Unique aspects of videogames as art

Some may laugh at the idea of videogames being art, but I believe that this medium has evolved enough to be seen on par with cinema, which is undoubtedly an art form.

Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

According to this definition by Wikipedia, videogames qualify as art as well. Videogames offer a vidual, auditory and interactive experience, express the designer’s imagination and the developer’s skill, abd evoke a wide range of emotions, such as a feeling of wonder, empowerment, frustration, fear and a ton more.

That being said, I believe that every videogame, not just “art-y” games like Gone Home or Dear Esther, are art. CS:GO and Overwatch do evoke just as many emotions in us, just through other means. Even more, videogames have several unique elements that many other forms of art do not have.

Technical Aspects

In comparison to other art forms like painting, dance, music and cinematography, videogames are exceptionally technical. While one only requires mud and their hands to paint, videogames require a vast network of technologies in-place to function. Just think about every line of code on your computer, from the controller on your HDD or SSD, over your network card, to your operating system and the game itself. This is absolutely stunning! Decades of person-hours have been spent, just so you can pick Hanzo instead of the healer your team desperately needs.

But how does this matter? Well, this makes conservation of art extremely difficult. While our species has gine through great lengths to preserve paintings the way they are today for the future generations, these things are way more difficult when it comes to videogames. Have you ever tried getting an old 16-bit game to run on your Windows machine? Heck, even old games sold on Steam sometimes have problems with today’s resolutions and hardware. Now imagine a future in which running Windows 7 sounds just as silly as playing on a C64 is today.

Even more so, multiplayer games are next-to-impossible to preserve, as you’ll never have this huge playerbase again. This makes videogames an inherently volatile form of art, which can’t really be accurately reproduced for future generations.

Skill Aspects

Videogames are one of the few art forms which you can be “bad” at. While one may be “bad” at creating art (painting, composing/playing music, etc.), consumption of those art forms is absolutely skill-free. Everyone can look at a painting, listen to music or watch a dance; but games are different!

If someone is bad at Dark Souls, they’ll never see the rest of the game. No other form of media locks parts of it away from the consumer if they’re not “good enough” at consuming it. Now, this is not a critic of games for doing that and it would be silly for many games to include a “movie mode”, but it is something unique to games.

Interactive aspects

Very few other forms of art require interactivity from the consumer. In fact, many forms of art exist without any interaction at all. Statues exist, no matter if anyone looks at them or not. Videogames are unique in the way that they are designed to interact with the consumer. It’s not a one-way relationship, but rather both ways.

I believe this aspect alone puts videogames in a very unique and powerful position, as they enable a much deeper level of emotional engagement. For instance, a book might tell me how a character is helplessly running from a predator. In the right mindset, I can imagine how they feel. A movie might show me this exact scene and cause me to grip my seat firmly. But a well-made game in the same scenario will make my survival instinct kick in ans cause my blood pressure to go through the roof. To my brain, this experience becomes almost real.

Further, through interactivity we gain agency, which again increases engagement and emotional investment. If I have to make meaningful choices in a world, I feel more invested in the world, which can be very powerful.

Appendix

Whenever someone says “videogames are just for fun”, I always disagree. They’re not. Just like not all movies are for fun. Some are there to scare us. Others tell an epic tale, or a very personal story. Yet others exist to give us a message.

And videogames are just the same! Some scare us, others make us cry from joy or sorrow. Some may us feel like the hero of the day, and others show us our own flaws ever so harshly.

We must realize that games are not just blinking lights and beeping sounds: They’re art, they’re expression.

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