Eat Your Art Out

“I Never Believed In God, but I Believe in Picasso Pikachu”
- What Euan Uglo meant to say.

In 1999, Tracey Emin exhibited ‘My Bed’ as an installation, under the powerful umbrella-term ‘art’. This installation contained blood-stained underwear, condoms and tampons – something that, even in the gaming industry, you don’t find too much of (Fable III, you are excused). My Bed caused a murmur among art critics and students – they asked themselves if this was truly art, or if was just an extension of a woman’s ego; a lazy attempt at making money, generating fame, creating ripples in a stagnant pond. Many still consider the piece defunct – not real art at all. But then that leads us to the question that smarter folks than us have tried to answer:

Just what on Earth is art?

I won’t get stuck down in the standard definitions of the word – we all sat in some world-weary art teacher’s room as kids having that drilled firmly into our sober heads – but instead I’ll focus on the connotations; the societal approximation of what we art is to us.

We live in an age where a man can paint a white line on a black canvas and sell it on for two-hundred million pounds of our cherished sterling. All he needs is a small block of text at the bottom of the page, claiming his work is a masterful representation of all that is wrong with apartheid whilst simultaneously debuffing some deeply held values of the Western man. It’s the same as marketing Gears of War to a child by saying it teaches them vital lessons in survival and self-preservation. It’s blag.

Roll the dice and see if it plays without a hitch

Our industry is maturing faster than Madonna’s image, and this is bringing some heavy flak our way. The games market is thriving at the moment – one of the few businesses to do so in the current economic climate. Sales are consistent, and aside from the closure of a few large publishing studios (you will be sadly missed, Bizzare Creations) the outlook continues to brighten… well, at least internationally. The meteoric rise of gaming has superseded film in every way; our maturity has come quicker, our profit margins have expanded faster and our image has changed more often than the pace of a Final Fantasy XIII Boss Battle. With the constant release of gaming software and hardware, companies often struggle to meet deadlines and produce games worth the asking price when held against the competition. Lionhead received heavy criticism for releasing a ‘broken’ Fable III, and Bethesda were scrutinized for releasing the snazzy post-apocalyptic gaming strips of New Vegas without ironing out the many, many bugs (although, to be fair, some of them are utterly hilarious; half a mechanical dog pivoting in mid-air? Genius).

So what has this got to do with art? A lot of people – usually the sort that hang around Shoreditch and drink latte-frappe-cappe-maccha-cinos – throw the word ‘art’ around like it’s a delicate Topman scarf. They use it for everything; film, television, paintings, architecture, women, poetry, literature, themselves – everything but gaming. But is there no more a deserving plateau for the term than a game that gels together so perfectly that you find yourself completely immersed, forgetting to eat because you ‘just have to have one more go’ or ‘beat one more level.’ We’ve all been there at Death O’Clock in the morning, square-eyed at the screen, skin falling from our gaunt faces as we force ourselves into bed, trying to forget about that one last Big Daddy that just needs to be killed. Art Critics often describe getting lost in the works of the classical painters; how the swirling majesty of Van Gogh captures their gaze for hours as they follow each liquid stroke of finely mixed divine blue with the piercing yellow of his stars. Or something. There is no difference with gaming.

You can take any game. Some are better than others, but that’s just another comparison they share with typical artistry. Let’s take one of my all time favourite games, for example; Pokemon Crystal. A little aged now, granted, but even still there is a paradoxical complicated simplicity to it that provides enough challenge to make it worthwhile without getting boring. The story is, again, rather simple, but there are themes that appeal to children, teens and adults alike; rivalry, ambition, friendship and, most importantly, raising small imaginary creatures until they change into insanely powerful forms that could turn around and kill you at any time. The gameplay mechanic itself is so simple I could pick it up and understand it at eight years of age. The sprites are constructed so well that each individual pixel is agonized over to create the right neural response from the player; Mewtwo looks slightly menacing, Charizard looks like the most powerful thing in Johto and Drowzee… well, he just looks like an idiot. This is art at its most original and smallest; pixel artists have the smallest canvas in the world to work with and need to achieve an awful lot with very little; if we’re comparing to classical art here, then everything matches: saying something precise with an image despite constraints, entertaining the audience and communicating some sort of message – from depicting the majestic beauty of a forgotten Italian landscape to letting us know that Houndoom has an affinity for fire.

