508377 is a quasi-random number.

games as art

March 16, 2009 essay

You bug me, people who think that games are meant to be fun and that artistry is beholden to that cause. You bug me because I don’t understand you, and you don’t seem to be making a hard attempt to understand “us“. By “us”, I mean the crowd of folks who believe that games can, indeed, hold valid artistic statements as a priority over the vague concept of “fun”. You bug me because your agenda — to have fun, ostensibly — seems to be diametrically opposed to the goal of expression.

It’s strange to discuss the history of games. It didn’t start in the 1970s. Nor the 60s. Nor in the 1900s. Games, of course, have existed probably before recorded history. Even if they were not organized or formal, likely humans played with each other the way lion cubs tumble around: as a means of practice for life skills. But discussion rarely dips that deep into the human psyche. Dice games, card games, and board games have a long history, themselves. Do any of these games have artistic merit?

Consider a musician contemplating sculpture. Consider an architect pondering over interpretive dance. Does the theory of one study carry over to another? How would one bridge that gap of understanding? Can we, as humans, intuit the significance of some item without an artist or historian giving us context? It’s a broad question: when does something transcend into art?

I’d argue that you — the folks who keep games below the bar of art — are not being open enough. I don’t know if this is cultural bias, ignorance, or spite, but completely closing the door on the subject cannot cause me anything but grief. Do you feel that it is akin to religious proselytism? Are you guarding against something that, on the face of it, you simply cannot accept? Do you think that the ludologists are simply crazy people, talking the detached babble of ivory towers?

So, we are at an impasse. How can we open the dialogue? Will you simply forfeit discussion, and return to your artless games, happy with the fun that they provide you? I sincerely hope you can appreciate games — or anything — more deeply than that, just as I am willing to enjoy the fun that a game may provide me.