Editor's note: Wait, wait, wait: Before roll your eyes at another "games as art" story, take a moment to read Stephen's intro. He's tackling the subject from a fresh — and light-hearted — perspective. You may even learn something new. -Brett
I recently had a conversation with two good friends of mine, Anders and Hallie, on the well-worn topic of games as art. Neither of them are particularly invested in video games, but they still had plenty to say. Since most of us are so intimately wrapped up in gaming, I thought it'd be a good idea to expand that conversation into a formal interview and find out what non-hardcore gamers think about the subject. The resulting funny and revealing exchange should interest even the most jaded critic. Please do enjoy.
(Note: Hallie repeatedly refers to Anders as Claudia throughout the interview. Don’t pay attention to that.)
Stephen: Alright, let's get started with the main question: Do you see games as art, and if so, why? Let's start with Anders, since he tried to articulate it earlier.
Anders: I consider it an art because of the amount of creativity that is put into both the storylines and the artwork of the games.
Hallie: I agree with Claudia. The same way movies are considered art, games should as well. Games can't really be considered anything but art, in my opinion.
Hallie: What? I agreed!
Stephen: Alright, let's elaborate then. Do you think that the same amount of effort and hard work is put into making games as painting a painting or writing a novel?
Hallie: No, I think more work is put into a game. With games you combine both writing and art, and not only that, but there's shitloads of programming as well. As a matter of effort… an artist can work on a painting for years, so there's the same dedication in both cases — just more work when it comes to games.
Anders: Hmm. I would say so. A lot of work is required from a lot of people to put together a decent game. Writers, animators, and programmers all have to work together for the game to work. I agree with Hallie: It's actually more work put into games, in many cases.
Stephen: Alright then, another topic related to that: Could you see games being held in the same esteem as paintings and literature at some stage in the future?
Anders: Yes. Judging by the amount of people playing games today, games will reach that level of esteem very soon, if it hasn't already.
Hallie: Hm, let me see. Well, yeah, I have to agree with what Anders said. Actually, a few games are already held in almost the same esteem as art already.
Take Heavy Rain for example. It's considered to be both beautifully made and kind of unique in its design. I’d say it's kind of considered an art piece. Maybe not outside the "world of gamers," but still.
Stephen: In society at large, could you see art critics holding games like Heavy Rain in the same esteem as the recently released movie Inception and famous pieces of modern literature?
Anders: I could. Like movies have become a branch of art, so will games.
Oh yeah, another part of games is of course the soundtracks. That's something I think already is considered art. I mean, there are concerts all over the world playing Final Fantasy soundtracks, for example.
Stephen: Exactly what I was about to ask about. My next question is: Do you see the music that you hear in games ever becoming as mainstream as music made by artists like Lady Gaga? We have numerous geniuses like Nobuo Uematsu creating orchestral scores for games like Final Fantasy, but it's not mainstream, per se.
Anders: It could happen, but I'm not too sure.
Hallie: That depends. Not all game developers work much on the music. Some go for repetitive electronic music that can play over and over with the player barely noticing. Others go for really epic creations. But yeah, maybe. It all depends on what path they take when it comes to soundtracks.
But hey, isn't the Super Mario soundtrack more well-known than even Lady Gaga? That's a start, right? Seriously though, a lot of movies have recently started using songs by really famous artists as ending songs, for example. I don't see any reason for the game industry not to try this — to try and create a super hit song that is directly tied to the game.
Stephen: Well, Final Fantasy 13 had Leona Lewis performing one of her songs as the trailer theme. "My Hands," I believe it was called. It wasn't universally renowned by any means, but do you think it’s a start?
Hallie: Well, yeah, I think it's a start. It's at least kind of an attempt to do what the movie industry has been doing for a long time.
Personally, I think that Leona Lewis is a bad choice. I mean, she made that song for Avatar, and when you point that out everyone says, "What song from Avatar?" If they go in for it more like the Bond movies, where the songs can reach through to a much bigger audience, I don't think they'd have a problem getting lots of hits out there.
Oh my God! They have to convince Lady Gaga to make a theme song for The Force Unleashed 2! That would be so epic! Everyone would be so pissed off that the song became super well-known just because of that fact! "This beat is sick, I wanna take a ride on your disco… force? Saber?" Or maybe "Don't call my name, I'm not your babe, Darth Vader."
