I’d like to preface this by saying I couldn’t care less if someone, or the whole world, didn’t view video games as a form of art. I love video games. I consider them my main hobby, but I don’t need justification for my 5 day binge of World of Warcraft Classic that brought me up around 6 levels and my /played to 9 days. If the UN Security Council announced tomorrow that video games weren’t art, I’d live my life pretty much the same way. The question, though, is very interesting: are video games art? Some people are very adamant about them being art, but I enjoy the philosophical questions that follow.

I’ll be writing a few posts about this. The first will be responses to articles and arguments I find, and then I will culminate with my own opinion. I’d also like to mention that I never took a course in aesthetics, but I’d very much like to.

Art critic Jonathon Jones wrote an article in the Guardian on his opinion in the matter. His stance is characterized by his discomfort of “inappropriate elder’s interest in the newest games.” He doesn’t say anything of substance until the fifth paragraph:

Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition … it has to be an act of personal imagination.

At least this is not a personal slight, and I agree with him. Art is the product of intimate human imagination; at least, the very best art is. He cements his position in the third to last paragraph:

The worlds created by electronic games are more like playgrounds where experience is created by the interaction between a player and a programme.

The first sentence is a statement that is true for some games. I wouldn’t call the campaigns for Call of Duty to be playgrounds (Black Ops 2 is a notable exception). I’d reserve that for open world RPGs. Let’s continue to parse the paragraph.

The player cannot claim to impose a personal vision of life on the game, while the creator of the game has ceded that responsibility.

Now, he is vague about what he means by “impose a personal vision.” Let us assume that he means an emotional response invoked by experiencing something. It’s conventionally characterized by looking at a piece of art, being affected by it, and reflecting on it via emotional response or recollection of a memory. If this is what he means, then a player can absolutely claim to impose their “personal vision.”

Okay, what if he meant that the player can have their own interpretation? Then, again, the player can, again, absolutely claim to have their own interpretation. If the hero ends up defeating the villain, the player can think “the villain’s actions were justified” even if the game pushes the narrative that they were not. I don’t understand what force prevents the player from having these opinions. It is certainly not Jones’ argument, or the one he attempts to recall. It is also certainly not the interaction by which the experience is attained because of we must have some interaction with art to experience it. My interaction with Frank Stella’s painting was standing in front of it at the de Young museum and staring at it.

It is important to note that all of this only considers the narrative of a video game, if it possesses one.

In the same sentence, he claims that the creator of the game simultaneously has no control over the “personal vision.” Again, how? Consider a game which possesses the qualities that would give it the title “art” in a world where they have been found. That very thought is a personal vision created by the creator of the game. It is even more concrete when a person can play it. The fact that the player is able to experience someone else’s personal vision, as the tourists experience the vision of Leonardo da Vinci in the Louvre, means the creator ceded nothing.

No one “owns” the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art.

This last sentence doesn’t make sense to me, and I think it’s clear that if the same template is applied to other accepted forms of art, it doesn’t hold. He clearly does not mean the entity which possesses lawful ownership of some object. If he means that no one owns the personal vision that should exist somewhere in the game because he claimed that the player cannot have one and the creator gave none, then it’s not ownership of the game or its creative vision, because that obviously belongs to the creator.

He ends by remarking that while the making of chess (the pieces, the board, etc) may be art, players are not artists. I find this odd, becaus the focus is the medium, i.e. the game being art… not that those who engage with it are artists.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