Can Art be Games?

The Musée de Louvre is a place in Paris. Every year over 8 million people visit the place, often to view art. Now, that’s not as many people as are currently subscribing to World of Warcraft or anything, but it’s still a lot. And people are beginning to wonder if art is beginning to have a similar cultural importance that games enjoy.

So, do pictures like Whistler’s Mother or that one with the dreary-farmer-couple have a place alongside classics like Final Fantasy 7 or thatgamecompany’s latest masterpiece ‘Journey’?

To tell the truth, I’m not very well versed in art, having spent most of my life dedicated to more serious pursuits such as skateboarding, playing computer games and hanging out on twitter. I had always assumed that ‘art’ was something for a different generation. So to get a better understanding I ordered an art from the internet, to give it a go.

What I got was a framed ‘print‘ of a painting (what that means is that it’s not actually the source painting, but a copy of it. Much like how the games you play rarely contain their source code). I’m told that there are many types of art, but this is by far the most popular.

“I had always assumed that ‘art’ was something for a different generation. So to get a better understanding I ordered an art from the internet, to give it a go.”

Unfortunately I had trouble soon after I unpacked the thing. The default display was kind of nice, a picture of a pretty landscape with children playing under a tree… but that was all there was to it! The screen was entirely frozen, unresponsive to touches and I couldn’t find any switches to turn the thing on. I thought perhaps the battery had run out but couldn’t find any cables to charge it with.

Clearly not a good start, I had wanted to get a good idea of art on my own, but ultimately I had to give in and call over my friend Emily for help.

Now reader, if you want to see your friend at their most frustrated, all you have to do is ask them to help you use art. “You just have to hang it on the wall, that’s all!” Emily tried to explain, but this was totally outside my range of experience. “But how do I interact with it?” I asked, “You don’t interact, you just look at it!”

Now I do like my friend Emily, but how was I supposed to know that? What came naturally to Emily was a chore for me, the art didn’t even come with any instructions or tutorial. It seems art is easy for people like Emily who grew up with it, but I fear regular folk like you and me will forever be out of touch.

Having situated the art on a wall in the living room, I asked Emily if there was a special way to look at it to make the art work. “No, you just look at it.” she explained, clearly as frustrated with the experience as I, “Like a TV?” I asked. The look on Emily’s face then became that look you get when you’re at risk of losing a friend, so I quickly said “Oh never-mind, I think I’ve got it figured out.” and stared at the lifeless picture, pretending it gave me a similar sense of emotion I got from actually exploring the beautiful landscapes that developers craft for their games.

After Emily left I checked on the internet and it turns out she was right, you really do just look at it, that’s all!

pretending it gave me a similar sense of emotion I got from actually exploring the beautiful landscapes that developers craft for their games”

Where was the engagement-building interaction of games? Where was the sense of teamwork and community you get from multiplayer games? Where was the emotional investment you can only get from stories and characters that actually involve you, a real person?

I had no sense of accomplishment from looking at the art (hanging the thing on the wall didn’t even unlock an achievement!), and ultimately I didn’t feel like I had improved as a person. I mean, I see pretty pictures all the time so why would one more affect me the same way an engrossing game does?

I think if we inspect art, it certainly has its uses. I won’t deny that my wall looks more interesting now that I put an art on it… but does art compare to games? No.


Perhaps I’ll reconsider if some art comes along that could make me cry (like the part of Final Fantasy X-2 on the thunder plains where Yuna sung with a ghost murdered 1000 years ago, or Kingdom Hearts II when Roxas has to face his end and becomes forgotten by everyone he held dear). Ultimately though, I don’t think art could ever have the emotional impact that games do.

This article thanks pretty much entirely to this.

102 Comments on “Can Art be Games?”

  1. qptain Nemo says:

    This is brilliant. Literally the best article on the subject I’ve read. Spot on. 🙂

  2. Antonio Da Mala says:

    Lovely article. Just wanna point out that nowadays art tends to be more interactive with instalations and so on. In fact At A Distance is pretty much a contemporary art piece.

  3. Porter says:

    I love this article for so many reasons. First, it’s hilarious, I laughed out loud multiple times. Secondly, you very easily point out why it’s absolutely ridiculous that anyone in the world today still thinks that games aren’t art. Kudos to you for a well written piece that also managed to make me laugh. Hopefully next time you buy an art it’s more interesting.

  4. RAM OVERLOAD says:

    This article is brilliant. You said it all without saying it, and were funny on top of that.

