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PixlTalk Episode 55: Are Games Art?

Are games art and why does it matter if they are?

Our fearless leader Nick joins the heroes this week as we take a look at Jesse’s article, which argues that games are not art. In the process we attempt to define art, discuss whether or not games are art, or have the potential to become art. Ultimately our discussion leads us to possibly a more pressing matter: Why is it so imperative for gamers/game enthusiasts that video games are considered an art form?

Roger Ebert’s Article: click here

As always you can reach us at with questions, comments, etc. Also feel free to add us on twitter to keep up to date with news, articles, and everything else gaming:

Mike: TehWally                        

Jesse: Id10t_Savant               

Nick: PixlBitNick

JD: aMythKnownAsJD

Esteban: Colorwind




Stanton Daries Staff Alumnus

02/23/2012 at 05:25 PM

I've already registered my PTO :)


02/23/2012 at 08:27 PM

I believe that everyone should be able to express what they; see or feel that might make them express their own thoughts, so if playing any game make's you feel or think of Art in any form Just go with it!  


02/23/2012 at 08:40 PM

In the thread for Jesse's AAA Problem article I was declaring about how games are art to me, and Esteban was telling me to keep my eyes open for this coming "games as art" themed Pixltalk. You'd figure I'd have something solid to say but I can't think of much that makes sense. I don't know if I'll get anywhere with this but I'm really going to try.

I consider some of my games as art. There are definitely individual artistic skills behind any game, but some are felt as art to me, some aren't. Most importantly I consider game design and many of its different artistic components to be art, but I don't know what art is. I have no definition for art and I feel no inherent urge to define it. I've literally spent next to no brain power trying to make my own definition and it's because a single definition can't exist and doesn't matter. When Jesse points out the similarities between experiencing a video game, a board game, a sports event, and none of it is art but rather entertainment, the argument is logical and understandable. It's not right or wrong, there will never be a right and wrong. It's not solvable or observable in quite the same way an equation would be, but it does make sense in that it is right simply because of the fact that it can't be wrong. There's no quantity, no consistency, it's abstract, chaotic, and purely intellectual and personal. People trying to debate Jesse's view as right or wrong, or trying to get you to change views, would be irrational and wasteful of time. They would spend the entire time finding paradoxes, contradictions, be forced to reform a new definition for art every minute, and chasing a consistency and uniformity that they could never find.

This whole conversation is right up my alley because I love exploring the psychology and habits of gamers, game designs, how games affect gamers, and how gamers affect their games. How we play, why we play, and why these pieces of software written on discs matter at all to us. Is it just some software on a disc, or is it more? Everybody should have their own view on it, and everybody should voice that view, that's what I like to see because I have the inherent urge to listen, analyze, and disect whatever is said so that I might be able to use it to come up with better ideas for designs.

I'm in the group of people Jesse mentioned in his article who are very self-concious of my gaming passion. I don't care about seeing a game disc in a museum, but I do care when somebody tells me that game developers don't create art and can never be capable of creating art. Everybody can describe what something is, but it seems wrong to try and define what something can't be. There is no definition to art like I was saying earlier, but that might be part of the problem. When somebody says, "Games aren't art, they never could be" I take that as a very derrogatory statement and I get really mad. However, when they make that statement it doesn't really have to mean anything to me, and it doesn't change my mind. The reason why it doesn't mean anything is because the person making the statement has a completely different feel for what art is to them, and so trying to debate the validity of his statement is a dead end because we can't argue preferences. We can explore and attempt to understand our preferences, similarities, and differences, but there's no right and wrong so in the end when I get angry at somebody who says games aren't art, my anger in itself is illogical and a dead end. When somebody says either "Games are art, games can be capable of art" or "Games are not art, games can never be capable of art" or any mixing of the two, the proper response isn't to be angry, the proper response is to ask, "Why? What is art to you?"

I figured out last year that I want to design levels, create mechanics, and analyze playtest sessions for a development team one day. Even with all this time passed, I've never told my family about my aspirations and dreams. The only people who know I care so deeply for video games are all my friends here at Pixlbit and over at 1UP. I'm scared to know what people will think of it, and I expect people to think I'm chasing an immature brain-dead career that doesn't contribute to society. Those assumptions and feelings kill me, and it's the same kind of demoralizing feeling I get when people say that video games in general aren't art and could never be art.

