NPR Radio: Are Video Games Art?

National Public radio in the US has been running some interesting pieces on video games recently. Lately they’ve taken a stab at a question that becomes more and more important as gaming revenues continue to swell:

Are video games art?

Other media have a long history of relevant, moving social commentary. Movies and books lately have all been tackling important issues – Iraq, international politics, teen pregnancy, etc. But video games mostly stay away from all that ‘commentary’ stuff. There’s a fringe of activist games, sure, but no equivalent to Syriana or Juno. Why not? Are games simply incapable of this sort of sophisticated, nuanced commentary on reality?

Definitely not, as I hope the examples I’ve written about here prove. With enough budget, you could make a socially relevant, thought-provoking blockbuster game. Some day, someone will.

In the meantime, I agree with the conclusion Heather Chaplin, NPR’s correspondent, draws: “Until gaming gets serious, its cultural prominence is just wasted opportunity.”

The piece itself is well worth a listen (4 mins).

One thought on “NPR Radio: Are Video Games Art?

  1. “socially relevant, thought-provoking blockbuster game?”

    Deus Ex? These guys designed a NY skyline sans twin towers in ’98, mostly for technical reasons, and decided to use terrorism as the excuse for the buildings’ absence. The game, though packed with action, was full of cyberpunk memes that are considered “art” when you read about them in Gibson.

    It is also worth noting that a lot of “art” does not comment on Iraq, international politics or teen pregnancy. Art is generally considered “art” becuase it’s emotionally evocative, regardless of how current the subject is.

    That said, our grand tradition of artistic protest (say… Guernica) has yet to hit the mainstream in games the way Full Metal Jacket or All Quiet on the Western Front have. This is partly, I imagine, because games are always meant to be fun, where paintingas and films (which take a lot less time to consume) can assume that their audiences will willingly choose a difficult topic.

    I’m looking forward to a “pure” artistic/protest game. It’ll still need to be fun to play, of course, but that’s the part that will separate the game art from the movie art or the painting art.

    …and just to play devil’s advocate again, if you didn’t read the associated book, Syriana was not a particularly good film. A lot of “art” cinema passes underwriting off as opaquness. I found that Syriana tread the wrong side of the line.

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