How Video Games Can Be A Form Of Art – Qianlin Wang

In 2014, MoMA collected 14 video games including Pac-Man, The Sims and Portal. This collection included different types of games, such as platform, musical, simulation and multiplayer online games. MoMA intends to expand this collections to games such as The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing and Minecraft. The decision of selection is based not only on the aesthetic experiences, but also the interaction design. Same as other designs, video games is a very important field to study on its historical and cultural relevance, innovative approaches to technology and interactions between users and the media, and aesthetic expression. Video games is a very complex medium that includes many aspects of art and design to give audiences the fully experiences of another world, which is similar to what Richard Wagner called “A Gesamtkunstwerk”, a total work of art, which combines different art forms to form a single cohesive whole. Except that all the experiences of playing video games happen in the digital world.  Certainly due to the commercial nature of video games, people rarely consider it as a form of art, only until recent years, it is getting attention from the art world. There are many features in the video games are worth to be looked at by artists, especially in the era of Covid and post-Covid, art produced to be experienced in the digital world and outside galleries will be more and more important. In the following sections, there are several examples to show the potential of video games as a form of art.

As an artist who is particularly interested in human interactions, relationships and relational aesthetics, video games that I am interested in are the types which bring new perspectives on this field. There are roughly two types of interactions, immersive and limited. Immersive-interaction types emulate the real world, and limited-interaction types convey certain concepts through limiting people’s communications. Dark Souls and Death Stranding belong to the limited-interaction category. Dark Souls is a third-person action-RPG game released in 2011. The players take the role of a cursed undead character in a fictional kingdom of Lordran with the goal of survival. There is no direct storylines, rather, the players have to understand the world through the descriptions of the items they found in the game. A unique design in Dark Souls is users only can communicate through leaving messages on the floor.

RethenSilverfox. (2016). [image]. Orange Soapstone Message. Available at [Accessed 6 Dec. 2020]
Chapadoncio. (2016). [image]. Best messages in Dark Souls. Available at [Accessed 6 Dec. 2020]

The player only can form messages from a set of predetermined words and phrases. The sentence is completed by either a combination of a base phrase and a fill phrase, or only a base phrase. Other players can rate if the message is helpful. The player also can summon others to help them to battle through the sign left by other players. Hidetaka Miyazaki, the game director, came up this design from his personal experiences. Once his car stopped on a hillside because of snow and started to slip, the car behind also got stuck. Then the one following it started to bump into it and pushed it up the hill which eventually pushed his car up to the hill as well. There were no conversations at all in the whole process, but there was “a connection of mutual assistance” between those strangers. Similar design happens in Death Stranding as well. In this game, players act as a courier to deliver supplies to isolated places after a cataclysmic event. The goal is to create a wireless communication network in the end. Although the player does not directly encounter other players, they can leave supplies, structures, and messages for others to use. They also can recover cargo lost by other players to complete their deliveries. These kinds of restrictions on communications actually strengthened players’ relationships and the mutual assistance. They are like single player games with online functions.

. [image]. Available at [Accessed at 6 Dec, 2020]

In terms of immersive interactions, Cao Fei’s RMB City, Animal Crossing and Fortnight are exemplary. RMB City is a fictional Chinese city constructed in the online virtual world Second Life. The project can be accessed by public from 2009 to 2011. People can buy land and properties in the city, while the city is also used as a place to experiment different art projects. When the city is opened to the public, art collector Ulli Sigg is appointed as the first mayor. The leadership of the city is rotated every three months for a new mayor. In this project, the boundaries between the virtual world and real life are constantly tested out.

A Second Life City Planning by China Tracy, 2007

Animal Crossing is a social simulation game where the player live in a village inhabited by various animals and can carry out different activities such as fishing, trading, and bug catching. In the lockdown, some artists used the game as a venue to exhibit their artwork. The time speed in the game is the same as the real time, which makes the event of private view more sync with the reality.

Hanoun, Marianne. (2020). Parts of the Process — How illustrator Stephanie Unger created a virtual art exhibition on Nintendo game, Animal Crossing. [image]. Available at [Accessed at 6 Dec, 2020]

At 23 April, US rapper Travis Scott performed a live concert in the online shooting game Fortnite. More than 12m players joined and even more watched the streaming on Youtube and Twitch.

Travis Scott and Fortnite Present: Astronomical

Video games as a medium has great potentials for artists to use it to offer immersive experiences for audiences, the only thing is the difficulties of presenting it in a gallery. Video games require players to engage with it, and many games might be too long and complex for viewers to pick it up in galleries. How MoMa did this is to make an interactive demonstration for long games and present short games as how they are if they are under five minutes. If the game is too complicated to be experience as an interactive display, videos are created to demonstrate the concepts and characters.


Antoneli, Paola. (2012). Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters, [online]. Available at [Accessed 6 Dec. 2020]

Chapadoncio. (2016). [image]. Best messages in Dark Souls. Available at [Accessed 6 Dec. 2020

Dark Souls Wiki. Messages. [online]. Available at  [Accessed 6 Dec. 2020]

MacDonald, Keza. (2010). Souls Survivor. [online]. Available at [Accessed 6 Dec. 2020]

RethenSilverfox. (2016). [image]. Orange Soapstone Message. Available at [Accessed 6 Dec. 2020]