Friday, December 2, 2011

History of Game Art Part 2: The Present and Beyond

For part 3 of the History of Video Game Art series, I decided to skip forward and focus on some semi-current events, as well as take a look at what the future holds for games as art. Let's begin!

On April 16th, 2010, famous film critic Roger Ebert made waves in the gaming community when he posted a blog titled “Video games can never be art”. In this blog, Ebert argues that video games are no different from sports or other games such as chess. He claims that the primary aspects of these games and sports are rules, objectives, scores, which are entirely irrelevant when it comes to art (Ebert, 2010). Ebert has received nearly 5,000 responses to this blog, with only 300 of them in support of his point of view (Sharkey, 2010).

On July 1st, 2010, Ebert posted a follow-up blog titled “Okay, kids, play on my lawn”. In this blog, he openly admitted that he has little to no experience with modern video games, and doesn’t have the desire to experience them. He acknowledges that he is completely unqualified to claim that games can never be art. (Ebert, 2010)

Great strides are being made for the games as art movement in 2011 and 2012 as the Smithsonian Art Museum prepares an exhibition titled “The Art of Video Games” (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2011). In early 2011, the museum along with a group of advisors, game designers and developers, compiled a list of 240 video games with great art and allowed the public to vote on which ones they wanted to see in the exhibition. With more than 3.7 million votes, the polls were closed and the Smithsonian Museum began preparing the exhibition for the top 80 games. “The Art of Video Games” opens on March 16, 2012 (In-Game on MSNBC, 2011).


Ebert, R. (April 16, 2010). Video games can never be art. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from

Sharkey, M. (July 1, 2010). Roger Ebert Concedes Videogames Can Be Considered Art. Gamespy. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from

Ebert, R. (July 1, 2010). Okay, kids, play on my lawn. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from

The Art of Video Games. (n.d.). Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from

Choney, S. (May 10, 2011). 80 video games head for Smithsonian art exhibit. In-Game on MSNBC. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from for-smithsonian-art-exhibit.

Lost Odyssey: The Neverending Journey

It’s obvious that today’s games look great, but graphics alone aren’t necessarily enough to make a game in its entirety a work of art. The main purpose of art is to make people feel. A lot of people question whether or not this aspect of art is in video games.

Enter Lost Odyssey. Lost Odyssey is a story-focused game where the main character, Kaim, is immortal. On the surface, being immortal sounds great. Kaim must be some kind of hardcore warrior that always wins, and does so in style! Right?

Wrong. Lost Odyssey is largely a story of loss and loneliness. The game makes it clear to the player that with infinite life, comes infinite loss. Kaim has lived a thousand years, loved countless people, and they all eventually die before him. Worse yet—he has no hope of reuniting with them in the afterlife. They are lost forever, and Kaim is left to wander the world forever without them.

One of the most intriguing parts of Lost Odyssey is its “Thousand Years of Dreams”. Throughout the game, you will encounter events that make Kaim remember something from his past. The game then takes you to a written short story, presented with atmospheric music and occasionally hand-drawn images to supplement the text. The short stories vary in length, some taking upwards of 45 minutes to read through. These stories recount particularly important memories in Kaim’s thousand-year journey, often dealing with the loss of loved ones or other situations that have shaped him into who is today.

Some of these stories are quite moving and have brought many people to tears. The tone of these stories is carried throughout the rest of the game as well, making emotion the star of the show.

If the purpose of art is to make people feel, then Lost Odyssey is without a doubt a true work of art.

Guest Blogger - David N.

My name is David, and like Jason here, I’ve always loved to study games and see why they are each individually so great. A game I would love to talk about for your topic of games as art is Halo Anniversary Combat Evolved. Now this game is just perfect for this topic!

Halo Anniversary Combat Evolved is an old and new game at the same time. It is the remake of one of the best and most popular games of all time, Halo Combat Evolved aka Halo 1. The beauty in this game is that nothing has changed since the original except for one thing. With the press of one button during game play, one can see how art and technology have changed over the last 10 years.

