An art game or arthouse game is a video game that is designed in such a way as to emphasize art or whose structure is intended to produce some kind of reaction in its audience.[1] Art games typically go out of their way to have a unique, unconventional look, often standing out for aesthetic beauty or complexity in design.[2] This concept extends to the realm of modified ("modded") gaming when modifications have been made to existing non-art-games to produce graphic results intended to be viewed as an artistic display, as opposed to modifications intended to change game play scenarios or for storytelling. Modified games created for artistic purposes are sometimes referred to as "video game art."

Art game versus game art

As video games became increasingly common as a form of media throughout the 2000s[3][4], video games that deemphasized the game portion of the medium (such as serious games, non-games and art games) saw a rise in production. The contemporaneity of improvements in graphic capabilities with the increases in art game releases has led to some confusion regarding the difference between games with artistic imagery and art games. This difference has been described by Justin McElroy of Joystiq as "the same [as that] between a sculpture and a building. Though a building/game can be aesthetically pleasing, an art game/sculpture is using its very structure to produce some kind of reaction."[2] This same comparison has been used by Jenova Chen [5] in an interview discussing art games and the prominence of non-games to the artistic gamer community.

Another key difference between art games and game art is that art games are artistic creations from the outset whereas game art pieces employ non-art games as the artistic medium.[6] Thus the "game" portion of "game art" is merely the means to an artistic end.

History of art games

At the 2010 Art History of Games conference in Atlanta, Georgia, professor Celia Pearce described the emergence of art games as a collision between the worlds of art and video games. Professor Pearce noted that since the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and Marcel Duchamp's art productions, procedurality has taken a central position in certain forms of art. By imposing strict rules in the interest of artistic creation (e.g. the production of an entire painting while the artist is cross-eyed), the concept of artwork has expanded to the point where video games can come into collision with it to form art games.[7]

Pearce suggests that developing directly from more modern perspective in game design such as the New Games Movement, art games in their current form were presaged by the work of artists such as Frank Lantz (co-founder of the game studio area/code. Pieces such as Lantz' Pac Manhattan, suggests Pearce, have become something like performance art pieces. Pearce identifies the earliest true art games as originating in the early 1980s with games such as Jaron Lanier's Alien Garden. Art games often are designed with a message such as the addition of female characters to a traditionally male-centric game or are designed to force the audience to re-examine a work with which they are familiar in a different light.[7]

Most recently, a strong overlap has developed between art games and indie games. This meeting of the art game movement and the indie game movement is important according to Professor Pearce, insofar as it brings art games to more eyes and allows for greater potential to explore in indie games.[7]


The characterization of games as works of art has been controversial. While critics have never denied that games may contain artistic elements in their traditional forms such as graphic art, music, and story, several notable figures have advanced the contentious position that games are not artworks, and may never be capable of being called art. Further fueling the debate are the difficulties involved in defining the word "art" (as for instance in analyzing static versus interactive art) and the word "game" (for example, regarding the centrality of plot and the classification of nongames). The lines between video games and art become blurred when works fit the labels of both game and interactive art.

Games which are not video games (such as basketball) have also been given artistic consideration for the aesthetically pleasing forms that highly skilled players employ.[citation needed] The observation of gameplay without interaction (such as watching someone play a game) can also be compared to art appreciation.[citation needed]

Roger Ebert on video games as art

Noted film critic, Roger Ebert has participated in a series of controversial debates and published colloquies regarding whether or not video games may be fairly considered as art. In 2005, Ebert described video games as a non-artistic medium incomparable to the more established art forms:

To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

In 2006, Ebert took part in a panel discussion at the Conference on World Affairs entitled "An Epic Debate: Are Video Games an Art Form?" in which he stated that video games don't explore the meaning of being human as other art forms do.[9][10] A year later, in response to comments from Clive Barker on the panel discussion, Ebert further noted that video games present a malleability that would otherwise ruin other forms of art. As an example, Ebert posed the idea of a version of Romeo & Juliet that would allow for an optional happy ending. Such an option, according to Ebert, would weaken the artistic expression of the original work.[11] In April 2010, Ebert published an essay, dissecting a presentation made by Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany at the 2009 Technology Entertainment Design Conference, where he again claimed that games can never be art, due to their rules and goal-based interactivity.[12]

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.

Ebert's essay was strongly criticized by the gaming community,[13][14][15] including Santiago herself who believes that video games as artistic media are only at their infancy, similar to prehistoric cave paintings of the past.[16] Ebert later amended his comments, conceding that games may indeed be art in a non-traditional sense, but lacked the patience or desire to try a game to prove to himself otherwise.[17]

Other notable critics

At the 2010 Art History of Games conference, Michael Samyn and Auriea Harvey (founding members of indie studio Tale of Tales), argued in no uncertain terms that "games are not art" and that they are by and large "a waste of time." Central to Tale of Tales' distinction between games and art is the purposive nature of games as opposed to art: Whereas humans possess a biological need that is only satisfied by play, argues Samyn, and as play has manifested itself in the form of games, games represent nothing more than a physiological necessity. Art, on the other hand, is not created out of a physical need but rather it represents a search for higher purposes. Thus the fact that a game acts to fulfill the physical needs of the player is sufficient, according to Samyn, to disqualify it as art.[7]