I think games are art and can be art, but in reality I'm not trying to create art. I'm not a writer, musician, character or environment artist. The contributions I want make aren't about narrative, music, character development, drawing and color skill. I want to use my imagination to plan out and build amazing environments for people to play in, create mechanics for characters to use in those environments, and study how people play things we create. "Art" is just some kind of emotional trigger word in my brain it would seem and it has various emotions, memories, thoughts, etc associated with it all while being completely abstract and without form. I don't define art, I don't fully understand what art is to me, but when somebody tells me that games aren't art or could never be art it hurts a lot and triggers a flood of emotions and most it has very little to do with comparing a piece of software to a painting on a wall. I don't want my work to be looked down on, my passion to be laughed at, or be seen as making something that isn't worth experiencing, interpreting, or discussing like how other art forms are.

I don't care much about what Roger Ebert thinks, but I do care immensely what my gaming peers think, and what my friends and family think. Other art forms have patrons and connoisseurs who all take wildly varying interest in the art. Some people look at a painting and say meh, some would cry over it, some would move on after viewing it for 6 seconds, some could analyze it all day long. Video games have a similar diversity and variety of patrons. I believe we will eventually have much more diversity and variety in our games themselves. You can already see it happening. Low sophistication, higher sophistication, mature, child-friendly, story heavy, no stories, drama, comedy, romances, plenty of mechanics and features being blended and evolved. This art is still in its infancy and shouldn't be generalized, written off, or have the book closed on it.

Gaming can be whatever gaming wants to be, there are no permanant limits, technical or intellectual. Intellectually you can try to tell whatever story you want, or let players tell their own story, or tell no story at all. You can continue to try whatever it takes to elicit emotional responses from players, or you can put players in situations that encourage them to examine their own ethics, logic, and behavior. Or you can just make some platforms for them to hop between till they collect a coin. Technically there are no permanant limits because you can play with controllers, or you can use something like Kinect to play with just your body and voice. You can always increase computing power, make anything bigger, more sophisticated, add variables, think up any art style, create any water or lighting simulation you want and make it happen. You can take a group of people with various artistic and technical skills and get them to create an entire universe from scratch that you can interact with and maybe even experience epiphanies in. You can put the player in the middle of nowhere with no end goal or objective and leave them to their own devices (maybe they'll go stare at some rocks for a half hour), or you can give them something to do like collect a box of gold, romance somebody, kill something, harvest crops, anything. The game disc itself isn't art, but the experiences and data on the disc are art.

Gaming can be whatever it wants to be, and I don't like when people tell me it can't be something.

Mike Wall Staff Alumnus

02/24/2012 at 01:58 PM

Great comment as always mike, I was actually interested to see how you were going to respond to this subject, because I knew from previous posts that you considered video games to be an art form. However, like you said with Jesse’s definition of what art, his opinion that games are not art makes perfect sense. I actually thought for the first time on the podcast we were going to bump heads on this issue, but context is everything and given his understanding of what art was I couldn’t disagree.

I pretty much fall into the same camp of you though when it comes to art – I don’t really understand what it is or isn’t, and to be completely honest I don’t care. For me the real discussion lies within the communities’ response to these statements, and what it means about us as gamers.

Video games at large are still considered a juvenile pursuit. Thus it makes perfect sense that you would be apprehensive to tell others about your aspirations for game design. However, you and I both know that games are much more than this and will only continue to grow as a medium in the future. You might say that what you want to do in game design is not art – focusing on mechanics, level design etc., but look at games like Bioshock, whose level design was instrumental in illustrating the narrative to the player.

I’m not much for telling people what to do or how to live their lives, but I can tell you’re an extremely bright person whose going to have success in whatever field you chose. All I can say is just try to figure out the things that are most important in your life and go for them; everything else will fall in place. Certainly is a cliché, but it’s also true. I will say thought I hope you decide to make games, because I think you’d be a real asset to the industry. I’ve read some of the ideas that you’ve thrown around in the comments and I’d like to see them come to fruition. 


