That Old Question – Are Games Art?
Now that we finally have that old classification issue settled (didn’t take too long, right?) there is only one contentious question left for our industry to answer: are games art? It’s a tough one, no? Though if you ask me it’s all about how you word it; the majority of the debate resides around the issue of whether or not games can be art, if the medium is intrinsically capable of meeting the standards we have set for the term, but this kind of thinking is too short term. Instead I posit that the true question is: Will games be art?
Now know that I’m not speaking of evolution, of expectations that next-gen consoles will offer games that are ‘more artistic’, what I mean is this: Art has never before been perfectly defined nor properly appreciated during its own era and this is true of all mediums – Van Gogh was seen as strange for dedicating himself to such a reclusive hobby and his paintings were only as valued as the meager meals he traded them for – so why should games be any different?
Those titles that we throw up as the first line of our defense in this debate, how will they last? What is Bioshock in 100 years? Braid in 200? How will they play long after Levine has been buried at sea – a great lighthouse memorial erected in his honor – or when the origin of that intertextual riffing so inherently weaved into the plot, mechanics and metaphor of the latter have been forgotten (Yes I’m saying that Braid may outlast Mario, the future will be that dystopic). Real art is both universal and timeless, so for these games to truly qualify the ideas and emotions that they evoked in you, need to be evoked in your offspring too and theirs and so on.
We simply cannot glimpse so far ahead, but future critics will have the entire schema set before them; they will see if, how and why games affected us culturally and with this complete context in mind they can make the call as to the medium’s artistic merit; much like how they can say whether or not the passing of the R18+ rating was directly linked to the 2015 opening of the Thunderdome and civilizations subsequent collapse into anarchy and we leather clad mutants can’t: sometimes it’s just too hard to see the forest for the Ents.
As far as I can see though, the fact that both the public and those pension-paid cultural gatekeepers have so ostracized games is surely just a sign that they are art. Flawed logic perhaps, but I have faith that one day kids (maybe even your own Charlie) will moan and groan as they are forced to pull out their Vita Tres in class and play through whichever Final Fantasy HD remake is currently sitting on the curriculum: the teacher droning from their desk about its many merits, the kids in the back row hooking a hemisphere into the matrix so that they can find a walkthrough to read instead, cause actually playing games is for old people, and the one kid in the middle that gets it. That’s when we’ll know, that’ll be our final answer.