Video Games as Art

Mike Musgrove at the Washington Post’s @play column recently presented one of his colleagues, a book reviewer, with an X-Box 360 and the new shooter Bioshock to see how the book man would react to the sci-fi inspired game.

After playing a few levels of the game, the reviewer kept getting himself killed, stymied by his lack of familiarity with a video game controller.

Interestingly, the reviewer said he could see a lot of allusions to other works in the game’s plot, and thought it not too unreasonable that video games will become “more of a recognized art form.”

But was Bioshock art? The reviewer didn’t think so because it didn’t have the power to make him sad. Video games, he said, have the power to easily make a player feel powerful, “but would anybody play a game that makes him sad?”

Does art need to make a person sad? In other words, does it need to run the full gamut of emotions, or can it just play with a few?

It’s hard to answer, of course, because there is no definition of art. As many have pointed out over the years, one person’s art is another’s trash.

Personally, I don’t feel a lot of things when I read or experience art, other than a fascination with the craftsmanship. I marvel at the typesetting and wordplay of a novel (and guffaw at the errors I see, though I am not immune to the same errors!). I look at the complexity of a painting or try to find the classic influences present in a new song. Some call it intertextuality, but for me that weaving of sources together into a whole and the method of the weaving create art, not emotional effect per se.

That leaves me with another question though, regarding video games like Bioshock. In the word of Kipling’s devil, “It’s pretty, but is it art?”


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