Video Games: Elit or Art?

I’ve seen discussion in this blog about what counts as elit, what doesn’t, and what balances on the edge.  One common topic is that of video games as electronic literature; but part of me doubts that video games lean more towards electronic literature than they do as an art form.

The debate about whether or not video games are an art form is common enough on the internet and in several gaming magazines.  Personally, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be considered an art form.  Consider the aspects that make up a video game: programming design, character design, plot and  narrative, setting design, music and sound effects, voice acting.  Almost every aspect of art is put into a video game.  People are needed to create the settings and characters via graphic design, writers are needed to create a coherent storyline for the player to follow, musicians are needed to provide the background music and oftentimes orchestral pieces of the game, programmers are needed to put the whole game together – what part of this process does not say ‘artistic?’  Yes, video games are essentially nothing but games and meant entirely for entertainment purposes, but why can’t they provide entertainment and be a part of the arts as well?

Now, I’ll consider video games as electronic literature.  Games like Gravitation or Passage have definite deeper meanings beyond their simplistic gameplay, likely because the easiest way to make a game with a significant theme is to make it with simple gameplay.  More complicated games like Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim, or any FPS on the market sometimes have themes and messages beyond the simple ‘if you are good and defeat your enemies, you’ll live happily ever after.’  There is the overcoming of one’s past present in the Assassin’s Creed series, or the connection between people over decades or even centuries.  Left 4 Dead, despite its inherent ‘kill all the zombies’ gameplay, has a theme of how necessary teamwork can be, and how even the most different of strangers can connect in desperate times.

But are those themes the main aspect of these games, as they would be if they were true pieces of electronic literature?  Or do game mechanics, game design, and storyline hold more importance? I would say that the artistic part of video games comes before the literary part.  While games do oftentimes have those deeper themes, most of the modern games today are created to provide entertainment and create income, not to send a message.  I highly doubt that the Grand Theft Auto series seeks to impart on its players a lesson about thievery and drugs instead of simple enabling their players the chance to live out these gang related activities in a safe environment.  If theme was a major consideration in the making of a game, wouldn’t you make the game as simplistic as possible to avoid distracting the player from your message?  And if you wanted to sell a product to consumers and show off the advanced mechanics of a gaming system, wouldn’t you focus on the design and creation of the game?

Of course, not all games put more emphasis on mechanics than theme.  As I said before, Gravitation and Passage are video games made simply, which allows more room to think about the message behind each part.  But most modern day video games, the ones made for consoles and computers, bend more towards artistic than literary.

  4 comments for “Video Games: Elit or Art?

  1. ebrennan
    April 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Can’t elit be art, though? And as such, couldn’t video games fall under both categories and cross over in certain ways? I think you present some good points and typically video games are more about an experience than literary essence but I think art is such a broad, undefined category that I can’t distinguish between the art and literature. They go hand in hand.

  2. April 30, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I highly doubt that the Grand Theft Auto series seeks to impart on its players a lesson about thievery and drugs instead of simple enabling their players the chance to live out these gang related activities in a safe environment.

    Of course, regardless of what GTA seeks to impart, what it is (at least the GTAIII trilogy) is a complex satire of American culture. I think it’s a pretty successful and even biting critique. At the same time, I don’t think it gains much by calling it “literature.” So I guess the point is: when it comes down to semantic arguments like these, we have to consider whether a label performs any difference outside of itself (i.e., in the work of interpretation). If nothing else, I just want to convey the idea that interpretability is not a property unique to literature or art.

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