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Double Game Philosophy Conference


Matchmaking games and art: What’s the best fit? | pdf


This essay examines preconceptions of art — popular and theoretical — to determine which of these seem particularly amenable to the consideration of games as art and which seem particularly averse to that consideration. Clearly, conventional definitions of art — ie, what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls “conventionalist” (or “institutional”) definitions — have come to accept games as art. 

One distinctively modern, conventionalist, sort of definition focuses on art’s institutional features, emphasizing the way art changes over time, modern works that appear to break radically with all traditional art, the relational properties of artworks that depend on works’ relations to art history, art genres, etc. – more broadly, on the undeniable heterogeneity of the class of artworks.

Adajian, 2018, online

In 2012, New York’s Museum of Modern Art placed fourteen video games in a permanent collection focusing on the artistry of the game’s “design elements.” Should we be convinced by the decision-making of contemporary collators and critics, then “recent developments in the medium have been widely recognized as clear indications that some video games should be regarded as art works” (Smuts, 2005, online).

However, there are objections. And some of these objections are severe. Among the most noteworthy in their cynicism towards games as art are those more formal and discriminating definitions of art, lumped together in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “aesthetic” definitions. This category includes essentialist approaches listing one or more necessary and required features of a work of art. These features are then found conspicuously absent in games and game play. 

A third category of definitions of art — “hybrid/disjunctive” — attempts to reconcile the first two, typically offering a formal set of aesthetic features with fuzzy boundaries. Gaut’s (2000) “cluster” definition of art is an example of this sort of definition — as is Juul’s (2005) definition of games.

This essay examines current definitions of art and artworks in hopes of finding a potential suitor for the notion of games as art. Under what circumstances and assumptions might the marriage of games and art be made most reasonable?