Emotions, expression, and deep thoughts are concepts often invoked by games. Similar notions can be obtained from art such as paintings, films, and sculptures. But are games truly an art? The Internet has been set on fire with this argument with sides arguing for both reasons why videogames are, or are not, considered as such a medium. It’s true that blood, sweat, and tears often go into the process of making both a painting and videogames, but I think the more important question is to ask ourselves whether or not this argument matters in the grand scheme of things. Seeing as videogames are primarily a means to acquiring money, it’s often not a matter of being seen as an artists as much as it is about making and selling as many copies of any given game possible. Why are we even bothering with this regard when it doesn’t truly affect sales?
Let’s take a look at Dear Esther or even Gone Home. Both titles are often praised for being a prime example of what games as an art form are–fun fact: Gone Home won Polygon’s game of the year award for 2013. But while it was praised for its storytelling and environment, it was criticized for its lack of interactivity and short story line (averaging about 1.7 hours). Some, like Jim Sterling from the Jimquisition, have even gone as far as to call these type of games boring. However, while it sold 700,000 copies in its lifetime–certainly a respectable number for an indie title–I haven’t spoken to anyone who bought this game for the art. I do remember people who purchased this game during the hype and thanks to its reviews on Steam which are sitting at mostly positive. Gone Home will never achieve the level of success that a game like Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty would reach on a bad day.
A similar example of this would be Shadow of the Colossus and ICO which are made by Team ICO would enjoy similar reputations of being an example of videogames as art. But while these games reached higher numbers in terms of sales with SotC selling 1.14m copies worldwide during its initial release and later a collection of both games selling 1.32m. It still pales in comparison to the sales of other games which are considered more mainstreams of the business. What kind of message does this send to companies? Well, the good news is that there is money to be made in this games that perhaps don’t require as high of an investment as a AAA title. But on the opposite side of the coin, it also sends the message that it doesn’t matter whether a game is art or not. Gamers will always tend to gravitate to what is popular and oftentimes that is why we get a constant stream of sequels.
It doesn’t matter how “artistic” your vision is as long as it brings in money thus companies are happy to let gamers argue amongst each other on what constitutes art or not. The argument is pointless because as long as someone is buying these games, the majority of game developers don’t care and a prime example of this is Tim Schafer. The man has been quoted saying that he’s always wanted to sell out and hates being seen as some kind of art house developer. His games are often seen as an artform, but that’s not what he wants. He wants your money and a lot of times those games fail to produce the sales he wants. While Schafer is only one man, and certainly not the voice of all videogame developers, he is an established man in the business and would know a lot more than the general populace.
In the end, whether videogames are seen as an artform or not is completely subjective. You can continue to argue mindlessly about the topic and get nowhere because it’s not going to affect the game’s price at the end of the day. In this digital age, we can reproduce multiple copies of a game indefinitely which will keep prices low as remakes keep getting made and the technology to use the original copies continues to deteriorate. Regardless of what happens, all that matters at the end is whether a game will sell out or if it will sit at the end of the bargain bin forever.