Views From The Mainstream: Is The Video Game Art?

Is the video game art?

This is the new question that the scholarly men have been trying to answer for nigh on centuries now, their heads wobbly, glasses comically oversized. The patches on their sweaters: overbearing.

Today, once and for all, I will definitively answer this question.

Hello, my name is Jon ‘Jonno’ Johnson and video games have come a long way since the bleep-blop-bleeps of those dying embers, that flaxseed — binomial name Linum usitatissimum – it reminds me of that obnoxious scent, of the Pac-Man and his mission: consume. Consume the seeds, consume those pellets and overcome the oppressor. Eventually, upon death, you will consume yourself, such is the way of things in this cold, hard universe of things and objects that oscillate, vibrate and then quiver before the inevitability of death and oblivion.

What would Shakespeare say, if he were alive today? How would that perilously balanced titan of culture respond to these visual feasts we call 'video game'? Would he consume, like the Pac-Men, and become engorged on the fats of this millennial big mac of cultural betrayal? Would he become PAC-Speare, an engorged, yellow two-dimensional circle with a clumsily manicured beard? Would he rewrite his Sonnets with a WAKKA-WAKKA-WAKKA?

It’s impossible to say, but I’m willing to wager the answer is yes. If Shakespeare was alive today he would actually be a Pac-Man. A digital being, devoid of flesh and organs, lost in a maze of his own making, haunted as it were by the ghosts of his past.

Because the video games. The lure of the video games is strong. Like the chains that bind Poseidon himself, you will be dragged screaming into that whirling surf, dragged beneath the currents. You will worship at the feet of that new being, that source of infinite light: the pixel.

Those pixels, they dance. Watch as they dance and hypnotise the children in that tango of the damned.

Is this art? How can this possible be art. This Nintendo Box that would enslave us, that sub-conscious 12-headed harpie that would turn our children’s brains to mush and – worse – exhume Shakespeare's decaying skeleton and transform him into the Pac-Man.

These are the stakes. This is what we’re toying with: this is the Armageddon we beckon.

Is the video game the art?

I say nay. Verily I say nay. Can thou compare thee to the aural remedies of Bach that soothe and render us childlike before the music that titillates our earbuds like a celestial tickle-me-elmo?


Pray tell, dost that hell-fiend video game have a ditty that compares to those Sultans of Swing?


Tell me sweet reader, when will video games have its Citizen Brain? When will video games cut their collective ears off to create art that lives and breathes, art that inspires revolutionary orgasms in the loins of our youth?

I say never. But Uncharted 4’s alright.

My oldest son had a play of that earlier and my god the graphics are really good, isn’t it?

Video games have come a long way since Pac-Man. A long, long way.


    Someone needs to make a Shakespeare/Pac-Man shirt ASAP.

    Mark, I don't understand this Jon ‘Jonno’ Johnson thing :/

      he's trying to do satire?

        So any way there I was with a martini when the waitress screamed "Does anyone know CPR?"

        To which I yelled, "I know the entire alphabet!"

        And we all laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

        Well, except one guy.

      there's this guy named Jon 'Jonno' Johnson. he's a thoughtful & articulate fellow who writes about the video games. Kortako, being Jonno's favourite website about the video games, publishes what he writes.

      just go with it.

    Marks mental breakdowns are the best kind.

      Yeah, but I feel like we're giving positive reinforcement to something which might actually be a manifestation of some unhealthy inner turmoil.

    Art is something that only snobby wankers care about. And I'm not a snob.

      Art can be defined in many different ways: what exactly is the definition that you follow that designates art as exclusively existing for snobs or wankers?

      I personally love art in all of its forms, in movies, music, games, and the more traditional forms of visual art along the lines of paintings, sculptures and drawings. Not every painting is art, in the same way not every movie or game is art, but the only useful definition of what art is or isn't is up to the individual at hand. If my love for art of any kind designates me as a snob then I reserve the right to hold that as a title to wear proudly; I'd much rather love something than dismiss it entirely.

