Just to make sure I'm not messing up your words, your argument is:
1: Art is something of the highest caliber of quality and being declared art is an honor.
2: People are setting out to create games and firmly believe they are art because of the message they send.
3: Many of these games fail as games.
4: Because art can be anything (because it is defined by its exceptional quality), calling something an "art game" is a completely worthless descriptor.
5: Furthermore, calling a game that fails as a game an "art game" is an insult to art (because the game sucks).
Pretty close, I normally start with an anthropological stance when it comes to artifice or cultural artifacts that are elevated to an art status. Let's say a model T ford. In it's day and time it was a novelty. Today a collector's piece, but why?
The artifice is now an artifact and tells us something about the people that made it, the state of the technological proficiency of the day, the changes that where happening in the period. Further there are simply not that many specimens left so there is often a lack of supply conflicted with a steady state of demand. This results in an increase in price and desirability with respect to collectors, historians, or sciences that may have an interest in the item. There is drama created by the piece even today. Just go to an auto auction, in fact there have been documentaries made discussing the auctions of single rare car.
Further the restoration of one speaks a lot to the craft of the collector that restored it... could go on and on, but at the end of the day it was just a thing, that is now "out of time", which makes it significant to the story of "us".
If we are to look at Van Gogh for example, during his time he was not considered much of anything, his art used as fire wood in some cases. Later his technique and life are considered as a composition to his work and has been culturally elevated to the status of "high art". Again it is artifice, "out of time". It tell's a story.
A message, "to me", is not art in and of itself. A new delivery system such as a video game is novel or has a novelty about it but is in and of itself not art. It's curious, it may be interesting, it may in fact many years from now be considered "art" much like the model - T, but it is not "art" today, it's artifice, a by-product, oft times mass produced by the culture as it exist today.
Unfortunately one of my criticisms of this type of delivery system is that the "artist" are relying heavily on technology and off the shelf programs in which to work within the medium.
It's a lack of understanding of the medium that comes off as an exercise in frustration more than a delivery of a message. We could say it is a "meta" message of adversity and striving in a medium, but I kind of don't buy it. Here's why...
There is an old saying that goes "art through adversity", and there is a lot of truth to this statement. As an audience though we don't get much of that "carried through" with the artist the work and the human story behind the struggle to create the work. There is often times a lack of... for want of a better word... "grit" to the finished product.
In this sense many of these games simply come off as poorly designed, and amateurish attempts at writing software. We many times get the feeling that it is the lack of understanding of the technology behind the tool that has forced the design to be the "way it is presented" rather than the intent of the artist.
In short: if a person draws a picture in adobe photoshop using the built in tools... "I" can tell you in about 5 seconds... "I" can't see the artist, because all I see is the tools that got this "message" to me.
The documentary "indie game" really carries this over, it's two very different stories one quite authentic, the other very mass produced and contrived.
Now some of these games are pretty clever using the passage of time and linking it to the movement of the avatar through the space. Or something like DefCon which takes something like a theme of War Games and allows the player the run a scenario in which everyone effectively dies, victory is still a loss. There is a pervading sadness about the entire experience which is reminiscent of Missile Command, but with a modern sensibility.
On the other hand something like Braid, to me, is a deconstruction... but I have a hard time as seeing it as anything other than a deconstruction. Something like Journey is also interesting but I find that it borrows so heavily (see trope) of other works and Asiatic cultural themes that at the end of the day, that is all it is... a trope of better stuff. In this sense it seems to me that it is "interesting" for the sake of being "interesting" not really because it has anything to say.
It's not bad, it's not particularly good. It sort of is what it is. My litmus test for these products is simply, "would I play it again". Are there enough layers to the simple themes, or more than meets the eye to encourage a second, third, or fourth romp through the experience? If yes, then maybe it's art... if no... then it's a one off, an oddity. In that case I tend to let the culture decide what it's merits are, but if the developer's are insisting that it is art... It probably isn't.
