How to Argue that Video Games are Art? -

How to Argue that Video Games are Art?

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Can video games be categorized as art? On one side we have modern artists who won’t mind categorizing anything as art such as a shark preserved in formaldehyde or cubes filled with New York city’s Garbage.
On the other hand, we have the late Roger Ebert, the famous film critic who argued that video games can never be art because they are simply games, and the difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and a clear outcome.
Are video games or art?
What is art and what is a game?
Let us explore the answer to these questions together and learn more about art and video games and in the end, you can tell us how you would categorize video games.

Song Before Sunrise by Lee Rosevere

#art #videogames #games


  1. Don't forget to hit the like button 👍to help our channel grow 😊

  2. Yes and it's an artform with lots of untapped potential :).

  3. Love you guys! What a fantastic and coherent approach to a seemingly difficult topic.

  4. Every time I hear an argument about the state of modern art, it's hard for me not to compare it to the dozens of similar arguments that we've left behind over the years. Are we really so confident in Duchamp or Call of Duty not being art when the same accusations were leveled at impressionists, at Picasso, at Jane Austen?

    I think (and I'm largely parroting InnuendoStudio's video, that the popular cultural conception of "art" brings with it some element of status. While I love Journey and Shadow of the Colossus, people point to them because they're some of the best examples of games creating emotions, which is one of the ways people conceptualize art. But this isn't how this classification should work- even a painting with no technique or experience behind it is art, the question we should ask is "is this good?"

    And "is this good" is an incredibly subjective question, which is appropriate, because defining objective rules for a concept like art is borderline impossible. Art is culturally created AND culturally defined. There are no laws of nature to consider here. Even the kid putting his glasses down in an art museum is a sort of performance art, which is something that I value immensely.

    The title of "art" brings a prestige, and as someone who takes gaming very seriously, I understand that draw. But I think it's ultimately a distracting mantle to chase after, especially because so many of us seem to need approval from authorities like Ebert to give it to us. I couldn't tell you why I'm affected by Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross, nor can I explain the inner peace that I get after nailing a perfect level of Doom. But the fact is, these experiences are impactful to me.

  5. I'm not entirely sure about the link between Wittgenstein's definition of a game (which was primarily used as a precursor to his 'language games' theory) , and Ebert's opinion that games are just games. Ebert probably had a different definition of games to Wittgenstein. Even so, games aren't art because they are games is a ridiculous statement in and of itself, especially coming from a film critic.

    I think the statement that art is whatever is called art is a good starting point. It might seem slightly reductionist at first, seeing as thereby 'everything' becomes potentially art, but this gives way to a more important question: What is 'good' art? This is something that ties into your last video. Is it a sublime experience? Is your judgement based on a 'pure esthetical judgement' as we see in Kant's work?

    I say it every week, but your videos are really great. I'm interested in how you'll keep the channel going once you've gone through the big theories and philosophers of aesthetics. Seeing how much talent you put into your video's, I'm sure you'll be able to surprise us.

  6. This is a semantics argument, and like most semantics arguments it's main goal is exclusion. So don't be surprised that every time I hear "This is no music/literature/a game/film" I roll my eyes so hard I can probably view the inside of my head. Whether something is defined is art is meaningless. If people derive meaning from it, if it changes one person's life for the better and if it inspires conversations, then it's at the very least important.

    I find the narrative of uniqueness being the main priority in what has artistic qualities really bizarre. First we have to define uniqueness, then we have to agree that original ideas come out of thin air, or are at the very least inspired by a lot of things that already exist. Yeah, that's not time well spent in my opinion. (You can tell I am a philosophy dropout because I didn't have the patience for semantics arguments)

    Let's accept that all of those things are true. Let's assume that we can clearly define what art is and isn't. And let's say someone decides that CoD isn't art, or CS:GO isn't art, or Tetris isn't art. That conclusion doesn't really offer anything useful. We can be overly pedantic about the way we categorize games now. While in the real world people talk about their first time playing CoD, the relationships formed around CS and how Tetris introduced them to their favorite hobby. Roger Ebert was a great man, but I ignored his statements about games because they were meaningless to me. As in, they offered nothing of value. They were empty allegations. Later that day, I found a video discussing the themes of a game I've never heard about and then I went and played that game. My life changed for the better off the second thing I did that day, not the first.