    I will feature it on RAM OVERLOAD, if that’s ok with you:

  5. Zoe Quinn says:

    Oh my god this is wonderful

  6. BlueSweatshirt says:

    This is the best <3

  7. Luis Guimaraes says:

    Games are totally above art.

  8. st33d says:

    I went to an art happening once where they attached memories you wrote down on paper to apples and trebuchet’ed them away. Then there was a cake they brought out shaped like a Biffa Bin and an actual Biffa Bin that was full to the brim with soapy bubbles. There was other stuff as well but I’ve a hard time remembering it because little of it made any sense.

    It felt fairly interactive to me.

  9. Wardog says:

    Good one. If nothing else, I’m happy somebody else thinks Kingdom Hearts has a fantastic story. I have pretty much the same opinion as Sophie. In fact, I wrote down my whole opinion already so maybe it’s easier if I link that.

    I’ve noticed there’s a very obvious trend of people no longer giving a shit over this debate, which is nice, maybe we’re actually making progress.

  10. One of the better arguments for this that I have read. Ofter people try to point to the complexity or increased narrative in current games to validate them as art. This is generally a failure, as art need not be complex, and the advantage of game narrative is interaction which is absent in traditional exposition that it is being held up as, not in trying to equal the narrative arc of a classic novel or film. The best argument is the explorable space of games, which can not be done in any other medium. So if you are rejecting the possibility of a game being art, you close off that avenue of expression. To be fair it sounds like the author is comparing the best that games have to offer with a crappy decorative print, which doesn’t make a very good case for painting. But a some valid points are raised. Full disclosure: I am an artist and painter.

    • There is explorable space in architecture, which is generally considered an art form, and is often also intended for a purpose or to be interacted with in a certain way.

      Personally it’s why I like architecture over many other art forms (other than games). On the other hand it takes so many darn resources to compose a decent piece of well designed explorable architecture. And you can hardly share it with anyone because its stuck in one place.

      Anyways sorry to hijack your comment, to then prattle on about architecture, I’ll be off now.

    • Ganondox says:

      It’s satire, the author was using the crappiest analysis of the crappiest painting possible to parody how the people who bash video games as an art form only take an equally restricted view on what video games to analyse and how to analyse them.

  11. Poor child. My sole comfort is the belief that you’ll eventually grow up and, perchance, witness all the many things about the world which the control pad attached to your hand and the television screen in front of your nose don’t want you to see. Because if you do, and when you do, a slightly unnerving sense of shame will follow inevitably. A feeling of guilt will follow too, but mind it not: you’re not guilty. You are a victim.

    • ChevyRay says:

      Bahaha oh god please let this be a sincere post please please. Give me this one thing.

    • Epona says:

      Just jumping in here, uninvited (kind of like a Jehovah’s Witness knocking on the door during a D&D game).

      I am also making a gross assumption that Bruno here is serious and NOT just trolling. (I guess we’ll find out!)

      My Life (Were I Not a Gamer):

      If I’d never played Everquest…

      …I would never have gained an understanding of strategic planning and team management when “shit-hits-the-fan”. Which means I would not have been a very good lead in the VFX industry or producer in the games industry. That would have been sad 🙁

      If I’d never played World of Warcraft…

      …I would have no intuitive understanding of economics, economies of scale, supply and demand projections, forecasting, etc (I played the Auction House a LOT). Which mean I wouldn’t have been able to win Department of Defense, Boeing and 7-11 as clients for the business intelligence firm I worked for (when I decided to spend a year developing blue chip sales and marketing skills).

      If I’d never played the National Camarilla LARP GAME…

      …I would have no idea how to defend myself against the dirty politics of people who have an agenda that involves me and my people getting screwed over. I would not have been able to help a great many startup companies in Sydney negotiate better deals with investors and publishers.

      I could go on, or you can check out my linkedin profile for everything being a gamer has helped me achieve:

  12. MrBeast says:

    Art is just another science (well science in the same way programming could be regarded as science), which is about the question how visual media needs to be crafted to evoke a certain range of feelings, to tell a story, to make a certain logic visible or simply to display a concept of a object as intended. It can be a fascinating topic, just the same as, for example, the relativity theory can be. But the thought that art is special or precious is complete bullshit brought into this world by elitists that needed some way to differentiate themselves from the normal folks.

  13. Henry says:

    While I agree games are art, having played them for years, you really have to consider what genre of art you are talking about. In this respect, I would suggest taking an art history class. Comparing some painting you buy online to the actual Mona Lisa or master work compared to a video game is bound to lead to misinformed judgements.

