Are games art?

As the realm of game design becomes more and more accessible to independent developers, homebrew and student made games like flOw are starting to break into the mainstream. FlOw began as a flash based master’s thesis on dynamic difficulty levels in games, but turned out to be a sleeper hit, and was remade for the PS3. It features simple but elegant graphics and gameplay that sends our frontal lobes into a thick trance.

Above: FlOw pulls our eyeballs through an etherial geometrical world

At the 2007 Game Developers Conference, an indie game known as Aquaria received the Independent Game Festival's top award. Aquaria is a wonderfully stylized 2D underwater adventure, and it represents something we love - independent programmers, designers and visual artists creating the kind of games they’d like to see, as opposed to slop built solely to appeal to the mass-consumer.

Of course, we aren’t ruling out mainstream games entirely. Titles like Okami and ICO, as just two examples in a long list, have impressed us with their stunning visual design, elegance, and subtlety. Games can and do contain intricate narratives, creatively express aspects of the human condition and tackle the ups and downs modern society. Classics like Mario have become cultural icons, and any icon as pervasive as Mario in a more traditional medium would likely be labeled “art” on the spot.

But it all still remains very vague – there are few steadfast truths in the art world. Even some of the SFMOMA patrons we met on the street weren’t sure if what they’d seen in the museum was art. Games are clearly produced by groups of artists, but does that mean that the final product itself is art? We asked Rachel and she nicely summarized the subjective nature of the problem, “If you have an army of artists producing something, is it not art? That's not a question for me... philosophers will debate it for centuries.”