I’ve already discussed “why” I consider video games to be an art form (pss, check the title if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Today, I want to share the “how”. How are video games an art form? There are many different ways a video game can be considered a piece of art. Now, to make it easier for you to understand, I’ve decided to compare the interactive digital medium to another form of art that is, in my opinion, very similar. I’m talking about installations.
Before starting, I want to share the definition of installations by the Merriam-Webster. Installation: a work of art that usually consists of multiple components often in mixed media and that is exhibited in a usually large space in an arrangement specified by the artist.
At first glance, this might seem like an odd choice of comparison, but you’ll understand shortly. When you compare them to sculpture, music, or even cinema; installations are a very recent form of art. However, they are very particular because they bring something new to the table. They’re particular because they create a different approach to the interaction between the spectator and the piece of art. This approach is practically non-existent in other art forms.
Let me explain myself.
Installation art requires an active participation by a spectator for it to be considered a work of art. Otherwise, it’s only a concept; an idea. The spectator’s participation is what distinguishes this form of art to others. That participation eventually leads to a feeling of empowerment in the spectator. He/she is no longer a passive outsider, but an active creator. This phenomenon forms a certain bond between the artist and the participant. The same can be said about video games. Video games require an active participant for them to be what they set out to be. The experience is a lot more memorable simply because the connection between the artist and the participant is much closer than usual.
The best example for this concept is the idea of creating a piece of art in the work itself. Many art installations require the spectator to create his/her own “experience” with different tools that are given to him/her. How is that any different from a game like Minecraft where the player can literally create his own world? The player chooses to create the piece of art. It becomes an artistic creation when the player completes it. The game itself isn’t considered a piece of art, but it has the possibility to become one even if it doesn’t force the player to do it. I’ve seen people recreate the Mona Lisa in Minecraft. How is that any different from another artist making his own take of the famous painting? This might be the first time you hear about someone creating a piece of art in a video game and that’s because it takes a ton of time to make the actual creation. Furthermore, the players who create them want to share them with an audience that understands the immense work behind it; they share it with other gamers. Many people who read don’t understand the insane process of writing a novel, but every gamer can look at a castle in Minecraft and understand the amount of work that was put into it. In my opinion, that is something very singular to the medium of video games and the community behind it.
To enhance my comparison between installations and video games, I want to continue and point out that they are both consisted of multiple art forms such as sculpture, music, theatre, painting and many more. In my opinion, video games do it even more. A video game necessitates aspects from every possible art form. Buildings require architecture design, cinematic cut scenes require different aspects from cinema and music, decorations might need painting, and actor performances can be seen as theatre pieces when you take in consideration that they play on a set that is very similar to a stage. In this instance, video games can very well be considered as a form of art as much as art installations. The video game is the piece of art itself, but requires the spectators participation to be “complete”. These are games like The Last of Us and Journey. These games convey as much feeling and emotion as a book; they just do it differently. Gamers can attach themselves to a game as much as readers can attach themselves to a book series. Everybody was devastated when Snape died in Harry Potter because we’d spent seven books getting to know him. That same character development is achieved in a ton of video games, but a lot of outsiders don’t understand that. People get offended whenever someone says “It’s just a book character, get over it”, but find the phrase “It’s just a video game character, get over it” acceptable? That’s just big time hypocrisy about something you don’t understand. Understand something before judging it.
A lot of people don’t fiddle with video games because they require so much time to fully experience. A movie takes two to three hours to watch when a book can take a couple of days to read. But a video game… A video game can require 50 hours of gameplay before only finishing the main quest line. I’ve seen games that take close to 300 hours before achieving the status of total completion. It’s very time-consuming, but oh boy is it worth it. Video games have already had an impressive impact on our culture and I truly believe that they will be considered as one the most defining art forms of the 21st century. Just watch…
So, to the people who aren’t convinced yet, I say this: try one. Try playing a game from start to finish. After that, let’s go have a coffee if you still aren’t convinced. In the mean time, I’ll go build my own castle in a game many people consider a waste of time.