Oct 5, 2011

TREND| Video Game Art

Jesse Van Dijk, Stahl Arms from Killzone 3, Photoshop
     In a Newsweek article from March of 2000, Jack Kroll argues that "games can be fun and rewarding in many ways, but they can't transmit the emotional complexity that is the root of art." The renowned movie critic Roger Ebert on April 16, 2010 in his article to back up his previous statement that “video games can never be art” says, “I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art.” So why is there so much hostility towards the video game? I know I first assumed that the video game must be considered art in some small way.

     I’m not exactly sure why the video game catches so much criticism for it's medium as an art form. From what I could tell from Roger Ebert’s article, it sounded like the antics of an old man complaining about how video games are scrambling the minds of young kids and they need to be doing something more useful like reading or actually looking at “real art.” But I would like to propose a few differences in the problems most people may have with video games. I for one believe there is something artistic about the video game. It's hard to not look at the above scene from the game Killzone 3 and not think it is a visually stunning image.

     In Mr. Ebert’s article it seems as if he doesn’t want to admit the video game as an art form because of what he believes it stands for. I’m sure he may share some stereotypes I have about gamers with their black out shades, sitting two feet from a big screen TV with nothing on but a pair of two-day-old underwear and a headset losing him or herself in some fantasy world. He feels if he admits it’s an art form then it will give this person a reason to say, “I play video games because of its artistic quality.” But stereotypes aside, is the actual act of playing a video game the art form? If so then wouldn’t that make every gamer a video game artist?

Andrew Kim, The Pelican Inn from UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception, Photoshop

     I feel there may be a blurring of concepts here. Maybe the act of playing could be viewed as a performance but the actual artistic quality of the game I believe is in the graphics. If you have ever played a video game especially with today’s technology you understand that the realistic view of the fantasy worlds that are created are visually stunning and intriguing to look at much like the realistic quality of Andrew Kim's work above. You no longer remember the objective of the game but you “lose yourself” in some fantasy world looking out across some horizon, just like you would a painting. I’ve heard many a time in an art gallery where the description of the art itself asks you to “lose yourself” in the paint or the chalk or whatever medium the artist used. Jack Kroll says games “can't transmit the emotional complexity that is the root of art.” So does this mean a painting as famous as Leonardo Da Vinci’s, Mona Lisa is worthy of this? I believe so. I believe viewers share a certain personal relationship with the art they are drawn to, and they may be different ideas about the same painting. However a painting that is so iconic that has been changed and reprinted in so many different ways still carries its meaning and iconic imagery. Well what about the image of Mario? Everyone knows who Mario is and I feel they would be lying if they said they didn’t. The image of Mario carries some emotional complexity that viewers respond to; as if everyone has their own personal relationship with the character, I would go as far to say that the image of Mario today may be even more famous than the Mona Lisa.
Tyler Breon, Cronos Battle from God of War 3, Maya and Z brush
     I believe this is a trend that is ever present and growing fast, as even some universities offer degrees for video game design. As a matter of fact all of the images shown in this post are winners from the Into The Pixel Exhibition of 2011 which was judged by a panel of renowned curators and art historians. However, coming back to Roger Ebert's original statement that video games are not art, I feel he can't get the idea out of his head about who he thinks plays video games which, for Mr. Ebert, reflects on the medium. It may not be the act of playing the game that is the art but you do have to play the game in order to experience the art in it. But putting the argument aside as whether or not video games should be considered art, I feel it is more important to recognize that this trend has grown recently and is still growing in a major way. As for Mr. Ebert, if you have a problem with video games being recognized as art, you should take it up with the National Endowment for the arts (NEA). Just recently the NEA opened up its 2012 submission window where as, opposed to last year and every year prior, the guidelines have been updated with a new section called "Arts in Media," which includes video games. Sorry Mr. Ebert, but it seems the rest of the world disagrees with you.

-John Hall


  1. It will be interesting to see what kind of funds the fed will give to indie developers now, and how long it will last with the extreme backlash the bill is experiencing.

    Also, MoMA PS1 had a video-game exhibit by Feng Mengbo on display earlier this year -- you should check it out.Long March: Restart

    -Brenden Freedman