Games Not Art Yet, Says The Path Developer

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Are videogames really too young a medium to have produced any great works of art? Tale of Tales’ Michael Samyn doesn’t think so.

There’s precious little consensus to be had over the question of whether games are art or not, but that hasn’t stopped Samyn from pitching his tent in the “no” camp. Moreover, he says that a lot of the comments that people make about videogames’ artistic merits – such as how videogames are a young medium – don’t hold up under scrutiny. In Issue 291 of The Escapist, Samyn says that games have the potential to be art, but argues that that potential will remain unrealized until developers start embracing their responsibility to make them art.

Videogames clearly have potential; they just have not accepted their role as an art form yet. Gameplay is king in most videogames. To play them is to compete in a sort of digital sport. Graphics and sound have been added as polish and pretty packaging. Videogames are simply not created as works of art … Instead, videogames are manufactured as commodities produced to fulfill a certain need. Unlike other commercial media, what videogames are about is rarely significant. Their entire reason for existing is to provide fun to their customers.

This was probably acceptable in the early videogames era, when the harsh limitations of technology offered virtually no opportunity for games to be anything else, but now that videogames have developed a varied palette of expressive tools, things are different. The fact that the technology is capable of simulating living landscapes and convincingly representing human forms comes with a set of responsibilities, and generates understandable expectations.

When a medium can represent a soldier and it can recreate a theater of war, it needs to have something to say about this subject matter … The response of the games industry to this dilemma so far has been retreat. We minimize the importance of the story and draw attention to our cool mechanics and the fun our players are having. At the expense, of course, of cultural significance and expanding the audience … Instead of embracing the artistic potential of the medium, we have retreated into the comfortable zone of gaming.

Samyn makes a strong case, and even if you don’t agree with him, it’s always interesting to hear the other side of a discussion. To read more of Samyn’s thoughts about games, art and how to bring the two together, check out his article, “Almost Art.”

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