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Hilary Goldstein is wrong about games not being art

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

Yesterday, Hilary Goldstein (former editor-in-chief of gaming site IGN, one of the most popular on the Internet) posted an article on GamesBeat, of which Bitmob is a part. I disagree with his article. In fact, I disagree with it vehemently. It is ill-informed, unconsidered, and simply will not do.

The article, on the whole, is confused about its own purposes. First, it is titled, “5 good reasons games are not art”; however, in its second paragraph, Mr. Goldstein states that the thesis is: “It doesn’t matter whether or not games are art.”
 
This is a minor irregularity, but quite important. So which is it? Are video games not art? Or are they art, and that fact doesn’t matter?

It is hard to suppress one’s exasperation with his reasoning as he launches his first of five arguments.

 
 
He immediately dismisses the very concept of art as "bullshit." What use is an argument regarding games as art when it is quite evident that the arguer is unwilling to debate art on its own definition and its own importance?
 
If one were to do that, the idea that video games are art is quite besides the point. If art is bullshit, we have a lot more pressing issues than video games. Some 20,000 years of human activity need a serious evaluation.

Thankfully, Mr. Goldstein makes no convincing points in this regard. He demonstrates his own biases by refusing to acknowledge that art even has an audience. He cites that all art is defined by an elite few and the millions of sheep who credit their opinions. Bizarrely, he defines this non-audience as a collection of consumers. Neither of these statements is true.

 
If he believes his first point, he has never seriously thought about art. If he believes his second point, he is working with an even more incorrect definition of art than previously thought. To consider an audience as consumers inherently suggests that art is a product of a capitalist system — a faulty assumption on very many levels.

These arguments preemptively discredit his next point: that games “go beyond art.” Again, he has pegged the definition of art at some point where, as far as I know, no one else has placed it. He refuses to acknowledge that all artistic mediums have their own rules, standards, and exceptions.
 
Essentially, he argues that video games are better than art because they are different, lumping together dance, the novel, and architecture as well as every other artistic medium. These are all as different from each other as they are from video games. The differences in form have little bearing on whether a medium can produce art.

His next point is one that I doubt needs making. He’s made a false analogy between sports and video games without providing any sort of evidence. That is not to say that they are dissimilar. They share many defining elements of the concept of “game”; however, to say that sports aren’t art so video games are not art is to artificially limit the scope and potential of video games.

 
Sports are designed to be a cohesive set of rules played by elite athletes in a finite (and quite constrained) physical space during a finite (and constrained) period of time. Video games need not be any of these things.

Mr. Goldstein’s next argument, that video games are for ordinary people, is another fallacy. Last I checked, novels, architecture, music, theatre, and film were all accessible and enjoyed by ordinary people. Quite often, in fact. Again, Mr. Goldstein proffers a bizarre definition of art: “that which is enjoyed by snobs.” By extension, he argues that video games are not art because they are not made for snobs.

Please let that statment sink in.


His final reason is not an argument at all: “It doesn’t matter that games are art because you shouldn’t care that games are art.” This is one of the most basic of logical fallacies.

It is also an unhealthy stance, particularly for Mr. Goldstein. While stating that it shouldn’t matter what someone else thinks about games, he negates wholly all conversations anyone can have about the medium — as well as his own career as a commentator on video games.

Fortunately, I will refuse to cede Mr. Goldstein his point. I, in fact, care what he says about games. I hope it keeps him employed.

Not that he actually believes the point he has made. Immediately after stating that it doesn’t matter what others think about games he writes: “What matters is how you experience, enjoy, and share games with others in the gaming community.” So…it does matter what others think?

He finishes off his article stating that video games provide nothing but a personal relationship with the player. This is exactly what art is: It is the relationship between material culture and the audience.

Mr. Goldstein was fully unprepared to write this article. He argues using an incorrect and incomplete definition of art, mischaracterizes those who do enjoy art, mistakenly lumps all other forms of art together, and falsely claims that video games cannot possibly fit. In a coup de grace, he makes a series of statements which, if followed to their logical end, state that he shouldn’t be writing the article in the first place.

On this point, I most definitely agree with him.


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