Art De Triomphe: Video games gaining a foothold in the art world

Video games have long been the black sheep of a store’s electronics section, shunned by shoppers who opt for cinema and musical compositions because, well, they are just games. To some, video games are simply entertainment, whereas movies and music have transcended this title and earned the exclusive, more enlightened title of art.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert has been outspoken against considering video games as art for years because a game eventually boils down to “a representation of a story, a novel, a play, [a] dance, a film”; a traditional art form. Tom Bissell, writer and critic, disagreed with Ebert in an interview with Salon by claiming, “He’s actually asking the wrong question. The question is not,

‘Are video games art?’ The question is, ‘Can artists express themselves through the video game medium?’”

While this is a valid argument, it is still difficult to make when some games allow players to simulate shooting people, or killing and destroying using other creatively cruel methods. Movies and music can only supply such thoughts. So it stands to reason that the interactive aspect may be at fault here. But what if someone watches a friend play a video game? Here, he would essentially be a viewer of his friend’s movie. This creation and absorption of a completely unique experience, along with the emotional response it provokes, would certainly seem to meet most art qualifications.

John Gnuechtel, studio artist manager for Champaign-based video game developer Volition, Inc., said that he thinks the interactive aspect of video games is partially why some people do not define them as art in contrast to media like movies or music. He added that another potential problem is the fact that games are part of a sales-driven business. “At the end of the day, it is a product being made for mass consumption. That’s where a lot of people get hung up.”

Many respected organizations also oppose Ebert’s view on the subject. In 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency, began supplying grants to video games. The agency supplies grants “to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the

benefit of individuals and communities,” suggesting that it now finds video games to possess these characteristics. Beginning March 16, 2012, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will begin a six-month exhibition titled “The Art of Video Games.” It will “explore the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects, the creative use of new technologies and the most influential artists and designers.”