Arguing Whether Video Games Are Art Misses The Point

People insist that video games are or are not art based on the way they experience them. Those who call games art can approach them as art: they play for visuals, music, and atmosphere. Those who don’t call games art might distantly recognize that they contain art, but it’s negligible to their experience; they play for challenge, improvement, and self-expression. These types of gamers share in common that they play to experience emotions, but differ on which emotions: awe or satisfaction.

To put this another way: building a house requires thought, planning, and engineering; clear choice goes into the materials and colors of its walls, roof, and floor to achieve a specific look and feel. To the architect, a house may be art. To the home owner, a house is shelter, safety, and storage space.

Another comparison: a TV viewer might admire an Olympic ice skater’s performance as art, but the ice skater herself, in real time, fixates on execution. Until she’s completed each spin, jump, and twirl, it’s unlikely that she’ll view her own moves as art; she doesn’t have the time or concentration to spare for that. Not every game has the difficulty level of Olympic ice skating, of course, but gamers who don’t play for art and encounter an easy game can still take on the challenge of besting their own past selves.

First-time Super Metroid players might be playing art. Super Metroid speedrunners aren’t.

If anyone asks me whether games are art, I answer that it doesn’t matter. Games are what gamers experience—and those experiences come in all flavors.

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