    It sounds a lot like I am dismissing the very concept behind the video. And…yeah, I am. I look at a title like that and it saddens me a little bit because the question has already been answered by your previous videos. It has been answered by other people's videos, and hell, even by my terrible videos. And it will continue to be answered by the essays we continue to make.

  7. Dear viewers,
    I'll try my best to answer your comments tomorrow. So don't think that I'm ignoring you by not replying today 🙂

  8. I hate this question. Who gives a shit that Roger Ebert didn't understand video games? He didn't change his mind but did give a kind of mea culpa wherein he admitted he didn't understand the medium enough to have an informed opinion on it.
    So what is art? You can find lots of definitions. At the end of the day it's human creative endeavors meant to evoke some kind of feeling in the viewer. So Van Gogh's Starry Night, he created it out of his imagination and it evokes something in the person who sees it. A movie like 12 Angry Men, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Bambi, these were creative works, made by humans, that evoke something in the viewer. I'll skip the tedium of doing this for other mediums and jump straight to video games.
    Video games are creative works. A human being has to form the ideas for the game in their mind and creatively implement them. As someone who has grown up playing video games I can tell you they are very capable of evoking emotions in the player.
    Of course if you were to ask me I would say even physical sports, i.e. games, like basketball are a form of human art. Basketballs don't grow in nature. Someone had to invent the rules, players had to develop the skills to play it well, and there are certainly plenty of emotions involved.
    Humans are weird animals. We have large brains and they've been turned to odd purposes. Human culture is so varied and rich, art is inherent in so much that we do. At the end of the day it's all just part of human culture and should be celebrated.

  9. What makes you qualified to speak on the topic?

  10. My thinking is that nothing can be considered art by virtue of the medium, to say as much would just be ignorant. Any work in any medium could be considered art, but the line between valuable and worthless culture is ever shifting and almost entirely personal. Ultimately trying to define art is a futile endeavour, but in attempting to do so we can better understand how we assign value to the media we consume.

    First of all I think a lot of people are on different pages when discussing 'art'. For me personally 'art' is culture I deem valuable, but many others likely describe 'art' as whatever you see in a gallery – paintings, sculptures, installations – and approach this argument from the perspective of 'good' and 'bad' art. So what 'art' is changes with the individual, not only does the bar for 'art' and not-art change with the individual, the conversation is already shaky with different perspectives on what discussion of art even refers to.

    Even assuming people can get past that hurdle, the conversation ultimately comes down to discussions of past artwork and whether or not they are art. The Duchamp examples invariably crop up here, and the problem is that because Duchamp so thoroughly upset the art world with his Urinal, with his ready-made art, I think to even debate whether it is art is missing the point – the impact of his ideas had so great an effect on the art world that I think it's impossible to argue that they weren't 'art' at the time for the massive changes that his ideas introduced. 'Bad' or 'good' also doesn't really apply here, he changed art as we know it for better or worse. If someone sticks a urinal in a gallery now it's not the same as when Duchamp originally did it, to judge the impact of a current work isn't the same as judging the impact of an already famous, already important work, and the discussion is awkward at best as a result – we can't predict what will stand the test of time, what will be a classic and what will be forgotten.

    Then we come to the concepts behind a work. Say what you will about conceptual art, it's remarkably good at getting people to talk about the concepts behind it – even if that discussion comes out as something like "How does a white canvas represent anything other than a white canvas" it still prompts discussion. How do we value a concept? Can Spec Ops: The Line be considered art if its ideas are almost entirely based on Heart of Darkness? Does originality matter? Should Psychonauts be described as art for the excellent ideas it holds, or denied that title for the places it falls short? Given games are made up of many more than one idea, do we judge it by the flawed whole or the sublime individual elements? If a game has generally awful gameplay that fails to reinforce the narrative's themes, but an original and engaging story, is it art? Mirror's Edge is in my eyes the best looking game I've ever played, but does that even come into play when the narrative was dull, the themes borrowed and the characters entirely two dimensional?

