Let’s get straight to the point: video games, like any creative medium that requires creative input from the maker, can be art. But why are we still discussing this? Based on that previous statement, video games should already be art, but why don’t a great number of people think so?
The answer: a lot of games aren’t accessible to people. Let me elaborate: anyone can read a book, right? We were forced into learning this skill since we were born. Likewise, anyone can watch TV, movies, or look at a piece of artwork. But not anyone can play video games. No, they have to read the instruction manual, memorize what button does what, and on top of that, be able to comprehend what is happening on the screen and respond based on it.
It’s that learning curve that differentiates video games from other creative mediums. And it’s what will continue the debate of about “are video games art” until we find a way to fix it.
But haven’t we already? Let’s look at World of Goo, a puzzle/physics game that was amazingly successful despite that it was made by only two people. It featured beautiful landscapes and a surprising deep story-line, and based on only that, it should be art, right? Well, sort of.
World of Goo was simple. More specifically, it was accessible to anyone. That’s it. That’s what makes it art. Just look at the controls: use your mouse/Wii pointer to point at a goo ball, drag it to the existing goo tower, and repeat. It was this why it was successful for well over a couple of months, and why it can be considered art. Anyone, your mother, your child, your friends, anyone could play it and enjoy it.
If all video games can be like this, follow this Nintendo philosophy of “include everyone”, there will be little doubt that video games are art, as they can experience all the creativity that the developer wants to offer. As much as this may bother you, with technology such as the Wii, video games have become more inclusive of the public, but this is the key to the future of video games as a creative medium. In fact, we can kill two birds with one stone: if people can be able to access violent video games easily like violent movies, they can understand why the violence is there and how it may be an important part to the story, like the latter.
Art can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of experience or knowledge. Video games cannot be art unless we make the controls are simple, unless anyone can access it. Just think about it: what would Roger Ebert say when he can easily play a game like Bioshock? Would he say, “Oh, I can understand it fully and experience this, but it’s not art”? Well, maybe, but I highly doubt so. I’d expect him to treat it like a movie, now with the learning barrier broken down. Then again, despite these accessible controls, another key part is him becoming a bit more open to video games in general.