Before you write off the rest of this post, let me just state that I do in fact believe that games are a valid form of art, and that sometimes the medium's merits are sold short. With that said, hopefully you've lowered your pitchfork down long enough to hear me out. I'd like to break this up into two parts, so let's get right into this:
Games for the Sake of Art
My problem with games trying to be art is that by trying to be art, they tend to lose perspective. To put it another way; a painter doesn't sit down and say "I'm going to make ART!" He says "I'm going to make a painting" or "I'm going to make a color study of this still life" or "I'm going to capture the figure of this model in front of me". In that respect, games should really be developed the same way, and not "I'm going to make a game now, EXCEPT ART!!!!" I feel like a lot of art games suffer from this. A lot of them, quite frankly, aren't very fun. And in trying to become "THE DEEPEST VIDEO GAME EVER ACTUALLY", they forget to make the game enjoyable.
In my personal opinion (and really, that's all this blog post is anyways), enjoyment is a necessary ingredient to a gaming experience. I remember a Rev Rant awhile back where Anthony was upset because he wanted games to be more than "fun", and while I agree to some extent, I think a good game should be inherently enjoyable. I shouldn't have to endure something (like a bad engine or awful pacing) to enjoy it. I mean, the word "game" is right there.
I also don't think it's impossible for a game to be fun yet still have some deeper element to it; that is to say, I think "entertainment" can still posses strong merit as "Art". Shadow of the Colossus was an exhilarating game, and I loved it. I remember just enjoying going around the landscape, and being in awe at each boss, wondering how I could possibly take it down. I also remember being really angry at the ending, which wasn't as happy as I thought, and it got me thinking back to the game's opening segment, to the different scenes sprinkled between fights, and even thinking about what kind of backstory these characters might have, or what kind of people they might be. That game had a pretty big impact on me, more so than any "Art Game", yet it was still very fun in its own right.
I don't think games should be prevented from telling stories or sharing experiences that run deeper than pure entertainment, either. Hell, I encourage it. But there's a way to share these stories and experiences and ideas in an accessible way. For some reason, the movie Pleasantville comes to mind; it's a pretty fun movie, but there's a message behind it, and the way it pulls you in feels very natural; what starts as "oh these kids are going around this Leave it to Beaver Town telling people about sex and stuff and making everything colored" slowly gains more meaning, and I think it's really hard for almost anyone to not get invested in those characters by the end.
Alternatively, I'm not really a fan of gamers trying to label games as art, because then you start delving into this dimension of circlejerking that isn't all too flattering. Metroid Prime is a great game, but it's not The Citzen Kane of Games, and if it were, it's not at all for the reasons that goon from IGN listed. Then you have people who like to look at games and over-analyze them. I respect the Dtoid staff and their efforts to find further enjoyment from the narrative in No More Heroes 2, but the analysis articles felt like I was watching a friend try to find Jesus in a piece of toast. I think a lot of people feel that, for something to be "Art", it has to be "deep", but that's not really the case. I think NMH2 has artistic merit, and it doesn't need an overdrawn analysis of a little girl in a bathing suit wielding giant mech fists to possess those merits. If you do want to explore the deeper meaning behind the godawful overworld of NMH1, that's entirely up to you, but if the game's "art", it's not art because you think it was an intentional jab at open world games. Don't feel like you need to prove it's merits; that's the developer's job.
The Art and Game Communities Mix Like Oil and Water
Being an art student was fun. I got to wake up late, make cool pictures, and tell girls I'm an artist, which totally gets you laid. (Well, no. Not really.) It was also very frustrating, because the art community kinda...sucks. Some days, I thought "hey, the art world isn't as snobby as most people say!" Other days, I felt like it was worse. A lot of times, this was dependent on the professor(s) I was talking to, but other times even my peers would astound me. And the while I just said that the art community "sucks", it's not a 100% awful, snobbish mess. Maybe 50%. All I know is that Milo built a fucking wall on Work of Art last week, and the judges thought it was just brilliant. Personally speaking, I don't want THEM anywhere near video games.
(FUCK THIS GUY)
Of course, the gaming community is pretty awful itself. Sites like Destructoid and events like PAX are always reminders of the good of our community, though even DToid has its occasional share of comments that aren't exactly examples of our best and brightest. I remember when GameTrailers gave Kirby's Epic Yarn the best graphics award at this year's E3, and boy, people were not very happy about that. (Which is a shame, because GT made a pretty good case for it.)
I'd like to think that the best of both communities could come together and genuinely enjoy talking to one another, but for every civil conversation between both groups, you're going to have people like Roger Ebert telling gamers to fuck off, and gamers telling Ebert to chug a dick.
I'm not trying to say games shouldn't be art, or that games will never be accepted as art, or discourage people, because games ARE art, and have artistic values, even if a large portion of the population have written it off. But I think that trying to force games and game culture into one direction or another just for mainstream acceptance might not be the best solution to "legitimizing" video games as a medium. It's my belief that, eventually, gaming will grow steadily with our culture as the years go on, and find a place for themselves as a "serious" medium in society. One game isn't going to change everyone's minds overnight, and we're not going to wake up one morning, pick up the paper, and read "EXTRA EXTRA GAMES ARE ART NOW ACTUALLY!!!" It's going to happen slowly, naturally, and all we can do is try to push the medium to be great by its own merits, to explore different ideas, and to encourage developers to keep making the best games that they can, and maybe not worry so much about being the next Citizen Kane.
Well, that was longer than I expected. I think I'll STFUAJPG.