they are entitled to do so.

Computer games incorporate sound, aesthetics, cinematic, narrative, visuals into one multimedia package and present to the audience. Aren’t video games, then, a higher form of art? Through just one medium, a person can experience multiple forms of art.

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Many video games art artfully done and a heavy influence of art is evident in them. Games like Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Bethesda’s Elder Scroll Game, Mass Effect 2 or Attack of Mutant Camels all include graphics that would not have been possible without involving art!

The visually appealing nature of these video games is also a part of the drawing factor for gamers. Users prefer games with good quality visuals and settings.

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Famous video games that have been recognised as works of art include:

Dwarf Fortress (2012) – It is a simple yet intriguing city-building game where the player creates a world of their own, allowing them to relive the history and culture for their civilization each time around.

The Walking Dead (2012) –Inspired by Robert Kirkman’s worldwide acclaimed comic series, The Walking Dead is popular among gamers owing to its well-crafted story, meaningful player decisions, and believable characters. It is considered as one of the greatest examples of storytelling using art in Video Games.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) –A one of its kind horror game it is highly appreciated for its brilliant use of horror elements, particularly its atmosphere and sound, with many critics regarding it as one of the most scary games.

Ōkami (2006) – An adventure game heavily influenced by the use of art work, based on numerous Japanese myths, the game’s central graphics were designed to appear similar to  water colour paintings, and the game involved art-based brushstrokes by the player to execute special moves.

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Much like traditional forms of art, video games can be a medium for users by which their feelings are evoked. There are games that leave you with fear; games that bring you utter sadness, games that leave you feeling victorious, games that inspire you, games that leave you happy when you succeed with just one level (read flappy birds).

Chris Melissinos, an avid gamer and a firm believer that games are an art, acted as a guest curator for an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that commemorated 40 years of the gaming industry, from Pac-Man to Minecraft. The show included video-game screen shots, videotaped interviews with game designers, vintage consoles from Melissinos’ personal collection and several opportunities for visitors to use the exhibition as a platform for gaming. “In books, everything is laid before you,” he says; “There is nothing left for you to discover. Video games are the only forms of artistic expression that allow the authoritative voice of the author to remain true while allowing the observer to explore and experiment.”

Several other such initiatives by art galleries and museums are cropping up, where the contribution of video games to the field of art is being realised and is being given the due attention.

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The Museum of Modern Art in New York has announced that will collect and exhibit games. This comes as a great breakthrough, as video game collections will be displayed in the same institution that houses works of artists like Pablo Picasso and Van Gogh.

Art is something that constantly undergoes change; it cannot be limited to something definite. Art is all about embracing change, and accepting video games as a form of art is precisely a step towards it.

Photography by Anirban Goswami

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