Are games art?

So who decides what the public should view as art? Well, everyone. Especially in the midst of the reign of “Web 2.0,” popular culture determines what’s in and what isn’t. But who decides what should be put on a pedestal inside of a quiet, marble walled institution? The curators, or “gatekeepers of art,” as Rachel Torrey from the SFMOMA described them, make the final decision.

Deciding what art to present and what not to present is a thoroughly challenging job. Curators need to determine, based on museum purchases and donations, what work will enrich our culture – what the public needs to see. It’s a huge responsibility. While games have made it to the pedestal more times than you may think, Rachel commented that games largely aren’t considered art by the art community, “because of the fact that they’re entertainment, primarily.”

Above: A solitary chair in the atrium of the SFMOMA

Rachel went on to describe a video game centric show that she witnessed a couple of years ago at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (across the street from the SFMOMA). We checked out some of the opening photos, but they looked more like an industry party than an art show – we weren’t quite sure what the museum was trying to say, and they probably weren’t either. No one really seems to know what to do with games. If they are art, how can they be appreciated in an artsy way? Films don’t go in museums, but they at least have establishments dedicated to their viewing. But games (much like TV, which has had a similarly hard time being accepted as artistic) are most comfortably experienced in dark living rooms on plush couches. There’s nothing particularly artsy about that, but the large scale outdoor projects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and the make-shift canvases of graffiti artists have shown us that perhaps museums and galleries aren’t always necessary institutions – that it doesn’t matter how or where art is presented, just that it exists.

Associate Editor, Digital at PC Gamer