      Of course if you were writing a sarcastic and amusing comment that decrees you are not a snob and therefore above those that are snobs the humour is not lost on me, but regardless I think art gets a bad rap because some give it an elitist connotation that I personally don't think it deserves; street art, video games and sand castles all have the potential to be art in my eyes provided they aspire to (and of course achieve) more than tagging, Flappy Bird or those misshapen lumps of sand with bricks in them respectively which all strike me as more entertaining to the people that made them than the intended audience.

        I think he was writing a sarcasting and amusing comment that decrees that he is not a snob but IS actually a wanker.

        For a trivial joke from me, that got serious. But let's see if I can answer you seriously.

        A bit of my background: I come from what could be politely called lower class. Brickies, garbos, laborers and the like. We're a rough bunch but also a poor bunch. We made up for the shortage of money with hard work. It was a pride thing - we had nothing but our hard working ethic. That and the cheap booze to dull our perception our hard reality.

        At times we'd get hints of another life. Say in a newspaper or on TV. We'd see people throwing lots of money at this thing that they called "art". These upper class cunts had the free time and the money to throw at this art thing. An attitude expressed was: don't know what the art thing was but it was bullshit whatever it was. A slightly closed minded attitude.

        So it's not that I'm defining art - rather "art" was some obscure and inaccessible activity done by others (typically wealthy) that was seen as a waste of time and money by a poorer people struggling to make ends meet. It was a widely expressed view that artists were a bunch of dole bludgers or worse, and they should try working in a real job.

        That is, I guess that I'm more echoing the frustrations of the adults that I heard as a child rather than expressing an attitude of my own. Even so, after all this time I still consider the term "art" a slur and a put down. Thus I don't want to call games - that is something that I love - "art" because it comes with all that negative baggage that I picked up when I was young.

        You probably have a different definition of art from me. Something more functional that makes applying the term "art" to games acceptable. That's totally cool. having people seeing the world differently is great. I have almost no definition for what art is, just some stupid gut reaction to the label that I picked up without much thought on my part.

        These days I'm probably more middle class - that is if the term "class" makes sense anymore. But I still retain some of the old attitudes that I was born into. One of the funniest is that I sometimes feel guilty when playing games. Shouldn't I be doing some real work? Do I really _need_ to chop up another thousand zombies?

        Weirdly, I do enjoy things that people call art. This can result in me coming across as contradictory. It's a bit like the quote: erotica is what I enjoy, perversion is what you enjoy. My version of that is: if I enjoy it it's called "fun", when you enjoy it it's called "art".

        Sometimes I have no idea what shit is going on in my brain.

          I hear you mate. I really do.
          I had a similar upbringing and like you, since then my life has changed considerably. You could say I have "moved up in the world" and my views have changed with that. I can honestly say I do now appreciate art. Marrying an art teacher may have something to do with it but it’s also a change you get from scraping to put food on a table to having a decent disposable income.
          But all that said…
          No matter how far I come, how much I see or where I end up in life, l will always have in the back of my mind a rough voice that says... "Art is what wankers who don't work for a living stare at to make them feel better than everyone else."

          Nah, your perspective makes a lot of sense, I was kind of writing in jest as well, although I do feel quite strongly about art.

          To be honest I have issues with things like large government grants for art (that is to say traditional art forms like painting, sculpture etc. but other forms too) as well, there are a lot of more important things that could see a little more money going towards them, but government spending (and indeed the public's) is so far off from what I think are the more important things clamoring for funding (health, remote/ rural communities, science etc.) that frankly I'm happy to see funding going towards arts so long as less is going to things that strike me as even less important (there's a great deal of things that fall into that category, basically imagine the opposite of that which is listed above).

    Keep 'em coming, Jonno.
    Your riffing inspires revolutionary orgasms in the loins of our youth.

    This is the most logical and well thought out article on the "Are games art?" debate I've read yet. Jonno my boy, you've made me see the reality hiding behind that amalgam of the red, blue and green light that gives us vision into the hellish landscape masquerading as a stimulant of the soul they call vidja games. I too now long for the sweet tones of the Celestial Tickle-Me-Elmo.

