(opinions) Video Games

Micki Gregory plays a game on his PS4, Mar. 31, 2019.

Video games are nothing more than an interactive medium designed to take up hours of a person’s life — or are they? Upon first glance, labeling video games as an art form might seem preposterous. However, games have become more complex than they have ever been, and are continuing to become more intricate. Video games have always been an expression of a developer’s vision. Moreover, given the complexity of video games, with many games achieving scripts that rival those made for cinema and including increasingly more detailed visuals, video games are undoubtedly an art form — if not the art of this generation.

The development of video games within the past decade alone has increased in complexity tenfold. Video games have developed to a point where everyone, gamer or not, can find something to appreciate and admire. There are games with stunning visuals that can cause one’s jaw to drop. There are scripts and gameplay that can cause one to be immersed for hours. There are narratives that can cause human emotions to bubble to the surface.  

Wallace Lages, an assistant professor in the Creative Technologies program, described how video games could become an emerging art form. 

“There are different forms, purposes and expressions of art. Video games have, or can be, used as a medium for all these purposes,” Lages said. “For example, there are video games that engage in social inquiry, that explore visual aesthetics or that express the supreme mastery of the medium.” 

Some games beautifully include all of these factors and more within their own boundaries. 

In an interview with the officers of the Gaming Project, an organization at Virginia Tech that seeks to bring people together in creating video games and redefine the medium for its participants, the general consensus was that all games are art. Regardless of whether it be an indie game (games developed by a small group of people), a AAA game (large-scale games developed by companies with large budgets and groups of people), or even a cheap, microtransaction-heavy mobile game, all games have a developer — an artist at the start.  

Moreover, video games have become more than just enjoyment for children to partake in. The medium has now grown to also include deep real-world philosophical questions and themes. This arguably started with the BioShock series, which introduced a narrative and world-building that hinges on the fallacies of rampant capitalism and religious extremism. Furthermore, according to statistica.com, nearly half of U.S. video game consumers are over the age of 35, so it’s not just kids who are playing these games, but fully-grown adults who are capable of appreciating art in all its forms. 

The sheer number of people that play leads to a rather beautiful effect. Rather than people looking at the same piece of art or listening to the same piece of music, each person can have a different experience playing a video game — as people do with more classic examples of art pieces. This is even the case in linear games (games that feature a linear narrative with relatively closed maps so that players all play the same story) as well, because players can find certain stages more complex than others and die at different moments. The interactiveness is arguably one of video games’ unintended artistic effects.  

“Some arguments for that are based on the fact that games are different from classical art because they are interactive and have rules,” Lages said on the topic of people not accepting video games as art. "Others argue that video games are not to the level of existing masterpieces of literature or visual arts. However, most of these arguments could also be applied to cinema and interactive art not a long time ago."

Another, arguably more prevalent reason why video games are not typically considered art would be the interference of companies and executives. Making a game is a long and tedious process, especially when large groups of developers are involved. Those developers have to deal with resource issues, time constraints and directional changes placed upon them by their executives. Companies have to navigate a line between artistic expression and realistic profit. This can often distort the product and cause issues with the product itself; an example of this can be seen in the development of Cyberpunk 2077 with the switch from third to first person mid-production and the 2018 gameplay demo scam. It can be hard to experience a buggy, issue-ridden game and consider it art. 

Ben Altermatt, a sophomore studying computer science and vice president of the Gaming Project, provided some insight regarding the topic of executives and companies negatively influencing production. 

“Games can be perverted, but are ultimately still seen as art,” Altermatt said.

Behind every single video game in circulation, there was a developer or team of developers with a vision. And the resulting product, no matter how close it was to the vision or not and regardless of any technical issues, is still an expression of the developers’ vision for the world to enjoy.

Given the vast reach that the video game industry has to consumers, it would be unreasonable to assume having a background in computer programming or game design is necessary for a user to appreciate the artistic value of a game. 

“It is possible to appreciate a sculpture without the knowledge of the tools and processes used by the sculptor,” Lages said. “The same is true for video games.” 

This sentiment was also shared by the Gaming Project officers. The officers explained how having a background in computer science could allow one to feel more sympathetic to developers or to understand the complexity of an asset or game mechanic, but the artistic value can be appreciated across all demographics. 

There are obviously aspects of video games that lend themselves to being considered an art form. However, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if everyone perceives video games as art at all. Some of today’s more modern art is criticized and its artistry might even be debated, but as long as someone finds artistic value in the game, then it is art.   

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