Recently, Mr. Jonathan Jones, an Art Critic for the UK based newspaper “Guardian” claimed that he was against video games for being an art form and having them on display on museums. His argument in his quote was this: “Walk around the Museum of Modern Art, look at those masterpieces it holds by Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and what you are seeing is a series of personal visions. A work of art is one person’s reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition. Art may be made with a paintbrush or selected as a ready-made, but it has to be an act of personal imagination.”
First of all I would like to say that this man is certainly experienced, and is in no terms an amateur so I have nothing but respect for him. The main thing that stems from his reasoning is that art is personal, and that his claim – of art coming from each one person’s reaction to life – is correct. I wholeheartedly agree with him. But the way he has explained it is a bit wrong. You see, he tried to give art a literal and linear meaning. He confined art to forms of non interactive products and paintings that have to be centuries old or have to be by well known artists to qualify. I am not even sure if he even plays videogames (not talking about casual games). What’s kind of ironic is that, through his statement, he basically described some games that actually were some ‘people’s reaction to life’, and I will get on to that later but firstly let’s see what art really is.
What is Art?
You can find multiple meanings of art if you take a look in any dictionary. My two favorite definitions: “Art is the creation of beautiful and significant things” and that those things are “The products of human creativity.” Notice that it does not state anywhere in there that art has to be an individual’s portrait of life around him? That’s because, the meaning of art is not linear and it never should be. In my opinion, art is something that can be of any format or shape, so long as it is a creative work that promotes inspiration and discussion. Are games creative? Absolutely. Are games significant? Apparently, in the past decade they have become exactly as most significant sale records – in entertainment – belong to video games.
Another thing about art is that it’s also subjective and thus the taste is different for everyone. Some might look at an abstract painting or sculpture and think of it as either coffee spilled over a drawing of basic shapes or an infused junk beaten out of shape. But to some people that is art; it holds meaning and insight about the artist responsible. What you call basic shapes might be several layers of different emotions for some and the infused junk might just be someone’s statement about his life and how it feels. Basically, it is different for everybody. And for Mr. Jones, video games are not art. So again, it is subjective but not factual, it does not apply to everyone. Now let’s look at some videogames which I believe are an art form.
Videogames that are art.
Remember how Mr. Jones said that “Art is a serious of someone’s personal vision and their reaction to their life.” One example that could really fit here would be the amazing game “Papo and Yo”. The game is the brain child of Vander Caballero, the creative director of Minority, who says that Papo & Yo is about his father, “a good man but also an evil one. Like many, he used alcohol and drugs to cope with a challenging life, and Vander was caught in the middle of it.” I think that game perfectly fits Mr. Jones’s “personal visions and reaction to life” argument; because it is about the creator, Vander’s life experience. Through the game, he wants you to feel and observe the experience that he had once been in through the interesting characters and unique world that the game creators have molded.
Another great set of example has to be two games made by “Thatgamecompany”. “Thatgamecompany” makes unique games that are unlike any others. Rather than giving you a sense of challenge, they are made to arouse emotions and promote different feelings through an interactive experience. Two of their best games in my opinion are Flower and Journey. In Flower, you experience the beautiful dreams of a few withering flower that lie on a shelf, forgotten. Their beauty is overshadowed by their owner’s busy life in a bustling city. The gameplay is very simple but deep at the same time. You relaxingly, accompanied by the emotional music, guide a speck of flower through the beautiful countryside, giving life to other newly sprouted flowers as you move pass them. After you have accumulated a variety of specks of different colors, the game really shines with its colorful beauty. The game has one question for the players, “Are we so obsessed with our work that we have forgotten to appreciate the finer things in life?” In Journey, you control a robed figure in a vast desert. You have no objectives or instructions and are left to traverse alone with the distant light as your calling destination. The most amazing thing in this game was how you could interact with other players but you couldn’t communicate with them. It was great to see how people helped each other. In fact, it even benefited a little girl, who was helped patiently through the game by a complete stranger. It really put a smile on her face and gave her hope for humanity.
Now let’s move on to the more gritty aspect of gaming, the shooters. Art does not have to be innovative or beautiful so long as it is unique and makes an observer think and reflect on what the product represents. I am talking about one of my favorite games of 2012, Spec Ops: The Line. In that game you were placed in the shoes of a soldier in Dubai, Martin Walker, who is a captain of his two men squad. His initial objective was to aid in the rescue of survivors who were left in Dubai during the aftermath of an apocalyptic sandstorm. Walker, however, has a personal stake in this operation as he wants to find his mentor John Konrad who unknowingly to Walker, has been corrupted by the war and violence he has seen. Furthermore, Konrad really tests Walker for the man he is by putting him in difficult scenarios where he must choose between two wrongs. The game from the start to end is solidly written with a gut wrenching finale that really shows who you and Walker really are. Now the reason I am talking about this as art is because it reflects on something that is unique and deep. It shows you something you are most afraid to accept. It shows how our tendency for violence has made us kill in games without thinking of the repercussions. The game is definitely worth a proper play-through as it makes us question our sanity. It is something that represents much more then it visualizes and every one will have had a different experience by the end of the game according to their choices. This in my opinion is a form of art, it is something you think about a long time after you have finished it and it is definitely something you really reflect on.
Art shouldn’t be totally subjective.
My point with this article was not only to debate about what Mr. Jones had said, but rather give my opinion on how games are evolving these days and how they are becoming significant enough to be called an art form. One thing however that I would really like to reiterate again is this; please do not give art a total subjective opinion. If it doesn’t do much for you personally, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t art. It doesn’t need to be a century old renaissance painting by Da Vinci or someone alike. Just because you think the moon is made out of cheese, doesn’t mean that everyone else does too. So remember, it is the viewer’s perception of what art is and how it looks and reflects on life. As they say; “the true beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
I hope everyone, even if they aren’t gamers will understand that games aren’t what they used to be and are gradually evolving over the decades. They are becoming much more then movies, and some are even like movies. So why is it that film can be classified into Motion Picture Arts, but games cannot be considered Interactive Motion Arts? This is why art should never be subjective as its true beauty is growth, range and evolution. We are finding amazing pieces of work with interesting reasoning behind them every day. So next time you play a game or check out a painting or artwork, rather than just skimming or dismissing it, give it a read. That experience will surely be enough to broaden your horizons about the life around you and its inhabitants.
Feel free to leave a comment about which games in your opinion are works of art.
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