Video Games as Works of Art



  • Last semester, one of my Professors asked me to write an essay on why Video Games should be considered art forms. My main argument was that video games combined multiple artistic mediums into one interactive package, and created an experience unmatched by most traditional art forms. What games would you use to argue that games are art? Do you think that games are art?



  • Journey - This game is a book without words that moves you.



  • Shadow of the Colossus. The narrative, the story and my favorite are the use of audio cues. Really immerses the player.

    Metal Gear series. Metal Gear Solid 2 especially. Very effective use of themes.



  • Talos Principle for its use of philosophy combined with puzzles. A lot of the concepts brought up in it are definitely mentioned in college courses and it provides a lot of questions that make you reflect on what humanity actually is.

    Bioshock for taking ideas from Ayn Rand and showing what a society based on her ideals would actually become. Seeing all the propaganda realized as a whole world is breathtaking but also shows the peril of that ideology.

    Undertale for its subversive ways of showing how media affects us and understanding more about the player than it initially lets on. It really dives into the psyche of different types of people without being super obvious about it at first.



  • Wind Waker

    Dark Souls

    Persona 4 (5?)

    Minecraft would be an interesting conversation because it can be seen as an artistic tool.



  • Journey is definitely the best example in my opinion. I don't want to get too artsy or philosophical but that game demonstrates the power that video games have to make us reflect on ourselves and it does so within such a visually and aurally beautiful canvas. It gave me a more powerful experience than any painting or movie could. It's also a great example because it's relatively easy to pick up and play for beginners.

    Other great examples I can think of include Gone Home, Life Is Strange, and The Last of Us.



  • I think just about any game could be used because games are obviously art.



  • While I agree with the sentiment said by @Ringedwithtile that ALL games are art, some good, some bad, the one I would use is Bioshock Infinite.

    I would suggest checking out this Bioshock Infinite review by Adam Sessler. The review alone I would consider art, but the way he describes the game and the enviroment is more eloquent than I could ever do.

    Youtube Video

    After rewatching that video, I have to say I miss the days when Sessler would review games.



  • @Ringedwithtile I came in to say the same thing. I don't find any single game proves the argument better than any other.



  • I also support the Journey as one of the best examples. I would also add Ori and the Blind Forest.



  • After playing Limbo, I would totally add that to the list for its use of art style and aesthetic.. plus the minimalist and open ended storyline.

    But I agree that Journey and Shadow of the Colossus are some of the best examples



  • @michemagius said in Video Games as Works of Art:

    Last semester, one of my Professors asked me to write an essay on why Video Games should be considered art forms. My main argument was that video games combined multiple artistic mediums into one interactive package, and created an experience unmatched by most traditional art forms. What games would you use to argue that games are art? Do you think that games are art?

    Curious on what your professor thought about your essay given that you seem to fall on a very pro side on the argument. I feel like over the years the standard procedure for academic work on the topic was always to approach it from the semantic side and looking at all the different definitions of art and even more granular specifications/movements like high-art, pop art.

    Basically staying neutral throughout most of the analysis before arriving at some kind of conclusion like "games might be carving a new art form for themselves right now. ", etc or maybe even looking at things like do all games qualify as art or if not what's the underlying difference that would make something like Journey art whereas maybe something like "Hatred".

    Overall I feel like the discourse is always potentially the most interesting thing about this topic whereas the need of people to come to a definitive conclusion or giving certain things the "art" label always is kind of the most boring thing about, cause in the end I don't think I've ever seen any arguments that would convince anyone to change their minds on the topic. In the end if there was ever something that changed someone's opinion it's them playing something or probably rarer them connecting to more conventional art forms in a way that wasn't possible for them to do with games(although I don't think I've ever read about anyone changing their opinion that way xD would be super curious though on the reasoning if someone like that exists).



  • @Holundrian My professor seemed to accept my essay. It was an extra assignment I had to do after I cited Ni No Kuni in class as an example of one of my favorite works. She's pretty set in her ways, in her opinion 2D mediums are the superior forms of art. She at least didn't penalize me.



  • yes, i would argue that. I would use games like Ico, Shadow of Colossus, Journey, flower and i would claim story driven games like Mass Effect are great at this



  • @michemagius said in Video Games as Works of Art:

    @Holundrian My professor seemed to accept my essay. It was an extra assignment I had to do after I cited Ni No Kuni in class as an example of one of my favorite works. She's pretty set in her ways, in her opinion 2D mediums are the superior forms of art. She at least didn't penalize me.

    That's because it's just a different taste, different opinion. 2D games can be seen as art. And it is. Because you're basically drawing on a different medium.

    However, the whole "Video Games as Works of Art" is a controversial debate anywhere. Some people think Video Games aren't works of art, some people do. I am in the camp of "Video Games is Art" or "Video Games as Works of Art."

    For example: Instead of reading up on historical stories, I learn a little bit more about the subject via video games. World War 2 games come to mind. Medal of Honor: Frontlines is one. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (both single player and multiplayer) is another.

    God of War is a work of art because of the game design. You play as an avatar in an Ancient Roman Mythology. Your job: Kill the god of all things, Zeus. At the same time, you learn historical stuff in there, too. It's not fictional, as in - it follows the source material of Roman Mythology, but it's close enough that you can understand where the game's characters come from.