    Similarly, you’re leaving out the actual cg artists, or even those who create digital imagery (for arts sake) who often obtained their skill from game development or similar fields. Where do they stand?
    (For examples see:

    But sure the question is valid, and the answer is Art will never be a game, because Art is Art, it’s not trying to be anything else and never will.

    • The article did not describe sohpie’s actual levlel of familiarity with art. the point was that the level of knowledge she pretended to have is about the level of knowledge of games that most of the ‘are games art?’ pontificators have about games.

  14. Random says:

    I’m not really aware of the gaming communities debate. I’ve been plopped here through a link.

    But at a glance…

    Can Art be Games? Not really.
    Can Games be Art? Probably.

    Why? Art is a humongous field. Like every definition there is never a perfect one, but art is an especially hazy definition. The definition of art on OED covers a huge area. This is why I think that games easily can be encompassed in art.

    Can art and games be compared? Yes, but I don’t think using a print as a starting point works very well. I challenge you to consider for example how paintings and video games require both fine craft and mastery to create.

  15. CNIAngel says:

    I wish I could art.

  16. Zionviller says:

    I heard that art is a kind of “Let’s Play”.. but you only get the last frame of the video..

  17. TomP says:

    Decent article, but i think there is one flaw in your logic. Your closing line: “Ultimately though, I don’t think art could ever have the emotional impact that games do.” I believe that the time spent viewing traditional art never quite compares to the time spent playing a game that you consider art. I think after 12+ hours of staring/looking at one single frame, you might begin to notice the emotion that was built in…..or you might go crazy ?

  18. animefan says:

    anime = games!!

    but noob people cannot understand they think anime is for kids, japanese maked R+ anime, its only USA cartoons for kids.

  19. This is an excellent piece of satire. I am jealous that you got to this premise before I did 😛

  20. MichielvT says:

    Well, the notion something doesn’t interact with you when it doesn’t do something, seems quite wrong. I mean, art can do a lot to you, even though it doesn’t move.
    Everything has to move nowadays, nothing can sit still. Everything has to go fast, and I hate it. That being said, I am a game artist =|

  21. Dave says:

    Art is about invoking a response, usually some kind of emotional response. People who say you just look at art are missing the point. Yes, you look at it – but you do so to invoke that emotional response.

    So can games be art? Sure. Anything that has been created by a person can be art. But just because some games are so well creafted and well thought out that they become “Art” does not mean that all games are art. Some paintings are crap, and some games are crap.

    And what it art to me may be crap to you. What is art to you may be crap to me.

    Art is a personal thing. And a subjective thing.

    Which is why I always come back to my first statement – “Art” is something that invokes an emotional response.

  22. Trebe Regor says:

    Sure watching completed art isn’t games but the creation of art could be. The act of painting is like an indie remake of Mario Paint on the SNES, and putting together sculptures and installations is almost like Garry’s Mod it’s uncanny.

  23. joe73K says:

    Made me laugh, fantastically written. Loving the comments too. +1 to Bruno for the best response.

  24. Beautiful, I love you for this 🙂 <3

  25. Haha wow, well done. Got to the part where the ‘art’ arrived and realized the perspective this article was taking, the rest was just hilarious after that.
    Ive bookmarked, and will send to anyone I have that heated ‘games can be art’ argument with in the future 😉

  26. Games are surely art. Why is so, it’s obvious. How do you make a game? Aren’t game a collection of images, video, animation, music and text? A game it’s like reading a book, watching a movie and listet to music at the same time! And you can also interact with it! If movies, literature, music and drawings are art, why shouldn’t be a game?

  27. Perhaps it’s only because I’m a linguist, but this line’s layered semantics make it the best line in the whole article, in my opinion:

    “I ordered an art from the internet.”

  28. Aleksandar says:

    Can a game be art? As much as the developer has mad it to be. Is art boring? Only to the can-we-go-any-faster people.

  29. […] Can Art be Games? art games Kunst ist Kunst ist Kunst. […]

  30. SG says:

    Picasso’s Guernica is the only painting that has evoked strong emotions for me.

    Most emotional game experience I can remember is the end of Ocarina of Time.

  31. Ace Rockolla says:

    I really love the part of the article where you give a really half-assed attempt to “appreciate” the art, and then write it off as unapproachable and exclusionary. That’s a classic standby of every Are Arts Games article I’ve ever read.

  32. Darin Smith says:

    This is brilliant! And exactly how I feel whenever I go to an art museum. Every old grumpy elitist newspaper columnist with a liberal arts degree should read it.

  33. Haha what ?!

    Print a screenshot of some game you haven’t played and put it on your kitchen wall. You’ll see how boring even Journey can be to look at when unmoving and unknown.

  34. Paul Maguire says:

    This article makes me despair at the lack of interest in and understanding of art. Art is not just about looking, in the same way that music is not just about hearing. Art is not better if it has interactivity. Art doesn’t have a feature set, or strive to showcase new techniques. Artists don’t do updates or patches for their art. Art is interesting exactly because it often necessitates interactivity in the form of thinking – thinking about the materials chosen by the artist, its place it in temporal and cultural context, and why the artist chose to make this specific artwork in the first place.

    • Wardog says:

      You make art sound like the dumbest, most inane and boring activity in existence.

      • Paul Maguire says:

        Sorry about that. I’ll translate for you:
        Art rooooolz! It’s like, totally amazing! U can like do *ANYTHING* u want, and like put it in a gallery and stuff! Or even outside! in.cred.uble.

    • The article’s intentionally idiotic level of understanding of art is a rhetorical device intended to parody the level of understanding of games held by most ‘are games art?’ critics. it’s not a seriously-held position. try reading with a little subtlety.

    • SA says:

      Sadly, whatever art appreciation you can muster doesn’t appear to be matched by reading comprehension.

  35. Wardog says:

    Possible future questions to answer:

    -Is wine games?
    -Is art sandwich?
    -Is dog horse?
    -Is art farts?
    -Is being an art snob worse than supporting Hitler?

    • Paul Maguire says:

      Ah yes – the ‘art snob’ thing. And the always-witty ‘Hitler’ thing. Always arise in discussion. As soon as anyone dares suggest they may understand a little about art they are called a snob. I’ve never understood fully why. If you have a mathematician talk about their subject, do you consider them a snob too? Physicist? Philosopher? Dentist? In fact, anyone who may have knowledge about something you may not? Why in particular do artists have to explain away why they make art?

      • Wardog says:

        Wow. You rank pretty high on the list of hilariously thick people I’ve ever interacted with. I have a burning urge to explain to you how you could embarrass yourself less, but if I did that you might stop saying funny things.

  36. To me, art is anything that’s not living and creates emotions. Because of this, art is very personal.

    Exploring various types of art is, I think, something any person should do. It’s just a way of exploring who you really are. Getting stuck in one way of thinking about art shows that either you completely found yourself or that you’ve found a comfort zone. The last sentence is much more probable. So, the question is: are you willing to get out your comfort zone or not?

    To go back to games as art, some non-computer art is interactive, only not as much as games. Salvador Dali played a lot with space, time and optical illusions. Vatican hosts carpets that feature tables that change orientation when you look at them from different angles. This might be more in line with what you look for.

    But can games be art? Absolutely, when they create emotions. My favorite part of Gothic was hunting in the forest during the night. That’s clearly art. Did I like it better than Dali? Clearly no, because Dali makes me consider ideas that Gothic just can’t.

    Just my two cents. Use them as you want.

  37. […] Comparing a painting you pick up at a local art festival to the Mona Lisa isn’t really gonna fly. Again – the gatekeepers have deemed it perfect, so nothing can exceed or even equal it by definition. But it doesn’t mean that a local artist’s efforts isn’t art.  Or that the person creating magazine ads for Campbell’s Soup isn’t an artist. It’s comparing apples to oranges.  And comparing the Mona Lisa to Dwarf Fortress? It’s comparing apples to lawn chairs. Sophie Houlden, over the weekend, wrote an amusing parody of some of these arguments. […]

  38. […] the always enthusiastic Sophie Houlden humorously turns an old question on its head by asking, Can Art Be Games? And she’s damn good at highlighting the absurdity of this fake dilemma. We’ve touched […]

  39. […] Sophie 就提出问题:Can art be games?Sophie […]

  40. […] Sophie 就提出问题:Can art be games?Sophie […]

  41. […] I thought we put the stupid “can games be art” thing to rest when games critic John Brindle revealed that games can never be art so long as games fail to embrace flaccid penises. Real Art, unlike video games, is defined by flaccid penises. But now that the issue of ‘can games be art’ has reared it’s ugly head again, it was time for game developer Sophie Houlden to take a stand and force us to look at the real question that people should be asking instead: can art be games? […]

  42. […] Houlden to take a stand and force us to look at the real question that people should be asking: can art be games? […]

  43. […] I thought we put the stupid “can games be art” thing to rest when games critic John Brindle revealed that games can never be art so long as games fail to embrace flaccid penises. Real Art, unlike video games, is defined by flaccid penises. But now that the issue of ‘can games be art’ has reared it’s ugly head again, it was time for game developer Sophie Houlden to take a stand and force us to look at the real question that people should be asking instead: can art be games? […]

  44. laura says:

    I love this!!! (linked from Kotaku) But could you change the “it’s” in the second-to-last paragraph to “its”? 🙂

  45. Fatikis says:

    This article is simply amazing.
    The author is incredibly clever.

  46. Colm says:

    Top marks! 😀

  47. Chris Butler says:

    One man pioneered making the “act of Art” a game (or at least interactive):

    Bob Ross!

  48. […] I thought we put the stupid “can games be art” thing to rest when games critic John Brindle revealed that games can never be art so long as games fail to embrace flaccid penises. Real Art, unlike video games, is defined by flaccid penises. But now that the issue has reared it’s ugly head again, it was time for game developer Sophie Houlden to take a stand and force us to look at the real question that people should be asking: can art be games? […]

  49. […] the good ol‘ discussion on videogames as art, let me just point you towards Scott McCloud and Sophie Houlden, both of them say it better than I ever […]

  50. […] interested in this topic should also read Sophie Houlden's blog post, Can Art Be Games?. It's brilliant.]  Posted by Saul Alexander at 12:06 […]

  51. Saul says:

    I just wanted to say this is the best contribution to this particular debate EVER. I’ve shared with as many people as I could.

  52. ISB says:

    I don’t know why but I’m feeling compelled to go out and go buy an art. I need to go figure out what all this stuff is about!

    Of course, though, arts can take on many different forms. Everyone has this closed-minded view that art has to be a painting that you place on the wall and then stare at. Maybe instead though, a vase that I can put on a podium in the middle of the room and then stare at in all directions might be cooler.

    *promptly dodges an incoming brick

  53. […] zu unterscheiden. Game-Designerin Sophie Houlden hat das mit einer Umkehrung der Ausgangsfrage in “Can Art be Games?” sehr schön illustriert. Entspricht der Gegenstand der Kritik nicht den gewohnten Vorstellungen von […]

  54. Pearce says:

    Brilliant! Reminds me a bit of “It’s A Book” by Lane Smith.

  55. Scott says:

    Even gamers act like random people who don’t know about games when they talk about this. It’s always about “when” or “can they”, ignoring that people have already been impacted by them. Isn’t that basically game over to begin with?

    The funny part is that games aren’t even well written. In my opinion anyway, it’s just goofy video game shit as usual, but the ability to draw you in regardless is a strength of the medium. In fact isn’t that the whole reason people constantly yell about violence in games?

  56. […] Are you tired of the “are games art?” debate? Sophie Houlden is too. That’s why she penned this piece asking “Can art be games?” […]

  57. Antipirina says:

    I think most people here are centering their attention in the medium. Art could be any medium, music alone, music with video, buildings, buildings with music and video, smells alone, etc. It doesn’t matter if is ‘richer’ the medium or not:

    *Videogames are not better than literature*
    *Cinema is not better that videogames*
    *Photographs are not better than paintings*

    These are just different ways of expressions of the human being.

    – I think what constitutes a better art is what impact more in the mind of the people. It doesn’t matter the medium, it just has to fit in the message.

  58. Janis says:

    Even some people in comments have thought that author is criticising those who claim games cant be art,I think it is pretty obvious that he criticising whole discussion as whole.It is pointless to look at games through the prism of art as vica versa.It can be argued that this whole discussion about games being or not being art have been futile from the start,because of its flawed un needlessly dichotomized premise.

  59. […] unlike the spectacularly oblivious Jones, Kellaway recognises the truth of Sophie Houlden’s ‘Can Art Be Games’? She realises that knowing how to enjoy games is in itself a skill and admits that she lacks key […]

  60. […] Can Art be Games?: […]

  61. […] Games that make you think and ask question: Can art be games? […]

  62. artist liliane says:

    Guys, art is something that comes from inside a person and it is not made with any purpose… it just happens. Games are made for you appreciate and that’s it. Art and Games will never stay at the same line, never.

  63. […] Sophie’s post: […]

  64. […] as Jade Empire, my most recent outing as Oracle) offer a chance to connect with another person. Visual art can be absorbed in the literal blink of an eye and literature and film can only really be discussed after they’ve been taken in entirely. We […]

  65. […] I came across “Can Art Be Games?”, which is frankly hilarious and well worth a […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *