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The Video Games as Art Theorem

by Michael Harnest


In mathematics there are two means by which it is possible to support a theorem: to either prove the equality of one variable to the other, or to prove the inequality of one variable to all but the other. In other words, if a variable X were equal to a variable Y, stating that X is equal to Y would be just as correct as contending that X is not equal to anything greater or less than Y. Applied outside of math, there are consequently two distinct approaches in proving anything correct. Enter the video game as art theorem. To take the first of these approaches would be to set video games as the base and then extrapolate from specific title to specific title, citing particular moments of artistic expression, until the wall of art was overleaped. The problem with this approach is that the listing of each title is only relevant to those that have played the games, so therefore its roots are in the world that is more likely to embrace the theory, the video gaming world, and is not effective to others. And so video games as X cannot be proven equal to art as Y. Consequently, the objective changes to proving the inaccuracy of the theory that video games are all that is greater than and less than, or more simply, not art. Predominant arguments for this theory include the young audience video games are intended for, the unrealistic and far-fetched plots and character appearances contained within most games, and the lack of revelation and cathartic messages that generally form the very soul of art.

The problem in viewing video games as art to most people is not the lack of game support. The disbelief does not come from the inability to traverse the path from video games to art, but rather from beginning at the extremity of art and not being able to make the connection to video games. This is due in part to the tired generalization that video games are targeted for children. The simplest rebuttal to this would be that there are games on the market with a ‘Mature 17+' rating given by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ESRB rating informs the consumer of the game's content that may be inappropriate for children such as violence and coarse language. The truth is, video game giants such as Nintendo and Sega captured the minds of children in the mid to late 1980s. As these children grew older and matured, the games grew with them. Granted the majority of titles still focus on the industry's original goal of entertaining children, but no more than most movies are still created to solely entertain their targeted audiences, while others are regarded as master works of art. Video games are not exclusive to children, any more.

Highly noted are the improbable and far-fetched plots found in most video games as well as the often deformed looking characters starring in them. Although these are present, they are not to be viewed as a negative characteristic. Denouncing them as art because of this is a great misconception and the missing of a very important point: art is not necessarily reflective of life, but is, rather, relatable to it. Just as books and movies often use exaggerated and archetypical characters and settings, video games apply them to their own medium. A story, if it comprises a work of art in one setting, keeps the namesake of art in any context. Whether a video game's plot carries its characters to a fictional medieval England to fight dragons, or the moon to suppress aliens is irrelevant to seeing the game as an art piece.

Perhaps the greatest hindrance in seeing video games as a form of art is the ineptitude in most people to see video games as simply another medium for telling a story. People think of art, and inclusively stories, as an expression of ideals or beliefs climaxing at a singular cathartic moment. They see the purpose of a video game to navigate passed obstacles and conquer the next level. The point of tangency is that the characters in a video game are never without motives; there is always an ambition. Given that video games are another form of storytelling, is it not possible then, that they are able to contain common literary devices such as symbolism and allusion? Is there an impediment in them containing the themes found throughout the esteemed novels we hail as art, or to perhaps explore new, unprecedented ones? History has provided an answer all on its own. Paintings were originally made to tell stories and entertain. Eventually the brush became a tool by which masters of the medium could create art. Novels were originally written to solely offer an entertaining experience, but following suit, they became the next medium to study the human persona and delve into the themes of the real world. Film eventually moved from a form of bareback entertainment to a new, accepted art form. Video games will no doubt continue the pattern. They have the same ability to contain the revelations of film and literature, and to therefore incorporate artistic expression, and be seen as an art form.

The video game renaissance into the art realm has begun, and it should be a welcomed event. Offering the unique ability of human interactivity, video games introduce a new dimension to the world of art in allowing the possibility of a gamer's response to the themes presented in the work to have an actual impact on the work itself. They have evolved, as all forms of entertainment do, into the sought after art domain; an inevitability largely over an impossibility.

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