Games as Art

Cross post from Board Game Designer’s Forum, in a thread claiming that games are craft, not art

My first reaction was that I must reject it. Almost as if I must either disprove it, find an interpretation that works with my personal belief system, or find a different hobby.

That said, on re-reading things I found that I agreed with almost everything you said – except the conclusion. I also noticed that Dralius had already put forth the core of my feelings on art – although I would amend the definition to “something with produces PROFOUND feeling” to answer the punch-in-the-face arguments. Anger may be an emotion, but I for one would not consider such ‘heat of the moment’ emotion to be profound.

Definitions are also important. To try and keep us talking about the same things, I’m going to try and stick to the definitions given (at least as they entered into my understanding) Craft is the ability to produce something well. Art is profound insight. Art, in the sense we commonly think of it – ‘objects of art,’ necessarily includes craft as a medium to communicate the profound insight to other people. Craft does not necessarily include art: a shelf can be expertly made to take heavy loads for ages, but it would be a better shelf it was also pleasing to the eyes. Doing this well, in all situations old and new, requires a bit of that profound insight.

As this relates to games, there are two distinctions I would like to draw. The first is the difference between the ruleset and the experience of playing the game. The second is the games we are familiar with now versus the potential of games.

The ruleset is not the game. The ruleset generates the experience of the game. The ruleset is crafted. The experience is art.

Consider a painting; a traditional medium of art. The parallel here would be that painting is a craft, not an art. A person can paint very realistic pictures, but say nothing profound. The experience of viewing the painting, if it is profound, makes it art.

This is not to say that the experience of playing every game is art. The experience may not be profound. And in most cases today I think this is the case. The mechanics of the games are beautifully crafted. But do we feel like better people for having played them? In most cases, I, at least, would say no.

Yet I contend that it is possible for a game to be profound. I have heard tell of people learning life lessons from Go – you may see that a battle here is lost, but go fight another one in a different part of the board, and it may come back to where you started and change the conditions to make your position the stronger.

Posted Sunday, December 21st, 2003 under Essay.

Comments are closed.