Video Games as an Art Form

Video Games as an Art Form

## Impact of Digital Art on Identity

As I explored the “Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art” exhibition at Chicago’s Wrightwood 659 gallery, the profound collection left a striking impression on my mind. The showcase features 17 artists who have been shaping digital spaces for years, examining how the evolution of the digital realm has influenced societal perceptions of identity, including race, gender, and privacy within the surveillance state.

## Video Games as Artistic Medium

What particularly resonated with me was the artists’ use of video games within their pieces. Video games have long been contested as either a form of high art or a public menace. Despite this, artists have pioneered the use of video games as a creative conduit, with some producing their very own games, while others venture into machinima — creating cinematographic productions within game environments.

## Expressions and Interventions in Video Games

Artists have not only used video games for creating original art but also for conducting interventions within pre-existing games, using them as reference points in their artistic endeavors. There’s also the expansive universe of fan art, as well as video games that stand out as art pieces in their own right.

## The Art World’s Recognition of Video Game Art

The acknowledgment of video game art by the mainstream art establishment has been a slow journey. Tina Rivers Ryan, the curator of the exhibition and affiliated with the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, acknowledges the hesitation within the art community to embrace the aesthetic, cultural, and monetary value of digital and video game art. This hesitation extends to the challenges of exhibiting such interactive art, questioning the appropriate presentation scale and whether the experience should be individual or collective, private or public.

## Evolving Perspectives on Video Games in Museums

Gradually, institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York are beginning to appreciate the artistic value of video games. MoMA has hosted exhibitions on video games and started including them in its collection since 2012, now aspiring to archive 40 titles, with a current collection of 36, emphasizing their design aspect. This shift acknowledges video games as art and encourages a reflection on contemporary artists’ use within their practice.

## Stepping Outside Comfort Zones with Video Game Art

A.M. Darke, an exhibiting artist and assistant professor at UC Santa Cruz, discusses the powerful impact that video games can have by engaging participants as active contributors rather than passive observers. Darke emphasizes disrupting the “magic circle” of gaming where actions within the game remain separate from reality. The artist seeks to create experiences within games that leave lasting impressions and influence on the player.

## Darke’s Exploration of Identity in “Ye or Nay?”

In Darke’s two-player game “Ye or Nay?” – a riff on the classic board game “Guess Who?” but featuring Black male celebrities – the artist delves into themes of Black masculinity and celebrity. The game’s interactivity forces players to engage in conversations that reflect on internal mechanisms of categorization and the societal repercussions of algorithmic discrimination against marginalized communities.

Observing players, especially those within the Black community, Darke notices a unique sense of comfort and engagement, suggesting a broader conversation regarding cultural celebration, critique, and the varying comfort levels of players based on their societal positioning.

## Machinima and the Role of Medium in Storytelling

Machinima artists utilize familiar gaming worlds to craft narratives and convey messages, with Skawennati, for instance, using “Second Life” as a platform to portray Indigenous futures. Her work “She Falls for Ages” reimagines the Iroquois creation story within a technicolor, post-racial context, distinctively contributing to the machinima genre.

## Questioning Mainstream Narratives through Machinima

Other artists, like the collective Total Refusal, harness mainstream game environments to critique societal constructs such as imperialism and capitalism. Their machinima pieces delve into pacifism, the roots of war, and our relationship to labor, utilizing video games as a reflective mirror for society.

## The Communicative Potential of Technology in Art

According to Paul Vanouse, a professor at the University at Buffalo, the artists showcased in “Difference Machines” do more than merely use contemporary technologies — they actively engage in shaping these mediums and redefining them as communicative tools with cultural significance. Through creative reuse, they challenge preconceived notions and inspire a reevaluation of our economic and power structures.

“Difference Machines” will continue to captivate audiences at Wrightwood 659 until January 27, 2024
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