BBC debate: Games aren't art yet, but that's okay

Former UK arts chief talks it over with Charlie Higson.

Video games can't currently be considered art, but that doesn't mean they're not a valid form of entertainment, so says author, broadcaster and general UK arts guru Ekow Eshun.

Eshun, who was formerly director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, was debating the topic on BBC Radio 4's Today programme with actor, comedian and author Charlie Higson.

"No, it's not art and I think it's probably not trying to be art either," said Eshun about Minecraft, which won the inaugural GameCity Prize last week.

"Video games are entertainment," he continued. "Most of the things we enjoy in life are entertainment. Lots of books, lots of TV shows, lots of films aren't art. That doesn't make them bad, it makes them really enjoyable.

"I'd suggest that the things we really consider art are the things that allow us to ask profound questions about who we are, how we live and the state of the world around us. I think most games don't get to that place, and it's important to set that bar quite high.

However, he went on to argue that games will probably reach that point in the future.

"I think the likelihood is that at some point there will be games that ask profound questions. I'd suggest there probably aren't right now, in the same way that 98 per cent of films, of TV shows, of music don't reach that level either."

"Most visual art doesn't get to the stage of 'art' itself," he added.

"Most of the things we like, enjoy and admire are really good but whether they're at the precise high level where we say this changes how I see the world in a significant and deep way, well, actually they don't."

Higson, best known for his work on classic BBC comedy series The Fast Show and his Young James Bond series of books, didn't disagree but argued that games have had a profound effect on today's cultural landscape.

"Games already have changed culture in a huge way," he explained. "Hollywood films - most of them look like computer games. Most of them aren't as good as computer games.

"In terms of storytelling, a game like Grand Theft Auto is enormously complex and works on loads of different levels, and it looks amazing too."

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