Day Z, as far as I am concerned, is an excellent game... I think around 300,000 people think so as well... yet it is just a simple mod, and basically a sandbox that rides on a pretty good mil-sim.
Dear Ester is a rather poor game, it tells a story that is relevant to it's creator... but I just don't care. As a "meta" commentary it's a lot like a lot of crap out in the digital space... people waving their arms around like a "Wacky Wavy Inflatable Tube Man" trying to get attention. As a work I suppose it could be deconstructed and one could tell a lot about the creator through the work... but that is more of an exercise in psychological profiling of the artist than it is the work, as the work. It's kind of pointless as I am not really that interested in expended resources to learn about some random guy exposing about him or herself.
I can go to Facebook for that.
Something like Bastion I am on the fence about. Art is subjective though. At the end of the day it's still a pretty decent game.
I use the term as a derogatory statement.
Again Day Z and DefCon use a ticking clock element to build tension, Bastion is a passable game, but some of this other stuff... I have a hard time finding the drama, or even manufacturing it for myself.
Exercises in philosophical masturbation are poor places to start personally, but they are great places to deliver the audience in reflection.
This is why Persona 3 will make a grown man cry, Journey just makes me laugh (at Journey because it's silly), and Dear Ester just makes me bored.
Cat n the Coup is interesting, but ham-fisted in it's delivery. Again, it's just bad bloat ware that could just as easily be a blog... the fact that it is delivered as a game is a novelty to get it an audience, which just delivers a personal opinion half fact and half anger.
I think good art let's us come to these conclusions naturally, bad art uses art as a soap box. Again, that's just me.
As far as quality, and as you say, I may sit down and write some sheet music... it's an artistic expression but I personally don't feel obliged to say it's some magic thing other than what it is... an amateur expressing himself, for himself.
If I work on an engineering project, I may change the design dozens of times... in this sense it is an exercise in technique, there is an art to it, similar to the technical design process that goes into a high end AAA production... it's art but it's not. It's an expression of the culture that one is able to replicate at a high degree of precision. If there is a lot of work that goes into it, then I think it's safe to say that it is a "work... of art" or "state... of the art".
Avatar is a good example of this. It's an incredibly "efficient" movie, and James Cameron is a master of his craft, he is an artist... but the work as a whole isn't really art, but in a certain light it is. Art is a really flexible term and I think you address that quite nicely.
I think that if that is all one can say about something then it fails as a lot of things.
We can sit down and watch "Total Recall" over and over again and discuss and pontificate about all the things that the movie is doing. Lot's of layers, really talented people did really talented things to make a very clever and enjoyable entertainment that all sorts of people may enjoy for many different reasons.
Dear Ester... I mean, what is there to say? It's attempting to be deep without much depth? That's not really a compliment... just don't have anywhere to go with it.
It's an Art Game... shrug.
That all makes perfect sense.
Language making perfect sense is an extreme rarity. People use meaningless phrases all the time and the meaning becomes ingrained into people's head through sheer repetition. What do the words "the," "big," and "cheese" have to do with the phrase "the big cheese?" The term "art games" works as a term because people seem to generally know what you are talking about when you say it. The fact that many of the same criticisms that come from art films traveled to art games makes me think that it works great (the most common definition I hear for art films is that "they are films that nobody liked." That's basically what you describe in your response).
Edit: To go on a slight tangent, I've never really believed the idea that art had anything to do with quality. To me, art is always a descriptor of intent. Anything made with the express purpose of being enjoyed by people is art. I've always identified the idea of art with an auteur, a craftsman whose trade is in making people experience (in fact, I often joke that the only difference between an artist and a craftsman is an artist doesn't know what he's doing.)
In the end, I feel like our positions are nearly identical, but I think of "artists" the way you think of "art games people" and I think of craftsman the way you think of artists. Language can be like that. XD
Nothing really to add to this at the moment, I think you and I are more or less on the same page with it.