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About the 'art' debate: Please shut the f**k up

4:00 PM on 05.04.2012 // Ryan Perez

The greatest comment I've ever read from a community member anywhere was, "Son of a s**t-eating Christ, not another 'games as art' argument. Excuse me while I alleviate my pain by shooting out my left ball." Nope, I'm not making that up; someone actually said that, and it tickled me pink to realize that others are just as annoyed at this industry's self-righteous attempt to validate itself in the eyes of people who, humorously enough, don't give a damn about games.

Ain't that a funny thing? Most of the "games are art" arguments are delivered to those who know nothing about the medium and haven't played a single game in their entire lives ... as if what they think matters at all. Even more hysterical is how most of these arguments are made by people who don't know squat about art and have no experience with it (except for the class they took in high school). Easy credits FTW.

But wait, what about me? I have a degree in art -- a Bachelors of Science, to be exact. I have a "soap box" (for now, anyhow). Why haven't I bothered saying anything on the matter? Hah, oh yes, I remember: Because I don't care about it. I regard my degree and education just about as much as this entire industry would regard the title of "artistic," were they to actually acquire it from the non-gamers they so aim to please. At this point, as an educationally approved "artist," I would much rather this entire industry just shut the f**k up about it all, because none of it really matters.

[Warning: One of the images in this article may be considered NSFW. Proceed at your own discretion ... or when your boss isn't looking]

Unsurprisingly, this was in the first page of image results when I Googled "art."

Who cares?

I don't mean that in the passive teenage sense. I actually want to expose the types of people who so hope for videogames to be universally accepted as "art," and why it's so important to them. And just to be clear, I am not one of those people; so, if you are, then please leave, because I will unapologetically offend you ... most likely.

"Art" is mostly important to the individuals who have hijacked the term and turned it into a safety net, a self-reassuring title that provides a spiritual (and unverifiable) sense of worth where there likely is none. I stopped calling myself an "artist" a long time ago, because, as I learned in college, any cunty hipster can (and usually does) pick up a Polaroid camera, snap a few shitty photos of their feet or the old Asian guy who owns the corner store, and then call themselves ... well, you get the idea. The SF Museum of Modern Art has entire canvases painted one goddamned color. One of my art instructors in college presented a photo piece of a "renowned artist" with a bullwhip sticking out of his ass ... I kid you not. This is all because of two important factors: "True art" is completely subjective, and most people will admire the living fuck out of anything with that title. Hence why so many individuals bestow upon themselves the handle of "artist," and hence why I so obnoxiously feature the word in quotes. Gamers, as I've come to learn, are no less immune to developing this douche disease.

While I studied plenty of fine art in college, most of my curriculum centered on technical art (I majored in animation). For this reason, a lot of my fellow students were game design and programming majors. With the time I spent around these individuals, I learned the most passionate of students proudly considered their vocation the end all/be all of creative mediums. As my career in journalism progressed, I learned that consumers felt just as passionately about gaming as a hobby.

This would be a giant plaster cock. Apparently, it's supposed to mean something profound.

So what's that have to do with all this "art" ballyhoo? Well, anyone with such a fervent relationship with games will naturally aspire to legitimize and validate the medium as a job, hobby, competitive outlet, etc. I now refer to my aforementioned point: The most obvious way to add validity to anything you do is by somehow associating it with "art." This is not to assume that gamers can't enjoy the medium without such validity (a point of mine I'm about to make), but, come on ... why on Earth would anyone give a shit when a non-gamer says videogames aren't "art" if gamers somehow didn't feel that the assumption made the hobby seem less significant?

Simply put, the word "art" is merely a synonym for "something inexplicably awesome," so telling a diehard gamer that his or her hobby doesn't fit that definition is like telling a person of extreme faith that God is an asshole.


Calling McDonalds "gourmet" wouldn't make it taste better.

Let me propose a hypothetical question: If, by some freakish turn of events, the entire world accepted videogames among the admirable essence of Caravaggio paintings or Wilhelm Richard Wagner compositions, would you then enjoy playing them more? Would that designation alone make them more engaging, intriguing and resonating? Obviously some of you will have different reactions than others, so I'll leave you to your own conclusions.

Seriously, though, the correct answer is "no."

With the exception of technology and application, few things about this medium have changed in the past couple of decades -- especially market trends. In fact, videogames are one of the few mediums that can humbly state that it has made a distinctive image of its own, birthed from the eclectic (and sometimes monotonous and predictable) world of geek culture.

Geekery has never been regarded well within the more pretentious world of fine arts (I can confirm this by experience),  yet still -- and we should be proudly claiming this whenever this "art" crap comes up -- we've enjoyed comics, genre fiction, tabletop RPGs, videogames, etc. without the slightest bit of remorse or regret. In fact, I've seen plenty of pen-and-paper RPG players in the heat of a raid; they are quite blissfully shameless. And adorable, to boot.

Try calling these "chips." I'm sure that'll help.

The reason all of us enjoy such idiosyncratic activities is because of their emphasis on fun. Such personal enjoyment, and believe me when I say this, is not really an aspiration of the "art" world. Art is often a hands-off avenue, and one could argue that an emphasis on artistic integrity would be quite detrimental to that which has caused us to enjoy videogames for these many, many years.

Now, that's not to say a more focused and "emotional" approach towards videogames (namely their stories) should be avoided at all. In fact, I advocate the medium as a means of social commentary and evocative narration. Does that have anything to do with videogames being considered art, though? Again, no.

Some would make the argument that considering games as such would influence our speech regarding the medium, not to mention our respect for it and how we apply creative decisions towards it. Forewarning: Do not ever make this argument in my presence, because it will require every ounce of my strength not to drive my arthritic "artist" fist into your fucking face.

If a sudden, worldwide consensus was reached and games were considered art, I can guarantee you that we'd still be shooting zombies, roping dragons, and gawking at the latest titty physics. This industry isn't waiting for some "games are art" bell to go off, so everyone can finally start wearing berets and asking each other, "So what underlying theme did you feel was present when you learned that Andross was really a brain and a pair of eyes?" Those who have any real impact on this industry and the medium have made up their minds a long time ago when it comes to this "art" debate, so pushing it any further is incredibly pointless. Trust me, nothing would change if everyone else reached the same conclusion.

It's supposed to evoke the question: What is art? Something you piss on, I always assumed.

Actually, scratch that, one thing would change: You'd play a game that was nothing but a white screen ... and many keen artistic minds would argue that the point all along was for you to get up and blow into your CD feeder. Fuckin' deep, man.


Just shut up and keep doin' what you're doin'

Let me make one important thing clear: As cynical as I am by nature, there's absolutely no way I could completely discredit the entire history of the art world. I come from a creative background, so it's impossible for me to deny the significant impact that certain forms of art and specific art pieces have had on world cultures and the human condition. The best of art has brought the most rigid of grown men to tears, and has inspired a lot of us to do either what we do today, or what we aim to do in the future. Still, I would make the argument that such works were significant because they were skillful representations of whatever influenced their creation, not simply because they were ever considered "art."

Caravaggio was a pretentious sot with a reputation for sword dueling (yes, dueling), who created The Crucifixion of Saint Peter because he wanted to craft something admirable and make decent money in return, not because he wanted the now-worthless title of "artist." The games industry is full of similar people, and I would be willing to bet my first-born child (that I never plan on having) that the Caravaggios, Kubricks, Schafers, and Levines of this world would have made the exact amazing things they did, with or without the "art" stamp of approval.

The point of this article is not to argue whether or not games are art; my point, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that it doesn't matter. Games are what they are, and no mere single-syllable designation is going to change that. Therefore, you can be assured that further debate on the subject in the future is probably just as pointless as the individual who couldn't think of anything better to discuss. I know that's a blatantly hypocritical statement, considering everything I've just written, but please consider this nothing more than a declaration of my hope that this meaningless debate dies a sudden and permanent death. I keep seeing random articles pop up about this stinking subject; enough is enough.


Mere "artists" don't make powerful scenes like these. Incredible talents and perceptive minds do.

This is where I tell any perpetuators of this debate to refer to the title of this article. In fact, I would absolutely adore it if others tossed that little sentence into the next "10 Reasons Why Games are Art" feature they see. Not that I want to start some silly movement; so no need to attach my name to such a benevolent statement, if you ever do make it. Just a simple "Shut the fuck up" will do nicely. Then perhaps we could move on, onto more important things: such as focusing on making good games. Calling something "art" doesn't make it good, it just makes it a collector's item for some asshole who will never bother to truly appreciate it.

Oh, and if you're one of those people who still can't seem to get over the implied significance of videogames (as art or otherwise), Sir Anthony Hopkins once said, "If none of us ever acted again, the world would not come to a stop. If I never acted on stage again, so what? Who cares?"

If such a revered talent -- a master and undeniable respecter of his craft -- can so openly admit his chosen profession, as amazing and fun as it can be, is completely irrelevant to the welfare of human life, then you, as a hobbyist, can do the same.

So, please, shut the fuck up, smoke a bowl, order some Chinese food, relax, and just play some freakin' games.

Ryan Perez,
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