People Argued About Art Long Before Videogames


Are games art? That’s a tricky question to answer, but one thing is clear: philosophers are no help at all.

Some people fervently believe that games are art, others are vehement that they aren’t, and more besides don’t care either way as long as they’re still fun. But videogames are just the latest entrant in the “What is Art?” contest, and in Issue 275 of The Escapist, Robert Yang says that people have been disagreeing about art for years.

Many [ancient] philosophers weren’t satisfied with [the] idea of beauty founded on rigid principles of harmony and such. They coined a “sublime” separate from beauty. This “sublime” was more about witnessing overwhelming profoundness, admitting that it’s beyond your puny human ability to comprehend it; as if you’re looking down at Earth from orbit, or watching a nuclear bomb explode. It isn’t necessarily indicative of anything, good or bad, tasteful or disgusting, etc. (Some philosophers also tried to distinguish between different kinds of this “awe,” between weak awe and strong awe, and so forth.)

Some might argue that there is no longer any single value like “beauty” or “truth” or “sublime” to unify art today. Which isn’t bad; in trying to conform to any single value like that, perhaps the artist is actually stifling their own expression … Then there’s a whole tradition of aesthetics arguing that art isn’t necessarily beautiful or sublime or dead – that art can be practical and useful as a tool.

You might dismiss such “art” as surprisingly decent state-sponsored propaganda, poorly designed and thinly veiled advertisements, or the common groan-inducing movie tie-in game with short scenes from the film as unlockable “extras.” … But no, those are corrupt commercial applications of art and bad examples of art as a tool, argues Marxist aesthetics. Most art has been co-opted by the powerful to keep the powerless in a state of constant distraction – this art, along with culture, political institutions and religion (“opiate of the masses”) forms the “superstructure” that keeps the powerless in a state of “false consciousness.”

Yang demonstrates that what art should be is entirely subjective, but not before sharing his own thoughts on the subject. You can read more about it in part three of his series, “The Philosphy of Game Design.”

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