Video games are protected as free speech under the law, but they do not yet have that same respect in the realm of art, though they should.
Video games are a new art body, as compared to others. We’ve had theatre since the spoken word. We’ve had books since the written word. It is only in the last hundred years that art has taken off into entirely new mediums. Radio programs, television shows, and movies evolved out of the theatrical tradition but it is hard to trace the family tree of interactive media. Video games are sort of a hodgepodge, Frankensteinian creative medium where things not possible in books and movies come to life.
Chris Melissinos wrote in Time Magazine, “They’re the only medium that allows for personalizing the artistic experience,” and he’s right. They are the only art form that exists inherently on the predication that someone is interacting with it. If the console isn’t on, the game cannot be experienced in its intended form.
Now, the problem of “are video games art?” requires us to truly define what the word “art” means. Merriam-Webster defines “art” as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination.” By that definition, video games must be art. They require a conscious decision to both create and interact with, meaning one cannot accidentally just make a video game. It often takes years of study into multiple fields to be successful at creating video games.
The problem stems from the nomenclature, not that there is anything better to call them. Inherently, when someone hears the word “game,” they think of the word “play,” and by extension they are lead to the adage, “all work, no play,” implying that if something is play it is not as important as work. These mental jumping-jacks lead to a slippery slope that puts the Mona Lisa, Moby Dick, and Mad Max on one side, and Super Mario on the other.
You’re probably thinking, “Why should I care? Let the kids have their fun and the teachers teach their classics. No harm, no foul.” That would be where you are wrong. Say that the idea is solidified that video games and other interactive media is purely for entertainment and cannot tell a meaningful story, and that they are purely for children. Then, the art form dies. An entire selection of narrative expression will go extinct, because if children are told that the games they are occupying their time with mean nothing to them, even though inside their own heads they relate to the experiences on the screen, then they will go on believing that it truly doesn’t matter and the future of game design will dwindle. This will cause either an incredible shortage of game designers and by extension video games themselves, or there are no video games left at all and they will become a footnote at the bottom of a textbook.
When you buy your children video games, encourage them to think critically while playing. Instruct them to think about what is happening on screen, not just with the mechanical aspects of the game but with the narrative aspects, too. Invite them to think of video games as a book you can interact with, a movie you can play with your friends. Make them know the narrative power of video games that the law finds to be evident.