No medium is purely artistic

Jeapardy and The Wire

It goes without saying that there is a significant difference between Jeopardy! and The Wire. One is a non-artistic game show; the other is an artistic drama. The only thing that they share is the medium of television. If someone was advocating for more artistic analysis of television shows – having in mind shows like The Wire – I could easily walk in and claim that Television is not an art form because Jeopardy! is not an example of art, so the The Wire can’t be art either. But that claim would be absurd. The fact that Jeopardy! has never tried to be art doesn’t disparage the artistic qualities of The Wire.

Likewise, the medium we call Video Games contains a wide range of forms. League of Legends is a competitive battle game where the player’s interaction revolves around attempts to master mechanics to defeat opponents, faithful to historic definitions of the word “game.” Heavy Rain, on the other hand, is dramatic in nature. The interaction revolves around character choices and desperate attempts to save the protagonist’s kidnapped son. Interaction is an aspect of both, but used in two completely different ways. League of Legends shares more with Basketball or Chess than it does with games like Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain and Telltale’s The Walking Dead are works of art as much as any decent dramatic film.

Each Medium helps inform the works that are made through it, but all mediums still contain a wide range of forms. There is not a single medium that is purely art. The Great Gatsby and the cookbook in my kitchen share a medium, both being written works, but they aren’t both pieces of art; they serve wholly different functions.

There are certainly a lot of examples of Video Games that share qualities with both artistic forms and non-artistic forms*, but the breakdown is still useful in analyzing games. Different tools should be used for different forms. Some games will benefit from applying theory about sports play and Game Theory, while the analysis of other video games would be better informed by long-standing artistic approaches to Literature, Film, or Theatre. The meaning of any work does not come from its medium; the form has a more dramatic effect on the content. If we are going to analyze video games, we need to be sure we recognize different forms and the different analysis approaches that they require.

– Mark Pajor

*In fact, almost all games are blends of both. Even the example I used as a non-artistic game, League of Legends, has plenty of lore and character description posted on its website for each of the champions available to play. However, League of Legends clearly focuses more on the competitive aspects of the game, making it a good example of a game in a non-artistic form.

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