Is art a game?

The discussion whether or not games are art has been going on for a long time now, but rarely people amuse the thought of the opposite. After all, in the arts field there are rules that are almost indecipherable to the outsider, but the professionals know them through and through. The game just happens to take in the real world, where professionals weight the value of works against pre-existing set of values and scoff at the notion of art as just another waste of time to entertain children and the rich. The rules are not written by just one person, but are tied to a vivid history that gets updated now and then. Nevertheless, much like the origin that is play culture in video games, art world has competition that defines monetary values and rules those follow. This, of course, applies to business world in general, where ideas and thoughts of grandeur are showcased as the main selling point, when all that really is just the front to mask the profit and flow of money. For example, Apple and other electronics companies may sell themselves as a green and responsible companies, when in reality they dump their electronics waste to Ghana as “second-hand merch,” and deliberately design their products to die out faster than intended. Designed obsolescence is something we need to get back in the future.

So art dealing is a game in much sense like any other, but is art itself a game? Specifically, can art be equated to electronic gaming?

Since the 1990’s traditional large audience galleries have been wrestling with interactivity. After all, games are getting called useless waste of time, just like art, but an art gallery does not think this way. I’ve personally met some curators that abhor the idea of gamificating their art galleries. Art galleries are more a slow-paced chess game, where the consumer needs to stop and ponder each and every stroke the painter had done and reflect its message. Games on the other hand invite the consumer to take active part and arguably deliver an instant gratification.

Video games, and games in general, are fun. Their intention is play, to give a pause from our daily lives. Art does not need to be fun. It can be gruesome, stopping and force the consumer to face reality. However, whereas game, and indeed play too, has a challenge to overcome through wits and skill, art does not. Not in the same meaning anyway, art can challenge us to think, but it never requires us to beat a level to see and consume more of it.

In Interactive art and the video game: Separating the siblings Regina Cornwell argues that losing the distinction between interactive art and video games showcases how there is a lack of criticism in post-modern era, that making no distinction between them furthers art’s institutionalism. It degrades art into low-level consumer goods, where being entertained through modern technology becomes the main attraction. Perhaps to this I could add that the simple use of the term art has lost its weight and meaning, as anything can now be art and anyone can be an artist. Indeed, interactive art is not about the rules of the piece, it is about exploring the piece. Games are, in the end, rule driven with end goals and obstacles.

The Louvre is sometimes called the only region free game on the Nintendo 3DS. It, by the very definition of a game, is not one. It is an interactive audiovisual guide. So no, art itself, does not equate as a game. Not even when it’s being produced.

While it is easy to put art and games in the same basket with each other, it seems to be the case that game industry is vehemently wanting to do that, while the art professionals seem to dislike the idea. This wasn’t always the case, as in the 1990’s both sides seemed to dislike each others’ guts. Indeed, even now certain movies are called game-likes because of their direction, action and pace.

Perhaps the most damning is the origin that separates art from games; games are about play, art is not. While some of the rules computer games exhibit can be applied to interactive art to an extent, they are not governing factors. To a painting, such rules can’t be applied to any extent. Where art originates and what it truly represents when stripped down to its barest minimum is more a philosophical question, but perhaps the good old art is about human expression might do the trick. No, playing is not an expression, if you were thinking that. It’s about playing.

Much like how pop-art can be considered as the most spread low-level art in the world, we should consider the existence of game art. While games themselves are not art, they do contain elements that could stand as art. Much like how the neutral space where galleries set their pieces in exhibitions, games are merely containers for what could be considered art. However, element like coding fall into the field of mathematical craftsmanship, not art. Even the motion in such a place is important. The physical motion and seeing pieces as they are in reality affects us differently than seeing something through a screen. Virtual reality, phone applications or any game can’t replicate reality, no matter how advanced their technology is.

Furthermore, game space and art space are not compatible. Game space is very personal spaces, even in arcades. They are not meant to be shared, outside one or two people next to you couch during multiplayer, but even that is largely rendered obsolete through online gaming. Even then we as individuals can decide if we want to call our friends over for a play. Even in arcades this applies, as we are set under strict rules of pay and play, and ultimately are given a respected space while playing a game, even when we have an audience. Art space is the polar opposite, being completely open and public in most cases. An individual can’t decide who has the access to art space alongside them. Games encourage competition and individualism, something that clearly bothers some people to no end, while art space may call merely playful competition in status. All these ideological differences showcase themselves not only the spaces themselves, but also in the arrangement of the spaces and in cultural contexts.

Perhaps the core difference between art and video games is crystallised in Joe Laniado’s review about Serious Games from 1997;

So by way of a game, a diversion, create me a world where I have a clearly defined purpose, set me a challenge – give me a spaceship and something to shoot at.

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