I had an article published in a recent issue of AP3 journal (Animation Practice, Process & Production, 2013), and the article was titled: Animation and Narrative in Videogames: A case study – Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal.

In it, I quoted the legendary Professor Henry Jenkins, on games as art:

Games as a confluence of other art forms/media

…in Jenkins’ 2007 essay ‘Games – the New Lively Art’ he discusses journalist, editor and cultural critic Gilbert Seldes’ 1924 book The Seven Lively Arts (Seldes 1924),stating that:

`Seldes argued that America’s primary contributions to artistic expression had come through emerging forms of popular culture such as jazz, the Broadway musical, vaudeville, Hollywood cinema, the comic strip, and the vernacular humor column.’ (Jenkins 2007: 29)

The 7 Lively Arts indeed focusses on comic strips, movies, musical comedy, vaudeville, radio, popular music and dance. In his 2001 lecture, Jenkins noted that Seldes identifies four art forms that were ‘created’ by the United States: cinema, jazz, the comic strip[i] and the Broadway musical, and moreover Seldes notes:

`The five elements these ‘lively arts’ have in common, are that they: 1) are deeply embedded in everyday life, 2) are emotionally engaging – i.e. they ‘stir the passions’ 3) are dynamic and kinetic, 4) are both ‘conventional’ and ‘experimental’ at once, and, 5) most often focus on changes in technology – and issues surrounding urbanisation (i.e. city life).’ (Jenkins 2001)  

Likewise in Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (2011),Dean Keith Simonton finds that by 1936, ‘Film had become the “seventh art”, after painting, sculpture, architecture, music, dance and poetry’ (2011: 3)

(Velikovsky 2013, AP3 Journal)

It reminded me of a 2001 article in Official PlayStation Magazine where (also legendary) games critic and journalist Jason Hill and I debated: Whether games should be treated as Art:

“Should Games Be Considered Art?” (regular RETURN FIRE “debate” feature article, involving Games Industry veterans) in Official PlayStation Magazine, June 2001

“Should Games Be Considered Art?” (regular RETURN FIRE “debate” feature article, involving Games Industry veterans) in Official PlayStation Magazine, June 2001

So, in short, yes – they (games) should…

Well – some of them certainly should. Some examples would be Myst (1993) and Journey (2012).

The argument is that:

If, in the course of their cultural evolution (including: the evolution of game technology) videogames integrate other pre-existing art forms (film – including “the dramatic arts”, sound and music, graphic design, interface design, etc) into the form (as well as presenting `new’ aspects as part of their form – i.e.: interactivity, and game mechanics), then obviously – they are composed of other art forms, and therefore deserve to be call an art form as much as any of the other art forms do.

Csikszentmihalyi in ‘Creativity Across the Life-Span: A Systems View’ (Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly 1995) speaks about filmmaking and creativity:

`Let’s talk about creativity in a new domain, such as [film-making]… the making of movies. It is one of the more creative art forms of our time. Let’s call that domain A.

Now, [film-making] did not start out cold. It did not spring from the brow of Jupiter, complete and ready to go. The domain of [film-making] is related to other artistic domains that existed for a long time, such as the theater, literature, and photography.

These already existing domains were combined to make the first movies. Any culture is made up of thousands and thousands of domains like these.

To be creative one must have a domain from which one can learn a cultural tradition. For instance, a person interested in movies may want to become a director, screenwriter, cinematographer, actor, film editor, or maybe a producer. This person will turn to the already existing domain of [film-making] and bring to it something new that may change that domain.

The individual learns from that domain and tries to produce a novelty in it. Depending on whether the novelty is accepted by the field of [film-making], the person will be recognized as someone creative who has contributed to the domain.

The field of [film-making] is made up of producers, investors, directors, critics, script writers, and The Academy of Motion Pictures. These are the people who can decide whether a new film or a new cutting technique is or is not worth including into the domain of [film-making]. You could have a lot of very interesting and novel ideas about making movies, but unless those ideas are selected by the field, there will be no change and therefore no creativity.’

(Csikszentmihalyi, M 1995, pp. 10-1)

Csikszentmihalyi points out that film (for example) is the result of combining two or more other memes (art forms) and one way to view it is via a diagram of it:

Cinema as a bisociation of Theatre Literature and Photography

Cinema as a `trisociation’ of Theatre, Literature and Photography

(See Koestler 1964 and 1967 on `bisociation’… which is explained in The Holonic Structure of the Meme).

Another way to analyze Creativity in Videogames, is this set of categories:

Four types of Creativity (success) in Games (Velikovsky 2013)

Four types of Creativity (success) in Games (Velikovsky 2013)

And this also all comes back to the question `What Is Art?’

The best (most convincing) answer I’ve seen, is from Dennis Dutton’s The Art Instinct (2010):

`Characteristic features found cross-culturally in the arts can be reduced to a list of core items, twelve in the version given below, which define art in terms of a set of cluster criteria

  1. Direct pleasure
  2. Skill and virtuosity
  3. Style
  4. Novelty and creativity
  5. Criticism
  6. Representation
  7. Special focus
  8. Expressive individuality
  9. Emotional saturation
  10. Intellectual challenge
  11. Art traditions and institutions
  12. Imaginative experience

Taken individually or jointly, the features on this list help to answer the question of whether, confronted with an artlike object, performance or activity – from our own culture or not – we are justified in calling it art…

My list excludes background features that are presupposed in virtually all discourse about art.

These include the necessary conditions of  (1) being an artefact, and (2) being normally made or performed for an audience…

Also missing from the list is one further feature that has been inflated by academics into a defining criterion of art: being expressive or representative of cultural identity. In the sense that all art arises in a culture and is therefore a cultural product, the claim is trivially true.’

(Dutton 2010, pp. 51-61)

So, yes: Videogames are Art. In general. Not least as – they certainly tick all those boxes above.

Of course, you can find a specific game that doesn’t tick all those boxes. In which case – maybe that game doesn’t qualify as art.

Then again – it may also qualify as: bad art.

See also: The Museum of Bad Art.

One other consideration is that – opinion dynamics studies have shown, it takes 40% of people to have any given opinion, before it becomes the prevailing opinion.

So – if 40% of the Field (the general public) feels they (videogames) are art, then I guess they are.

Then again maybe less than 40% could care less, if they are, or not. As long as they’re fun to play, and put you in the flow state (see: this great Csikszentmihalyi TED Talk video on Flow Theory) – does it really matter?

(Just asking the question. It becomes important for some, during the annual DICE awards.)

You think this is a GAME?

Creativity Guy says: You think this is a GAME?

And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Comments, always welcome.


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.



2 thoughts on “StoryAlity #120 – Videogames as Art

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #48 – On Holon-Partons and Holarchies (and: How Holarchies Work) | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity #122 – IE2014 – International Interactive Entertainment Conference | StoryAlity

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