    What about creative intent? Does the value of a work as 'art' increase as the size of the team that made it decreases? Is a large, profit driven company even able to make art at all? What's the relationship between artistic merit and profitability? Is there a relationship at all?

    I really enjoy engaging with this discussion, but I think fundamentally it's just not possible to come to a definitive answer. They are really interesting questions to grapple with, but the answer – right or wrong – doesn't really interest me as much as the process of engaging with the questions.

  11. I think the accurate opinion is that "games are beyond art".
    Think about it this way, high art has a certain "something", a mythology or a perspective, something dense and profound.
    But Games do not merely have "something", when they play the game they become "something", a state of being.
    It's one thing to present the wise and benevolent king vs the corrupt king in a work of art or read a complex political book and it's something else to become an actual unscrupulous king in Crusader Kings.

    All the culture and myth in the world is about finding patterns in the world and abstracting profound rules and meaning out of it, if high art is anything does it dare say it's something else?
    And if so what are games other then the makers and players of rules? Isn't the fundamental human experience about the understanding of the various games of the world?

    If you are able to simulate a profound universe, based on profound rules, then wouldn't that experience be profound?
    As for how to make profound rules, isn't that how you make things profound in anything? Isn't that art?
    Certainly a lot of thought,intuition, skill and mastery can go into creating rules. Isn't that the basic requirement in all art?

  12. Holy shit… I don’t think I’ve seen a video that good in the entire time I’ve been on YouTube. Please make more amazing videos.

  13. I'm only a minute in, but I never considered that while we worry about whether games are art, we can't even really define what a game is. Great stuff! Now back to the video

  14. I think interpreting "form follows function" as a rejection of aesthetics is a gross misunderstanding of modernist architecture. Even Mies van der Rohe, who had arguably the driest style out of all the early modernist masters, made very beautiful buildings such as the Barcelona Pavilion and S. R. Crown Hall. What they primarily rejected were decorations that served no practical purpose. Instead, modernist architecture set out to either integrate the aesthetics into the practical elements of a design, or they created spaces that in of themselves invoked indescribable feelings. My favorite examples are the Salk Institute by Louis Kahn, and Sainte Marie de La Tourette by Le Corbusier. The drab and ugly types of buildings you described are sort of a twisted version of the modernist ideal co-opted by capitalism. I like your videos a lot, but as an architecture major, that segment kinda irked me, so I felt like I had to write something.

  15. Interesting video. I don't understand what is at stake if video games are not considered art. Is your video simply to refute Ebert? I tend to agree with Tracy Emin on what makes art Art. She says, "the first thing that makes [something] art is because I say that it is." I mean, she is the Artist, right? And an artist creates art. The rumpled bed piece is simply fantastic, very humorous, which I think is an integral part of the artistic process often overlooked by critics and viewers alike. I thought the eyeglasses event in San Francisco was more art critique than actual art. But I guess sometimes people get more excited for the critique than the actual art! xD

    I understand that your criteria (GD's criteria) for artistic medium is that it contain a unique quality not found in other mediums. But what if a game designer says that his/her video game is not art? Hideo Kojima agrees with Ebert and stated that Video games are not art. Does GD's criteria override a video game designer's claim about their work? Or must a video game designer claim that their particular game is art before GD's criteria can buttress their claim and distinguish their game as art?

    One good point you make is that you manage to out-wit Wittgenstein's game by claiming that interactivity is a common thing that all video games share. I thought that argument was very good :))

  16. Hi, great video(s).

    Personally, my answer to "are games art?" is pretty similar to my answer to "Is this a game?": Does it really matter.

    I think people get too bogged down in the words people use to describe things, unfortunately without actually trying to define what they mean by those words. I believe it turns out to be much more useful to talk in terms of what we actually mean/are interested in than vaguer words like 'art' that have a lot of baggage.
    – to some extent I would like to see someone make a really in-depth analysis of the motivations, intentions and arguments related to the 'is art/game?' questions, if only because they've been asked and will probably continue to be asked and not answered until someone dedicates some serious time/effort to gathering, analyzing and resolving the perspectives and arguments that just keep coming up.

