How Games are Art: A Very Slightly Extended Version

Note: This version includes a few minor selections from Dutton's book, as well as higher-res images. The version I plan to cross-post to Gamasutra, a bit later, I want to keep at or close to 100 words. I say only very slightly extended, because this topic is insanely huge

In 2009, aesthetician Denis Dutton wrote The Art Instinct. There, aiming for something inclusive and objective, he outlined twelve cross-cultural criteria for art. I like Dutton for his mix of accessibility and intellect, so use his criteria as a starting line in the search for a language of the aesthetic experience.

1. Direct Pleasure

“The art object – narrative story, crafted artifact, or visual and aural performance – is valued as a source of immediate experiential pleasure in itself, and not essentially for its utility in producing something else that is either useful or pleasurable.”

2. Skill & Virtuosity

“The admiration of skill is not just intellectual; skill exercised by writers, carvers, dancers, potters, composers, painters, pianists, singers, etc. can cause jaws to drop, hair to stand up on the back of the neck, and eyes to flood with tears.”

Some creators:


3. Style
“Style provides a stable, predictable, “normal” background…”

“…against which artists may create elements of novelty and expressive surprise.”

4. Novelty & Creativity

“The unpredictability of creative art, its newness, plays against the predictability of conventional style or formal type (sonata, novel, tragedy, and so forth).”

5. Criticism
“Professional criticism, including academic scholarship applied to the arts where it is evaluative, is a performance itself and subject to evaluation by its larger audience; critics routinely criticize each other.”

Some critics: 


6. Representation

“…a realistic painting of the folds in a red satin dress, a detailed model of a steam engine, or the tiny plates, silverware, goblets, and lattice-crust cherry pie on the dinner table of a doll’s house. But we can also enjoy representation for two other reasons: we can take pleasure in how well a representation is accomplished, and we can take pleasure in the object or scene represented…”

7. Special Focus

“A gold-curtained stage, a plinth in a museum, spotlights, ornate picture frames, illuminated showcases, book jackets and typography, ceremonial aspects of public concerts and plays, an audience’s expensive clothes, the performer’s black tie, the presence of the czar in his royal box, even the high price of tickets…”

8. Expressive Individuality

9. Emotional Saturation
“…emotions provoked or incited by the represented content of art…”

Or, “…the work’s emotional contour, its emotional perspective…”

10. Intellectual Challenge

“…working through a complex plot, putting evidence together to recognize a problem or solution before a character in a story recognizes it, balancing and combining formal and illustrative elements in a complicated painting, and following the transformations of an opening melody recapitulated at the end of a piece of music.”

11. Art Traditions & Institutions

“Art objects and performances, as much in small-scale oral cultures as in literate civilization, are created and to a degree given significance by their place in the history and traditions of their art.”

12. Imaginative Experience

“Finally, and perhaps the most important of all characteristics on this list, objects of art essentially provide an imaginative experience for both producers…”

“…and audiences.”

That’s how some games are already art, and how others might get better.

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