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

More modern games can achieve this comparison so much better. The two Bioshock games pretty much changed my life; after playing through the first installation, I looked into the context of its production and realized it was heavily based on the philosophies of Ayn Rand, and more precisely, on her novel Atlas Shrugged. Now, I read that 1167 page behemoth over last summer, and not only did it change the way I thought about society, life, achievement and selfishness, but it also changed the way I look at gaming. Atlas Shrugged is often called one of the most water-tight pieces of literate art in existence, and I think Bioshock mirrors that perfectly.

In an age where there is constantly some band-wagon hopping tabloid newspaper holding a self-righteous finger to the Videogame Industry and proclaiming that we should all be burned at the stake, it is pleasant to see a mature and dignified game (that does have explicit content) can handle itself with such decorum and restraint.

Bioshock is a game that centres around violence, not because it can, but because it has to; it reflects the brutality of humanity and the way society can collapse, even when built with the purest of intentions. The violence in Bioshock represents self-preservation and selfishness; the need to survive, even at the expense of others. Smacking someone around the face with a wrench feels much more dignified and understandable that way. You are out for yourself. The meandering twists and revelations in the plot (despite the game being almost 100% linear) are everything a narrative should be; compelling, gripping, disturbing, empathetic, fascinating, enigmatic, tangible. Graphically, even with a 2007 release, it creates a definite ambience – a distinct universe you inhabit when playing the game; the art-deco lacings and submerged panoramas provoke ambivalent senses of wanderlust and fear. The audio captures the essence of this dystopian wonderland perfectly; the menagerie of pan-global accents makes you believe that this is a haven for all the talented men and women of the world, the demented yelps and barks of the Splicers make you genuinely believe that they are the insane genius, and the sweeping 60’s inspired music weaves the whole spell together with an unsettlingly well-observed flourish.

Bioshock is everything art should be; – experimental, vivid, brave, thought-provoking, valid and beautiful. Not all of the hate-toting ignorance pointed at the Industry is unfair, but claiming that everything we create is a crime against humanity and should be destroyed is completely unfair, especially when you consider that we can create something like Bioshock. Or even Mass Effect. Or any game that you can engage with. Any game that hits you on a personal level, that grabs you by the brain for just a fleeting second and gives you the clarity to nod and think ‘Yeah. That’s right that is. That’s really right.’

Because, essentially, isn’t that all art is?

Last five articles by Dom



  1. Directing Chaos says:

    Wow, I can see why you won, even I would say it was better than my one lol. I can’t even begin to fathom how you arrived at this but I’m glad you did because its a really interesting and thought provoking article that shows art really is relative.

  2. Samuel Samuel says:

    It’s pretty obvious why this won, Dom. Fantastically well reasoned and presented argument about something I suspect every gamer has a bee in their bonnet about at some time or another.

    Still, I’m not too sure about you horning in on my act by being all polysyllabic and erudite and well-spoken and shit… Lee might leave me for you, and then I’d be left heartbroken and alone, with nobody there to try and shave my beard off. Is that what you want? Is it?

  3. Victor Victor says:


  4. Adam Adam says:

    Truly great piece of writing Dom. You accurately and intelligently convey the point we all want to make and couldn’t be more deserving of the win.

    Congratulations :)

  5. LVL54Spacemonkey says:

    Well now I’m glad I didn’t try to write about games as art because I wouldn’t have come near to topping that. Well done good sir. Someone should tweet this to Roger Ebert for giggles.

  6. Furie says:

    Oh very well written indeed. I’ve said something similar about art and how comic books and graphic novels are considered by art critics. Sometimes effort and ability should count more than the medium an artist chooses and as long as it moves you, then it’s art.

  7. Ste says:

    Excellent article, I really enjoyed it. You are a deserved winner. Bioshock is one of my all time favorite games, I even nominated Bioshock 2 for GOTY in 2010 but something called Mass Effect 2 won?

    I look forward to possibly reading more of your stuff in the future. Now I’m off out to try and pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged.

  8. Mr Swift says:

    I knew it would be good but damn you set the bar so high I need a jet pack!

  9. Splicer261 says:

    Congratulations!! great article

  10. Tania Tania says:

    Great stuff, congrats.

  11. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    It feels rather odd commenting on an article which, by the very fact that it was the outright winner, is obviously highly thought of… and yet here I am. This article was in my picks for the winner from the first paragraph and managed to stay in the running even though the entries I’d set aside as “easy winners” went from being just a few to close to thirty very quickly.

    It really wasn’t an easy decision… I watch these TV shows where people go “well… you know… it wasn’t easy but, in the end there can be only one winner and everyone else should be proud that they got this far” and I sit there thinking to myself, and often aloud before being told to shut up, “Yeah right… if it was THAT hard then I’m the Queen”. Apparently, I’m now the Queen.

    There are another thirty odd entries that we’d easily jump to publish on the site, actually probably more like fifty if I’m honest… but we were looking for an overall winner… and this one stood out for me in particular because of the passion behind it, the academic yet laid back approach, the fact that it centres around the art style and that it was delivered so well.

    So yeah… I loved this article :)

  12. Lorna Lorna says:

    I’ll echo what Mark has said and say that this piece did stand out, along with several others and easily remained in the running all the way through the process (which was actually far harder than I had imagined). It is well written and thought provoking, but is delivered with a laid back approach which doesn’t alienate or bore, not to mention a great topic. Well done :)

  13. Chris Toffer says:

    Very well written, and an easy winner. Well done to you!

  14. MrCuddleswick says:

    Very well judged depth, I very much enjoyed reading it. Congratulations on winning.

    You know, as MrCuddleswick once said, “All science can be called art, and all art can be called science.”

    That was the entirety of my submission, and I can see now why I didn’t win.

  15. Jace says:

    Great article – too good actually – I feel a usurping rumbling under my wheelie chair.

    I once said on a live Radio One interview back in 1996 that ‘Games were like art’ , I cringed the biggest cringe i’d ever cringed when I heard it back, but now, if I ever dare to listen to it again, i’ll consider this article as validation that I was just ahead of my time.

  16. Ric Ric says:

    Interesting article. Can’t wait for the difficult second article!

  17. Edward Edward says:

    This was fantastic, and I can totally see why this won first prize. It’s one of the greatest, most intelligent looks at the art in gaming debate I’ve seen and it’s utterly deserving of the victory.
    Well done, and welcome to the site! :)

  18. Lee says:

    Is the statue outside the Mojave outpost not art? of course it is, if it was stood on a roundabout on the A444 most people probably wouldn’t give it a second look – like most art.
    Games are art and they contain art – but I don’t feel like I need my favourite past time to be acknowledged by French people with floppy hats.

    Congrats on the win – well deserved :)

  19. Dom DomPeppiatt says:

    Wow. Cheers guys. I really appreciate this great feedback.
    You spoil me with your words, ahah.
    Thank you all very much; your support is fantastic and I just hope I can live up to all of your expectations for the next one.
    The subject matter has always been of great interest to me; whenever people say there is nothing artistic about games I completely ragequit (from my mind). It irritates me so much, and so I thought what better way to create a concise argument in Gaming’s favour than write it all up and send it out into the ether?
    I’m glad you all enjoyed it, anyhoo. It means a lot.

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