What Is “Games as Art”? [Definition; Meaning]

Most people will accept that some forms of the entertainment industry also count as “art” in the traditional sense of the word. This goes beyond paintings and sculptures to include novels, musical pieces, scripts, and even movies as forms of art. But what about video games? Video games are the newest creative arrival to the entertainment industry and have a lot in common with these other forms of art. They have intricate stories, beautiful images, and musical scores.

Since the 1980s, there has been a debate about whether or not to classify video games as a form of art. This isn’t to be confused with art WITHIN video games, like the character designs, backgrounds, or soundtracks. Games as art means that the entire game itself is a form of artwork, a creative expression by the person who made it. What exactly do we mean by that? When referring to games as art, there are three main points we are going to explore to explain the “games as art” concept. The first is a look into art games, the second empathy games, and finally a general look at how far video games have come as an art form.

So if you have been wondering just what “games as art” means, read on to learn more!


Art Games

Art games are a subgenre of video game where the point of the game is to highlight the making of or use of art within the game or make the player feel specific emotions. Art games are different from usual “serious” video games that are focused on combat, story, levelling up, etcetera. Art games often have unconventional and unique looks to them that set them apart from other video games and are regularly praised for their aesthetic beauty. Art games are one of the best ways to understand games as art because they have expressed purpose in showing how video games can become artwork.

Flower

  • System: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Microsoft Windows
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Annapurna Interactive
  • Developer: Thatgamecompany
  • Release Dates: Feb. 12th, 2009

Flower was created by a team of developers that felt that many video games were not making players feel as many emotions as they could. They decided to make a game that removed any gameplay elements that didn’t contribute to the player’s emotional experience they wanted them to have (in the case of Flower, only positive feelings) and created the game. In Flower, you control a flower petal being blown by the wind by moving the controller. Flying close to other flowers can make more petals follow you, and you can power windmills and bring life back to dead fields. There are no enemies, health points, or time limits. Flower is simply made for players to experience positive emotions and enjoy the music and colours in the game. Flower went on to be showcased in the Smithsonian Museum in a video game art exhibition in 2012.

Flower Trailer

Empathy Games

While it’s easy to talk about games as art when it comes to their graphics and music, another kind of video game has also been argued as art - empathy games. These video games are focused on making the player have a truly emotional experience while playing. Empathy games often deal with difficult social topics, such as sexuality, illness, and poverty. Empathy video games are seen as a form of art in a less understandable and tangible way than other aesthetically “beautiful” games, but their emotional storytelling and experience for the players is seen as a form of art all the same.

Papo & Yo

  • System: PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux
  • Publisher: Minority Media Inc.
  • Developer: Minority Media Inc.
  • Release Dates: Aug. 14th, 2012

One of the most recent empathy games made is called Papo & Yo. In the game, players step into the shoes of a young Brazilian boy named Quico who is running from an alcoholic and abusive father. Quico ends up in a dream-like favela, a low-income Brazilian neighbourhood neglected by the government, after touching strange chalk drawings on the wall of his closet. There he meets a creature simply known as Monster who is normally playful and docile but can easily become enraged and destructive. Papo & Yo is an emotional roller coaster ride through the dream-like favela where sacrifices must be made for the greater good, and flashbacks to Quico’s abused past. Players experience a range of emotions from happiness and accomplishment to sadness and confusion as the full story of Quico and Monster unfolds.

Papo & Yo Launch Trailer

Games as a Form of Art

As technology continues to improve every year, video games become more and more complex - and more and more beautiful. Game designers are able to make more intricate backgrounds, better soundtracks, and deeper stories. This lends more weight to the argument that games should be considered as artwork the same as other forms of media are. More and more, games that release make use of these incredible graphics and music to give us something truly moving, and truly beautiful. Not all gamers even notice because it is so usual now, but it’s part of what makes video games what they are today.

Okami

  • System: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Wii
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Clover Studio
  • Release Dates: Apr. 20th, 2006 (initial)

Okami blends traditional Japanese art and video game graphics into one aesthetically pleasing game, and even uses art to help tell the game’s story. You play as Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun in the form of a white wolf with red markings. A demon named Orochi is terrorising the land after escaping from where he had been imprisoned. It’s up to Amaterasu and a tiny artist called Issun to clear Orochi’s curse and restore the land to what it once was. Okami looks like an animated Japanese ink illustration. The Celestial Brush is a unique gameplay feature that allows the player to draw symbols on an on-screen canvas that can control elements of the game. The Celestial Brush is used for combat, puzzles, and in usual gameplay. Okami uses traditional art in a new way to tell its story, create its gameplay, and express a beautifully rendered final video game.

Okami HD Trailer


Final Thoughts

The phrase “games as art” has been coming up more and more, whether in a debate about what limitations games should have, what recognition they should get, how they should be treated by the art world, and more. We hope that now you feel more equipped to join these discussions yourself now that you understand what the phrase “games as art” means. Regardless of how you feel about the classification, it’s an ongoing point of discussion in the gaming world. And now you can engage and be a part of it with an understanding of what everyone’s talking about!

Do you feel like you understand the “games as art” phrase better now? What other phrases or terms from the gaming world would you like to see explained in a similar article? Do you have any other questions about games as art? Drop us a comment below!

Flower-game-432x500 What Is “Games as Art”? [Definition; Meaning]

Writer

Author: Jet Nebula

Living the dream in Tokyo, where you can find me working at a theme café catered towards women. When I’m not writing for Honey’s, I’m working on original dystopian science fiction or blogging about Tokyo’s trendy coffee scene. I spend my free time in Harajuku and Shibuya wearing alternative Japanese street fashion. I love video games, J-rock, tattoos, and Star Wars.

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