I’m sympathetic to the idea that video games are capable of being artistic — as I explained recently in Academic Questions, many modern games feature stunning imagery, explore moral issues, and at least try to tell compelling stories. I think art and culture critics should keep tabs on the medium.
It feels a little forced to me, however, when top museums take up the cause. Last year the Smithsonian put together “The Art of Video Games,” the entries in which were chosen by a popular vote on the Internet — a method that, to the best of my knowledge, the Smithsonian does not employ for exhibits it takes seriously. Nonetheless, many in the gaming community took it as an official determination that Games Are Art.
It’s double-official now; the Museum of Modern Art has announced a similar exhibit, featuring such lofty artistic achievements as Tetris and Pac-Man. This strikes me as precisely the wrong way to convince people that games are art — everyone knows Pac-Man, and everyone knows that it’s all the way to the entertainment side of the art/entertainment continuum. Those of us who think games deserve a little more respect than they get need to highlight more serious accomplishments — such as the storytelling of Bioshock, the branching plot lines of Mass Effect, the art style of Braid, and the historical fiction of Assassin’s Creed.
Then again, Pac-Man is probably more aesthetically pleasing than most of the garbage modern-art museums exhibit. I once played Gears of War 3 within a week of visiting the Dia:Beacon, and it wasn’t even close.