In 2019, Ushio Tokura created Aquasomnia, an art piece depicting an ancient sea witch breaking her head through the deep blue sea.
It was widely appreciated by those who saw it, and it wasn’t the creator’s first work; prior to that, they’d also created Flower Corpse, a rotting shrine to the dead. What was remarkable about both of these pieces is that they were created on the video game Minecraft.
Digital art has been in the news recently, thanks to the rise in NFTs, which are works of art with no physical form. The American artist Mike Winkelmann, better known by his artist name Beeple, sold his NFT artwork Everydays: The First 5000 Days for a whopping $69m (₹5.3bn). It’s fair to assume digital artists are here to stay.
However, both of those examples are of an accepted art form being digitally created, rather than a video game being perceived as art. After all, surely the adventures of a cartoon Italian plumber cannot be described as high art. Or can they?
Whilst the literal take of Mario being an art form might be a push, there is a strong argument for video games being an art form. After all, Art Radar puts forward an argument for movies as an art form, and that’s a widely accepted belief, so why not video games? Some movies are obviously not, the gaudy superhero flicks are no more than entertainment, but Mullholland Dr. and Citizen Kane are surely not far off.
What is it about a video game that could be described as art? There are two facets to consider; the first is the pure beauty some games provide within their worlds. Cowboy story Red Dead Redemption 2 was widely acclaimed, with The Gamer saying the best thing to do in the game is nothing. It’s best not played, just enjoyed as an open world that bustles with life. It’s a great depiction of the Wild West, and other games also take us on a historical trip with their worlds and environments. That extends to mobile games that cannot be as immersive as traditional console efforts. There are several themed Slingo games featured on Foxy Bingo, such as Book of Slingo and Slingo Centurion which do the same; create a world in Ancient Rome or Egypt and try to place the gamer there, for a short while. It’s escapism, and that’s what art is, a detachment from reality for a mere moment. Anyone who has played The Deer God on iOS will know what we mean; it’s breathtaking and abstract, but compact and playable on the train.
The second element that suggests video games are art is in the creation of fictional worlds that live and breathe on the screen. Games such as No Man’s Sky challenge consumers like a painting or movie, they reach deep into the creator’s mind and depict an interpretation of life. Other games, such as Mass Effect or Skyrim, go one further, making socio-political statements about life and the real world through their narrative. They deal with topics such as conflict and ask the gamer questions of themselves. Is that not what art does? Force you to look inside after experiencing someone else’s ideas?
“I believe that video games will prove to be one of the most important mediums of art that humanity has ever had at its disposal,” said Chris Mellissinos, creator of The Art of Video Games Exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Technology has expanded the canvas upon which artists are able to paint and tell their stories. As an art form that has only existed in the digital space, video games are truly a collision of art and science.”
Call of Duty might not be an experience one can describe as art, and it’s not meant to be; it is the video game equivalent of the Marvel Movies, loud and entertaining, but no more. However, anyone who has played Journey, The Witness or IO won’t have the same experience. They will feel cleansed, challenged or even affected by their game for days after switching off, and that is exactly what true digital art is all about.
Therefore, video games are an art form.