Video Games and Aesthetics (A response to Magical Wasteland)

I would like games to be seen as art if someone can clearly place them within an understood artistic tradition. It hasn't really happened yet.

Video games are a young medium and if the community wants to push to re-define art as it is currently understood they need to have clear understanding of art as it is currently understood.

Wikipedia isn't a lot of help here in finding the two-sentence blurb on art definition. To be sure, there is plenty of subjectivity to be found when discussing art but there is also much to draw upon in terms of artistic tradition and history.

The recent N+1 article Cave Painting was an attempt to discuss that context. It touched on general aesthetic understandings as articulated by Kant and refuted by Nietzsche. Its conclusion in brief was that to the extent that they are both currently understood, games are not art.

Author and journalist, Tom Bissell submitted a thoughtful reply which disagreed with the article and suggested comparing game interactivity to theater.

Matthew S. Burns from Magical Wasteland also replied on his website and questioned N+1's understanding of gaming, art and aesthetics.

I am not a game designer or student of Kant; however; I feel that many of N+1's points were misunderstood.

Much of Kant's discussion of beauty centers on the context within which it is found. Therefore the suggestion of beauty qua beauty is problematic because its meaning is not objective. This is what N+1 means when they say "Art-beauty is not the same as being good-looking, or else Bond movies might be the most beautiful films ever made." Context is paramount or meaning is lost.

And while we're fairly certain Kant never thought about video games this does not mean his concepts are invalid. As you'll note from the link below Kant spoke generally enough to remain relevant.

All that said, any headway in this discussion will be helped by writers and thinkers who are able to have meaningful discussions in both art and gaming contexts (even if the intent is to re-imagine that context). Nietzsche understood Kant's arguments clearly so he could adequately refute them.

Unfortunately discussions on games as art rarely touch on any sort of nuanced understanding of artistic tradition or criticism. Most immediately understand art's problematic subjectivity to mean that nothing has (or can) be said on the matter, thus games must be art. N+1 acknowledges this when it asks "If video games have turned out to be art, then what has art turned out to be?"

At least with Tom Bissell there's the idea (the hope?) that his training as a journalist has conditioned him to try to see all sides of the argument as he frames the narrative.

Here's a great primer on Kant's ideas of beauty.