Art Fag City at The L Magazine: Are Video Games Art?

by Will Brand on December 5, 2012 · 5 comments The L Magazine

EVE Online. Screenshot courtesy of MoMA (what?).

This week at The L Magazine, I finally end the discussion of whether video games are art by declaring: “Yeah, sure, okay.” Have something to add? Too late. But more importantly: why’s it such a big deal? Here’s a taste:

With that said, I do wonder what good it does to triumphantly declare video games “art” in the first place. “Art” is a word we say when looking at something to indicate to others that it’s especially worth looking at, as a sort of token of attention. This is useful because the primary goal of most contemporary art wasn’t to get your attention in the first place; the artist who made the work was too busy interviewing rape victims in Ecuador and splicing together their responses with magazine covers from the 1980s, or whatever, to make everything shiny and accessible for the viewer. Video games are in the opposite situation: they’re crafted from the beginning to capture and hold the player, and because of that their more creative elements get noticed without needing to be noticed as art.

So let’s give it a break, shall we? Not all good things need to be art, any more than all art needs to be good. Not all things we could call ‘art’ would benefit from the label, because many things—video games, babies, pancakes—do not need the hagiographies, physical conservation, and endless cocktail parties the “art” label can provide. People who think video games are for kids are the same middlebrow assholes who point out wrestling’s fake, and we don’t need to win their love by appropriating words like “art” that middlebrow assholes respect. Can video games be art? Sure, why not, if you’re gonna make a big thing about it. Can they be design? Absolutely. But aren’t they more interesting as games?

If you click these glowing words you can read more stuff like that.


Donald Frazell December 6, 2012 at 12:39 am

There are many forms of art, English is a limited language and doesn’t cover alot, especially the word art. Applied arts, fine art, arts and crafts, decorative, and now digital as well as popular, street and . Problem is, the Art Academies want to pretend there is only one, and we cannot define anything because that would interfere with selling degrees to throngs of untalented but eagers marks, er, students.

it is so cool to be mistaken as a creative artist, one that lasts because one deals with universal truths and actually once in awhile can communicate them through the visual language, while having absolutely no idea what that means as it isn’t taught in art academies.
But its sooooo cooooool to pretend to be.

So the answer is yes, its illustration which is, dingdingding, a form of art.

James Case-Leal December 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm

“rape victims in Ecuador ” strikes me as a questionable example. My hair always raises when the ‘rape’ word gets thrown around glibly – adding a marginalized national identity doesnt help either. It creates a distraction from your point. just a note toward more responsible (and better) writing.

Will Brand December 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

That reference has nothing to do with rape or Ecuador and everything to do with contemporary art’s habit of picking a serious thing and a faraway place and applying the barest of aesthetic veneer to make it an art thing. If I didn’t pick ‘rape’ and ‘Ecuador’, I’d have had to pick something equally bad but perhaps not distracting to you in particular: extreme poverty in Brazil (Vik Muniz), public health failures in Pennsylvania (Latoya Ruby Frazier), poisoned water in rural Mexico (Julie Combal), racism (Walker), sexism (Ivekovic), or any number of other things that snap the moral heart to attention. I had to choose a bad thing to evoke a body of work built out of bad things, and I addressed it glibly because that is my reaction to that body of work—not to rape, not to poverty, not to racism or sexism, but to that body of work. I’m sorry I chose your least favorite bad thing.

James Case-Leal December 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I get what you’re doing, im just commenting that the specific examples in your response are much more clear to your point. I’ve never heard of art about rape in ecuador… so was confused. Santiago Sierra prolly comes close. is that who you’re referring to? who knows. but why be vague? its no big deal though. Im certainly being pedantic, but not trying to give you a hard time. Many men are unaware that casual mention of rape strikes some as insensitive. Im sure thats not what you intended. you give notes, we give notes. otherwise an ok post.

Will Brand December 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm

It’s a good point that I could’ve picked an actual example and used that to get a better effect with less offense. I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks for the feedback!

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