Who's Asking If Games Are Art Now?

The London Review of Books! John Lanchester questions whether the medium is "art" for the literary publication, now three decades old, and comes away conflicted, if positive about the present and future of games.

Lanchester, writing in a way that eases the typical London Review of Books reader into the scary world of video games, focuses on a number of bigger, more mainstream games to illustrate his observations. First up, BioShock. With its thread of objectivist philosophy weaving through the plot, it should be the video game that would convince the new medium phobic that, hey, games are art.

"The game was a huge hit," Lanchester writes "and I have yet to encounter anyone who has ever heard of it."

Lanchester shifts his tutorial on games to subjects such as Shigeru Miyamoto, the LEGO series of universe crossover games and big blockbuster fare like Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid, Call of Duty 4 and LittleBigPlanet. Many of his insights about the conventions found in these types of games are spot on observations about why people who don't play games... don't play games.

His definition of the current gaming population's wants?

"The same thing the audience for any new medium always wants: they want pornography, broadly defined. They want to see things they aren’t supposed to see. This is why video games, in general (and away from the world of Miyamoto-san) are so preoccupied with violence – it’s what young men want to see."

But back to the original question: are they art?

The author won't give a simple yes or no (it would've been a much shorter essay) but does give some indication of his own opinion on the matter.

"Games are not, in general, better than films," Lanchester writes. "But they are often better than huge-budget Hollywood films." They're not terribly better than television programming either, he says.

He nearly summarizes his future perspective thusly, "It seems clear to me that by the time my children are adults, video gaming will be a medium whose importance and cultural ubiquity are at least as great as that of film or television. Whether it will be an artistic medium of equivalent importance is less clear."

Lanchester's focus on nothing but the biggest, most base appealing games is probably not going to win him any fans from the serious, studios gamer, hopefully something that he'll address in a future pondering of whether games are art. Whether you'd agree or disagree with Lanchester, his perspective is definitely worth a read. And no "TL;DR" comments or I'll ban your ass.

Is it Art? [London Review of Books via GameSetWatch]