Video games as art

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Kyle Spencer | Managing Editor |@kyledspencer
Photo Credit: Brooke Morrill | Photo Director |@brookemorrill


Philosophy professor Thi Nguyen considers the common definition of art to be outdated.

Part of that idea comes from the fact that the term is constantly evolving, and now has to make room for video games and other representations of creativity.

“Art forms weren’t always considered as such when they were compared to past mediums,” Nguyen said of the ongoing transformation.

Novels, paintings and even music are now usually classified as art upon observation, but were once heavily debated by society to determine their standing.

Which is one reason Nguyen, who recently gave two lectures at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the “Level Up” series, believes it’s time we include video games in the conversation.

Instead of clinging to an ancient, all-encompassing concept of art, we should focus on the various components that could distinguish something as an artistic accomplishment, Nguyen said.

While we can dissect the storytelling aspects, the production values and visual experience, he said those elements shouldn’t decide whether or not we’re witnessing a work of art.

“Is it a worthwhile human activity?” Nguyen asked when offering a more complex basis for judgment.

The Vietnamese teacher who earned his Ph.D. from the University of California-Los Angeles thinks the interactivity of video games is one characteristic that gives them value as art.

Naysayers who don’t include video games in their personal notion of art will point to a belief that a user is simply simulating a designed reality in an entertaining way. It’s hard to say that isn’t true of all art.

A person viewing a piece who is moved by the work of the artist, Nguyen says, has interacted with the thoughts and feelings behind it, which is no different than the video game player’s experience.

The challenges and lessons learned while battling the manic-depressive state of the main character in “Gravitation,” are an example of actual moments in a human life being depicted in an interactive game.

Nguyen says his time playing the game was dark, but it was also eye opening.

One NBC News reporter said she cried for the first time while playing a video game when she tried “Gravitation.”

“Level Up” continues with one additional lecture at the Salt Lake museum Oct. 29. The topic is a response to the question of how society will react when the digital world becomes more real than life.