Games as Fine Art? Is it possible?

Can video games ever become Fine Art? Is it even possible? I go into the details of what it would take to actually create something that could be considered fine art through the video game medium.

Over the last 15 years, the video game industry has grown exponentially. More people spend more money on video games with each passing year, and video games have become the largest digital entertainment venue. This is widely known. Games are fantastic at entertainment; however, can they ever be more than just entertainment? Some now consider certain films as Fine or High Art. Can and will video games ever reach this pinnacle? Or are games too much of a down and dirty medium?

What is Fine Art? I have a Bachelors of Fine Art, and to define what Fine Art means is subject to much interpretation and debate. Also, it is quite difficult to pin down, and instead of spending an hour on a single paragraph I went to the most credible source that exists!

“The word art can refer to several things: a study of creative skill, a process of using the creative skill, a product of the creative skill, or the audience's experience with the creative skill. The creative arts (art as discipline) are a collection of disciplines that produce artworks (art as objects) that are compelled by a personal drive (art as activity) and convey a message, mood, or symbolism for the viewer to interpret (art as experience). Art is something that stimulates an individual's thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas through the senses. Artworks can be explicitly made for this purpose or interpreted on the basis of images or objects.”

Actually, for this blog, this is a pretty useful definition! It speaks about skill, process, product, activity, and experience. These are key focal points to what makes good fine art. Using these definitive keywords let’s take a look at what it means to make a fine art video game.

One of the major components of the definition is at the end. “Art is something that stimulates an individual’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas through the senses.” The concept of the art video game should be one that has one specific goal in mind. It should create conversation, challenge people’s ideas and beliefs, and cater to the senses. Keep this in mind through each of the sections of the definition above explained below.

A study of creative skill. Understanding the word ‘study’ is key. In this case, I take this to mean attentive scrutiny. The game needs to be designed by a single person with the ultimate goal of creating an art video game piece. The game will require very specific attention by one person with one complete vision to every tiny detail. The entire idea of creating an art piece with a group’s vision is quite difficult, and will likely result in mediocrity. It will likely require several iterations, or several vertical slices of key components to refine them before the piece is completed. The overall process (separate from the process section that is next) of the development will resemble that of a classical artist such as a painter or sculptor who begins their work with sketches, and practices certain areas so as to get them just right, and then applies what they learned through study when executing the final piece.

A process of using the creative skill. While many artists in the Fine Art community do not commit to a certain process, there are certainly many who do. For those that do, the process itself is often what makes the art so interesting. This typically requires the artist to define a process before beginning their work. Many processes include gathering, sorting, patterning, and other activities. The process limits the work, or changes how it will be done to be significant and relative to the idea behind the piece. In a video game, this could mean countless things. But the point is to do the work in a way that is significant to the product. For example, the process of a game could be to only use found or appropriated art assets; a common application by many artists.

A product of the creative skill. One could easily very quickly point to the artists that make video games and say “they are creative; they make art products all the time!” However, this phrase “a product of creative skill” goes beyond simply creating 3D assets in Maya. This needs to be applied globally to the entirety of the game. Creative can also mean unique, new, or original. And in this case I think this is what it really means. The game itself must be something original, or a very fresh take on something that is not new. The creative skill behind any product should be exemplified throughout; this goes back to the “study of creative skill” section.

The audiences experience of the creative skill. Experience is a key component to every video game. This section represents the experience of the game being unique, new, and reflective of the artist’s skill. The experience of the product needs to completely reflect the vision. Through the study, and process the artist should ensure that the audience sees that every decision and action taken to create the art video game should reflect the idea behind its creation. The experience should be interesting, and create conversation about the art’s idea, theme, message, symbolism, and/or mood.

So, after a brief look at the key concepts of making an art video game we can get a glimpse of what it would require: One individual, with one vision of a game, who through strong commitment and resolve leads their team to create all of the assets while being completely directed by the artist. The game should be a study of creative skill, where the artist works out the kinks in the game to reflect his vision perfectly through “sketches” and iteration. The process of the game may or may not be a component of the vision, but the process should be seriously thought about before the game’s development. The product should reflect the practiced skill of the video game artist, whose vision is unique, and who works hard at their craft to make interesting art pieces as a career, not just a onetime art video game. Lastly, the experience should be attentively scrutinized so that every component is purposeful and reflects the vision of the artist.

So there, now we know what it takes. So, can it ever happen? Will it ever happen? Or even has it happened already? I will tell you now that just because a game is beautiful, and has its own conversational themes, and challenges your ideas does not make it a Fine Art piece. It is missing a key component, an artist. This may bring in another set of questions…Does Fine Art require an artist? Can Fine Art happen on accident? But, at this point, Fine Artists, critics, and teachers will immediately tell you that no, it hasn’t happened yet. They might even tell you it will never happen. Video games are entertainment, not art.

What will it take to breach this ceiling? Is the ceiling made of glass? Can video games even see the top floor? In my opinion it will take one person to do it first, to create the first snowball. And then another to do it again, which will get the snowball rolling. Eventually, there will be many video game artists. But that first person will need to be extraordinary. First, they have to find an amazing vision. They must come up with an idea that is worthy of being transformed into an art video game. Second, they must find funding. They must find somebody who is willing to give them a lot of money to create an art video game, with no promise of a return on their investment (Crowd-funding maybe?). Third, they must find a team of like-minded and incredibly talented individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to create their artist’s vision. Lastly, that artist has to get their piece into the eyes of artists worldwide and convince them that this video game is art, and is only art, and not entertainment. And then somebody has to do it again.

This is the reality of turning video games into art. Part of it is acceptance. Without that acceptance, then no-matter how awesome that art video game really is, it is still just entertainment. 

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