Are Video Games Art?

This month, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opened an exhibition featuring some of our best-loved video games, including Pac-Man, Tetris and Sim City 2000 –  not exactly what you would expect alongside Edvard Munch’s iconic modern art piece The Scream, also currently on display at the museum.

Tetris features in MoMA’s new “Applied Design” exhibition.

Well, according to Jonathan Jones of The Guardian, that is. His scathing reaction to MoMA’s recent acquisition of 14 video games asks: what exactly is art? Jones’ answer is quite distinctly: a person’s reaction to life. And games? They are just games, he says. “No one “owns” the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art.”

But what is ownership to art? After all, MoMA also boasts to have acquired the @ sign. And even if I was going to attempt a definition of ‘art’ (and I’ll try not to), it would begin at something that makes you think about life. Whatever Munch wanted us to feel when viewing The Scream, our reactions to it are still valid; The Scream is still ‘art’ whether or not I agree with, or even know, what Munch’s views were. It is not so much the aims of the artist but the reaction of the viewer that is central to my understanding of art. And, that being the case, the unique capacity that video games have to draw us into them, to force us to recognise our active part in the world, surely locates them firmly within notions of ‘art’.

Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ is also currently on display at MoMA

In a time when it is easy to get left behind if you don’t pick up the pace, surely the embrace of the digital, of the interactive, is the start of an exciting new chapter in the art world? It may even bring in a whole new demographic of art-lovers and artists alike, and that’s no bad thing. If there’s anything that starts people thinking, it’s controversy – and MoMA’s new exhibit has definitely succeeded in that.

8 thoughts on “Are Video Games Art?

  1. Anyone who doesn’t think that games are art needs to watch ‘Indie Games: The Movie’. I’m not a gamer and the title put me off but it was recommended by someone I trust. And it’s actually the best film I’ve seen this year (and I watch a lot of films!) – completely changing my opinion of the entire process and industry. If you listened to what these guys say and saw what they go through – but replaced the word ‘game’ with ‘painting’ – there would be no debate at all that what they do is art. And enormously inspiring too.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll definitely give it a watch. I totally agree with what you say about replacing ‘game’ with ‘art’: happily I think that Jones was rather outnumbered in his narrow-minded view of ‘art’!

  2. I’m excited that video games are being acknowledged as art. A lot of skill and innovation has gone into creating each game, and as the industry has progressed, the elements of art and craft has increased.

    • Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment on my blog. I agree – video games have such a unique beauty of design about them, about time they were recognised for this!

  3. Great post! I went to a very similar exhibition in Washington D.C. and it was fantastic, not least because there were lots of young people having a good time there. I think they enjoyed it because their (our) generation “owns” video games, so video games have meaning to them. If Jonathan Jones can’t find any art in a video game then perhaps he’s past his sell-by date as a critic.

    • That’s a very interesting way of looking at it, thank you for sharing your views. I suppose that video games could be seen as having their own symbolic economy in a way that speaks more directly to younger generation than, for example, the religious symbolic economy of many older paintings. So they can speak so much more immediately to an audience. Once again – thanks for sharing your story! And I agree about Jonathan Jones too!

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