    Most honest piece of video game critique I've ever read

    art is the creator trying to convey a message - literal or emotional - via their chosen medium.
    the success of an artistic work is determined by how successful it is at conveying its message & it's separate from 'entertainment.' a fun game is entertainment, but its not necessarily art.

    some games are art. some aren't. some are entertaining. some are both. some are neither (i'm looking at you, Colonial Marines)

    Call of Duty isn't art. but it can be entertaining (if thats your thing)
    Spec Ops : The Line is art. but it's too crushing to be 'entertaining'
    Mario isn't art, but its entertaining.
    Ori and the Blind Forest is art. and it's entertaining.
    The Stanley Parable is art & entertaining.
    To the Moon is art & entertaining (in a heartbreaking way)
    Everybody's gone to the rapture is art, but not particularly entertaining.

    entertainment is subjective based on the audiences' perspective, of course.
    art is, oddly enough, less subjective. art is about intent. whether or not you agree with the artists message isnt the point. the point is did you hear the artist's message. if you didnt, it's bad art. if there wasnt a message, it wasnt art. if you got the message &, even if you hated what it was saying but it got you to think about it for a minute, then its art and good art.

    "is games art" is a dumb question. or at least it's too vague to be meaningful.
    each game has to be taken on its own merits.
    & to argue against the 'games are art' question by citing Call of Duty is missing the point.
    to argue for the game are art question by only citing Shadow of the Colossus & Okami is also missing the point.

    "Painting" is is not art. fuck, i've painted walls. thats not art. art is not the medium. art is the individual work.

    tl;dr there's your goddamn answer to the 'are games art' question.

      Been holding that in for a while?
      Seriously though, you're right. There is no debate to be had, and each "piece" needs to be judged on its own merits.

        haha, nah. not been keeping that bottled up. just stating opinion & i've got a dumb way of writing that always comes across as shouty & ranty :p

          Well, I've been holding something similar in and you said more or less exactly what I would have, so good job.

          Describes me just talking normally, so my writing is at least this bad.

      If the person that made it says it's art, it's art. That's pretty much it.

        pretty much. the quality or effectiveness of the art is a separate question entirely though :p

      I don't think you can strike a line through any particular game or games and say "that one's not art" while "those other ones over there ARE art". As far as I'm concerned, they'll all creative endeavours and are thus all art. They all have people designing gameplay and creating graphics and audio and music and acting etc etc. All of these aspects are art. There's a question over how well or how badly it's executed, but it's still art.

      I guess what I'm saying is that you can certainly make a very strong argument that Aliens: Colonial Marines or COD (or whatever) is BAD art, but it's much harder to make an argument that it isn't art at all.

        I'm making a distinction between artistic intent & entertainment intent. they're not mutually exclusive by any means, but i do belive they're distinct.

    *stares angrily*





    You know a lot of gaming narratives actually just boil down to West Side Story's plot anyway.

      you mean Romeo & Juliet, right?

        you mean Pyramus and Thisbe, right?

          yeah, but that was based on the Neolithic era tragedy of Ugg & Grrrrrrr.

    I've worked on the arts for a long time. There is a lot of shit art out there. There are a lot of shit video games too. Making a good one is an art.

    TLDR - No. But elements of them can definitely be considered art. Taken as a whole - nearly every element of a video game, the visuals, the audio, the story, the overarching themes - that can be art. The actual act of "playing" the game though. No. No more than playing Monopoly, NRL or reading a book can be called art. By society's current definitions. Sure there can be an art involved in skilfully passing the ball, or trading carefully, even in the deft flick of the dice - but the rote, structured binary x's and o's required to complete a game of football, monopoly or Bioshock Infinite - the NEED for the viewer/participant to basically manipulate the goods - without which you have 22 people staring at a ball, or a static character amongst a living backdrop.

    TLTLDR - Art is something that you can enjoy flat on your back, possibly with your head tilted, mute, no arms or legs required. And shouldn't punish you when you're very, very drunk.

    I've always wondered why people - the us people, we the gamers - care so much about whether or not the video game is art.
    Like, you know what else is apparently art? Pretending to be a defecating anus with your face, or stuffing spaghetti into your vagina while you spout obscenities like you're in need of an exorcism.
    (I'm not linking either of those videos)

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