Videogames as Art – Does It Really Matter?

Last week the internet was abuzz yet again with the Twittering of angry gamers because Roger Ebert refused to categorize videogames as an art form.  But really, why does it matter?

I’m not going to come down on one side or another on the “Are games art?” debate.  Partially because that’s not what I want to talk about right now, but mostly because the torrent of comments that usually follows such a post is unbearable.  The art debate is the one place where Playstation, Microsoft, and Nintendo fanboys all agree, and the arguments never stray far from whatever the prevailing media opinion is at the time.

What I do want to address is this strange obsession with the subject.  When I was a kid playing Mega Man 3, I never once concerned myself with debating the artistic merits of the game, I just enjoyed playing it.  I’m sure the rest of the young Nintendo fan base felt the same way.  We loved videogames and that was enough.

I still feel that way.  I play games on a regular basis, and I love doing it.  ‘Borderlands’ is still my game of choice, but I’ve been playing ‘Ticket to Ride,’ ‘Call of Duty: World at War,’ and ‘Puzzle Quest’ this week.  I also managed to squeeze in seven straight hours of ‘Tecmo Bowl Throwback’ with my friends this weekend.  I love playing videogames, and I don’t see why it has to be more complicated than that.

But the attitude has gotten defensive in recent years.  It’s almost as if the adult gaming population is ashamed of its hobby.  It’s as if gamers are under the impression that putting the label of art on ‘Gears of War’ will make the general public and mainstream media respect it more.

The mainstream media, and the majority of the population, has never understood videogames properly and probably never will.  But why is that such a bad thing?  Why does it matter that Roger Ebert doesn’t respect games?  Does ‘Portal’ become less amazing if people say it isn’t art?  And why is art something to aspire to anyway? What’s wrong with just games just being games?

The people working on these games deserve recognition,” say those arguing the pro.  Sure they do, I’m not about to disagree with that.  The men and women that make these games are hard working and incredibly talented, and a few have gained a sort of celebrity status within gaming circles.

Peter Molyneux, for one, should be a household name to anyone who calls themselves a gamer.  So should Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinsky, Shigeru Miyamoto, Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo, Will Wright and Sid Meier.  They’ve got fans around the globe, and they’re responsible for some of my favorite gaming memories.  They’re rock stars in our world, and isn’t that enough?

I really don’t care whether Roger Ebert, or anyone else for that matter, calls videogames art or not.  It doesn’t affect the games, it doesn’t affect my enjoyment, and it doesn’t affect what I think of them.  So really, why does it matter?


  1. JoeRo

    Hear hear! The question of what is and isn’t art is one of those meaningless debates no matter how you slice it. Anything under the sun can be considered art, and the inverse is equally true … eye of the beholder and whatnot. But yeah games are about fun, and that’s the one thing that people who love games should never forget. Remember art can be fun, but it can also be stuffy, pretentious, and just plain boring. Fun is what separates the gaming world from the art world, let’s keep it that way.

  2. Rob

    Roger Ebert is a Celebrity. He makes this Headline every year. It reads to people as “Video Games Are Low Quality Entertainment.”

    Blogs, websites, cable news. Everybody covers the “story” because, on its surface, it’s provocative.

    Gamers dismiss Roger as old and dumb, because millions of people consider videogames to be high quality entertainment.

    It’s just like when Shia LaBeouf said Wii owners were gimps, then Megan Fox stood up and said Nintendo is hot.

    Dick, have you seen the early reviews for the xbox 360 game ‘Alan Wake’? It has been called High Art and Incredibly Cinematic.

    • Dick Ward

      I’ve been following ‘Alan Wake’ with anticipation since I first got my 360. It’s been a long wait, but I’m excited to see it finally come out. 🙂

  3. Dallin

    This is my least favorite argument and I personally feel the most ignorant – “Why does it matter? Why do they care?”. A movie critic will say this, but then if someone told them movies were not art, they’d get offended. It matters to them for the same reason it matters to someone who is passionate about movies that the film that changed their life is classified as a piece of art.

    If you don’t feel games are art or see why people should care it’s probably because you can’t see that people can be as passionate about a video game as about a movie or book. There are people out there that play games for more than just to have a good time or because they’re fun – they play them for the experience and that experience can affect them the same way an incredible movie affected you. Granted, most of the big blockbuster games out there are hardly in this category, but if you grew up playing final fantasy, you might understand.

    • Dick Ward

      Dallin, I did grow up on Final Fantasy. I’m listening to The Black Mages now 🙂

      Sure, a movie critic might be offended if someone said the movie wasn’t art, but so what? You can tell me ‘Jaws’, for example, isn’t art. But I’m not watching it because it’s art. I’m watching it because it’s an awesome movie. Call it what you want, it’s still great to me.

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