My brief argument for videogames to be recognized as a serious art form, however primitive at the moment.
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat
A Trip to the Moon
Dickson Experimental Sound Film
The Persistence of Memory
Karajan conducting Beethoven's 5th Symphony
The Battleship Potemkin
Un Chien Andalou
Singin' in the Rain
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Super Mario Bros.
Madden Football 1995
The Incredible Machine
Final Fantasy X
Command and Conquer 3
Metal Gear Solid 4
Johann Sebastian Bach
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Michael Levy's Giant Steps
John Zorn's Cobra
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Resident Evil 5
Grand Theft Auto 4
New Super Mario Bros.
Shadow of the Colossus
The Night Journey
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Duke Nukem Forever
When the motion picture was invented, critics considered it an amusing toy. They didn't see its potential to be an art form like painting or music. But only a few decades later, film was in some ways the ultimate art, capable of passion, lyricism, symbolism, subtlety and beauty. Film could combine the elements of all other arts - music, literature, poetry, dance, staging, fashion, and even architecture - into a single, awesome work. Of course, film will always be used for silly amusements, but it can also express the highest of art. Film has come of age.
In the 1960s, computer programmers invented another amusing toy: the videogame. Nobody thought it could be a serious art form. And who could blame them? Super Mario Bros. didn't have much in common with Citizen Kane. And, nobody was even trying to make artistic games. Companies just wanted to make fun playthings that would sell lots of copies.
But recently, games have started to look a lot like the movies, and people wondered, "Could this become a serious art form, like film?" In fact, some games basically were films, with tiny bits of gameplay snuck in.
Of course, there is one major difference between films and games. Film critic Roger Ebert thinks games can never be an art form, because: "Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."
But wait a minute... aren't there already serious art forms that allow for flexibility, improvisation, and player choices?
Bach, Mozart, and other composers famously left room for improvisation in their classical compositions.
And of course jazz music is an art form based almost entirely on improvisation within a set of scales or modes or ideas.
Avantgarde composers Christian Wolff and John Zorn write "game pieces" in which there are no pre-arranged notes at all! Performers play according to an unfolding set of rules, exactly as in baseball or... Mario.
So gameplay can be art. Maybe the real reason some people don't think games are an art form is that they don't know of any artistic videogames. Even the games with impressive graphic design and good music have hokey stories and unoriginal drive-jump-shoot gameplay.
And for the most part, they're right. There aren't many artistic games. Games are only just becoming an art form. It took film a while to become art, too.
But maybe the skeptics haven't played the right games, either. Have they played Shadow of the Colossus, a minimalist epic of beauty and philosophy?
Have they played Façade, a one-act play in which the player tries to keep a couple together by listening to their dialogue, reading their facial expressions, and responding in natural language?
Have they seen The Night Journey, by respected video artist Bill Viola, which intends to symbolize a mystic's path to enlightenment?
It is an exciting time for videogames. They will continue to deliver simple fun and blockbuster entertainment, but there is also an avant-garde movement of serious artists who are about the launch the medium to new heights of expression. And I, for one, can't wait to see what they come up with.