Stephen: Err…I don't think George Lucas would approve. Anders, any opinion?
Hallie: He's not into music unless they have awesome dancers.
Hallie: "I'm in looove with the Dark Side! Even though it hurts, but I don't care, if I lose myself, I'm already marked." Aaaanyway, we should probably move on.
Head to page 2 for the thrilling conclusion!
Stephen: What song is that referencing?
Anders: "Fairytale" [Norway’s entry to the 2009 Eurovision contest].
Stephen: Anyway, keeping with the theme: Do you think that graphics alone could allow a game to be considered art? You mentioned Heavy Rain, which is a fantastic-looking game. Do you think that would allow it to be deemed art without taking in any other factors?
Hallie: Sure thing. Isn't Final Fantasy a case of that? In the sci-fi bookstore they sell Final Fantasy art books, for example. That, if anything, should prove that the graphics alone are considered art.
Anders: I'm not too sure about this. As a game, I think it needs more than just the graphics to be considered art in the game genre.
Hallie: But it all depends. I think most buyers of those art books are dedicated gamers. However, if game-related art books were placed in the shop at an art museum, I think it's quite possible that a lot of visitors would buy them.
And yeah, exactly, Anders. To be considered art in the game genre is one thing; to be considered art by high-culture snobs that hiss as soon as they see a video-game store is another thing.
Stephen: Well, Final Fantasy 13 is another stunning game, but it is berated for not coming together. It may be considered a type of art for looking amazing, but the rest of the game doesn't add up to what could be considered video-game art.
Hallie: Yeah, so it depends on what you want to answer: art from the point of view of game-hating, high-culture-obsessed twits, or art from the point of view of people that take the whole game into consideration?
Stephen: I suppose that's true. Keeping with the graphics topic: Anders, you've said to me before that you'd like to get into technical design, whether it be in movies or in games. Do you think that games can go too far from a graphics point of view, leaving the rest of the game behind?
Anders: Sure, some game companies can choose to push graphics up to target people who mainly looks at graphics when choosing games. But they can also do the opposite, or just make an overall good game. All depends on the people they choose to target.
Hallie: I'd say the best option out of that probably would be to make an awesome game with okay graphics, as I think there are more people out there that would buy a game with crappy graphics that otherwise is awesome rather than a game where the graphics are great but most other things about it suck.
Stephen: So you would think that gameplay should take precedence over a game's look?
Anders: If they can't do both, yes.
Hallie: Yeah. A lot of games with kind-of-crappy graphics have become really popular, just because the rest of the game is great. I'd prefer having them making games with good graphics and good gameplay, though.
Stephen: Alright, that's great. On to something else to do with the theme then: The Smithsonian Museum recently announced a gaming exhibition, while Roger Ebert has made and since retracted a statement saying that games will never be art. One is pushing gaming further, the other trying to hold it back, if you will. Do you think we need more high-profile opinions on both sides, or do you think it should be up to the consumer to decide whether something is art?
Hallie: I don't think it would hurt if more people decided to speak up.
Stephen: Like people there specifically to fight the "games are art" war?
Hallie: Kind of. The bigger deal people make out of it, the more people will notice the debate, and the more people might actually think about the matter. But meh, it's all up to the individual to decide what he or she thinks.
Hallie: Bwaha, I have defeated Claudia's willpower with my Jedi mind tricks! He'll agree to any opinion I state.
Stephen: And with that, we’ll finish up. Thanks very much you two for giving me your time to do this, and maybe we’ll come back to this at some point in the future.
I hope you enjoyed this "interview" and found the opinions of these two people who aren't too attuned with the industry as we are engaging. Thanks again to Anders and Hallie for putting up with my questioning.
Stephen Barry is a fairly opinionated gamer with a yearning to write…and rant. He also tends to get angry at people who complain about Nintendo's trend of systems with not-so-great graphics. Take that how you will. So if you ever read an article by him, expect one of two things: a rant or discussion about a relevant gaming topic, or hating on Ninten-haters. Oh, and its pronounced Stee-ven, not Stef-en. He gets mad when people mix it up.