02/24/2012 at 04:33 PM

@Mike I too wondered if people were going to start bumping heads because of Jesse's stance but once Jesse got the opportunity to explain his ideas and put the statements in their context it all made sense. There was nothing to refute, and I came to the realization that when I say games are art and he says they are not, there's is truly no problem there. There aren't even necessarily sides to this argument. Hypothetically if you tried to organize gamers onto one of two sides (side A thinks games are art, side B thinks games are not art) you'd find out that those sides would tear themselves apart individually due to the blanket nature of the statements because every single person will feel different than the next. You could never reach consensus on which individual games qualify as art, what criteria needs to be met, etc. In the end both sides would find out they have no need to be organized. Each person will come to their own conclusions, making each person's own feelings sovereign and their point of view unique. Once you reach that realization, it reasons that the only thing left is to just get to know each other and explore your similarties and differences.

On Jesse's article I was even defending his point of view, in addition to explaining my own. At one point I was comparing CoD to the game of ball-in-a-cup, and it involved printing a picture of a Da Vinci painting off the net and supergluing it to stuff, It wasn't one of my finest moments lol. I didn't mention this in my original comment but I hate the Spike VGAs. Even developers don't feel comfortable being there, because the event is always full of useless showbiz celebs that often don't care about games and have nothing to do with the industry. It's not even a gaming event, the developers are like second rate guests, the celebrities are the first rate guests used for eye candy, and the audience is just a mob of loud kids. Plus who decided what wins and looses in the VGAs? It's probably the people who work at Spike and maybe fans who have accounts on their website. It's basically just a bunch of weirdos from Spike and the trolls on their site who are being represented as the "face of gaming". That's shenanigans if I've ever seen it. Real gaming award shows, like the GDC Awards actually mean something because developers vote amongst their peers and for their peers, those awards mean the most to me.

Thanks for all the support Mike, it inspires me and raises morale a great deal and means a lot to me. I spend the majority of each day thinking about games and everyday when I wake up I just want to know all about them whether it's just reading about the latest news, reviews, features, watching developer diaries, seeing articles about design, or just talking anything and everything about games with friends like all of us do here. Ever since I finished highschool I've been trying a couple of fields but I'm not passionate about either of them. When I was 17 I went to flight school in my spare time, passed tests with A's, was pretty good at it but I eventually saw it as a chore. Then I did a firefighting program for a couple years and learned a lot about hydrolic equations and plenty of other stuff, but I didn't care about that. Everyday day after class all I wanted was to come home, play games, learn about games, talk games, etc. Took me a while but eventually I connected the dots and decided I should try the fields of gaming out.

Lately I've been studying a brief GDC presentation from 2009 that experimental psychologist/analyst/designer Mike Ambinder over at Valve created called "Valve's approach to Playtesting: The application of Empiricism" and I'm fascinated by it and by his methods. It would seem the Portal song doesn't lie lol. When you listen to what Ambiner has to say it'll let you see how things go over at the company, and give you a clue as to why the science always gets done and why "we do what we must, because we can" lol. One of these days I want to be accomplished and proven enough to design levels and/or mechanics and be able to apply Valve's approach to playtesting when I'm watching playtest sessions and analyzing the results. I'd really prefer if I could do that work at Valve someday, but there's years of work and designing I need to do before I can send in that resume lol. Gabe Newell will get it someday though. I want to shoot high and have a history and portfolio good enough to send to Newell at Valve, Jason Jones at Bungie, O'Connor at 343i, and several other places.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/24/2012 at 05:23 PM

My take ended up being too long for a reply, so I made a blog instead:

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

02/25/2012 at 06:51 AM

I believe we didn't start bumping heads on this podcast because although all of us besides Jesse believe video games can be art, he had a sensible argument as to why he didn't think that way. Maybe it wasn't a persuasive argument but it wasn't meant to be. I don't want to speak for my fellow podcast members but I myself still feel video games are art. Jesse doesn't and that's fine. Furthermore, Jesse's fine with me thinking video games are art. We just disagree but can respect and understand each other's point of view and that goes for the rest of the cast.

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