As you play through the story in this remake, there’s this feeling inside telling you to press that button over and over again, just to see how art has changed over time. It’s this feeling that demonstrates that games are art and keeps you from putting down the controller.

It’s impossible to not be able to see the art in this game, it’s really remarkable. The grass, the water, the sky, and the overall landscape of this fictional world known as Halo, one can’t help but to see how much time and effort was put into this game just for people to see the art displayed throughout the game. No one can argue that games are not art, for art and games are one!


Thanks for the guest post, David! Check out his blog at

Another Perspective III

This time I'm interviewing my friend Chris, who plays games occasionally but doesn't really consider himself a "gamer". As usual, I'm asking him the same questions to get a different point of view on the same issues.

Jason: Do you consider games to be art? Why?

Chris: I’ve never thought of them as art. They seem more like a way to pass time or just to have some fun.

Do you think games are widely accepted as art in today's society, or do they still have a ways to go before they reach the same status as films, music, books, etc?

Some people do think they’re art but the majority probably don’t. It could just be that those of us who don’t play many games are un-informed as to what could make them art.

What is your favorite game that you consider art, and why?

If I had to pick one that I’ve played and that I might consider art, it’d be Rock Band. It’s not that you’re actually playing music in that game (because you aren’t), but the whole thing is based around music appreciation. Since music is art, the game could be seen as an experience in art appreciation.

Do you think it's important for games to provide an "experience" (i.e. with characters, story, emotion), or is good gameplay enough to carry the whole game?

I’m fine with just gameplay. It’s a ton of fun to play online shooters with friends, and that’s enough to carry a game for me.

When do you think games started to "transcend" being simple games to become art? Or do you think they've been art from the very start?

I’m not sure that they have “transcended” yet, but there has been a push for games to be seen as art recently. In that regard, I’d say that they haven’t been trying to be art until recently as well.

Thanks, Chris!

The Mass Effect Controversy

On November 20, 2007, the landmark game Mass Effect was released to the public. Met with critical acclaim, Mass Effect was sophisticated, deep, and pushed gaming in a cinematic direction that no one could have imagined (Metacritic, n.d.).

However, with progress comes controversy. Mass Effect contained a mild love scene that seemed innocent enough to gamers. It was not explicit, and was about on the same level of something you’d see in a PG-13 film. However, context is key here—video games were seen by the public as entertainment for kids, and here this video game had a love scene in it.

Fox News as well as other news outlets reported on this love scene, making wild accusations that it was much more explicit than it really was (Game Politics, 2008). They claimed it was essentially porn disguised as a video game.

On Fox News’ video segment, video game specialist Geoff Keighly attempted to set the record straight, but the Fox representatives wouldn’t have any of it. (Game Politics, 2008). You can watch the segment in its entirety on Youtube.

EA Games, publisher of Mass Effect, reach out to Fox News and requested that they correct their inaccurate accusations (Crecente, B.). Although Fox never took action, Cooper Lawrence, the psychologist who argued against the game on Fox’s segment, did. She had seen the love scene since her appearance on Fox, and admitted she was completely misinformed and made inaccurate accusations. “I’ve seen episodes of Lost that are more sexually explicit,” she said (, 2008).


Mass Effect for Xbox 360 Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More. (n.d.). Metacritic. Retrieved December 2, 2011, from

Fox News Smears Mass Effect. (January 22, 2008). Game Politics. Retrieved December 2, 2011, from

Crecente, B. (January 21, 2008). Keighly Sets Mass Effect Record Straight… Or Tries To. Kotaku. Retrieved December 2, 2011, from

Crecente, B. (January 23, 2008). EA Calls Fox Out on “Insulting” Mass Effect Inaccuracies. Kotaku. Retrieved December 2, 2011, from

Kollar, Philip. (January 28, 2008). Author Apologizes for Fox News Mass Effect Lies. Retrieved on December 2, 2011, from

History of Game Art Part 1: The Beginning

There’s so much to cover in the history of game art that I’m going to have to split this into a few different blog posts. To start with, let’s talk about early innovations in game graphics technology.

