A lot of debate erupted last year with Roger Eberts Twitter comment that video games can not be art.
The obvious complication in the debate over video games as art is rooted in the definition of art and the fact that art is largely in the eye of the beholder. This however has been a year where video games have been thrust into venues and spaces traditionally reserved for art. This shift, at least to me is an affirmation that this medium can be art. Bellow is just a few examples of what I am referring to here.
Video Game Orchestra: The VGO founded by Berklee College of Music alumni Shota Nakama is at its core an ensemble of some amazing classically trained musicians who perform video game music. At first to someone not versed in the medium this sounds a bit cartoonish or childish, but music in games has progressed a long way. Its composition and arangment now reviles motion picture sound tracks. Pieces from games like the Final Fantasy series or even the Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time can stir the same emotional response as modern classical can. Their approach does have some more non-traditional classical elements to it. A lot of video game music is synthesized and incorporates guitar (not traditional orchestral instrumentation). The VGO matches this with their talent and rockestral instrumentation. Watching them play something like the theme to Street Fighter II, a 16bit synthesized and programed track, with out the assistance of sequencers is simply an amazing show of talent.
The VGO for the past few years has been performing mainly to video game fans at venues like PAX East. However earlier this year on April Fools day (not sure if there was a tie in) the VGO performed with a full orchestra and choir at the prestigious Boston Symphony Hall. The Final Fantasy suite from that evening is embedded below for your consideration as art.
Smithsonian Institute Video Game Art Exhibit and List: The prestigious Smithsonian Institute, the US government’s educational and research institution put out a call earlier this year for public voting on what should be included in their The Art of Video Games exhibit now on until September 30, 2012. The curators of the exhibit reserved Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and World of Warcraft to be included but left the rest up to the public. The final list is very interesting and can be found here in PDF form. The curators recognized that a certain granularity was needed to define eras and technical capabilities and broke the list into respective categories and even systems.
Details on the exhibit can be found here.
Video Games Won Their First Grammy: That’s right a Grammy! The track “Baba Yetu” from Sid Myer’s Civilization IV won the first Grammy for any music originally composed for a video game. Now there are some tecnical trickery here in how it won. Civilization IV came out in 2005 and “Baba Yetu” is the opening title track composed by Christopher Tin. In 2009 Tin included the track on his own album and it was later nominated and won for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). As of the 53rd Grammys there was no specific category that included video game music but that is changing. The categories that were formally listed as “Motion, Television, or Other Visual Media” have now been renamed earlier this year to say “Motion, Television, Video Games Music, or Other Visual Media”.
National Endowment for the Arts: Earlier this month the National Endowment for the Arts changed its criteria for The Arts on Radio and Television to now be The Arts in Media.
“Projects may include high profile multi-part or single television and radio programs (documentaries and dramatic narratives); media created for theatrical release; performance programs; artistic segments for use within an existing series; multi-part webisodes; installations; and interactive games. Short films, five minutes and under, will be considered in packages of three or more.”
More here if you wish to apply!
My point here in the post is not to argue that video games are art, but rather run with the notion that art is art when it is received as art and that video games this year seem to be being viewed as art by some very prestigious groups in that space. The question is a lot less simple but, I do leave it up to you. Can video games be art?