Home > Art, Geek, Video Game News > Art of Video Games: Update

Art of Video Games: Update

A while back I wrote a post about an exhibition that the Smithsonian American Art Museum called “The Art of Video Games.” When I first heard of this exhibit I was thrilled because I was having a rather serious conversation with some classmates about whether or not video games were a legitimate form of art.

I have always argued that there are a number of video games that are, without a doubt, art. Off of the top of my head I can think of Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Mass Effect 2, Metal Gear Solid, Myst, and Super Mario Brothers 3. Bioshock, especially, is a stellar example the video game as art.

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The games for the exhibit were selected through a rather thorough and lengthy voting process, and there aren’t many games that won that surprised me. I believe something like this has been a long time coming, and I really hope that this lends legitimacy to the idea of video games as serious art and social commentary.

The Exhibit webpage lists all of the winning video games and other pertinent information. The exhibit will be showing from March 16 to September 30, 2012.

  1. June 24, 2011 at 12:45 AM

    I feel like L.A. Noire and Shadow of the Colossus can be safely added to that conversation now,Roger Ebert be damned.

  2. June 24, 2011 at 1:12 AM

    I definitely agree with you, Jake.

    In terms of L.A. Noire, the gameplay, mechanics (facial recognition especially), and writing opened up a new realm for video games.

    As for Roger Ebert, I can understand why he’s as critical as he is. I think he sees video games encroaching on film, which is his raison d’etre. Perhaps the legitimization of video games is the delegitimization of film and theater, in his eyes.

    I believe that’s absolute rubbish, of course. It’s the same sort of backwards thinking that keeps science-fiction literature out of “legitimate” discussions of literature (the same with comics and graphic novels). It will take time, but I believe that eventually we’ll be able to include these oft derided mediums in the academic discussions of art without as much resistance.

    • June 24, 2011 at 4:46 PM

      Well in the realm of graphic novels, stuff like Watchmen is definitely increasingly looked at as art, rather than stuff that only children can enjoy. I don’t feel like games are getting their fair shake as forms of artistic expression. Case in point: I was more emotionally effected by the trio of Mass Effect 2, L.A. Noire, and Red Dead Redemption than I have been by almost any movie I can recall.

  3. June 26, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    True, Alan Moore’s work is getting the recognition it deserves. Frank Miller’s work, too, like “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” are starting to be seen as literary works. In my graphic narratives class, we spent about an hour talking about what my professor, Eric S. Rabkin, called “visual productive puns” in the Dark Knight Returns.

    For instance, there is a panel in which Batman is crossing a yellow-colored rope to get to Harvey Dent. The rope, being yellow, signifies fear–it is the color of urine, and the color we associate with cowardice. This color crops up at various locations in very similar ways.

    I argued, rather successfully, that the text balloons, which are different colors for each character (for instance, Joker is green, Batman gray, Superman blue) are specific and unique for each character. This pattern is broken in the scene in which Batman fights Joker. The speech balloons of both characters are grey, indicating that Joker is actually a doppelganger for Batman not only in this scene, but in every scene.

    I have a reprinted copy of Action Comics #1 and it shows a series of panels that are actually quite complex.

    Follow this link (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG02/yeung/actioncomics/cover.html) to see an old copy of Action Comics #1 digitally copied so you can see what I mean. On page 2, panel 3B (bottom right corner) we see Superman carrying a ruffian up the stairs, while he is screaming and wailing for help. He looks rather prone and helpless, does he not? Notice that Superman does no violence upon him in that panel, or in any subsequent panels.

    Now turn to page page 5. Notice panels 3A, 3B, and 3C. In panel 3A, we see a man beating a woman. Psychologically, we see this dominating man over the woman, in a position of power and control. The woman is helpless. In panel 3B Superman grabs him and holds the man above his head, and in a twist the man, being in the highest position, is in a situation in which he finds himself as powerless as a child. Notice that he looks as if he’s in a fetal position, his hands and legs look as if they’re short or small and can’t be useful. He looks as if he’s throwing a tantrum. He is, essentially, reduced to a young child. Superman, in this instance, is doing no violence to the man. Now, in panel 3C, we see that Superman brings the man down to his level, making him equal. He throws the main against a wall in a singular act of violence.

    Deep, huh?

    This argument about video games as art was actually something we discussed in class in various ways. Each student in the class was, in some way, a type of geek. I was the one that had the most experience with video games, having played them since I was a very small child. I met quite a bit of resistance to my ideas about this. One of my classmates would often refuse to accept the idea that so-called “sandbox” games like Fallout 3 could be considered art, nor could Mass Effect 2, because of the highly subjective nature of the experience. No two people will have the same gameplay experience, for instance, because of non-linear story progression and the idea of a moral-based choice system. He also asserted that since video games are group efforts and require a large budget and a team of people to produce they couldn’t possibly be considered artistic in merit.

    I asked if he considered movies to be artistic in nature and I got an obvious “yes” back. I think the realization dawned on him that he made a completely asinine point so I didn’t press it.

    Art is, at its most basic level and true to its most elementary nature, a completely subjective experience. You can experience it objectively–for instance, noting that a certain kind of technique was used to create this effect–but you don’t make any kind of connection to it and I don’t believe you can attain a true appreciation for art the way that art is meant to be appreciated. Imagine looking at Starry Night, for instance, and thinking, “Gee, those brushstrokes create a unique effect which is a marvelous example of this kind of artistic technique.” Valid observation, but do you really think that was Van Gogh’s intention?

    A friend of mine would never accept any kind of cartoon as a form of art or afford cartoons any kind of literary legitimacy. No matter my argument or how many episodes of Cowboy Bebop or Futurama I showed her, she just wouldn’t accept it. I showed her “Godfellas” and “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” from Futurama and “Waltz for Venus” from Cowboy Bebop. How can one not consider those works of art?

    It blows my mind.

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