I believe in "games as art" but like anybody who really cares about a thing, I am really mean about what counts and what doesn't in my books. Behold my cruel demands:
1) please have some kind of artistic message, some insight or emotion you intend for me to "get" from your game. Without some intended meaning on your part, the game is just a blank that I can draw anything I want on and if it happens to be art, it's my art. Thanks and all, but that's not an art game.
Fun games without a theme miss the first rule. Pac Man is the game design equivalent of a shark, it showed up at the dawn of time already in its perfect form. On the other hand it's a case of fun for fun's sake and the experience isn't some Big Reveal about life for the player.
not pictured: a Big Reveal about life, the tent I'm pitching at the thought of playing this more
2) its artistic message has to be communicated through game-play primarily compared to graphics, sound, story, etc. Games are the only art form with interaction like that. Those other elements could just as easily be a movie, talking book, etc. as proven by Final Fantasy movies.
Heavywieght games on exposition and cut-scenes, most famously Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid, miss the second. They're artistic, but the art comes from something outside of the game
, usually in movies. The game you have to play as a chore to advance from chapter to chapter. I still enjoy titles, sometimes the game and the movie are both really good, these are also the kind of title that can manage to be bad in a hilarious and endearing way.
The most art-y games I've played are fairly mainstream titles. Ico did it very well, you're constantly guiding the strange girl you find through an abandoned castle. The game has you calling to her, holding her hand to guide her along, running to her rescue as she is attacked by shadows while you try and solve some sort of puzzle. Over time I think any player will become genuinely protective of her and anxious about leaving her on her own for too long. This is something that transcends the platform's technology, it would have worked just as easily in a game for PlayStation or Genesis or NES or even Atari Jaguar if only someone had thought it up earlier. Anyway nobody ever rubbed it in my face that I was playing "art", I only found out like a few hours after the fact.
art world: pwned
Some games succeed as art just for a moment ... the ultimate of those for me was near the end in Metal Gear Solid 3 where you have to pull the trigger yourself so that Snake will shoot The Boss. All you have to do is press a button, but I don't think there are many people who press it easily even though it is the only option given.
Ironically the products of the games-are-art movement tend to miss the mark completely for all their trying rather than hitting. Developing game mechanics that lead the player into an intended mental state is really difficult. Is it easy to discover how you're supposed to play? Is it fun when you do? My experience is usually a huge no. Flower tries to be relaxing and non-violent, yet players find themselves wrestling with the sixaxis controls, trying to collide an invisible object with flowers, and dealing with a frustrating break of flow (or resignation to loss) when they don't completely sweep groups of targets. There's even a trophy for a perfect fly-through of an area littered with shocking power-lines and broken towers.
me being relaxed by flower
Sorry for all the tall pics guys, but I was in a hurry and didn't crop.