Games Can Never Be Art

I wish to speak directly to you, as you are scanning your eyes over the title. I can sense your rage; I can sense all of that flame building up. If you are browsing this through another site, you may simply take one look at this page then go back and comment on the page. Today I do not want flame; today I want to express my opinion.

Games are art, but the industry is not based upon creating art.

Today our industry is evolving and moving so fast that we don’t know what the future will hold. Predictions are failing, financially and in a hardware state. No one predicted twenty years ago that gaming would be what it is today. A creative, beautiful and sometimes harsh industry, built upon the idea of interactive entertainment. Our medium is like no other, we are not a one way street, you can watch a movie three times over and it will always play out the same. Here however, you can make morale choices, shape your story. Some of these things we take for granted, we can experience things that our real lives can never hope to offer. Videogames are the most exciting thing to happen to entertainment since television.

Films have created their own art, cinematography, the shots used, filters and whatnot. Complex characters and story can involve and evoke human emotion in us all. This is what art is, representing and interpreting human likeliness or evoking human emotion using a variety of contexts. Story and character can involve an observer so much so that they begin to feel connected with the narrative. Visuals can engross us even further, but choice, choice is what sets us apart from film. We can choose, decide and shape our own film. We can create art, with a simply push of a button.

Does the industry create art? Do developers create art? The answer is… maybe.

I’ve talked with a few of my friends about this very subject. This was before I read Mikey Neuman’s post on Destructioid (a great read – where he basically said that ALL games are art. They all show human characteristics, they all strive to create their own vision, they all create emotion. Whether that be anger, sadness, pride; everygame is unique in holding its place in our ‘artistic’ industry.

Does this look like art to you?

You could argue that it is. The execution is obviously terrible (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t played it) but it still shows emotion. Obviously you’d have to be a two year old to be actually happy about it, but that’s what games do in the end, they’re fun. Either being so interesting and so brilliantly constructed, letting us shoot dudes in the face, letting us climb giant colossi in a bid to save the woman we love (cookies to whoever gets that) or even changing diapers.

But did the developers strive to create art?

No, they strived to make money. Technically it can be billed as ‘Wii Shovelware’, purely aimed at a casual audience who will neither have the knowledge of knowing that they have experienced unintentional art. You could still argue that ‘Imagine Babyz’ is still art, even if it wasn’t purposely created to represent any human quality, but then I would still have to disagree. Art as a whole is aimed to create… well let’s look at the Wikipedia page for some enlightenment.

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.”

Can art be accidental? When Ken Levine was writing BioShock, did he want to involve players in a twisting story of morale with political commentary or did he strive to create art? The artist’s goal may never be to create art; he may never label him/herself as an artist, but rather hide behind a job title such as “Creative Director.”

‘Imagine Babyz’, if weighed up by any cynical person, would not have any artistic merit. Two weeks ago I would understand, I would totally agree and maybe instead this editorial would be called “GAMES ARE ALWAYS ART HAAHHAA”. It’s too bad then that my bubble burst, that I awoke, I poised myself in a different position. Now I am not biased, all thanks to the biasness of one British newspaper columnist. My little glass world was shattered.

To read it as a gamer is to go in and come out laughing. Ha! The woman has never played a videogame in her life! Ha! She knows nothing about our artistic medium! Ha! Haha!

But she has a point, she’s also wrong.

Games don’t really get represented as well as films do in the press. The only brief instances we are represented is whenever a celebrity face shows up at a awards ceremony, controversy leaks from our pores or one giant game release which will swallow all of our lives whole. We’re not represented maturely, I’d still argue we’ve been represented the same as we were twenty years ago – as toys.

This is why people all yell out in fear whenever Grand Theft Auto lets us beat a hooker to death. They’re not ignorant at all, just not well informed.

I remember watching the Fox News controversy about Mass Effect (which wasn’t controversy at all, just a blind accusation) and watching the only true gamer (Geoff Keighley) defend it to the death. The rest of the panel completely ignored him, even when he questioned whether or not they had played the game or researched it well enough. It was all one giant joke.

But when a column is made about a game like RapePlay, I have to agree. This isn’t how our industry should be represented, but you can’t change the industry at all, not without doing damage or forcing restriction.

