Are Video Games Art?

“Are video games art?” This question was posed by the senior curator in the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The question made me wonder, and in order for my thinker to arrive at a thoughtful answer, I wanted to fully understand the definition of Art. I typed out a few google searches, “What is Art?” and also “define Art”. The range of results was so broad and varied that I will do no summarizing, here. I read lists and theories and essays that quoted and disputed other lists and theories and essays. I stepped away no smarter than I was before I began my search.

So I returned to the MOMA, where the question originated in the first place. “Are video games art?” For the Museum to consider Art for their collections, they use criteria such as: historical relevance, cultural relevance, aesthetic expression, innovative approaches to technology, and successful synthesis of materials and techniques.

After consideration, (drum roll) the MOMA has determined that Video Games are, indeed, art. The Museum has announced that they have created a new category for video games and their exhibit will open in March.

They plan to eventually have 40 games, but they have selected the first 14 games for their exhibit.

Here are the games that will soon be on display at the MOMA: (I have to admit I’ve never heard of many of them)

Pac-Man (1980)
Tetris (1984)
Another World (1991)
Myst (1993)
SimCity 2000 (1994)
vib-ribbon (1999)
The Sims (2000)
Katamari Damacy (2004)
EVE Online (2003)
Dwarf Fortress (2006)
Portal (2007)
flOw (2006)
Passage (2008)
Canabalt (2009)

I would like to come up with an opinion about this that I can defend strongly one way or the other, but I really can’t. I can’t because, going full circle, I’m still not sure how to define “art” in the first place. πŸ™‚

All I know is that when a game is visually appealing, I enjoy it more. I know that I have frequently been in awe of stunning graphics and delightful execution. I enjoy interacting with, and getting lost in a well-designed game. When a game is innovative and entertaining, when it uses new techniques and engages me as a user, it is all good. An Artist creates, and the creativity of the game-makers cannot be denied.

So, considering that I just used many of the same adjectives as the MOMA to describe my experience with video games, I do believe that my opinion must be a “yes” (surprising even me).

What do you think of the list? And, even more basic, what do you think of Video Games being classified as art?

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22 thoughts on “Are Video Games Art?

  1. I actually had to write a term paper about “what is art” for my English 102 class in college. I remember looking at similar factors to what MOMA listed for considerations. Art is such a subjective topic. To me, it isn’t a stretch to classify games as an art form, but the extent to which it will be appreciated as such will vary greatly from person to person.

    Definitely a topic to ponder and ponder without a definitive conclusion. Great post!

    Oh, and other than Pac-Man, Tetris and Sim City…I’ve not heard of the other games listed.

    • Those three are the same ones that I recognized. You make a great point…. “the extent to which it will be appreciated as such will vary greatly from person to person”. I suppose that is true of all art, but with ‘outliers’ like this, I’m guessing the appreciation curve is huge. πŸ™‚

    • I do agree. I’ve always appreciated ‘realism’, I guess, like Norman Rockwell, but I know others complain that a photograph could do the same, and a ‘real’ artist with use more imagination. Not an argument I feel qualified to consider!

    • I just took a closer look at that list (I was impressed that you knew 5!) and I do recognize the Sim name, so I now feel smarter than I did when I only recognized 3. πŸ™‚

  2. I’m glad that MOMA is considering it art because of the cultural significance. Museums consider jewelry, home furnishings, textiles, etc art so this is just an extension. An advantage to having them do this is that some very fine minds will be critiquing what is out there using criteria from the world of art so we have the benefit of learning from them. I, too, am only familiar with the three mentioned above, but when I think of Pac Man, I don’t think of strategy but instead of the wonderful graphics. Same with Tetris.

    • You make a GREAT point. It’s exactly the same with me when I think of those games… it’s not the gameplay, it’s the design, the graphics. Clearly the world of Art is expanding to encompass probably just about everything.

  3. Years ago in Paris we went to an art museum, and there was a huge canvas painted nothing but bright blue displayed in the museum. That makes me thing divergent thoughts. First video games are definitely art if that blue painting was considered art. Secondly, and more to the point, possibly, are museums the best folks to choose what is art and what isn’t. Art is so personal that what one person likes another does not, and it gets rather emotional from time to time.

    Next I want to let you know that I nominated you for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award. I absolutely love you blog, and this is my way to say thanks!!! πŸ™‚

  4. “The times, they are a’changing”…
    What is considered ‘art’ today has changed considerable from the past… I guess it all comes down to the ‘medium’. Today’s medium (namely; the Internet) allows for such variety of creative expression. If ‘creative expression’ is loosely called ‘art’, then I would imagine any aspect of ‘illustration’ must therefore be considered art….
    Whether or not it is liked though; is yet another animal… πŸ˜‰
    As for the ‘games’…. Oh, heck; there I go again showing my ignorance…! πŸ˜‰

  5. I would have said no, it isn’t art, because its purpose is to entertain, rather than to stimulate the senses through beauty. But those who like games would say just that: it stimulates them. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. If the whole world is art, it will be a better place. Life’s too short for ugly things, even video games.Thanks for making me think!

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