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!

Mario in Minecraft: A Tutorial Podcast

Here's a little video that shows you how to build a tribute to Mario in Minecraft. I apologize for the lack of commentary—I don't have a microphone!

Mass Effect: Interactive Cinema

Mass Effect is one of a kind. At its heart lies fully fleshed out universe, filled with well-designed alien species, cultures, even technologies unique to the universe. Its depth and scale can rival that of Star Wars or other long-running fictional universes. That in and of itself is an incredible achievement, but it’s not all that Mass Effect has to offer.

Mass Effect 2 © 2011 EA International

In Mass Effect, you play as Commander Shepard during a time when humans have just recently made contact with a conglomerate of intelligent alien species and are attempting to gain their acceptance. It’s a very interesting take on the subject of intelligent alien life, as it deals with societal issues rather than the cliche alien invasions seen in oh so many films.

One of the best aspects of Mass Effect is its dialogue and choice system. When you think about video games, you usually don’t think of dialogue being a part of gameplay, but it is in Mass Effect. You pick what your character says, how he reacts to others, and will often be faced with choices that can change the course of the game's story.

Mass Effect 2 © 2011 EA International

When you combine Mass Effect’s incredible universe, interaction with other characters through dialogue, and choices that have real consequences, it creates a very immersive experience that just can’t be had in any other medium. Mass Effect takes the best of films and the best of games, and combines them into a work of interactive art like we’ve never seen before. It’s one of those games that could change the face of gaming forever.

Mass Effect 2 © 2011 EA International

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Minecraft: In the Eye of the Beholder...

Minecraft is a strange one. I consider it art, but it’s a very different type of art from most other games. Most games create art in the form of story and emotion-driven conflict, but Minecraft is much more… interpretive. The game is what you make of it.

In Minecraft, there are no characters. There is no story, there is no end goal, and there most definitely is no emotion-driven conflict. When you start the game, it generates a randomized blocky world, drops you in it, and says “go”. So where do you go from there?

That is why Minecraft is what you make of it. You can do what you want, when you want, and how you want. The only thing you have to do in the game is stay alive, because if you don’t, you can’t play. So while you’re alive, what can you do? First and foremost, explore. While the game’s world is blocky, it can be strangely beautiful. The sun rises and sets, weather changes, and there’s plenty of wild life wandering around the world with you. It’s actually quite atmospheric.

Minecraft © Mojang 2009-2011

The most notable aspect of Minecraft is its building system. Almost every block in the world can be destroyed, and when you destroy one, you take its material and can place it back down in the world anywhere you want. This is how you create things—you mine materials, and then build things out of them.

Want to build a house? You can do that. Want to build a mansion? You can do that. Want to build an underground tunnel, a castle, a lighthouse, a river of lava, or a pyramid made of glass? You can do all that too. Minecraft is a game of freedom and creativity, which allows players to shape their experience into anything they want. This is what makes Minecraft an interactive work of art.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Another Perspective

To get another perspective on games as art, I asked my good friend Branden, who is also a gamer, to answer a few questions. He provides some interesting insight on the subject:

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

Branden: Games are definitely a form of art. Well, some are anyway. A lot of games use multiple "layers" to tell a story, i.e. Lost Odyssey, where the graphics had a look about them that melded with the musical score and the words during the "memories" that evoked emotion in the people playing the game and told the story of the main character. Some games aren't about telling a story, and are purely entertainment (most shooters).

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?

Games still have a ways to go to be accepted as art by the mainstream due to the shooters (the Call of Duty series namely) that have audiences that tend to be immature, and, since they are the games that most people know about, tend to have non-gamers view all gamers in this light. As such, most people tend to not pay much attention to the games that truly are art.

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

One of my favorite games that I consider art would have to be the (cliched) Final Fantasy 7. Despite graphics that made people look like basic geometric shapes glued together, and even low-quality (by today's standards) audio, the game still managed to tell an epic story, and evoke enough emotion in its audience that even 15 years after it was released, it is still one of the most talked about games of all time.

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?

Personally, I think that it requires both good gameplay and a good experience to make a game a truly good game. In some cases, a good experience may even outweigh not so good gameplay.

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 that games have always been a form of art, but only in the last 15-20 years have they become mainstream enough to have the financial backing to deliver a graphic experience similar to that of reading a really good book, where you get so immersed that you feel as if you are living the story.

Thanks for your time. Any extra thoughts?

Honorable mention goes to Assassins Creed games for completely taking you back in an accurate (as accurate as possible) Renaissance Italy with a very evocative story. Evocative enough that I'm spending the money to read up on the time period and even taking a trip to Italy to see the world the game represented!

Major thanks to Branden for taking the time to answer these questions!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Assassin's Creed: A Journey in Art Appreciation

Assassin’s Creed is a franchise that began in 2007 and has had three game releases so far. If you asked me what was at the very heart of Assassin’s Creed, it would be art. Not just because it is so artfully crafted, but also because it’s oozing with appreciation of art done by real-world artists, primarily from the Renaissance.

The easiest place to start is Assassin’s Creed II, which takes place in Italy during the Renaissance. This in and of itself sets the stage for a game filled with art. The developers of the game created digital representations of Italian cities like Florence and Venice, taking special care in recreating these cities’ most famous and beautiful architectural works of art.

