Are bad video games simply the same as bad art, or are they judged by a different criteria? This has been the question that has been stuck in my head for the last few weeks. Video games, like art, have form and technique, convey complex ideas and have uses. But judging from the way we review art and the way we review video games, it seems there is a difference.
Art can be fun, but one perception of video games is that they have to be fun to be good. Personally, I believe that people don’t play games because they are “fun”, but rather that what we get out of them can broadly be described as fun. I may play a particularly scary game to be scared, but I may not find it fun to play. But by playing it I got a unique experience that I couldn’t have gotten somewhere else.
While it is more difficult to tell whether some forms of games are bad art or not, some a readily apparent. Take for example ‘Hatred’, a top down shooter that has stirred up controversy this year. The player assumes the role of character bereft of all emotions other than anger, set loose upon citizens to maim and murder all in sight. ‘Hatred’ is bad art because it has no meaning. It’s not bad because it is societally damaging, but rather because it assumes the role of cliched angst and action movies and does nothing of interest with them. It has no ideas and no story, it exist solely to manipulate violence for enjoyment.
Another argument is that games can be art in the way that sport can be art. Form and technique play an important part in both, with the ultimate product being your experience.
Smuts, describing Chess, conveys a similar idea, “There are two primary reasons why someone might argue that chess is an art form. In major competitions, there are often two prizes: one for the winner and one for the best game. The best game is determined in part by the elegance of moves, the originality of solution and the difficulty of play. Whether this earns chess the status of art has centered around the question of whether elegance is a goal of the players.” (2005). If this is true, a game could be considered bad for having poor mechanics that do not allow for diverse and interesting play.
Roger Ebert once said that video games can never be art, but I think he is wrong. Video games are harder to place because they aim for simulation and are defined by characteristics that are needed for it to exist. Because of this it may be better to think of the actual “game” component as something akin to a frame or as the actual material that allows art to be conveyed.
Smuts, A. 2005, ‘Are Video Games Art?‘,Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 3.
Why did the chicken cross the genders? | Movie Answer Man | Roger Ebert. Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/answer-man/why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-genders. [Accessed 03 June 2015].