There is no such thing as art. A bold statement to begin with, I'm sure, but hear me out, and I'm sure you'll agree with what I have to say- or at the very least, with the essence of my arguments.
Before we proceed, I believe we must define exactly what we can construe to be art. This is a difficult task, as one cannot have a specific definition- that would be missing the point-, and anything too broad would be useless for our purposes. We must therefore turn to Wikipedia, which defines art as anything that resonates with a person, and elicits a conscious or subconscious emotional response from him or her. This, then, means that the object in question- this object that is evoking a passionate response from its audience- has to communicate with a person beyond the superfluous, sensory level, and be able to bypass the conscious and rational parts of the thinking process, which would probably interpret the work too literally, analyze it by breaking it down into its constituent components, and thus destroy its cohesive beauty. In other words, a 'work of art' should be able to reach out directly to our inner, emotional being, and be able to evoke some kind of reaction there.
The above definition- elegant in its particulars and broad enough that it can be applied across a wide range of objects- seems to adequately cover all the fundamentals of what would ordinarily be understood to be a work of art. It also enables me to return to my opening statement, and prove its validity. You see, it follows from the above definition that if art is defined only by qualitative emotional responses, and not as a set of tangible, quantifiable parameters, then it exists on no level but that of the subconscious. That is, art is very clearly an illusion, a construct of our own mind, a figment of our imagination that exists only as intangible emotional responses that exist nowhere but in our minds. Art exists only for the specific person who believes it to be art. There is nothing in the world that can be universally appealing, nothing that can appeal to the aesthetics or tastes of everybody.
That in turn raises another pressing question: if there is no such thing as 'universal art,' then why are there famous works like Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, or Michelangelo's stunning Sistine Chapel, which are widely held to be 'works of art?' Surely this defies my earlier assertion that there can be nothing that universally appeals to everybody, and hence, nothing such as 'tangible' art?
Hardly. While I would agree that paintings such as the Mona Lisa, frescoes such as Creation of Adam, architecture such as the Sistine Chapel, music such as The Dark Side of the Moon, and movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey are largely considered to be the pinnacles of their respective mediums, I would also like to point out that not one of them is universally appealing. You will find detractors of Michelangelo's style of architecture. There are many who find the Mona Lisa distasteful. The Dark Side of the Moon is considered simply too 'emo' by many today. The modern generation (and dare I say, some guys from the older ones as well) finds 2001 to have a plodding pace.
2001: A Space Odyssey, is widely regarded as a great work of art, and one of the greatest films ever created. Today, it is also regarded to be a great bore.
Clearly, then, it is impossible for any single work to achieve the status of universal art. Since art does not really exist, per se, we are forced to work with a working definition, a compromise- something that fulfills the particulars of the above definition with a good majority of its audience can be labeled as 'art,' since it is as close to universal art as we will ever get.
However, we have widely acknowledged works of 'art' in every medium of storytelling and every outlet for human creativity. Rarely would one actually see, or even consider, the possibility of an entire medium of storytelling to achieve such a status simply dismissed, without giving it as much as a second thought.
I am talking, of course, about video games. In the past twenty five years, which have seen video games rise meteorically from poorly programmed 8 bit pixel based screens to being immersive, persistent worlds, with well-developed back stories and distinctly defined characters, storytelling in video games has come a long way. What earlier used to be a simple affair of grabbing the controller, and saving the kidnaped princess has now become a sprawling, elaborate plot, involving betrayals and shifting alliances, characters that all seem to have some kind of ulterior motives, and some morally dubious choices to be made and lush scenery to be traversed, which requires a lot of monetary, time-based and emotional investment from the player.
That last is of course most pertinent to the matter at hand. Clearly, if there is something that requires an emotional investment from its audience, then chances are that it is also potentially capable of arousing specific emotions from them, right? Clearly, then, it can be argued that modern video games can potentially be cIassified as art. At least, that would be the implication that would logically follow.
The problem is, generally when you play a video game (and I'm not referring to multiplayer party games, here, which are, after all, meant just for quick pick up and play sessions), you invest a lot in it. And therefore, you are bound to get yourself emotionally involved in the game you are playing (assuming, of course, that the game is a good one), which, in turn, would imply that all storied video games are works of art, an assertion that is nothing but absurd.
Video games clearly represent a special case- when you watch a movie, you commit yourself for a maximum of three hours. That's a hundred and eighty minutes, which are (usually) gone before you know it. And while you may choose to gaze at a painting for as long as you want to, I'm assuming that, in general, no one really spends beyond a maximum of fifteen to twenty minutes looking at one single painting.
Other methods of communication clearly do not require that investment of time that video games demand. If you are spending dozens of hour on one game, then you will inevitably be attached to the said game.
Therefore, with video games, we are required to look past the simple wording of the definition of art, and consider its meaning and its implication. Again, art, as defined by Wikipedia, is simply a work that can evoke an emotional response from its audience. Fair enough, but this definition merits the question: what kind of emotional response are we looking at here? If it's a simple, basic emotion like aesthetic pleasure derived from seeing a particularly pleasing painting, or excitement generated by a momentous event in a movie, then again, we would be forced to categorize almost everything as art. We are therefore forced to narrow down our definition just a little- something that elicits a complex emotional response from its audience is what we may cIassify as a work of art. What can be defined as a complex emotional response? Why, anything that might make the audience think. You see, your excitement upon a twist in a movie is short lived, generally limited to that particular scene alone. However, a movie that forces you to stop and think, and consider what just happened, or what the movie is trying to say, is clearly a movie that is 'art.' Similar definitions can be constructed for paintings, music, books, sculpture and architecture as well.
