I don’t live under a rock. As such, I’m aware that one of the big questions, the raging debates that just doesn’t seem to settle is whether video games are in fact a form of art. The question was famously answered quite definitively by Roger Ebert and the aftermath has been unpleasant and unproductive for all of us. I have a feeling that if the people who were offended by Ebert’s dismissal of video games had actually looked up his website and read some of his work, they probably wouldn’t take his opinion so seriously.
However, this article isn’t about Roger Ebert, and frankly it isn’t about art. All that I have left to add to the debate I’m about to reveal. Do I think video games are art and should be considered as such? My answer is, who cares? I’m not the first person to ask that question and to be honest wiser people than me tried to make me realize the importance of that question long ago. At the time, I didn’t listen so I can only assume if you’re reading this that you are just as unconvinced as I was.
The fact is, art is an incredibly subjective concept. Each person has a different set of rules for deciding what art is, which makes general consensus a logical impossibility. Much like what that one Indian robot said to Neo in Matrix Revolutions, art is just a word. As much as we like to think we can control words, you can’t stop others from using it for their own reasons in any way they like. Like many other words, art has no clear definition and there is no wrong way to use it. Telling someone how to use a word is no different than telling them how to think, and while that isn’t prohibited it is to be done responsibly and with discretion. Likewise, you should be wary of others who try to tell you how to think.
Having said that, there is an even deeper reason why you should not give a shit why games are art. This reason is something I want you to think about carefully because how much you value it reflects how much you value yourself. Here goes: whatever video games mean to you won’t change depending on whether video games are or aren’t art. That’s the undeniable truth. Whatever you value in video games, whatever you truly love, what you’ve experienced, what you’ve learnt and what that all means is completely intangible and undefinable and can’t be affected by anyone but you.
Let’s cut the chase here. Why is it we want video games accepted as art? At the end of the day, isn’t it because we want to prove video games mean something? That they’re not a pointless diversion? That they’re worth something? Well, if that’s all it is, I don’t even need to check. I know they have meaning and worth and what’s more, you know it too if you love games half as much as I do. Of course, there will always be people who will claim video games have neither of those things and never will have. Those people won’t go away any time soon. But as opposed to art, meaning and worth are completely personal concepts which only you could understand and you couldn’t adequately explain with words even if you wanted. There are no supposed figures of authority in our society who can dictate what you are supposed to find value in. Whereas art is something meant to be shared and passed on within our culture, meaning and worth are states of mind completely owned by you. You are allowed to find value in anything and ultimately that is all that counts.
At some point you knew this and accepted it as a natural fact, but for some reason that essential fact was overshadowed by the completely vapid question of “are video games art?” which took a lot of people on a wild goose chase. Where I stand now, I have to admit I’m a bit ashamed at how I acted. I’ve lost a lot of valuable time trying to establish something that did nothing to fulfil me in any way. I tried to set rules and boundaries to what I enjoyed and what I appreciated and in the process I forgot what I even valued about video games in the first place.
I think I’ve made my point pretty clear. I could go on and dig deeper into the fine details of the problem and I may decide it’s worth spending some more time on it. In reality, I have tons of things I’d like to say about how we engage with people who criticize the medium of gaming. Obviously, that would be redundant as I’m already arguing that engaging those conversations is sort of pointless. For starters, any problems that were ever worth bringing to attention have to do with the industry, the consumers, but never the medium itself. I’m not claiming to be an all knowing sage and my opinion can shift over time and I’m sure a better writer could have laid out my point-of-view more clearly. As such, I’d gladly continue the conversation with anybody who might be interested. I hope my opinion has helped you in forming your own.