It’s a little bit difficult to define exactly where video games were born, as it is difficult to define what exactly qualifies as a video game when speaking about early experimentations in the field (Morris & Hartas, 2003, p. 10). The first notable graphic video game, Noughts and Crosses, was created in 1952 by A.S. Douglas (Bellis, n.d.). Noughts and Crosses was an electronic version of tic-tac-toe that ran on the then-impressive Electro Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, a very large computer at Cambridge University (History of Gaming, n.d.).

While tic-tac-toe is cool, it’s an incredibly simplistic game with little or no animation. Enter William Higinbotham, who created “Tennis for Two” in 1958. Tennis for Two was a video game that simulated tennis from a ide view, with the ground at the bottom, the net in the center, and the ball bouncing from left to right. This game was impressive because it not only had animated graphics, but also simulated gravity as the ball bounced around the screen (Gettler, p. 1, n.d.).

In 1962, Steve Russell created what is likely considered to be the first truly authentic video game. Spacewar, as Russell called it, was a game where two players each controlled their own space ship and fired lasers at one another in an attempt to destroy the other (Classic Gaming Museum, n.d.). Despite its primitive, black and white graphics, this game was very advanced for its time.

Fast forward a few years to 1972 and we reach our first heavy hitter. Pong, developed by Atari Incorporated, was released to the masses and began the video game revolution. Pong quickly became the first game to be commercially successful, and spawned many imitation games from other companies.

Although we aren’t seeing much in the form of art at this point in video games’ history, I feel it’s important to have an idea where gaming began. With that said, what better way to know where it began than to actually play one of the first games? Thanks to, you can! Give it a try!


Morris, D., & Hartas, L. (2003). Game Art: The Graphic Art of Computer Games. New York, New York: The Ilex Press Limited.

History of Gaming: Interactive Timeline of Game History. (n.d.). KERA. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from

Bellis, M. (n.d.). Computer and Video Game History. Inventors. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from

Gettler, J. (n.d.). The First Video Game. Bookhaven National Laboratory. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from

Classic Gaming Museum. (n.d.). Classic Gaming at Gamespy. Retrieved December 2, 2011, from

Another Perspective II

Next to be put through my interview gauntlet is my friend Michael. I'm asking him the same questions I asked Branden in the previous interview, so we can see different views on the same subjects.

Jason: Do you consider games to be art? Why?

Michael: I think some are art, but not most. The ones that are art focus on a lot of the same elements that make movies and books art, like story and characters.

Do you think games are widely accepted as art in today's society, or do they still have a ways to go before they reach the same status as films, music, books, etc?

I don’t think they’re widely accepted as art. Even though some games do stand above the rest in terms of being art, most people who don’t play today’s games think they’re still on the same level as Pong. Meaning, games are simply time wasters, something that’s fun but ultimately pointless. Not everyone knows that some games tell stories on the same level as films.

What is your favorite game that you consider art, and why?

Mass Effect is my favorite. It’s about as close to an interactive movie as you can get. It not only has great action gameplay, but tells a very compelling story with interesting characters. Best of all, the game has interactive dialogue. You get to pick what your character says, and the decisions he makes. Each line of dialogue you pick will get different reactions from the characters around you, and your decisions all have consequences. It’s a very compelling experience.

Do you think it's important for games to provide an "experience" (i.e. with characters, story, emotion), or is good gameplay enough to carry the whole game?

It can go either way. If a game is simply fun, then that’s enough to keep my attention. Sometimes a lack of a story is a good thing for games, if it’s in service of gameplay. That said, I always welcome stories in games but it’s not necessary.

When do you think games started to "transcend" being simple games to become art? Or do you think they've been art from the very start?

I think there are some games from all time periods of video gaming’s history that should be considered art, but the movement of games as art is relatively new (within the last 3-4 years). I personally think the first major standout art games were released on the first Playstation about 15 years ago.

Thanks for your time. Any extra thoughts?

I think games are definitely a rising art form, even if they aren’t all quite there yet. Some games in particular are paving the way. Give it another 5-10 years and the way video games fit into our culture might look very, very different.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Michael!