I am a person who loves to consume all sorts of media. A movie here, a TV show there, a night of meticulously constructing a playlist every now and then. However often I may jump from one thing to another, I am always engaged in playing a video game in between. I see gaming as an art. The programmers and developers are the painters while the gamers are the art critics and museumgoers. Music is art, paintings and drawings are art, movies, acting, and voice acting are art, so why shouldn’t games be considered such when they include at least two of those art forms within them? Art is forever. The Mona Lisa is kept safe and sound because not only is it a famous piece of art, but it should be around for everyone to enjoy. Yes, a quick Google search could give you a high-resolution image of the painting but seeing it first-hand like I have is different. Being able to look at it in person and see the physical details rather than just the content of the picture is a unique experience.
I want to provide an example of a game I love to display what exactly I mean by a game as art. Persona 5 features an acid-jazz soundtrack with rock elements that, by itself, could be a studio album. The songs “Last Surprise,” “Life Will Change,” “The Whims of Fate,” “Rivers in the Desert,” “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There,” and “Beneath the Mask,” are all vocal tracks that average around three and a half minutes and are subject to the ability to loop them. Those, combined with all the instrumental tracks in the game, create enough music to rival some musicians’ entire careers. I can gush about Persona 5’s soundtrack all day, but there is more to be said. The plot of the game is long and full of twists and turns. The well-written and lovable characters only fuel the fire of the whole experience, not to mention the superb voice acting for each. Finally, the art direction has a striking crimson, black, and white theme going for it. Sharp is the best way to define it. In one sixty-dollar game there is enough music for a studio album, hundreds of pieces of art, which includes character portraits, 3D models, enemy designs, and anything on display on the screen, and enough story that, if turned into a screenplay, could be its own novel if transitioned correctly. Recorded albums of music can be around an hour long, while Persona 5 averages around one hundred hours, even more on higher difficulties. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a score, but it is miniscule in comparison to other games in the series. The light piano notes to indicated different settings of tension is part of the score, but it is artistry not in the complexity of the composition but in the atmosphere it creates. It makes up for a lack of score with the gorgeous art direction, masterful open world to explore, and almost life-like in game weather system. The programming that went into creating the physics and impressive wilderness in the game is equivalent to a finely made painting. Again, art is subjective, but I feel as though games, which usually include two or more art forms within them, are art. I like certain types of music and I dislike other types, but the types I dislike are still music because they fit the criteria for what makes something music.
Every work of art is digitally distributed nowadays, but what is digital distribution? There are two forms that are intertwined. The first and easiest form is the digitization of something. Converting recorded music into an MP3 file makes it available to transfer digitally. An image as a PNG or JPEG, video or movie as an MP4, the list goes on. The second form is the selling and purchasing of digital goods through digital platforms. Downloading and streaming are forms of digital distribution. When computers started to become household norms, online sharing sites allowed users to send music, pictures, and eventually videos to one another. Napster is well-known for its distribution capabilities, but sites today still allow this form of sharing. A lot of these sites are illegal since they distribute copyrighted works for free online, hurting sales, but emails, IM chatting, and other online communication forms still allow file-sharing.
Where do video games come into play with all of this? For the PC market, downloading and playing games is the norm thanks to the platform Steam, which is managed by Valve. Each of the three companies making consoles to play games, Sony with their PlayStation, Microsoft with their Xbox, and Nintendo with their line of handheld and home systems. Modern generations of these consoles have online stores that can be used to purchase games and DLC, which stands for downloadable content, that expands the game’s content with a free update or a paywall. Many things on these stores do not get a physical release to insert into your system of choice or are locked to different systems as exclusives. As Matthew Golden, in his University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law published journal “Death of the Secondary Video-Game Market: Natural Causes, or Euthanasia,” puts it, “as data storage and internet technology has increased, distributing games in purely digital format has become more and more common, and many commentators expect that games will be distributed solely in this format sometime in the future, eliminating the need for retail stores.”
There are multiple ways to perceive art. Some may see art as just paintings and ‘works of art,’ while others, like myself, view multiple categories as art. Digital distribution has changed the way humans may see art. Some artwork made by nobodies has more effort, artistry, and fine detail put into it than some of the great artists of times prior. Still, art is art and acknowledging art as art is the step in the right direction.
Golden, Mathew. “Death of the Secondary Video-Game Market: Natural Causes, or Euthanasia?” Penn Law: Legal Scholarship Repository, 2014, scholarship.law.upenn.edu/jbl/vol16/iss4/4/.