    I'm not in the slightest bit educated in art, literature or philosophy and it's only through my recent experience in reading some work of M John Harrison, Mervyn Peake and Lord Dunsany that I've taken interest in imagery and how and what ideas are conveyed through 'art'. That's really my interest in what art is. Thinking about imagery, the representation and interpretation of ideas in art and how these can help me better understand/make games.
    I suppose I'm really interested in art as a game between the creator and viewer. The artist creates a thing for some reason then the viewer sees it and assuming it was created for some reason can speculate as to that reason, gaining insight into life or whatever. That's maybe why I'm less annoyed/more optimistic about modern art. If we assume that artists are not stupid and do things for a reason then we could assume that many of the more common reactions to an 'art' have been predicted by the artist and are intentional. Then it is the choice of the viewer to react and go on with their lives or to join the game and ask 'WHY?'.
    Are all games art? probably not. But maybe all art is a game.(suck on it Ebert)

    As to the unique qualities of video games as art: I've thought a bit about how imagery and ideas can exist within game mechanics and I'd say that it lies in systems, actions and needs. I think that games are uniquely able to portray and compare these things. – emulate a system that we experience in life, make one action feel like another action or to represent the needs that we have. By compounding the pressures of the systems you have to work within, the actions you are able to perform and the needs that drive you, I'd say that game mechanics alone could probably communicate a lot of ideas and emotions- albeit very abstractly. I think this is related to meta to some extent. moba players study various builds/combinations of items to find the optimal ones(considering systems/actions/needs) – interpretations of how one is meant to play the game(assuming the devs aren't stupid and created it with intent/foresight). somewhat lame example but maybe given enough creativity, game imagery could be developed to compare to the likes of Peake/Dunsany in what I suppose would be a sort of mechanical poetry, I can dream.

    talk in terms of what you mean/what interests you and you don't have worry about what stuff is called
    art can be about a game of ideas – representation/interpretation and playing with reactions
    games uniquely tied to systems/actions/motivations?
    meta is important and the game equivalent of imagery?

    Sorry if this seems a bit all over the place(and needlessly long), I'm not really used to putting my thoughts down in text, and I admit I'm kind of testing the waters for topics I want to make a video about in future so it might be a bit irrelevant in parts.
    I'm liking your videos – I'm especially interested in how they seem to attract decent comments – and look forward to what's to come.

  17. "form follows function" lead to the most beautiful buildings that endure until today. At least where I live.

  18. Ah so you watched the documentary about the link between art and beauty. And the absurdity of most modern art simply because people say it is.

  19. In my Dutch class a few years ago we were reading an article on this very same topic. The article did also bring up the aspect of interactivity as an argument for games being art (because it is the unique component). My teacher however countered this by stating that it isn’t a unique aspect to gaming. He argued that interactivity could be seen in every (narrative) medium because there will always be an active task for the person on a comprehensive and emotional level. He claimed that watching a series like Breaking Bad is as interactive as games because you are constantly trying to follow the story and reacting on it emotionally and morally. Pressing a button or moving a character around isn’t interactive, but a dull activity that distracts from true interactivity.

    I however countered this by saying that this is the case in every medium existing. The fact that games can have the same level of interactivity as defined by my teacher, is a positive argument for games rather than a negative one: games can have this common “interactivity” as all other media (making you actively think and emotionally/morally reflect), thus showing that games can have this aspect common to art. Besides, the interactivity that is often called gameplay in video games, is still a unique point to the medium. It differentiates a videogame from every other medium, which makes it an artistic medium. For example, at first look there isn’t a big difference between MC Escher’s Waterfall and Monument Valley (that clearly has been inspired by Escher): they both are “interactive” because they give the viewer a sense of sublime (the feeling you talked about in another video). However, what differentiates the two works is that Monument Valley has a puzzle mechanic that is genuinely opening a new perspective on these illusions. It is that gameplay that makes Monument Valley art. It is that unique feature that makes videogames an artistic medium.
    I know that the difference between interactivity and gameplay made by my teacher is weird, but I hope I was clear at explaining it.

