August 27, 2007

High Art Play

by Andrew Stern · , 7:06 pm

Not long ago the question you loved to hate was, are games stories? Lately your favorite quandry getting attention is, are games art? Poor games.

While for me the concern (if there ever was one) was sufficiently addressed recently by designer Clint Hocking, for mainstream games within popular culture, at a minimum — I’m interested to read the overviews, interviews and personal views, situated more in the realm of high art, from the new volume Videogames and Art, edited by Andy Clarke and Grethe Mitchell.

…Contributors provide chapters on, to name but a few, the relationships between videogame aesthetics and Japanese pictorial art, the development of Machinima and game art “modding”; videogames as literary devices; game concept art and fan art, the relationship between fine art and videogame art.

The book also includes interviews with major videogame artists such as Brody Condon, Joseph Delappe, JODI and Tobias Bernstrup.

The relationship between videogame art and the outside world threads throughout, and is also discussed in chapters outlining the use of artistic game mods in initiating discussion on Albanian blood feuds and on the development of politically challenging independent games.

The videogame industry is acknowledged and also challenged, by contributors looking for answers as to whether mainstream videogames can ever be an art form.

At least one chapter has a bent towards the “are games stories?” question: Jim Andrews’ paper “Videogames as Literary Devices”.

5 Responses to “High Art Play”


  1. Ian Bogost Says:

    I saw the book at Eyebeam earlier this month and I forgot to get one. I wish there was a PDF of the intro on the publisher’s site. Looking at the TOC, it seems like the book is mainly about uses of games for the creation of art (mods, machinima, etc.) rather than a form of art native to games. It’s a worthwhile topic, but I think it’s rather different from the question you lead with here Andrew.

  2. andrew Says:

    On the most part, perhaps so, though there seem to be some chapters that address the question “are mainstream videogames art?” — Brett Martin’s and Ernest Adams’ for example.

    But most of these papers are probably thinking in terms of high art (gallery and museum art and their modes), not popular art (i.e. art + entertainment, e.g. movies). The “are games art” question floating around the blogosphere these days I believe is, more specifically, “are games popular art”, i.e. do games have as much artistic merit as popular art forms such as movies, music and literature.

    (My opinion: I believe they do.)

    Yet another way to look at it is, if most of the book is about videogames as material / methodologies for making art (something other than videogames themselves), that could be making an implicit statement, that videogames alone aren’t art. They are good fodder for making art, but aren’t themselves art.

    (My opinion: I think one can make a game can be made that, in terms of form, certainly qualifies as a videogame, that can simultaneously function as high art.)

  3. shocks Says:

    this book should really point out that parents should not completely disable the prospects of a career in gaming and art. :)

  4. ragaskar Says:

    asking “Are games art?” is the sort of question you’ll get from someone who has a very limited understanding *of* the art world, so you can usually dismiss it out of hand. The answer is, of course games are art. Post-Duchamp, who was probably one of the first to address whether or not something that came from the non-traditional disciplines of sculpture and painting could be considered art, this question is no longer very interesting. Why are people still asking this question? Well, it’s a popular belief that when something acquires the mantle of “being art” it is immediately excused from any and all criticism by some unknown authority — perhaps it is the old men who live at universities, or the new york women with glasses we see walking smartly around in movies. After all, they’ve all seen — to use a trite example — Pollock paintings held up as an artistic pinnacle when to the layperson it seems as though someone just scribbled on the canvas. If this person over here can successfully claim that something I don’t like “is art”, then I am now unable to argue — probably because of the Democrats and their support for the NEA — that it has no socially redeeming value.

    We shouldn’t be asking “is this art” — we should be asking “is this good art? is this IMPORTANT art? is this art that will be referenced and built upon with future works? In what context?”. Now this sort of question is very *easy* to apply it to videogames, because it’s a very answerable question. We can start saying things like “well, Wolfenstein was obviously very important in the context of first person shooters, but not so important in the context of shoot-em-ups, and even less important in the context of literature, or film-making, or painting”. You can also start to realize that you might have a game that in some ways, is very important in the context of the literary world and art world, but not so important in the context of videogames. I think this is the kind of game that some people are thinking of when they think of “games as art” — something with forced symbolism and sloppy highbrow aspirations. my guess is that when someone makes this game it will be critically well recieved but not fun at all to play. the game someone *should* make is a game that references all the games we’ve been playing all these years — a game that *rewards* a player for their knowledge about the gaming canon — just as a Pollock rewards viewers who understand a little bit about its history.

    apologies for the incohesive nature of these statements, but I don’t have time to write an essay here. videogames meeting academic criticism is going to start producing very interesting work once the game makers start responding.

  5. Grand Text Auto » Save the Robot Says:

    [...] Escapist article he wrote about the subject that I had missed. He also has a nice post on games as art. Via Save the Robot (now added to the blogroll) I also found this, this [...]

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