This new definition works well with video games. I mean, no doubt we'll be immensely excited when we find out that our brother, who was supposed to have died in the first level, was in act only feigning his death, and has been helping us all along, and we'll maybe more than overjoyed and extremely pleased once we complete a sixty hour long game, but none of those emotional responses will truly stick with us. They're just temporary, fleeting, they make no visible impact.
This allows us to exclude just about every video game ever created from the 'art' category. Video gaming, as a medium, is still in its infancy, and while the remarkably swift evolution of storytelling in games has to be lauded, it still has a long way to go. Very few games truly exist that really touch us on any level, and there are almost none that stick with us the way our contemplations about whether the world is real that followed our first viewing of The Matrix does.
Of course, 'very few' and 'almost none' does not imply there being not a single one. And indeed, there are some exceptions to the generalization that, while not evolved enough themselves yet, prove that video games do indeed have the potential to be cIassified as art one day.
Let's have a look at a game called Shadow of the Colossus. Without giving away much, I'd like to explain what the game is about. Essentially, it is the story of one man, who has entered a 'forbidden land-' we don't really know where this land is, and why it's forbidden- to reach out to some supernatural entity who can restore the dead. The man has come to ask the entity to restore life to the body of a girl he has brought with him.
We aren't told who the girl is, and why she means so much to this man. The entity agrees to do so, but only after charging the boy with taking down sixteen massive colossi that roam the forbidden land.
Shadow of the Colossus is one of those rare games that truly can qualify as art.
Shadow of the Colossus is a visual tour de force. It features stunning vistas, and rolling landscapes, all uniquely cel shaded to make the entire world look like an expertly drawn painting. Throughout the game, the one thing that perhaps strikes the player the most is the sheer desolation of the world. This fertile land that you are in is empty, with there being nothing there but plant life, the colossi, and you. This is a dead world- why? What happened here? Why is this land forbidden?
And why has this entity agreed to help you? Its motives are clearly sinister- the game certainly hints at that- but they are never quite revealed fully. What does this entity truly want? Why does it keep its end of the promise? And above all, what does the heart wrenching ending of this game mean?
Shadow of the Colossus cannot be described in words, as they simply cannot do it justice. We are talking about a game that needs to be experienced. Everything- from the sparse, ambiguous plot that leaves everything open to interpretation, to the lush but bleak world, from the brooding sound score to the expertly mapped controls, which, perhaps more than anything else, immerse you totally into the game, and make you feel its weight on your shoulders, contributes towards the final intent of making you stop and think: just what is going on here? In what is increasingly rare for a video game, you want to know more than what is being told, you want to dig deeper into the game's world, you want to stop and marvel at the world's glorious vistas, and you definitely want to listen to the game's epic music. Clearly, this is a very powerful emotional response- more so than what many movies and books manage to provoke.
There is one thing that works in video games' favor, which really could, potentially, make them the most powerful method of storytelling one day. That one thing is a video game's interactivity. Since you are at least apparently directly controlling the game, interacting with its world and characters, a game can make you feel directly responsible for what happens in the game world. If, in a video game, a main character dies because of a choice you made, then you feel the weight of your decision, and certainly stop to wonder if the character would have died had your decision been different. This absolutely involves you in the storytelling, and it makes you potentially more susceptible to an emotional response than other, non-interactive methods of storytelling.
There are, of course, other advantages that video games theoretically have- apart from the core storyline, video games can also function as art on a visual and aural level, since there are so many components to a video game. Since a game not only involves the basic story and interactivity, but also involves a graphical representation of the story with some kind of aural interpretation to interpret that, one could say that a video game represents the ultimate culmination of all forms of storytelling, with its core narrative representing a book, its visual component a movie, its audio component the music.
As many advantages as this brings, there are also several problems that having so many constituents presents- all components of a video game must work together in perfect symphony. If there is even the slightest mistuning amongst these components, then the entire effect is broken. A great video game can only be a work of art if it has a thought provoking story, along with aesthetically appealing visuals, a moving sound score, and accessible interactivity i.e., functional game controls. None of these should go wrong.
As it stands now, video games have all of that covered, except for the core narrative. Very few games actually have stories that stop to make you think. There are a few, of course- Shadow of the Colossus is one, and there is Metroid Prime. Others include The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Okami. And yet, while all of these are significantly more capable of eliciting an emotional response from their audience, none of them, barring maybe Shadow of the Colossus and Majora's Mask, is truly there yet. All of them have something critical that holds them back.
Of course, it doesn't matter. As I said, video games are still nascent as a medium of storytelling. That they have made as many strides as they have in the past quarter of a century is nothing short of remarkable. Certainly, the evolution of video gaming as a medium has been more rapid than the evolution of movies. But, when all is said and done, as of now, no video game is truly a work of art. Many are close, maybe. But none of them has gained that widespread acceptance that a work of art truly requires. Like I said, something critical is surely missing.
But that doesn't matter. I never set out to prove video games are art- I only ever said that video games can be. And as I have amply demonstrated, there is loads of potential here. Sure, right now, video games are maybe perceived as maybe juvenile by the mainstream. But we can't have our prejudices come in our way. As I have shown, there is potential for video games to truly come into their own, and become powerful methods of storytelling. There is potential for them to be recognized among mankind's greatest works of art. And we don't want to be eating our words, if that ever happens, do we? Let's all keep an open mind here. Because, really, dismissing an entire medium of storytelling simply because of some pre-conceived notion is incredibly narrow minded. read