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MoMA Is Right: Video Games Are Art

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In response to the New York Museum of Modern Art's decision to mount an exhibition of video games, an American game developer, Brian Moriarty, writing in the Guardian said that games cannot yet be regarded as art. His view is hardly an original one.

Conventional wisdom has long held that video games are the dominion of geeks and nerds who are only interested in guiding musclebound heroes through alien lands to rescue buxom princesses. While he does not suggest that video games could never be art in the future, Moriarty's central thesis is flawed, and dependent on an archaic view of video games that sweeps aside the last few decades of technical and artistic development within the industry as a whole.

Tellingly, Moriarty looks at no concrete examples in his article. He casts an eye across gaming's long history and proclaims that over the past 2,500 years, games have never been thought of as art, so consequently they should not be considered so now. He suggests that if any game should be honoured with the title of art, then it should be chess, one of the 'most elegant rule sets ever devised'.

But what are his criteria for establishing whether something is art or not? Moriarty offers none. And if we have no standards of assessment, then how is it possible to determine whether something should be considered an art form alongside music, books, painting, photography and cinema? I would suggest the simplest way to do so would be to have a quick look at some of the better video games of recent years.

There are countless examples of artistic achievement in games but perhaps these four speak elegantly on behalf of the medium as a whole. Limbo, a haunting elegy to fear and loss won accolades for its consummate art style when it was released in July 2010. Two years ago, an excerpt of Rockstar's crime thriller L.A. Noire became the first video game to be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. The Unfinished Swan, released last year, created a world which could only be explored through splashing paint across an otherwise blank canvas.

And as Robert Brockway noted on Cracked.com, the video game Rez was inspired by the work of the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, reproducing the sensation of synaesthesia the artist was reputed to have suffered from, and to which many critics attribute his experimental use of form and colour.

The 2,500 years of opinion Moriarty offers as evidence that games are not art seem a curious basis for assessing a medium which was only born late last century. But surely the point is this: one can only really tell whether something is art or not by looking at it in practical detail. In my role as an app reviewer for The Sunday Times, I encounter video games which could only be considered art on an almost weekly basis. Of course there's no shortage of games where the object is simply to shoot zombies in the head, but it is only by looking at the highlights of a medium that one may judge whether it is art or not. Even a cursory glance at some of gaming's recent successes shows why MoMA is now putting Pac-Man alongside Picasso and Pollock.

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