Let's get one thing out of the way first: a videogame can be art. There is nothing irreconcilable between videogames and art, from their interactive flesh to their binary bones, and anybody who says otherwise is ignorant of what art is. Art has been mystified and aggrandized over the ages. It doesn't need to reflect or comment on nature; it doesn't need to be strive for beauty; it doesn't even need to be passively enjoyed; these things are all synonymous with art, yes, but they are not essential to it. The correct definition is very simple, and it is as follows:
art (noun): Any work created with the intention of expressing an individual's sentiments in a nonliteral fashion.
For example, a piece of carved wood can be art, I'm sure we would all agree. Be it ugly or beautiful, crude or complex, it is a work of art as long as it contains its creator's sentiments within its notches and curves; so long as there is a deliberate layer of meaning waiting to be discovered by the audience. Are these sentiments simple or profound? Noble or sinister? Vague or obvious? These questions are irrelevant to whether or not it should be classified as art.
Some people carve wood to make weapons, while some people carve wood to make tools. Some people carve wood because its their job, and some people carve wood to pass the time. Is a wooden knife a work of art? If it was designed to function as a weapon, then no. If it was designed to express the creator's mind in a way for other's to interpret, then yes. And if it was designed to do both at once, then it is both at once. The same can be said of videogames. The key is intention.
If this sounds too pretentious, that's because it places the power of deciding whether or not something is "art" in the hands of creators, who are notoriously full of shit. Splashing paint on a canvas and calling it art does not make it so — not if the intention was actually to turn a profit or gain attention. Videogames can express an individual's sentiments in a nonliteral fashion, but they can also be nothing more than soulless products designed to turn a profit. The same principle applies to music, writing and other crafts as well.
This article is not art, because it's meant to be taken literally. Road signs are not art, because they are meant to provide instruction and information. MLB '09: The Show for the PlayStation 3 is not art, because it was designed to provide entertainment and sell units, not express somebody's ideas covertly. Or at least that's what we assume. How can we know for sure? Maybe The Show is the most misunderstood and convoluted work of art today, and we've simply neglected to unlock its secret meaning; its beguiling exterior. Maybe somewhere, shrouded behind the crack of the baseball bat and the cheers of the fans, lies a cryptic allegory for all of human nature... Four white bases, representing the major stages in our circle of life, obstructed by our rivals at every turn. We swing for the fences, but it's three strikes and you're out. Will we ever make it home...?
...Or not. That's the beautiful thing about a series like Metal Gear, which clearly contains the themes and morals of an individual man: Hideo Kojima. Beyond the obvious warnings about nuclear deterrence and war, there are other messages for the player to find — a "SENSE" that Kojima has been trying to pass down to future generations. He has said this much, and I believe him. And why should interactivity stop it from being art? If anything, playing the game enhances our appreciation of its artistic quality by forcing us to adopt a new mentality. It challenges our natural approach to things, and beckons us to find the true heart of the work. Being immersed in the world of Metal Gear can feel like the epitome of what art strives to accomplish, despite its modern medium or its rampant unoriginality.
Orchestral composers are called artists because they are creating something interpretive for people to experience. Playing the music, however, requires a large group of (possibly disinterested) people whose job it is to simply play a specific series of notes on a specific instrument, in an attempt to carry out the original vision of the composer. This detached process of performance is similar to how a videogame writer/director might work with a large team to create a final product for others to experience. You ignore the nuts and bolts of the operation in order to see the magic. Any variance in the orchestra's performance is comparable to the replay value of the videogame; different every time, but essentially the same.
Books can be considered works of art, and yet experiencing them requires interaction. We actively read and turn the pages, free to control our page number and pacing. Despite the linear narrative that awaits us, we are the ones who ultimately decide when to stop and go. How does our involvement in the experience detract from its artistic merit? It's comparable to making progress in a (linear) game.
No, there is nothing stopping a videogame from attaining the status of art, even if they are mass-produced as a commercial product or put together by a team of technically-minded people; movies do both of these things, and they can be art. And you know, when something is art, it warrants interpretation and analysis. Finding its "SENSE" and appreciating its sentiments are what give us that special relationship to art, getting deeper every time we experience it again.
Whether or not it's good art... well that's a whole nother question.
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