To make sure our industry is represented as art, and to perpetuate the cycle of art being created, we need to segregate ourselves. Our biggest advantage is also our weakness, we are the only medium where anything can happen and there are multiple outcomes. It is with this then that giant, diverse genres are created. Whole audiences even flock to just one console, all the while we argue over the internet about whether games are art, game X is better than game Y and console X has no games worth playing.

It’s senseless, it’s chaos, but we still let it happen.

To segregate art is to create an industry that does not create art. Art communicates all values of human emotion or senses, and allows the observer to retaliate. Separating ourselves could be both the best and worst thing to ever happen, but it’s not exactly an easy feat.

We cannot separate ourselves in the media, although that is quite unimportant, but we can separate ourselves elsewhere. It’s already begun when we’ve started to ignore whole classes of videogame, specific genres and games tailored towards one direct audience. It’s hurting us on the inside, but we should accept the fact that our full industry can never be one that creates art. There will always be those who wish to cash in, those who wish to create BAD art, not something that gamers can be proud of.

The line between good and bad art can be very blurry, especially in grey areas. Let us compare BioShock and Super Mario Galaxy. BioShock takes us into a dystopian wonderland full of moral decay, political commentary and brilliant writing. Mario Galaxy takes us into the stars, a wonderland of happy go happy and barely any story to go on. Do we blame it though? Should we? When a game tries to create a history, with it being something largely advertised and talked about, it should be critiqued. A game shouldn’t be let down because the story is awful and the gameplay is superb, because sometimes it is not the full intention of the developers to create depth or character… to create art.

Let us go back to Rapeplay for a moment. The column in question argued that “these videogames are not art, they are violent pornography.” to which I completely agree. But as a gamer I should still defend our industry, the bites she takes at our beloved Grand Theft Auto, calling it all an attack on women’s rights. I must then say that Rapelay is art, unintentional art at its finest.

Wind back the clock five years ago. The game is Hitman Blood Money. Every single woman that Agent 47 comes into contact with is a big breasted, dull, characterless and unintelligent mop. Evoking no emotion and acting as ornaments to the manly targets we come to assassinate or bludgeon with knifes. Was Blood Money disgusting? Was it an attack on women’s rights? Hell no. It was glorifying sexual hyperactivity, such as Rapelay overdoes, but it was not sponsoring the act. Hitman Blood Money took Agent 47 through a trial of the darkest depths of humankind. All of our bad qualities. Drugs, violence and sexual hyperactivity. Blood Money was showing humanity’s darkest secrets, was this not art? Showing us what the dark reaches of humanity are capable of?

Rapelay then, which obviously isn’t intended to be anything we can describe as a videogame, is not guilty as charged. It is pornography, but it’s not videogames. Attack it all you like but don’t come at my industry flailing a knife and showing our disgraceful offspring. We’re not proud of some of our achievements, but we will defend some of them to the death.

Let’s come back to the column again.

Does “killing” a prostituted woman in Grand Theft Auto just reconfirm to a gamer the “lesser value” of women in prostitution generally?

Good point.

No it doesn’t. I can tell the columnist isn’t the type to shove statistics in our face, or a ‘University study’, she’s just offering her own opinion. An outsider’s opinion, but an outlook on our industry nonetheless. One which I welcome completely.

Grand Theft Auto is not meant to be played by ten year olds, it’s not a kid’s toy, and the whole industry is no longer just child’s play. Maybe once you understand that, you’ll understand why we can beat hookers to death. It’s not because we hate women, not because Rockstar hates women, it is because Grand Theft Auto shows the absolute worst that modern society has to offer. We can’t restrict some parts of that giant horrible picture just because it might be offensive. It’s not meant to be offensive, it’s meant to have meaning in the whole piece of art, and it’s not there to offend at all.

We should probably break off from ranting about an outsider’s opinion, and circle back to our main topic at hand.

Do not worry; I personally perceive games as art. Singular games mind, but I have a different opinion to some others. The full game industry can never be one with artistic merit; we will always have the media and general public eye looking down on our beloved games. What we should never do is compromise, something which Nintendo already has done, just for financial gain or publicity benefit.

