The Burning Question; Are Video Games Art?

11 08 2011

Answers On A Postcard

It’s a simple question. It doesn’t have a simple answer.

To a gamer the answer is a resounding yes, to anyone who hasn’t spent hours of their free time in the virtual worlds of online games or hunched in front of a gaming console then the reply may be slightly different. The question has been asked hundreds of times and, much like a great game, the answer varies every time.

But what is Art?

Conventionally, it has been defined as “painting, drawing, sculpture, design, fine arts and graphic arts” but Art has become so much more than that. Advances in the entertainment industry through the latest technology can now produce visuals that are worthy of study, the modern cinematographer can present visions of beauty that are not confined to a canvas or hidden away in a museum.

Art is no longer purely about the classical but has adapted to take in moving visuals and computer games are a perfect example of what an artist can produce virtually without the need for the physical.

Noted art critic John Berger declared that “when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art.” He considered that assumptions such as beauty, truth, genius, civilization, form, status and taste would need to be taken into consideration when viewing a piece and although it is unlikely that he has ever had the desire to play online games, popular games such as World of Warcraft or the free-roaming landscapes of Red Dead Redemption allow the gamer to embrace the virtual experience as an art-form.

Art is designed to provoke an emotion distinctive from everyday life with the viewer basing this emotion on the aesthetic qualities of the piece presented in front of them. You could put one hundred people in front of Damien Hirst’s ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (essentially a large, pickled shark) or ‘The Haywain’ by John Constable and the emotional reaction could be entirely different.

But is it Art?

Video and Computer games are exactly the same.

They are designed to produce emotional reactions through situations that don’t occur in everyday life. The majority of people that play Call of Duty are not professional soldiers, the millions that play FIFA will never run on to the pitch at Wembley and it is extremely rare that a plumber will ever be asked to rescue a princess.

Although there is a distinct possibility that some of the morons that were intent on smashing up their community, burning businesses to the ground, stealing stuff and being generally unpleasant may have honed their skills on Grand Theft Auto!

Art has always relied on the viewer absorbing the images presented. The latest generation of games rely not just on game-play but are increasingly presenting visuals that could be considered as works of art. Lighting effects, photo-realistic renderings of landscapes and urban developments, life-like simulations of human beings and creatures (both real and imagined), the game designer is only limited by their own imagination. If you consider Vincent Van Gogh, he painted the colours of the world as they appeared to him, in many ways no different to the designer who creates a virtual world.

Earlier this year in the UK, The National Endowment for the Arts announced that interactive games would be considered as among the art forms to which it would offer funding. This decision is a small step forward in acknowledging that game design can be considered as art, although for those in the industry it comes at a time when gaming is again under the microscope in terms of the effects it has on society. Video gaming is big business but there are concerns over long-term health issues and whether immersion in a virtual world can provide the required stimulation of real-life.

But the question remains, can computer games be considered Art?

Only by playing the right games will you find the answer.


This may seem like one of more random posts (especially in view of what has been happening in my hometown of London), but the reason for wanting to write is simple. I got paid $10 to do so. $10 doesn’t buy much these days so I thought I would post it online and resist the temptation to call the article “Writer Needs Job; A Series of Random SEO Content Articles That Showcase What I Can Do”.

Next week, I could be posting on such random subjects as eHarmony, hybrid cars, the joy of Bingo, holidays in Iceland, moving to New Zealand and the responsibilities of being a landlord.

But if you are reading this shameless plea by a writer to be gainfully employed and you would like to know the rules of cricket, then my email is

Thank You







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