Considering I haven’t played a video game since college, it’s odd how engrossed I’ve become by the current debate over whether or not such games can be considered art, on par with painting, literature, music and film.
Roger Ebert ignited a mini-controversy earlier this year with his blog post, “Video games can never be art,” while accomplished author Tom Bissell argues the opposite in his new book “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.” Surrounding these high-profile judgments are millions of online opinions that fall on both sides of the argument.
Despite all the back and forth, I’m not quite sure yet where I stand. Certainly video games have the potential to be art, so my instinct is to lean toward Bissell. After all, I’m a movie guy, and the arguments against video games as an art form sound awfully similar to those made against the cinema in its infancy. Bissell also details the increasingly sophisticated ways game designers have interwoven production design, character development, narrative and music – the very same ingredients of cinematic art.
Even so, Bissell’s book spends disconcertingly little time discussing the moral aspect of video games – the crux of the matter for many Christians. Judging from Bissell’s own overview, the average game still runs on those two old standards: sexism and violence. Only here the gamer is able to actively – or at least virtually – engage in the sexist and violent acts.
I think this makes the “art-or-not” argument even more pertinent for Christians. We’re not talking about a frivolous entertainment pastime such as horseshoes. Video games have proven their financial relevance – indeed, they regularly out-earn Hollywood – and the day is coming when they will rival movies in terms of cultural significance. Culturally engaged Christians, then, will need to develop a language with which to discuss them.
The question I have then – and I’d especially like to hear from gamers - is twofold: Are video games art? And if so, how does that change the way Christians should engage and process them?