  • @michemagius I don't mean to offend anyone but...

    I find the notion that certain forms of art can be "superior" to other forms of art... odd.

    I understand that everyone has their own preferences when it comes to individual pieces of art but to say that paintings are inherently superior to music... or that movies are inherently superior to marble sculptures... just seems narrow-minded to me.



  • Video games are art, but just like the Big Bang Theory is a crappy form of television art, there are crappy forms of video game art.

    I'd argue that video games have a unique artistic heuristic. I contend they're the second most effective medium for expressing a narrative (after literature), and are far more immersive than traditional media. It literally (instead of metaphorically, imaginatively, or figuratively) gives the consumer agency in their consumption of the art, and thus the art is unique for each patron. Of course, the downsides of this are that an author's intent can be lost in the midst of that experience, but some art critics (hell, maybe most) would say the author doesn't matter. It also leads to non-uniform interpretations of the medium. Whereas with a movie or a television series, you can say, "look at the film, this is where I draw X conclusion" you can't necessarily say that for video games, outside of certain set pieces.

    I remember, in particular, watching an old Totalbiscuit video once about Max Payne 3 (CF here ) where he talked about how he didn't like the game compared to its predecessors precisely because it took away his agency in favor of cutscenes, and that "he wasn't there to watch a movie, but to play a game" (my paraphrase), and that that was an important part of the "art of a game" so to speak. He wanted the story to be told organically, while he was playing the game, with him having the option to run away, or even kill the storytelling NPC. Obviously, the makers of Max Payne 3, in making set cut scenes instead of storytelling within the gameplay, didn't like how precisely that could be done in previous Max Payne games, and that they wanted you to get the story they wrote.. I disagreed with TB then, and still somewhat disagree, because I can, as an artistic person myself, be frustrated when people consume something of mine in a way I didn't intend it to be consumed. Maybe that's the nature of video games - destined to be works not representing an artist, but representing the patron. But then you have people like Kojima, and what he did in Metal Gear Solid, and that whole debate rears its head again.

    tl;dr: of course it's art, but it's hard to pin it down.



  • I feel like whether or not something is "art" is a meaningless argument frankly, and further that only certain pieces within a medium could count while others wouldn't seems absurd. I mean if Citizen Kane is art then so is Sharknado.

    That all said though, if I had to argue the artistic merits of video games it'd definitely come down to what it does that other mediums either don't or don't do as well, and that's interaction. When I think of a game as an art piece, I'm not so worried about the story I see in a cutscene but in the story that you, if not create, then at least manipulate through gameplay.

    This might be an odd pull, but one example that immediately springs to mind is Nights into Dreams. I'm gonna put this under spoilers just to be safe but it's not anything to really worry about:

    The last stage begins with you stripped of your power to control Nights and you're abandoned on a small island floating in the sky. There's nothing you can do but jump, presumably to your death. However you rise up and start flying on your own. It's a simple moment but everything I described happens during gameplay. You lose your ability to combine with Nights as you're walking towards them (the same way you do at the start of every other stage), and you have to personally make the decision to take that leap of faith.

    I feel the sequel, Nights: Journey of Dreams, handles this far worse precisely because almost all of it takes place in cutscenes that you just watch instead. Same as above, spoilers just to be safe:

    The only part that has any actual control is the jumping moment I mentioned earlier, and even that is only for one of the two routes. There though it loses most of the impact, because instead of being thrust away from Nights as you're trying to reach them, you're separated during a cutscene. After it ends you just spawn in on the floating island. Once you make the jump, another cutscene starts which robs you of the emotion of the rise back up.

    I know it's a small and extremely nitpicky example but hopefully the point I'm trying to get across makes sense. It applies to any kind of game, too. For a more broad example boss fights that end in QTEs (or just plain cutscenes) never have the same emotion as a boss fight where you personally land the final hit.



  • I'm not religious in the slightest, but Journey is what I imagine a religious experience feels like, but in videogame form.

    Anything by Team Ico. The Last of Us. Tearaway, while not as "moving" as the aforementioned games, is still quite an impressive feat stylistically.



  • The question presumes a definable idea of "Art".

    If you accept that the Dadists exploded the structure of art, and if you accept that post-modernism used the term as short hand for "let's take this a bit more seriously" then the conclusion is that Art / art has no definable qualities - anything can be art.

    That Art as a badge of honour still holds water is confounding. The uselessness of reams of writing on the subject from a few years ago that seemed utterly ignorant to the last century's course of philosophic aesthetics was astounding.

    Rather than being academic blather, that's actually a freeing state of things. If anything is or can be art, then the real question becomes: What does this object of consideration do, add or achieve artistically? Has it done something unseen, previously unknown? Has it recast old ideas in a new way, or via a new approach? And if we chase that line of thought then video games have an enormous amount to offer the world.

    Games are art. That doesn't mean anything. Certain games have an artistic value or contribution that is unique to them. Therein lies the real delight.

    Addendum: Kentucky Route Zero is magical realism in game form. Certainly no Antoine Volodine but fucking rad nonetheless (don't watch this if you haven't played up to Act III): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufAUonsYhVU