Are Video Games Art?

When people think of art, its usually the great, classical artist who come to mind. Rembrandt, da Vinci, Dali or Gauguin are all famous men who are known around the world for their artistic triumphs in the visual arts – in their cases, with canvas and paint. With all of the details that go into the design of video games, including backgrounds, character design, animation, storylines and even the flow of the game itself, some would say that video game design is art, especially those who design the games. Would the great artists consider the design of video games a modern form of artist expression? Are video games less artistic merely because they are on a digital canvas, rather than the expected framed product?

The process of designing a video game takes on many forms. After a video game concept is pitched or developed by a team of designers, they begin to “sketch” out the game itself, much like a movie, with storyboards that are hand-illustrated but they also contain technical details. Unlike a movie, which has only one storyline, a video game may have many different outcomes, each of which has to be designed and produced from start to end. Characters are then created, usually by hand, and eventually scanned into computers with which video game designers take the sketches and apply skeletons (for animation purposes) as well as details such as skin or other visual elements.

Texture mapping comes next, with the attention focused on backgrounds and the environment in which the characters will interact, shoot the bad guys and claim their virtual victories. This art is a step above two-dimensional art because it can contain 3-D elements, plus sounds, moving shadows and many other realistic enhancements. The final phase of video game development is the coding and programming involved. Video game programming gives the characters (and environment) the ability to interact with each other, as well as manage the challenges and obstacles of the game. This artificial intelligence, so to speak, is what can make or break a video game because without engaging game play, no amount of character or environmental design will actually keep a gamer’s attention.

Video games are artistic representations of fantasy worlds in which characters, either realistic human or otherwise, interact within virtual environments. They are the “artistic medium of the new century.” Each time a character turns its head, or the clouds move across the top of the gaming screen, a video game designer had to use her or his artistic expertise in order to create the visual designs needed for the game. While perhaps video games are looked at as lesser forms of art when compared to oil paintings, sculptures or musical compositions, they still stand as representations of truly modern, technology-enhanced art, which use not only visual elements to inspire emotion, but also interpersonal (or inter-monster-al) connections, as well as elements of surprise, fear, love and courage. They are still art, in their own right, as any video game designer will attest.

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