</Video Games: The Youngest Art>
author: Erik Ilmuratov
MamaGame, Dmitry Kavka
The game has existed for as long as humans have been around, or even longer. Almost all mammals are able to play: usually the process of hunting or intraspecific competition is artificially reproduced in this way. Cultural critic Johan Huizinga wrote in his book ‘Homo Ludens’ that any sphere of our life is a kind of a game — including politics, war, dance and art. The game has taken root very deeply inside human civilization and over time from just an immanent activity it evolved into a separate type of a digital art.

In order not to choose one of the many confusing and abstract definitions of art, we can use its generally accepted understanding. It is a way of artistic perception of reality, a dialogue with the world and other people in a metaphorical form. Art is a certain aesthetic, a form that contains an idea or a narrative. Not every video game meets all of these criteria, but this will be discussed later. The first video games that we consider as part of art and modern culture appeared in the 90's and gradually gain not only a huge audience, but also a significant part of the market, starting to compete with cinema and television. With the development of technology, video games acquire more and more means of expression, deeper and more diverse plots, and eventually a cult status. Now we are seeing numerous video games awards, famous developers and studios, fan communities, scientific research and other inevitable companions of any major phenomenon.

It is worth saying that art is always an intermediary, a medium. The fact that a video game is a medium was proved by Jan Bogost in his work ‘How to Do Things With Videogames’. He also saw the infinite potential for creating simulations of entire worlds, which we see today in AAA games like ‘Cyberpunk 2077’, and the ability of games to become a space for any conversation: about politics, sex, education, religion. At this point they absolutely overlap with cinema, and if the whole difference between a movie and a video game is in the format of perception, then it should not even be taken into account: we have been watching movies as we want for a long time: alone or in company at home, in the cinema or on a phone. With the release of projects like ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ and ‘Death Stranding’, the line between art forms disappears completely.

Games as an interactive medium and artistic method are used in contemporary art works. A screen in the exhibition space that can be used by the visitor to play a game is already a common practice for galleries and museums. The exhibition space can be designed as resembling a video game, like the GARAGE Museum of Contemporary Art and Novoe Architecture Bureau did at the exhibition ‘Assuming Distance: Speculations, Fakes, and Predictions in the Age of the Coronacene’ in 2021. The viewers were invited to follow a route along special trails and a floor surface that was made of luminous squares and connected the museum halls. The very process of exploring the exhibition space was transformed into a gamified process reminiscent of arcade video games, questionnaires and scanwords.

Assuming Distance: Speculations, Fakes, and Predictions in the Age of the Coronacene, 2021

A self-organised group SHSHSH made a VR game ‘I understand you, but I can't talk to you’ that was a part of the exhibition ‘Assuming Distance: Speculations, Fakes, and Predictions in the Age of the Coronacene’ at the GARAGE Museum of Contemporary Art. A group consisting of more than 30 female artists explores the mechanisms of internal interaction in the digital space. They created a virtual house and put their own avatars inside. Their appearance reflected each artist's field of research. So, the artists explored how different images could form a single virtual avatar, while the viewer could only peek through the windows of the digital home and observe random situations.

‘I understand you, but I can't talk to you’, SHSHSH

Let’s look at some recent examples of exhibiting game-art in ‘Art for the Future’ International Biennale, organized by Multimedia Art Museum (Moscow) in 2021/2022. Yaroslav Kravtsov made a game ‘Impossible stairs’ as an homage to Maurits Cornelis Escher’s lithograph 'Relativity'. It depicts a paradoxical world in which the laws of reality and physics do not apply. in Yaroslav Kravtsov’s game, user can explore a fantasy space and its unique opportunities.
Another example is ‘MamaGame’ made by Dmitry Kavka in the form of an online game and video that he has been working on from 2013 to 2021. This is a virtual exhibition of digital sculptures resembling a first-person shooter computer game, like the early classic 'Doom'. But here, in Kavka’s project, players cannot shoot, because they do not have any weapons. All they can do is move around the space and observe the reality that surrounds them.

