I would like to state before you read this that I do not believe that all games have to be art, nor should they be. Sometimes, much like any other form of art, videogames should just be for fun.
The debate between whether or not gaming is art is long and ongoing. Obviously most gamers and game designers feel the need to defend the fact that video games are an artistic medium in which thought provoking ideas and discussions can be created. A point has been made the videogames, much like painting, film, video, photography, sculpture and any other form of art you can think of are a valid form of artistic creation. However, acceptance of this idea in the general publicís eyes is scarce. There are plenty of reasons for this ranging form the fact that videogames in fact have the word game in the very term that refers to them (thus creating a conation of a toy or simple entertainment) too the general youth of the medium and the speed with which it has grown up and been thrust ever more prominently, and negatively, into the public eye. Biases towards gamers and stereotypes, that gamers as a community often reinforce, also keep the idea of games as art from seriously being discussed. Part of the onus is on the gaming community to start designing and discussing games as art, not just as entertainment.
There is a problem here though. It is hard to discuss videogames as art when there is no language to support this idea. I havenít been in college for two years so maybe more has been published but when I wrote papers on videogames I had to apply terms from film, painting, photography, etc. to my discussions of games because there is no unified lexicon for gaming. Do not misunderstand, there are plenty of books about gaming as art, how to write about games and general discussions on videogames but they mostly tackle it from the perspective of other forms of art and media. You cannot discuss the validity of a videogames as a piece of art when you are applying terms that were created to refer to a completely different artistic medium.
Think about trying to describe what an artist is trying to do in a video game. What do you call the composition of the screen? You can discuss the mis en scene of a film screen because the director decides what the screen is made up of but can mis en scene be applied to games where it is not solely the director who chooses what is presented on the screen. The game designer chooses what is in the game, but the player chooses what is presented to them. Even in a basic platformer, where almost everything is stationary the hero is placed everywhere by the player.
The composition of the screen isnít decided by the director and thus mis en scene canít be a gaming idea. This is just one example of how current terms from other mediums canít truly apply to games. Clearly the main problem in applying terms from other mediums stems from player interactivity with the game. There is another entire level to video games as art and that level is the player, they bring a whole new world to what art can and will be, we just have no way of discussing this. Sure interactive art has been around for a long time, but it is usually based around the idea of actual human interaction not interaction with the image. What would this do to an auteur theory? Can there even be an auteur when someone else is the one making the final vision of their art? I suppose that is the entire discussion though isnít it. Still a set list of terms applying to videogames would make it a whole lot easier to decide.
But why havenít such terms arisen? I believe part of the problem is that much of the terms we use for gaming stem from the fact that gaming is based on business and not artistic principles. Other forms of art were art when they were created, even early film and photography, not actually considered art when they first showed up, were based close enough to theatrical performances that it was easy to start discussing it as such. While business rose around these types of art they were art from the start and thus were discussed as such. Gaming seems to be doing a bit backward, building art out of business. Thus the terms relating to artistic value didnít grow with the medium and we are found floundering, trying to cram ideas and definitions from other mediums into that of gaming.
The speed with which gaming grew also contributes to this problem. It took 50 years for film to get into peoples houses and even longer for it to really become the dominate form of entertainment it is today. Games took less than 20 years. Lexicons and universally shared ideas take a long time to develop. Film Noir wasnít even recognized as style until after it had been around for years (thank you France). It seems that gaming has exploded so fast and quickly that the way we speak about it hasnít been able to develop into its own language. Sure it is happening all around as we speak but the medium is growing faster than the ideas. It is hard to define the artistic values of gaming in a uniform way when every year those values are changed in such major ways.
The final major problem is people. As I pointed out before they just arenít discussing games the way they discuss other forms of art.
I now all these terms for photography, film, painting, etc. because I attended college where such general things are taught and discussions on these subjects are brought up regularly in classes by professors, yet discussions on games or even the idea of gaming as art is scarcely mentioned. How can games gain an artistic foothold if no one is even giving them a cursory glance? Shouldnít the idea of games at art be tossed out there in any class on art in order to inspire conversation, debate and new ideas?
As Iíve said, Iím sure these things are happening, in fact an artistic gaming lexicon is being defined as we speak every time someone says a term or argues a point, which is how this stuff happens, and itís just a very interesting way it is happening with gaming. When Jim Sterling attends a discussion on gaming as art he is helping to define this language (way to go Jim). Iím clearly not offering any solutions or ideas here (maybe sometime in the future, love to write a grad thesis about this) but just pointing out that our discussions on gaming as art seem to be framed right now with the constructs of other mediums, and they shouldn't be.