In the screenshot below, you can see the player standing on the rooftops of Florence, Italy, with the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in the distance. I learned about the Basilica in an art appreciation class—how cool is it that I get to explore it while playing a video game?

© 2009 Ubisoft Entertainment

As another example, the next game in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, takes place in Rome. In Brotherhood, you can explore famous structures such as the Coliseum (pictured) and the Pantheon.

© 2010 Ubisoft Entertainment

Some people may argue that Assassin’s Creed is not art, that it is simply a recreation of other people’s real art. I would argue that this game seamlessly integrates the Renaissance, and all the art that comes with it, into a fictional story, which results in a game being rich in art in so many ways that it would be silly to consider it as anything less. Not to mention that it instills a sense of art appreciation in its players, which cannot be said about practically any other game in existence. In this sense, Assassin's Creed is a franchise that is pivotal to the movement of games as art.

The Creation of a World: Bioshock

(NOTE: I'm working on getting photos up in this blog. Sorry they aren't here yet!)

Something that is absolutely essential in works of art is the creation of a world, a place to transport the viewer/reader/player to, and to completely engross them in that place. If you look at film juggernauts like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or James Cameron’s Avatar, this is something that they excel at. They all provide a world that you can easily lose yourself in for the duration of the film.

Have video games reached this point of world creation? Six or seven years ago, I would have said no. But today, it’s a huge, resounding YES. Take 2K Games’ Bioshock for example. Bioshock takes place in a city called Rapture. Rapture is a dark, dreary, run-down and (mostly) abandoned city that was built under water. Through windows you can see underwater vistas, with bubbles rising up from the depths. Cracks hang in the ceiling, ocean water drips into the city, and the floor has been flooded. Lights flicker and you hear the creaking of metal all around you. You begin to wonder just how safe this city is. It’s all very claustrophobic and engrossing.

Now, the physical representation of a world is not the only thing that’s needed for someone to become fully engrossed. It has to be psychological as well. Rapture is a place where people can alter their genetics to become stronger, faster, and smarter. It may sound silly, but it’s actually quite chilling to explore a world where its inhabitants freely altered their genetics, losing their humanity in the process. Rapture’s society has destroyed itself through their genetic mutations—people have gone mad, become addicted to the genetic drugs, and killed each other. The inhabitants left in the city can hardly be considered humans.

As you explore the city, you come to understand the previous population’s political views and societal values, you become familiar with its celebrities and icons, what they did for recreation, and eventually how the society began to tear itself apart. Suddenly you realize what a work of art Rapture is—an incredible world that you’ve been fortunate enough to get a glimpse into.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rage: The Interactive Painting

Before I can talk about the significance of id Software’s new game, Rage, I have to explain a little bit about how video game worlds are created. You can separate the visual aspect of a game’s world into two categories. There’s the 3D models, which make up the shape and physical boundaries of a game’s environment, then there’s the textures, which add color and patterns to the surface of those 3D models. Without a texture, a 3D model would simply have a flat, solid color on its surface.

Imagine you want to create a brick wall in a video game that’s 30 feet wide and 15 feet tall. The standard procedure for this would be to create a 3D model of a flat, 30x15 surface, and then create a brick texture that would tile seamlessly across the whole surface. This means you would have a relatively small section of bricks (maybe 5x5 feet in size) that noticeably repeats several times across the 30x15 surface.

This is all changed with Rage. In Rage, id Software created a technology that allowed every square inch of the environment to be hand painted (see Hot Hardware's article from earlier this year: "Rage: The Tech Behind Id Tech 5"). That 30x15 brick wall would no longer have a hum-drum, tiled texture. The game’s artists could uniquely paint every single brick. This allowed the artists to add imperfections and a level of character to their work that was previously only seen in paintings and drawings. This is why I call Rage the interactive painting. The amount of detail and character that the artists crammed into this game is astounding. At any given point, you could stop what you’re doing, snap a picture, and hang it up on your wall.

Rage © 2011 id Software LLC

Rage © 2011 id Software LLC

Rage © 2011 id Software LLC

With visual art that’s comparable to what artists can create with paint and canvas, who could say a game like Rage isn’t art? And the best part is this is only one aspect of the game! There are plenty more reasons why this game is art, but they'll have to wait for another blog post!

Games of Art. Welcome!

Welcome to the world of interactive art. Games as art is a fairly hot topic today in the gaming community. We’re at a point where games are transcending simple, interactive entertainment and becoming true works of art. With any emerging art forum, there will always be doubters at the start. This blog will prove, through specific examples and analyses, that games are indeed art. It will focus a lot on the visual aspect of games, but it’ll also touch on interactivity, soundtracks, story-telling, the film-like cutscenes that litter modern games, and various other aspects of what makes games art.

My name is Jason and I’m a dedicated gamer as well as a 3D artist. I’m currently working on my Arts & Technology degree at The University of Texas at Dallas. The topic of games as art is fairly personal to me due to how central 3D artwork is to modern games. I find that I can no longer just play games like I used to. I have to look around at all the game’s artwork, particularly appreciating all the hard work 3D artists have put into the game world. A slight warning here—the same thing may happen to you after reading this blog!

This blog should not only be enlightening to skeptics of games as art, but also open gamers’ eyes to the incredible art that surrounds them.