What I am trying to get at here, in all purpose, is to try and maybe bring your assumption down a bit. You can scream from the heavens, like I did, that our industry is one of few that are taking risks and achieving massive artistic gain – some of which we’re not even aware of yet. But when I look at casual gaming, when I look into the sad eyes of all the clones of GTA or Modern Warfare, I can’t help but think we’d be better off toning it down a bit.

Yes, games have the capacity to be art, but that doesn’t mean that bad art doesn’t exist in our industry.

Some of our titles such as Leisure Suit Larry, 7 Sins, and Rapelay all take our videogame image. These aren’t videogames, they’re not even art. Leisure Suit maybe is a completely parody of the whole thing, but whenever I look at certain titles I cannot help but shake my head and blow off the possibility we can be an artistic industry.

There will always be those that wish to exploit our technology, our way of communication, for financial gain or other purposes. We can’t stop this; we can’t stop accidental BAD art representing us as a whole. It’s ironic that what we represent is human emotion, and sometimes the dark side of humanity, but that ends up being our downfall. We let people take advantage of us.

That isn’t to say that we don’t have the possibility AT ALL. This is all personal opinion, but through community and developer union, we can create the greatest entertainment industry the world has ever seen. I’ve had my life changed by videogames, maybe some of you just see it as a hobby, some of you are probably laughing by now. It’s not just a hobby in my mind, it’s a life. It’s a life to escapes our dull existence and live in another form or world, so it may enrich our vision on Earth. It gives us the chance, the confidence and maybe even the ability to learn something once in a while. That, my friends, is art.

Many thanks to Scott diMonda (WCC5723) , Andrew Hunt (Boss Kamikaze) and  Ricky Webster (Wolverick) proofreading this thing to death. Patrick Talbert (AzraelPC) for trying to delve into this thing and more importantly – you for reading all of this. Some inspiration and based material taken from Tom Francis ( and Daniel Floyd (

You may not agree with my opinion or my collective research, but I hope we can agree to disagree. I welcome ALL feedback good and bad; about my writing (mistakes, grammar or spelling), about the actual article and even support for this.

If you want to directly contact me or maybe you want to post your own thoughts, I welcome all of this too; you can find me at [email protected]

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  • Well written Nathan, I liked this piece (once I was able to get past the rage of the title you went with).

    My whole feelings on the subject can just about be summed up with your line “games have the capacity to be art”

  • Orochimaru-sensei

    Man, this is your best article yet!

  • I think that the idea that “Art has to be intentional” is a bit backasswards. Are you telling me that if, by some freakish circumstance, a paint spill created the Mona Lisa, that it would not be art? How about cave drawings? Grug and Ug were not trying to evoke feelings or comment on the human condition when they drew a stick figure stabbing a deer through the eye, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t art.

    Pretty okay article though. I just disagree with your definition of art. Also; games with gratuitous amounts of scantily clad, big breasted women are probably not trying to create a dialog on hyper-sexuality. The majority of gamers are male, and guys like to see tits. Even digitally rendered ones. Hell, Grug and Ug probably enjoyed stick figure titties.

    Just sayin’.

  • Alex

    I loved your article. You are actually very right.

    The videogame industry cannot be represented by just a few bad titles. No one denies the marvel of a great movie and its artistic merits, just because there is a bad movie every once in a while (usually much more often than that).

    On the other hand, people with an old mindset will remain that way. It must have taken Hollywood a few decades back in its early years to persuade people for its artistic potential, and I think the same applies to the videogame industry.

    It’s still a very young industry and we will probably just have to wait for it to get recognized as an artistic medium through the generations.

  • Very well written! Nice job!

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  • bear

    I like how this kid is 15 and, aside from needing a more thorough editor, he’s more well-composed than most editorialists / critics in the publishing industry today. Especially that of gaming! Platform Nation is okay, but I wish I could just receive Nathan’s articles in my RSS reader. How very superb!

  • I love games such as final fantasy and tekken. I grew up playing these games and I can tell you they are a work of art. Their beauty in design of the characters and storyline in final fantasy is unique and original. I dont think there is a clear definition for what is art. In African societies there is no definition for art. Form follows function and no one person can judge what is art.

  • This is a pretty good read. Nice article and solid reasoning.