Opinion: video games as art? pt. 2

… As introduced, let’s continue where we left off last Sunday. (If you missed pt. 1, you can go back to it here)

So, we were talking about the video game Journey, and how it connects to the topic we are going to explore today: video games as a form of art. So, yes, I’m not just telling you that video games should be seen under a more positive lights by parents, but that they should also be considered as art.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 2011

If this ↑ was a digital painting by Pinco Pallino, the most famous digital artist in 2019, wouldn’t it be art?

Fe, 2018

What about this? Would you consider it beautiful enough to have it printed and hanged on the wall of your bedroom?

I actually would, is it just me?

Actually, the team of video game companies also include artists – the only difference is that they are ‘game artists’. They take care of the visual development of the game, and that means that they determine the graphics, colours, ambience, of the environment where the character is going to be.

The making of two characters in League of Legends, 2017 © Riot Games

This is usually done just like it was an animated movie: maybe starting with drafts made by hands, then transferring them on a computer and translating them into 3D models. But so many different techniques can be used: some games are 2D, with a retro-feeling, some others are iper-realistic, others again are more particular and made by independent developers. So, if video games actually have artists producing them, why are they not considered art?

Metro Exodus, 2019 – she’s a bit creepy, isn’t she?

Of course, there are also games that don’t look that good (especially when representing people, apparently they’re so difficult to render in video games). Once again, I find games to be quite similar to cinema, but with a ‘smaller’ audience: some of them have a horrible director, in others the screenplay doesn’t make sense, others again seem paintings, like Wes Anderson’s.

It is the same with video games: some of them have a good story, others are boring, others again touch the player because of the themes or the digital rendering. And you choose which game to play according to the genre you usually like, just like deciding which movie to watch. So why is cinema an art and video games are not? Is it because, with video games, your experience is influenced by your behaviour in the game? Is it because of interaction, one of the main components of video games which is not, on the other hand, present in other artistic mediums like fine art or cinema?

Still from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, 2018

This last statement can actually be pretty easily contested. Recently, the new episode of the famous TV series Black Mirror called Bandersnatch introduced in the world of media the concept of ‘interactive film’: the viewer engages in the story by taking decisions for the main character. Just like those video games that are, let’s say, less interactive than usual, where you cannot use your arrows to move the character but you can determine his/her decisions.

Rain Room at Yuz Museum, Shanghai © Virginia Bianchi

And fine art as well is becoming more and more interactive and is trying to let the public be not just an audience but also an important part of the artwork itself. I have to examples for this: first of all, the exhibition called Rain Room by Random International, which I have seen in Shanghai but that I know has been around the world for quite some time.

As you can see from the picture, it is a whole exhibition focused on this platform where rains. Thing is that thanks to special sensors, the rain stops on the head of the visitors, who can wander around, with rain pouring at 20cm from where they are standing. Here, the movement of the visitor has a central impact on how he lives the whole experience, the artwork itself wouldn’t have the same meaning if just observed from the outside.

teamLab Borderless © teamLab Inc
teamLab Borderless © Virginia Bianchi

Second example, another permanent exhibition that I know has had quite a lot of success as very ‘instagrammable’, realized by teamLab in what is now called the *inhales* Mori Building Digital Art Museum Epson teamLab Borderless *exhales* in Tokyo. ‘Borderless’ since the exhibits are not confined to their respective rooms, but they transition from one to another. There are many different rooms with different light effects, but most of them are interactive, they react to the audience and they are never repeated: it is not that they are on the loop, and the lights repeat themselves after a while, but their movement depends on audience participation through what is called ‘smart learning’. The technology used in this exhibition perhaps is not that connected to gaming in particular, but it is another instance of art defined by the collective and interactive experience of the audience.

This is just to say that the excuse that video games are not art because of interactive features is not an option. So why are video games so far from the general idea everyone has of art? I suppose that the answer is that it’s just because they have never been considered as such. Probably for the fact that they have been first developed as entertainment, and the focus on aesthetics came only later. But I want to think that it is possible to change how people perceive video games, and I want to try to make other see what I see when playing a game. A

Hope you enjoyed the second and last part of article, and feel free to leave your thoughts below!

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