    Lastly, I have an example of a game that could be considered art: Undertale. The game doesn’t seem to differ much from other fablelike stories as seen in literature and movies, yet Undertale manages to differentiate itself completely from the other media as a game. The turn-based RPG gameplay is outstanding and really makes you feel like a part of the game. Having the choice whether to kill monsters or not makes for multiple playthroughs that don’t feel the same. The gameplay is part of the story (EXP and LV), and the story is part of the gameplay (I don’t know any other game that uses saves to break the fourth wall). As such, I see Undertale as an artistic videogame.

  20. Amazing script and amazing editing! I watched already the Kant sublime video and this one and I really love your content. I like how you put some ideas i had rounding around my head in such a cool and succint way. Consider me subscribed and going to watch a couple videos more now. o: Keep it up!
    P.S: I'm not as specific as you as i think that as any other combination of art disciplines are consider art by themselves (music + video/dance in music videos is more and different than the sum of this things separated, sculpture + painting, literature + video…) videogames being a combination of nearly any traditional art discipline should be art by any kind of conservative or modern definition by common sense. But the gameplay, the game mechanics are what gives it the juice and the unique part as you argue. Also, many people when arguing about this and similar things they always make the mistake of confounding bad art with not being art at all, like they have the power to declare things not art in function of how much they dislike them. For example, most blockbuster action movies are not considerated "art" despite being a well edited form of storytelling (like every movie). But what they are is "not good art" and that's not necessarily a bad thing if it wasn't the point of what they were trying to make. Or even they could be good art if they elicit all different kind of emotions and adrenaline feeling. People have very arbitrary definitions…

  21. The element in videogames that can't be gained from other mediums is the fact that you're part of the experience. You're part of the story, and you can influence the passage of events. That's something special

  22. An incredible video! I was about to make one with the same examples and arguments that you used here, but I think you did it first. The quality of your videos does not match the number of your subscribers

  23. Can we just say how underrated this video is?

  24. My favourite example of games as art is Doki Doki Literature Club. It brings up questions of free will, love, and what is real in a way I never seen. It takes full advantage of the fact that it's a video game to tell a story that could not be as meaningful had it been anything else other than a video game. It's sad that some people think that it's only about shock horror, because that is only the shallow and superficial surface of the full game. After the shallow and superficial surface of what it presents. Damn this game has so many layers to it. The game has its flaws, such as not trying to make Monika sympathic enough imo, relying on shock horror too much in the second act, and a secret ending that felt like a plot hole more than anything else, and undermined the message it was giving. But those flaws shouldn't take away from the quedtions the game proposes

  25. This is the best comment section I've ever seen. So many people discussing about a topic in a respectful environment… it's so great to see. I wish I could take part in such a thing, but am unfortunately just dabbling in the matter and cannot quite give my point of view without informing myself on the subject. However, what I find here is extremely interesting and topical! 😊
    Post scriptum : I'm not saying I have no oppinions on the subject, in fact, I disagree with a few elements you brought up.

  26. Video Games are so unique beautiful and amazing⭐💖🌠💗⭐

  27. Art is subjective and games are subjective TOO.

  28. How about this. 99% of games have NO artistic value.

  29. N.O. What kind of philosophical nonsense is this? A video that answers nothing.

  30. What was the videogame called in the thumbnail of the video

  31. 8:37 Games like Thomas was alone would be an antithesis to this claim

  32. Games are Art but Game Developers aren't Artists. They're too obedient to the companies they work for to be thought of as artists. If a company employed teams of Painters to paint paintings but they were told to follow the general narrative and never rock the boat and they acquiesced to that (acquiesced is probably a generous word here) you wouldn't really think of them as artists. You'd just think of them with people with a skill.

  33. This is the best video about this topic I have ever seen!

  34. Damn good!!!

    Sir Roger might not have agreed while he was still alive… but I bet if he was born in this generation he would. 💛

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