With BioShock Infinite hitting the shelves this week, the undying question of whether video-games can be considered "art" or not has inevitably poked its slimy little head out of the ground once again. It's a holy grail for the games industry, like a promotion to assume a middle-management position or something. The famous film critic Roger Ebert notoriously answered that question with a resolute and categorical "no," and that personal assessment got everyone's knickers in such an enormous bunch that the first guy who spots it in a telescope will have the right to name it.
The quest for validation from the first old guy who is willing to admit he doesn't know everything reeks of an inferiority complex. It's like a son who is constantly bringing up how much he appreciates the female anatomy to his father, because he's trying to prove that his career choice of being a male nurse doesn't make him gay.
Here's why the games industry is wasting its time: art is a meaningless concept. Or at least it is nowadays.
Up until the 19th century, the standard definition of art was, basically, "pretty shit which is a b*tch to make, you feel me?" (I'm paraphrasing.)So you had your elaborate paintings and sculptures and that sort of stuff, and as long as it was pleasing to the eye and required a certain amount of effort to produce, it would qualify. But then along came this dude.
By signing his pseudonym on a urinal, Marcel Duchamp was basically shattering the preconceptions of aesthetics and artistry as they were understood at the time, and from then the word "art" took on a life of its own. The definition started getting increasingly broader, reaching a point where pretty much each person in the world has their own personal interpretation of the concept. Even the dictionaries can't agree on it, and if they did, you wouldn't be able to round a corner without finding three self-appointed intellectuals who contest the definition's validity.
And, if a thing is not clearly defined, then it doesn't exist, right? I mean, imagine if everyone had their own understanding of what an apple is. You could say that your lasagna is an apple and no one would be able to prove you wrong. So it would be futile to label any product as an "apple," because pretty much everything is an apple! It could be a slab of cheese, it could be a molecule of water, it could be a birth certificate; attaching a word to it wouldn't help anyone.
You have people these days who claim that taking pictures of other people's pictures is art, so why would you be so eager to earn the same label? It's a medal that is up for grabs ... anybody can pick it up and hang it around their neck. It's hyper-inflated currency. It is immaterial. Earning that title is not so much an achievement as it is a confirmation of your existence.
So I'm going to come up with my own definition of art. Here it is: "Art is shit that you dig." End of story. So if you dig BioShock Infinite, then it's art.
Are you satisfied now, games industry? If you feel like you earned your little gold star, let's put this subject to rest and enjoy our games without worrying about what Roger Ebert thinks of us.