Game Art revisited

Today I went down to the so-called “Entertainment District” to get a burrito for lunch and do a little bit of media shopping. Eating my large steak burrito (everything on it, no guacamole, light on the jalapenos) I browsed through a copy of Toronto’s free paper “Now”. In it was an article about The Fine Art of Video Games, which focused on two game-related art shows in the city: Microsoft’s PR-laden Play: The Art of Xbox 360 and the more conceptual Controller: Artists Crack the Game Code (which, unfortunately, I have never heard of until today. It closed on Saturday. Fuck. I would have enjoyed that one).

According to Horgan, hardcore gamers feel offended that artists want to add an extra level of commentary. Games by people like Davie of Project Gotham, they say, already are art.

Offended by an extra level of commentary? That’s a dubious claim. A claim that is dependent on how one defines a “hardcore gamer.” Their definition seems at odds with the “hardcore” that I encounter everyday on the internet and off of it. That group of gamers doesn’t judge a game solely by its entertainment value. That group has long, hard wrought discussions and arguments about the nature of interactivity and narrative and play. That group looks for those extra levels of meanings in games, even if the creators never intended any. Indeed, it takes those kinds of hardcore gamers to create a show like “Controller” in the first place.

I folded up the burrito-juice stained newspaper and headed down to Chapters, where I purchased that Will Wright editted issue of Wired and a copy of the I Am 8-Bit exhibit book. Then I realized just how common it is all becoming.

The night before, LifeMeter Comics came up in conversation; GameSetWatch is doing a comic series of their own about Nintendo characters past their prime called The Multicart Project; and the local Microplay store — not my favourite of the local gamestores — is going to have its very own exhibit of art inspired by coin-op classics, as mentioned on Clickable Culture .

Artcade show pamphlet

It’s already there. It doesn’t matter if Hideo Kojima doesn’t think games are art and says art is the stuff you find in the museum, whether it be a painting or a statue. The organizers of the “Controller” exhibit have already contradicted his statement by showcasing their work in a gallery. They have already turned classic games, like Super Mario Bros., into art (mario_battle_no.1) and into something entirely different in the same manner that LHOOQ turned a classic painting into its own distinct work of art.

When Microsoft prints out some renders on giclee, frames them, hangs them in a gallery, and then advertises their product with them — how some people in the industry regard “game art” — they do a disservice to the whole debate. There’s no context to it; it’s just style.

It doesn’t matter whether the games of yore are art or were art. What matters is that there exists an entire generation of artists that grew up with them and continues to live with them. An entire generation defined by them. In their eyes, those games that resonate aren’t just mindless entertainment, they’re mythology. Instead of Heracles and Icarus and Pegasus, there’s Mario and Pit and Sonic. In the same way that the old myths inspired generations and generations of art, these new pixel mythologies are inspiring a new generation of art. So when you talk about whether games are art or not, don’t look at the polygons and the pixels and the vectors, look at their impact, what they say and what they mean to people.

That’s what makes game art. Not renders and sprites, but artists’ interpretations of them; their reworking of the systems and rules of games; and their use of interactivity to make a statement. The Now article mentioned two video game fine art shows — I count one.

Modal image