Earlier this month, I wrote a guest column for the Creators Project website, looking at once aspect of a pet theme: the ways in which video games might be thought of as art, and what it means meaningfully to discuss them alongside other art forms.
Video games are thoroughly digital, mass-produced objects. Yet they cannot be consumed passively. To consume a game is by definition to experience it, from moment to moment, as a gradual encounter with a space and a set of ideas. And the art form they most resemble in this respect is one that came to prominence at almost exactly the same time as the first mass-market video games: installation art.
One of the world’s finest, and most staggeringly successful, spaces for such art is the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern museum in London. With 3,400 square meters of floor space and five storeys of height, the Turbine Hall is one of the most striking settings for art in the world. Since it was opened in 2000, it has hosted installations including: huge stacks of white boxes, a gigantic crack in the floor, a indoors weather system complete with mist and sunshine, and a series of giant steel slides, which visitors were encouraged to use. It should be easy enough to see the analogy with a video game in these. A realm is delineated as distinct from the rest of the world, as a kind of playground for the senses and the mind, and it’s each individual’s gradual experience and exploration of this space that conjures up its artistic meaning.
It would be daft to push this analogy too far. Yet, increasingly, the road between video games and other important, real-world forms of art is becoming a two-way street. Take one of the most talked-about British theatrical ventures in recent years: the Punchdrunk theater company, who have staged several hugely popular and critically acclaimed shows in which the audience, rather than sitting passively in front of a live show, are themselves forced to discover the performance they are attending by exploring a particular building or location.