Jordan Magnuson's picture

The debate of whether or not games are an art form is a lively one, but it’s not unique. The same debate has raged from the early to late 20th century with the Ready-made art objects of Marcel Duchamp to the controversial photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe (Chi Kong Lui, “Are Video Games Art?”).

Are video games art? The answer is up to you. First of all, we must concede that most of them are being produced for a multi-billion dollar industry with the sole purpose of making ungodly amounts of money—and few of these are art by any standard. The titles that remain are games made by people who wear strange clothes, and paint, and usually live in their basements—these at least deserve our consideration, and perhaps even our acceptance. Every day new ground is being broken in the representational accuracy, aesthetic formalism, and innovation of video games. Every day some self-proclaimed artist is creating a game with a new political message or philosophical point. Every day more museums are considering video games for inclusion in their galleries. And yet we have not managed to escape what Jeanette Winterson calls “the world of shadows” with our games—we have not managed to communicate the transcendent in more than a whisper.

And that is why I am excited. I am excited because I believe that we have only been dabbling—not even dabbling—in the world of interactive artworks. We have only been creating games, when our potential is to create masterpieces. Perhaps I am being optimistic—but why not be that? With the element of interactivity the world of video games has opened up to us an entire new dimension—an infinite number of points for every point we have hitherto explored—and we have yet to ask ourselves how we can use this new dimension to serve art. How we can use this dimension to communicate emotion, to express feeling, to change the way people see the world. Video games may be following the progression of film as an art form, but if they are, we are still in the stage of making ten-second movies of practically irrelevant phenomena—oh its fun and interesting enough, and I commend the efforts that have been made so far, but it’s not where we should stop.

Here’s to the future: to possibilities we can’t even imagine right now; to a time when we won’t be blinded by the sheer overwhelming number of directions we could go; to a time when we’ll decide to find a new name for video games which doesn’t involve the word “game;” to a time when we’ll be able to sit down at the computer and expect more than mere entertainment; to a time when a video game will hit me in the chest so hard that I’ll fall on my back and really have to ask with conviction, “what in the world is going on?

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