(Part 1 of 2)
Art isn't a Crime, Creative Commons Copyright by natashalcd
There is perhaps nothing quite as likely to initiate yawning and eye-rolling amongst game developers as the question: are games art? Yet the question keeps returning and it is one upon which the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has taken a strong position, arguing in its anti-censorship talking points that “Video games are emerging as the leading art form of the 21st century” and emphasizing that “Digital games are an expressive medium worthy of the same respect, and protections, as movies, literature and other forms of art and entertainment.”
The IGDA’s position, however, does not seem to be shared by a significant number of developers, many of whom prefer simply to avoid the question or to maintain that it isn’t relevant to the real work of game design. For example, in a Washington Post article, Ken Levine, lead designer of BioShock, when asked whether games are art, replies that “he doesn’t spend much time thinking about the art question.” He goes on to say, “I don’t know, and I guess I sort of don’t care. . . All I care about is, does it work—does it have an impact on an audience?” (F2). Other developers have reacted more strongly. John Carmack maintained in 2002 that “We’re doing entertainment. Saying it’s art is a kind of sophistry from people who want to aggrandize our industry” (quoted in Au); a point of view he reiterated in his keynote address at the 2004 Game Developers Conference (McNamara). Carmack’s view, in particular seems to represent a more widespread attitude among developers and gamers (google Carmack’s “sophistry” statement, for example, and you’ll find it quoted approvingly in a number of gaming forum discussions).
These expressions of impatience and hostility, and even the more benign sentiment that the question is irrelevant, are based in large part on several fundamental misconceptions about the differences between art and non-art. While the misconceptions are widespread amongst members of the public and even artists themselves, the distinctions they embody bear little resemblance to actual artistic practice either historically or in the present day. By focusing on the most common misconceptions I want to highlight what is at stake for game development in trying to fit in with the popular (mis)understanding of the nature of art as well as the dangers inherent in refusing a more active role in helping shape cultural perceptions of art in a way that would include games. (more…)