Gamers were surprised by this controversial stance due to the frequency of prior third-party characterizations of Tale of Tales' productions as "art games," however Tale of Tales clarified that the games they were making simply expanded the conception of games. The characterization of their games as "art games," noted Samyn, was merely a byproduct of the imaginative stagnation and lack of progressivism in the video game industry. While Tale of Tales acknowledged that old media featuring one-way communication was not enough, and that two-way communication via computers offers the way forward for art, the studio argued that such communication today is being held hostage by the video game industry.[7] To enable and foment this futuristic two-way art, suggests Tale of Tales, the concept of "the game" must be eviscerated by games that do not fit within the current paradigm and then "life must be breathed into the carcass" through the creation of artworks Samyn and Harvey refer to as "not games."[7]


Examples of games in the art game genre include:

See also


  1. Sneidberg, Scott (2010-08-31). "Who says video games aren't art?". CNN. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Play, Pushing. Video Game Blogs. Format Magazine. 5 November 2008.
  3. Wasteland, Matthew. Opinion: Tell Me What Art Is, and I’ll Tell You What Games Are. Game Set Watch. 27 September 2008.
  4. The Art of Play. Accessed 15 November 2008.
  5. Chen, Jenova. Chat notes about Video Game, Art and Digital Medium. Jenova's Blog. 7 May 2008.
  6. Silfer, Kyle. Applied Ludology: Art games and game art. Alibi. V.16, No.28. Feature Archive. July 12 - 18, 2007.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Pratt, Charles J. The Art History... Of Games? Games As Art May Be A Lost Cause. Gamasutra. 8 February 2010.
  8. Ebert, Roger (2005-11-27). "Why did the chicken cross the genders?". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  9. Emerson, Jim (2006-04-16). "Video games: The 'epic debate'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  10. Ebert, Roger (2006-04-13). "An Epic Debate: Are Video Games an Art Form?". 62nd Annual Conference on World Affairs.
  11. Ebert, Roger (2007-07-21). "Games vs. Art: Ebert vs. Barker". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Ebert, Roger (2010-04-16). "Video games can never be art". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  13. Nosowitz, Dan (2010-04-20). "Game Designer Kellee Santiago Responds to Roger Ebert's "Video Games Are Not Art" Rant". Fast Company. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  14. Sjöberg, Lore (2010-04-23). "Alt Text: Are Videogames Art? Time Will Tell". Wired. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  15. Sapieha, Chad (2010-04-18). "Roger Ebert: Video games cannot be art". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  16. Santiago, Kellee (2010-04-19). "Right. Moving On… [My Response to Ebert]". thatgamecompany. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  17. Ebert, Roger (2010-07-01). "Okay, kids, play on my lawn". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  18. Pease, Emma. CSLI Calendar Of Public Events. Stanford Center for the Study of Language and Information. 14 May 1997.
  19. Remo, Chris. Creator Of Space Invaders-Based 9/11 Art Piece Pulls Exhibit. Gamasutra. 25 August 2008.
  20. Ploug, Kristine. Art Games - An Introduction. 1 December 2005.
  21. Rohrer, Jason C. Review: Super Columbine Massacre RPG!. Arthouse Games. 1 January 2007.
  22. Whiting, Mark. Slamdance Judge Speaks Out Against Censorship. 1up. 11 January 2007.
  23. More Details & Reaction Emerge on Slamdance Festival & Super Columbine Game GamePolitics. 6 January 2007.
  24. Pichlmair, Martin. Electroplankton revisited: A Meta-Review. Eludamos. Vol. 1, Issue 1. 2007
  25. Hill, Jason. Art-Game Interview:with Jason Nelson. Screen Play, Sydney Morning Herald, 2009
  26. Whiting, Mark. NY Game Exhibit Shut Down Amidst Controversy. 1UP News. 13 March 2008.
  27. McElroy, Justin. The Joystiq Free Game Club: Aether. Joystiq . 8 September 2008.
  28. Siegel, Scott Jon. Check out indie art game 'The Graveyard'. Joystiq. 4 April 2008.
  29. Scarpelli, Michael. 2008 Special Awards - Best Arthouse Game - Gravitybone. GameTunnel. 28 December 2008.
  30. Martin, Tim. Endpaper - Fiction Reaches a New Level. The Daily Telegraph, 8 May 2009.
  31. Thomsen, Michael. Independent View: Passage's Jason Rohrer. IGN. 21 May 2008.
  32. Alexander, Leigh. Analysis: Every Day's Not The Same 'Art Game'. Gamasutra. 12 January 2010.
  33. Bakalar, Jeff; Stein, Scott; Ackerman, Dan (2010-07-19). "Happily getting stuck in Limbo". CNet. Retrieved 2010-07-22.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  34. Hatfield, Daemon (2010-07-19). "Limbo Review". IGN. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  35. Sapieha, Chad (2010-07-22). "Playing in Limbo". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-07-22. 

External links

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