The Art of Video Games

An article that explores, from various creative viewpoints, the debate surrounding video games and their standing in the art world…

by: Heather Hayes

When photography started to be widely embraced by the Art world, most people didn’t consider it to be art. When French-American painter Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp famously entered a urinal as a readymade art piece for an exhibition, the Society of Independent Artists declared it couldn’t be considered art. And when British artist Martin Creed unveiled his Work no. 88, which is simply a sheet of paper scrunched up into a ball, people proclaimed emphatically that it wasn’t art. In the twenty-first century, the debate about what art is continues. One type of work at the center of that debate is video games.

Many art critics simply believe that if an artist calls something a piece of art, or if it is exhibited, then the piece becomes a work of art, as with Duchamp’s Fountain. However, video games aren’t necessarily made by artists, but by designers, and there are many different people with varying skills who work to make a video game. Furthermore, the purpose of developing a video game is to create a commercially viable entertainment work, not an item to be placed in the Louvre. Some people question where the line should be drawn, too. For instance, should puzzle games like Tetris and video slot games like those available at an online casino in NZ, be regarded as art as much as beautifully-designed role-playing games? However, the meaning of art is continually changing, and many experts make a good case for video games being an art form.

The debate surrounding video games as an art form began in the late 1980s when art museums began displaying outdated first and second-generation games. The most notable exhibition was the 1989 Hot Circuits: A Video Arcade exhibition at the Museum of Moving Image. Because the curator had exhibited the games, many people claimed it meant those games had become artworks.

In 2003, professor Tiffany Holmes wrote a paper where she noted that the new trend of modifying the code of early games like Pac-Man and Asteroids created an intersection between commercial games and contemporary digital art. And in 2010, professor Celia Pearce noted that the 1960s Fluxus movement and the recent New Games Movement had paved the way for modern art games.

In a growing number of countries, video games are legally becoming classified as an art form. In 2006, France categorized video games as cultural goods with a form of artistic expression and inducted two French game designers and one Japanese game designer into the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2011, the United States National Endowment for the Arts began providing grants for art projects that included interactive games, further helping video games to become a recognized art form. And in 2018, Germany agreed to recognize some video games as having an artistic nature.

Respected British art critic Jonathan Jones claims video games are not art because they have no individual ownership. Famed film critic Roger Ebert who had become known as the most vocal critic of video games as an art form has amongst his many arguments against video games as art that he believes video games do not explore the meaning of being human in the way that other art forms do.

Others who refuse to believe video games can be art include game designer Hideo Kojima and game-studio owners Michael Samyn and Auriea Harvey,, which shows that even some game-makers do not believe video games are art.

The debate is sure to rage on, but when we look at other examples in history, like photography or Duchamp’s urinal, it’s clear to see that many things that were not once considered to be artforms have become completely accepted as art today.

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