And yet here we are again (again!), with a respected critic claiming to know what art is or can ever be, and suggesting that video games cannot be included. That critic is the Guardian's own Jonathan Jones, who has been here before, decrying Moma for including a selection of computer games in its design section. Games are not art because there is no individual ownership, he insisted at the time, a contention which appeared to strike out a whole pantheon of collaborative projects from art history.
Now his affectionately expressed objection - prompted by the gift of a PlayStation 3 and a couple of mainstream releases – is that games aren't art and that we shouldn't care. "Electronic games offer a rich and spectacular entertainment," he declares, correctly, "but why do they need to be anything more than fun? Why does everything have to be art?"
So here's another question: why do films need to be more than just fun? Why does art?
Countering Jones' argument is a basic truth: games are an expressive medium. They are a form of communication. Naturally, Jones won't see that so much in the mainstream action adventures that Santa brought him; just as a movie reviewer won't see much art or meaning in a Michael Bay flick. But deeper communication is clear in the more thoughtful games that he may not have seen. In Journey, in Cart Life, in Papers Please, in Device 6, in The Stanley Parable – games that have more to say than blam, blam blam.
That Dragon, CancerWhy can't games just be fun? Because intelligent, thoughtful designers such as Navid Khonsari want to make games about serious issues like the 1979 Iranian revolution. Why can't games just be fun? Because Ryan Green is making That Dragon, Cancer, a game about how he and his wife are coping with the terminal illness of their youngest son. Green has chosen games as his medium of expression, his way of coping, because he is a game designer – it is how he thinks, and partly how he processes the world and what is happening to his family. He also sees in games an accessible way of telling people about cancer, and about hope and faith. Shall we just tell him that's not right? Perhaps you'd like to do that. I certainly don't.
Why aren't games just fun? Because games speak to people, especially young people, in ways that films and books and TV don't. Games speak to people.
The greatest artists, you see, want to communicate in the most popular media of the time, they want to be heard. That's why Shakespeare wrote for the lice-ridden but packed theatres of London, that's why Bertolt Brecht collaborated with Fritz Lang to bring his theories to Hollywood, that's why Dickens and Dumas had their novels serialised in magazines. Why aren't games just fun? Because video games are now a language and language is a tool of expression and change. A bit like art, yes?...
Defining art is madness, and dismissing a vast, vibrant and creative medium is folly. "
Rich McCormick reports, "While society at large questions whether video games can be art, to the world's largest museum, the question has already been answered. The Smithsonian American Art Museum announced yesterday that it has added two video games to its permanent collection: thatgamecompany's hypnotic Flower, and Halo 2600, a side-scrolling de-make of Xbox shooter Halo.
Both games can be seen in the Smithsonian's The Art of Video Games exhibition, currently on tour in the United States. In a statement, the museum called Flower — in which players control the wind — "an entirely new kind of physical and virtual choreography." Interactivity was also cited as a reason for its inclusion in the collection, with the museum saying "the work cannot be fully appreciated through still images or video clips; the art happens when the game is played."
Bob John Downer reports, "The acceptance of video games into the artistic community is really just a matter of time. Most newer mediums that are now undeniably celebrated as art-forms had a hard time at first. Photography, for example, has only recently been fully accepted as an art-form in its own rig"The acceptance of video games into the artistic community is really just a matter of time. Most newer mediums that are now undeniably celebrated as art-forms had a hard time at first. Photography, for example, has only recently been fully accepted as an art-form in its own right. The early days of cinema were far from the massive creative outlets that they are today. Games will be accepted and it’s just a matter of time, the smart guys at the Smithsonian are early adopters and hope to demonstrate this. The only criticism I have is that the games will be displayed from screen shots and videos, which essentially over looks the qualities of the medium. The whole point in video games it to be played, they are enjoyed in a different way to other artistic visual mediums. This is something that can be worked on in future gaming exhibitions, but the Smithsonian is certainly moving in the right direction."
What do you think?