MamaGame, Dmitry Kavka, 2013-2021

Digital artists who work with video games actively apply sound practices. For example, Anastasia Koroleva who also participates in ‘Art for the Future Biennale' in the Multimedia Art Museum, created an audio game ‘Soundwalk’. It consists of several scenes with sound panoramas of an impersonal area. The soundscape changes as the player moves. Artifacts located in the game create a specific sound and move the user to the next ‘level’, in this case a scene.

Soundwalk, Anastasia Koroleva, 2021

In 2008, a whole book ‘Gamescenes: Art in the Age of Videogames Paperback’ by Matteo Bittani and Domenico Quaranta was devoted to the formation of games as part of contemporary art. Since 2013, games in different formats have appeared in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. More information about this can be found in an article 'Why Game Studies Now? Video Games: A New Art Form' by James Paul Gee.

And yet the debate about whether video games are high art continues to this day. This also happened with cinema at the beginning of its existence: moving pictures for years were considered fairground entertainment for the crowd, nothing more. It is noteworthy that it was cinema that saved Americans from the Great Depression, and today video games are saving us from the new Great Depression, (competing with TV series for this status). If cinema has proved its status as a serious and almost the most important art over time, the game can do it as well. The longer the medium exists, the more subjects and spheres of life it covers, the more obvious its artistic value becomes. According to cultural critic Yan Levchenko, cinema is the ultimate mass art and universal medium of the XX century. In this case, video games are the second ultimate mass art and universal medium of the XXI century. In addition, it has become a logical continuation (and completion) of trends that have already emerged in modern art, theater and cinema: interactivity, engaging the viewer as a co-author, immersiveness.

So the game is a form of art, can we agree on that? Well, not really, because there are at least two types of this interactive medium: entertainment with a minimal plot, most often occurring online (for example, popular shooter ‘Counter-Strike’, as well as most other online games) and a complete creation that is built according to dramaturgy and comprehends reality or discusses classic, eternal themes (games like ‘Bioshock’, ‘The Last of Us’, ‘Firewatch’). The first type is based on the same games that our ancestors played a thousand and two thousand years ago (catch-up, hide-and-seek), or rather their more complex and beautiful version that awaits on the other side of the screen, in virtual space. In the context of this conversation, the second type is most relevant, because it can be attributed to art, and not in the broad sense of the word, but to a classical, so-called high art, the idea of which has already been formed by music, literature, painting and cinema.

How to understand the difference and how transparent are the boundaries between the two categories of games? The first one is a sports competition, and the second one is an art form. The same duality can be observed, for example, in dance, although its potential for dialogue with the viewer (that is, basically being art) is much lower. The first type significantly influenced the public perception of games in general, forming a stigma around the whole phenomenon as a place of cultivation of violence and aggression. It is as if fine art is judged only by graffiti. Even if we use the division of culture into high- and low-brow, and the very classification of games into these two types, we will see a whole vision of the phenomenon. The game is the oldest of the activities, but the video game is the newest of the arts, and with the development of VR technologies, it only solidifies its place in the vanguard of culture. The game (together with the player) can tell stories that other mediums could not even dream of, and it will tell these stories in the years to come.


  1. Jan Bogost ‘How to Do Things With Videogames’.
  2. Johan Huizinga ‘Homo Ludens’.
  3. Matteo Bittani and Domenico Quaranta ‘Gamescenes: Art in the Age of Videogames Paperback’.
  4. James Paul Gee ‘Why Game Studies Now? Video Games: A New Art Form’, link.
  5. Daria Nanosova 'Videogames and art', link.
  6. Art for the Future International Biennale, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, 2021-2022, link
  7. ‘Assuming Distance: Speculations, Fakes, and Predictions in the Age of the Coronacene’ exhibition at GARAGE Museum of Contemporary art, 2021 / photos, link.
  8. SHSHSH: ‘Sure, we hate new technology, but we're actually having a great time with it’ / Iskusstvo, link.