'Matthew Wasteland' of Magical Wasteland has a thought provoking essay up over at GameSetWatch on how we think of games as art — and why it may not work, or what our current limitations are. His opinion is the more we think about this stuff, the more we can work on overcoming current problems — certainly not an unreasonable point of view. My favourite section was on the problem of 'systems as art' (his example is a little gem called The Marriage, which is lacking in context to say the least) — a pretty nice critique of some of the intentionally 'artistic' games that seek to 'rise above' the entertaining masses:
Distancing the work from the "entertainment" of popular games is fine, but even the most artsy, obscure and difficult works must connect with an audience somehow. I am not sure a system of rules by itself is the best method to achieve that. If rules are art, could not one just as easily publish a rulebook, and leave it at that?
None of this is to say that a system of rules cannot be of artful construction. I have no doubt that, if we wished it and worked for it, we could at some point have departments at forward-thinking arts colleges devoted to the creation of not-very-representational rule systems as art. This might make some of us feel better about ourselves-- that there is a recognised, serious side to our medium.
But I can't help but think something like that would be a Pyrrhic victory, with "art games" sharing space in an airless pantheon next to twelve-tone music or hypertext novellas while the rest of the world goes on listening to primordial melodies and timeworn stories reinvented in the style of the day.
Zing! I think there are definitely 'arty' games out there that are compelling, but there's plenty of crap masquerading under the guise of 'art' as well ('Oh, heaven forbid we should be entertaining!'). I'm a bit tired of the 'games of art' debate, but this is a different tack on the issue — there are already a couple of good comments, too, and I'm hoping to see more of those. I have my own suspicions on what future historians of the game industry will have to say about the 'art' status debate, decades down the line, but we'll have to wait a while for that.
Tell Me What Art Is, and I'll Tell You What Games Are [GameSetWatch]