Are Video Games Art?Yes. Yes They Are.

While putting together a piece on computer-generated art, I came across a piece in The Guardian, from 10 years ago, entitled "Sorry MoMA, video games are not art". The author, one Jonathan Jones, seems to be a bit peeved that the Museum of Modern Art was set to exhibit video games, celebrating the medium as a form of art.

His argument is rooted in the intent. A work of art is one person's reaction to life, he asserts. Picasso is art because a single individual–the artist–conceived of and created it. To contrast, he likens video games to mere playgrounds where experience is created by the interaction between a player and a programme. It cannot possibly be art, because it is the experience of playing the game that defines it, and the game developer is nowhere to be found when that happens.

My wife is a docent at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where she gives tours to middle school children. Children rarely question if something is art; they mostly just wonder at the interesting things people have chosen to hang on walls and be very hushed about, and not let you get too close to.

Early on in her docent career, the AK had an installation piece by Sol Lewitt: Wall Drawing # 1268: Scribbles: Staircase (AKAG). The photograph below, included for reference, does not do the piece justice.

Photograph of the ”Wall Drawing #1268: Scribbles: Staircase“ installation, in the north stairwell at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, circa 2012.

The piece is breathtaking; it consists of minute scribblings, executed by thousands of hands according to the guiding vision of the artist. The piece changes as you approach; the lines become discernible. You begin to appreciate the character of each scribbling, even as they melt into the overall gradient effect as you leave the vicinity.

This is art–or at least the Albright-Knox curators seem to think so–and yet it was built by a team of people and must be experienced to be appreciated. So too, video games.

A week after Jones published his line-in-the-sand opinion piece, Keith Stuart penned a counter-piece: "Are video games art: the debate that shouldn't be". I agree with most of his points, so I won't summarize them here. Suffice it to say that were Jones' criticisms leveled at emerging nouveau media a century or so earlier, he would gleefully have excluded the likes of Degas and Monet from the halls of "hallowed" Art (with a capital A).

A little over a year later, these two are at it again. Jones publishes "Santa bought me a PlayStation. But it's still not art" in January of 2014, and a week later Stuart again responds, this time with "Video games and art: why does the media get it so wrong?"

These sets of dueling opinion pieces put me in the mind of the Chopin/Liszt rivalry, as summed up by Hark! A Vagrant.

Hark! A Vagrant is copyright © 2018 Kate Beaton

James (@iamjameshunt) works on the Internet, spends his weekends developing new and interesting bits of software and his nights trying to make sense of research papers.

Currently exploring Kubernetes, as both a floor wax and a dessert topping.