The debate about whether games should be considered art is still an on-going one, but I, and many of those in the field, generally do consider games to be art. But I think the confusion comes from the fact that we have differing expectations from video games and what we consider art. The Oxford Dictionary defines art as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination… producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” What is important from this definition is that we consider the primary purpose of art to be from an emotional power or from the look of the piece itself.
Games however, rarely actually fit that purpose. While they may be visually stunning (Final Fantasy XV, Bioshock, or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to name a few) that is never actually their sole purpose. Games have a goal in mind. It is often to entertain the player, but it can also be about educating, relieving stress, distracting, or challenging the player in new ways. Either way, games always have some purpose in mind. I argue that art can absolutely contain another purpose, so long as it also intentionally displays beauty or emotion in some form or another. Landscaping and architecture are often looked at as art as well, yet they both have functions outside of being appealing to the eye. Even ancient art from the past often depicted gods as a way of worshipping and praising them. Art has been used to display history, comedy, and to tell a story, so why shouldn’t games also be considered art?
Clearly I believe games are art, but I felt it was at least necessary to make an argument as to why before I talk about how this can be applied to a serious game. I believe using concepts related to art and games can be a great way to present aspects of modern events to an audience who may be normally separated from them. In this case, I would use war as a topic. War is something that many people in Western societies are quite often very distant from, and the realities associated with it can feel abstract or impossible to imagine. More importantly, this can prevent us from feeling these effects. Art can present an emotional experience, it has been used to present historical events in the past, and games can involve the players directly into experiences they would otherwise never have. So in the next couple of paragraphs I give a simplistic outline of one way I would approach this and hopefully show how games are art and how we can use the typically properties of art for a serious purpose.
The goal of my game is to make players question the morality and the costs of war on people rather than those of a society. I intend to do this by creating a game where the player is a photographer in a war zone. The player is not a part of the action and will rarely see any aspect of the battles as they occur. Instead they will witness its effects on a city over the course of time, with the goal of photographing various aspects for a news article. The player will witness destruction of buildings, see bodies lying in the street, and observe the way the survivors attempt to restore their lives after each instance of battle within the city. I decided on this gameplay, because forcing the player to watch and focus on these elements draws attention away from the glorified action into the real world costs of war.
Mechanically, the player’s options are only to walk around a limited area towards particular events for the news company they work for and capture events. Over time, conditions will need to be met, but there is no way to fail the game. You simple observe and take pictures. The player chooses when to go back home and deliver the pictures once they have what they need, but they are free to take more pictures and review them at any given time. I want the player to carefully look at what happens in war. Far too often, games, even ones that make beautiful imagery for the player to observe, are overlooked for what is actually happening in the game outside of cutscenes. They tend to become focused on their own actions. So I want the player to take their time and really look at what the game depicts, while maintaining that interactive element.
I hope this sheds some small amount of light onto ways art and games are connected and can be used to provide value on the real world and still maintain the unique qualities that games provide. This was obviously a quick overview and would require more development, but I hope that it still paints an appropriate picture. Links to blogs from other members who are tasked with similar goals are below.