Week 3: Are Video Games Art?

What makes video games different from other media?

Interactivity: video games offer narrative choice to the player, allowing them to make decisions about the action. There are multiple pathways written in to the game, which is not found in literature/film in which the narrative is set, despite the potential for differing interpretations.

Collective experience: video games often provide multiplayer setting allowing players to experience the game as a group or connect with other players on a global scale. One player’s actions can have a direct impact on the ways in which other players can experience the game.

Anonymity/Personas: video games allow players to create characters and take on different personas.

Interesting discussion about males taking on female character roles in games

Can video games be art?

“Video games can never be art” – Roger Ebert (the comments make particularly interesting reading for a defence of this statement)

” [T]he question itself was kind of silly and oversimplified. It’s the same thing as asking ‘Are movies art? or ‘Are books art?’ Of course, it depends upon the individual movie or book.” – Jim Emerson, Video Games: ‘The Epic Debate'”

(some interesting points about music in video games)

36 Beautiful Landscapes that Prove that Video Games are Art

Roger Ebert struggles to determine what exactly defines a work of art – “I found most of them [successful works of art] had one thing in common: Through them I was able to learn more about the experiences, thoughts and feelings of other people. My empathy was engaged. I could use such lessons to apply to myself and my relationships with others. They could instruct me about life, love, disease and death, principles and morality, humor [sic] and tragedy.”

“Success in Papers, Please bestows the same satisfaction games likeDiner Dash or The Sims do.  Setting up and executing efficient procedures is rewarding, both in terms of in-game currency and in that portion of your brain that likes processing chaos and refining it into order.  Therein lies the problem and the deeper message of Papers, Please. The raw material you’re processing is people.” – Scott Juster, Experiencing the Banality of Evil in Papers, Please


Mark Sample reads the paratextual comments in the programming code of such massively popular and commercially successful games as SimCity and JFK Reloaded. He does so in order to show how these texts include algorithms for producing gameplay and also encode social, cultural, and even capitalist histories. Sample illuminates “the contradictions between the playable algorithms of a game and the internal and usually invisible signifying structures of code” in ways that prove what can be gleaned from reading, even close reading, code. Mark Marino reads the code of a very different type of digital object and in a very different way. Instead of a commercial game, Marino analyzes the programming code of a conceptual and political art project/protest performance, “The Transborder Immigrant Tool.” Rather than reading the paratextual or marginal comments within the code, as does Sample, Marino argues that the code is itself poetry. Marino makes this argument while pursuing the political critique of his object of study, demonstrating that the study of code is not the study of rarified abstraction but, on the contrary, the consideration of a viable platform for enacting social change.” – Jessica Pressman, “The Literary And/As the Digital Humanities.”

Aisling F, Teresa G, Rob H, Malcolm M, Jacinta O, Katie W.


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