Video Games as Works of Art

  • 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):

  • @michemagius I wouldn't call an art museum itself a piece of art, just because it houses pieces of art. That would be my main argument against your claim. Yes, each asset (e.g textures) can be considered a piece of art, I just don't buy the argument that combining artistic pieces is enough to claim that a video game is art.

    But I do think video games are art because they are creatively designed to give the viewer an experience. That's my personal view, which I have not thought much about, so it's probably flawed in a lot of ways.

  • I would focus on the unique aspects of interactivity and what they add to a work that cannot be matched in any other medium. Think the QTEs in Asura's Wrath where your struggle with the controller mirror's Asura's own exertion. Or think of the ending of The Last of Us where

    the player is forced to enact Joel's decision save Ellie whether or not the player agrees with him and the tension and distance that creates in contrast to the traditional player/avatar relationship.

  • The games that immediately come to mind are the Zero Escape series (can't wait to play ZTD), The Swapper, Braid, Undertale, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, and anything by Aminita Design ^ ^

  • Journey and Shadow of the Colossus are great examples, as they both manage to tell gripping and evocative stories with little to no dialogue, letting gameplay speak for itself. Dark Souls probably fits into this category too.

    On the other end of the spectrum you have Metal Gear Solid games, which do a lot of telling, but the story itself and the themes are well thought out and deep enough to make them stand out as stark examinations of nuclear war and what shapes us into the people we are.

    And then you have games like Spec Ops: The Line where your actions play into the story and enhances it, in a way that a film or a book couldn't possibly hope to accomplish.
    The Stanley Parable would fit into this category, and is enormously enjoyable because of it.

  • I'll vote for Journey and The Witness.

    Independent of what art means for video games, those two were the first to come to mind for their design and story telling.

    Valiant Hearts is also up there for me, though not as much as the other two.

  • The Last of Us. Brought characters to life in a way that no other game had ever done.


  • I've always thought that REmake is one of the best ways to demonstrate this because it has characteristics that somebody familiar with film can appreciate. The static camera means that every shot is framed similarly to a movie. Everything from the rendering of the environment, to the framing of the shots, to the audio cues are specifically designed to convey a sense of atmosphere and elicit an emotional response.
    Also, the interactive nature adds stakes, which increases the sense of fear/apprehension. Dying means that you actually lose something (time).....So something like a dog jumping through a window to hunt you down makes you feel something.

    I think that several of the other games mentioned are art, but it would be difficult for non gamers to understand why