Games As Art

Anna Anthropy, who I’ve been referencing far too much lately, posted about a discussion she attended on indie games. She mentions her irritation at Jason Rohrer, the artsy developer of “Passage” whom everyone loves to flame:

[he] kept steering the discussion back to roger ebert and the discussion of whether games “can be” art. jason rohrer clearly feels as though games need to be somehow legitimized by an outside force – that we need to prove to roger ebert that games are capable of being classified as art.

I find this question annoying. The answer to “can games be art” or “are games art” is yes, by any definition of the word “art.” I can express myself with games. Games can have messages. Great. Let’s move on and discuss games as art. It seems like those who ask if games can be art are actually asking permission from society. “Can you please call games art?” It reflects an essential immaturity and adolescence to the game-discussing community.

When an old man like Roger Ebert says games can’t be “high” art, many game-playing folk seem to feel the need to leap to the defense of digital games. Grown-ups don’t care if some random person says something they disagree with. But our infant medium, defended as it is by an army of teenagers both physical and mental, must be defended against slights like it’s a holy text.

By making games as good as we can make them, games will become better. More folks will recognize that games are valid means of artistic expression, sure, but that doesn’t really matter. We need to stop freaking out when someone says games can’t be art, and we need to stop freaking out when someone like Rohrer makes an artsy game that isn’t all that much fun. Neither of these will threaten digital games as we know them.

Anthropy paraphrases Ghandi in the title quote of her blog, “we must make the games we wish to play in the world.” And that’s true. If you want artsy games, make some. If you want entertaining-but-empty games, make some. And if you can’t make games, either learn how or support the folks who make games you like. Just don’t worry about how Joe Film-Critic or Jane Soccer-Mom feels about games. They’ll come around… or not. And that’s just fine.

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