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  • Jasmin Edelstein

developer diary 4 - Are Video Games Art?

The question “Are video games art” has never really interested me because it is not worth discussing for me. Because my answer is always: yes, it´s art.

However, I am convinced that video games can also work without artistic aspirations, but can then become art again in the right context.

So why am I thinking about this question right now? Let me elaborate on that:

Art, video games and a pandemic

Is the video game an emergency plan? An alternative way to keep my head above water during this time? No, even without Corona, I would make this game, the idea for it matured even before the pandemic that crippled everything.

And everyone in my close circle is happy about my progress. Alone for the courage to put everything on one card and only work on your own game. I receive appreciation and respect even from people around me whose only point of contact with video games is “Candy Crush”.

Unexpected low blow

Recently, a friend got me out of my "bubble". She asked what I was doing right now. Carelessly, I said that I was developing a video game right now. I often get a simple "I don't understand anything about this" answer to this sentence, which is perfectly fine for me. But not this time. My friend took this news as a kind of bad thing, after all, video games have nothing to do with real art, she said. There followed a somewhat pitying look and the statement that she was sorry, that it wasn't going to work for me right now and that I would definitely get the opportunity to have an exhibition again. I found it a bit rude already. But she also encouraged me: I would just have to try really hard again, then I would achieve something again. Somehow that had already sat.

I wondered if I had told her that I had a film project going on ... she would have immediately assumed that of course I had something artistic in mind. Nobody would say that a film cannot be art. Of course, she didn't ask what kind of video game I make, because they are all silly childish things. So there is no need to ask any further questions. Right?

A digital downfall

The step from fine arts to game design was a kind of downgrade for my friend. Of course, she does not have this opinion exclusively, some art experts (e.g. Jonathan Jones) are also convinced that video games are not art. One reason I often read, is the fact that video games are used for entertainment alone. This seems to be an exclusion criterion for many. Modern galleries and museums are opening up more and more new technical "gadgets" for the simple reason that it attracts more people. I was only recently in the digital DaVinci exhibition here in the Landesmuseum Hannover and make the claim that there were some visitors who might not have found their way to the museum without the video show. But of course it's different ... just like movies, which are completely different apparently.

Context and medium

It is always easy for art laypeople to categorize: paintings are art, simply because they are paintings. The most that can be distinguished here is whether it is boring art, impressive art or something that you does not understand. But it is definitely art. Or?

I believe that a painting can be art, but it doesn't have to be. It can also be just decoration. But in the artistically staged context, it can become art again. This reminds me of the Documenta 2012, there was a room full of apple drawings. I, young and arrogant as I was, got excited about these simple apple pictures, after all an apple drawing is nothing more than a finger exercise, so what should be art about it? Well, these drawings came from Pastor Korbinian Aigner (1885-1966), he was a staunch Nazi opponent and an apple lover. He secretly grew the Korbinian apple as a prisoner in a concentration camp. With this story, a simple picture of an apple can move you.

People have been debating the question of whether video games are or can be art for years. What's the big difference? Between the (generally) recognized art media and video games? Is it the interaction between the player and the medium? Can't one argue here that art is always interaction? Game designers build a game just like an artist builds his work. Strictly speaking, every video game is a total work of art. The soundtrack matched the integrated visual aesthetics, dramaturgically well thought-out story lines that have to follow the same rules as the written word in literature.

To deprive a game of the right to be art simply because of the required gameplay is simply wrong.

A video game can be an art, or just a commercial product or a pastime, a food for thought ... a mind-expanding medium.

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