What Makes A Game Art?

Posted on Jan 25, 2013

I saw Indie Game: The Movie recently and the deference it paid to Super Meat Boy developer Edmund McMillan turned my stomach. He makes vague references to how his games explore daydreams he had as a child while being teased in school, about drawing monsters that would fly into space because, in a way, that’s what he wanted to do. And it’s just gaseous, it’s infantile. As a grown man - even as an ex-bullying victim - I’m not interested in these breathy, childish whimsies. They aren’t special, they aren’t beautiful - they’re certainly not art. And they don’t mean anything. Some of the drawings in Super Meat Boy pertain to a sense of alienation one of the developers felt as a kid. And? You need more than that.

That is a quote from an article written by Edward Smith for International Business Times here.

What then, Mr. Smith, constitutes art in video games? Do enlighten me. Instead of dismissing Edmund McMillan’s person connection to his work why don’t you give me an example of a game that you consider to be art? The only opinion I can find in your piece is that you think video games don’t compare to the likes of Orwell or Proust. The very idea is silly.

Your writing can barely hold a point let alone level a solid criticism. First you compare video games to literature (a medium of art with hundreds of years of development) and then you fail to say anything meaningful in the paragraphs that follow. Your thought process continues to shamble from the flame-bait premise to some sort of weak conclusion that cannot seem to make up its mind.

So what is it? Are games art? Do indie games not deserve the praise they receive because they cannot be compared to the likes of Ray Bradbury? What constitutes ‘significant’ and what kind of stories should games be telling? Should we go easy with the criticisms of AAA-titles?

I think the only stories we can tell in any medium are the personal ones. Not every story is going to be The End of the Affair. Sometimes they are going to be about the childhood fantasies of the developer. What is insignificant about a creator pouring their honest feelings and recollections into their work? Did Monet realize the significance of his work before he set about creating it? Would it have been as significant if he thought of his ambitions before picking up the brush?

You have conflated “indie game,” with “art game,” all on your own. There are far more independent developers releasing games than there are games which the majority of people would consider, “art.” For every Braid there are a hundred other games all clamoring for our attention. Few deserve it and the ones that stand out deserve all the acclaim and criticism they get.

It is true that games as a medium for art is still in its infancy. However that doesn’t mean they have no merit. The first paintings were not made by Davinci but those drawings on the cave walls were certainly worth appreciating in their time. Someone out there thought Edmund McMillan’s work is art and that is all that matters.