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Is Game Design Art? Great Designers Say 'Not Really'

Posted by Renato Velarde

At a GDC 2009 roundtable with renowned designers, Art seems to be a dirty word

It’s a debate that has raged for centuries: Do video games constitute art? Ok, maybe not centuries, but it seems like a while. Personally, I say ‘yeah, of course it is!’, but I’m not the creator of games that have been hailed as art by so many.

At this years GDC conference, ICO creator, Fumito Ueda says of his most recent project only that “My team and I are making a game which is close to art - that's what people say.”

He goes on to refute the claim that their games are art in general. He continues, “We're making a game to entertain people. Sometimes my personality and my team's might be reflected on the game, and it might look like art, but it is a game to entertain people. That kind of feedback is welcome but it's not what I'm trying to achieve."

Emil Pagliarulo, lead designer of Fallout 3 mirrored the cautionary tone about art, "We'll come into our own. We don't have to push the issue. Who are we trying to impress? I think game developers should concentrate on making good games. The art thing will happen naturally."

Goichi Suda (a.k.a. Suda 51) creator of the quirky Killer 7 and No More Heroes also weighed in, "I pay attention to art. In making entertainment, if we try to achieve art, that would be difficult. But people in the art field play games and are impressed."
He also said of his experience in creating Killer 7, “… it was a really new attempt with really new things... Even if I tried to explain that to people working on it, not everybody could really understand. It was difficult to put it into words."

Sounds like art to me.

Hmm… this begs for hours of nerdy discussion from us, but it sounds like some of the best designers themselves don’t like to go there. They can’t hide forever behind the flawed argument that art is defined by whether it’s GOOD art or not. Hard to complain about their modesty, though.


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User Comments (13)



Cthuloops said:

I consider games to be art as well, but it depends on the game. Just look at Muramasa: The Demon Blade. It's basically moving art!



Wesbert said:

So, they're basically saying they're not really making art because they're only making games to entertain, without aiming at art? Well, that is true art, in my opinion. Consider the (often overrated) Mona Lisa. Leonardo DaVinci didn't set out thinking "Now I wanna make art, so let's look for a woman without eyebrows and a look of slight constipation". No, he was commissioned to do a portrait, and it became art through the way he painted it. And why did he do it? For money. Flamish landscape artists wanted to change the way we look at nature, not create "art". As for entertaining, just look at Giuseppe Arcimboldo's paintings, and tell me they're not meant to be entertaining in the first place. Or Breughel's Peasant Wedding. Art happens through the skill of the artist, not his intention. And the primary focus on gameplay? Austrian Arts & Crafts - Designer Adolf Loos said "Something that isn't functional can't be beautiful", and his designs and philosophy are considered art, too. So, a game that is functional, entertaining and changes the way we percieve things is art. (That strange aloofness of art nowadays is just a fad, and will pass)



Popyman said:

I would never say "games are art" but some games are art. And it's those games, that I look for, and enjoy more than any other.

Okami, Mother 3, ICO, and Shadow of the Colossus, all art.



Stevie said:

I would agree that games are not made to "be art" but some games are a form of art in one way or another. Okami is art in motion, and classic images such as mario are so popular (t-shirts,mugs,prints etc.) that i would class them as a form of art too.

Also what about Mario Paint, that is art



Ren said:

Still don't get why art has to only be things that we think are cool or weird. "bad" art or "good" art, to me, shouldn't define it or qualify it as such. Basically creation is art, it's very broad. Street signs are art in a sense - someone had to design it at one time to communicate an idea; both practical and creative thinking went into it hence: voila! Art!
Why all this judgement? I can't stand Dave Matthews band, doesn't mean it's not art.



Mr_M said:

Somehow, that picture with those nintendo characters remindes me of The Last Supper.



Golgo said:

It's a non-question, seeing as 2,500 years of debate have not yet resulted in a single, over-arching definition of what defines art 'itself'.



Gabbo said:

Games are like that rock and roll those greased up beatnicks listen to these days. That's not's noise!!!



StarDust4Ever said:

If you want a good example of "art" check out World of Goo. A person could spend days contemplating the deepness of hidden meaning behind all the levels, design, artwork, and dialogue.



Kenryoku_Maxis said:

Art is a label. And throughout time, everything, from paintings, sculptures, books, plays, movies and yes, even games, have been stated as and used as examples against the definition 'art'. Its not so much that there is a universal definition of what art is, but more that everyone has their own view of art based on their upbringing and personal tastes. And when you ask 'do you think this is art', every person will give you a different answer.

Some people will think Okami is art, but likewise think Andy Warhol's 'Tomato Soup' is just a painting of a bunch of soup cans. Yet if you ask another person, they'll think the opposite.



Golgo said:

The seemingly commonsensical notion "that everyone has their own view of art" is just one view of art, traceable via Aristotle to Hume and beyond to the cultural relativism of today. It is only fairly recently that this idea has become popular within aesthetics, which has been dominated overwhelmingly by attempts to find a universal definition of art regardless of individual taste preferences.

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