Video games are an art form

Van Gogh, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Miyamoto...

Artwork by Theo Delaney

Video games, and their cultural and artistic value, have been studied, analysed and appreciated for some decades now. However the field of ‘game studies’ is not taken as seriously as other cultural disciplines such as  literature, music or visual arts. There exists a stigma against video games in academia; it’s generally dismissed or considered lower on the cultural value spectrum.

However, this stigmatisation does a great injustice to the growing and influential field of game production. Today, we see developers innovate with interesting storylines or the implementation of new, immersive technologies to sculpt very profound games that deserve to be considered among the highest works of art.

The concept of video games as art is not a new idea, however, when we think of art, the likes of Van Gogh, Shakespeare or Beethoven spring to mind. Traditional understandings of what constitutes art continue to dominate the cultural conscious and the creative efforts of game developers continue to go unnoticed.

Video games struggle to gain inclusion in the rigid categories of art. Purists would argue video games, immersive in nature, differ from the traditional, socially understood ethos of ‘aesthetic art’. The latter is observed and not ‘done’ or performed by its audience in the same way that a video game is.

But consider the individual factors that make up a game.

Video games increasingly are at the forefront of engaging storytelling. Bioshock won several gaming awards for its depiction of a dystopian underwater city and malevolent plutocrat, which drew influences from the work of George Orwell and Ayn Rand. Games such as Assassins Creed, Tomb Raider, and Prince of Persia have storylines so rich and intriguing that they’ve been reworked into films and books for wider audiences.

Through the expanse of art forms available in gaming, these stories are told in visually incredible ways. While we may look towards big games such The Elder Scrolls series or Final Fantasy, which feature life-like art and gameplay, simpler art forms are also widely admired. Minecraft and Stardew Valley have received success and admiration for their clean, recognisable art forms, which provide a sense of nostalgia for many gamers.

Many games have also received praise for their musical scores. In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the soundtrack draws inspiration from not only jazz and Latin but even Arabic musical influences. These game soundtracks are now a regular feature of high culture music, and outlets like Wall Street Journal credit games for “saving” symphony orchestras.

From an aesthetic point of view, the coalescence of these art forms alone lends legitimacy to the idea of video games as art. However, gameplay is perhaps the most underrated artistic element of these games.

Immersive gaming technology has grown immensely, from the PlayStation EyeToy, to Nintendo’s motion Wii Controller, to the use of augmented and virtual reality in games. This constant pursuit towards an almost literal insertion of the audience into a simulated reality is what metaphysics philosopher Baudrillard described as our generations navigation of the digital universe.

Audiences are being exposed to a mixture of immersive technologies, plot, art and music, suggesting a means of experiencing art in ways it has never been consumed before. We are speeding towards a future where the games we play are not something just admired from the surface—the screen—but rather, a beauty we engage with physically, and surrounded by on demand.

Art, from paintings to film to virtual reality, has always intended its audience to get lost in the medium. The level of attention given at every level, towards every facet of the gameplay—animation, level design, voice acting and, even motion capture—reveals a commitment to artistic realisation that, when paired with story and duration rivals film production quality.

The possibilities of video games rival what artists have attempted to do since time immemorial. By being able to recreate or fabricate reality, these products suggest that society has sadly ignored a highly influential field in the art world. While not all are convinced of gaming’s artistic worth, this platform has the ability to not only simulate, but instead create a  competing, embodied world; the gaming industry is edging eerily closer to this possibility, and developers are using the wealth of artistic tools available to make hyperreality, an actual reality.