After The Washington Post, Newsweek's sister publication, made an earnest effort to show that the brilliantly conceived BioShock is art to a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal said that art in games isn’t in the story. It’s in the gameplay.
Here’s what happened. Post tech columnist Michael Musgrove gave Michael Dirda, the Post’s book columnist, the game to review. But Dirda got stuck on level three, so he felt he couldn’t see the art within the game.
Two things here. Dirda should have noticed that the game is art within the first hour of play. You can tell that with the Mona Lisa and you can tell that with a David Foster Wallace book. You don’t need to finish the game to know it’s art. Art strikes immediately. I’d have been more impressed if the game was given to Wallace or another literary genius than a critic, especially a book critic. Remember, book critics for decades wouldn’t accept movies as art. Ask the great social critic David T. Bazelon.
Secondly, I don’t believe that the art in the gameplay should be thought of as separate from the art of the story in a game. You don’t separate the various elements of a movie to consider one art and that other not art. So why should that point of view be the litmus test with games? While I understand that the thoughtful Croal is coming from a gamer’s point of view (and Croal is a very good gamer – and writer), the art of the BioShock story is just as important as every other piece of the puzzle that makes the offering many cuts above most games that have been released in the last five years.
I know these words may be distilling into a blog post ideas I have that really could fill a book. Maybe sometime down the line in the right forum, a magical place where I can spew for thousands of words, I’ll have the video games as art debate. And I’ll bring in everyone from David Foster Wallace to Nick Tosches to explain whether or not certain games can be art. I know some are. BioShock is. I feel it. I see it. I hear it. I even taste it.