What is Art?

Merriam-Webster defines art in two ways: something created with imagination and skill that expresses emotion or beauty, or a work created by an artist. Why, then, are video games and anime viewed as different from other mediums of storytelling and expression?

When I was in middle school, I had a difficult time admitting that I watched anime or played video games, sometimes outright denying that I did. I did not want to be associated with the stigmas of unhealthy obsessions and a shut-in lifestyle. Further, I feared that this interest would be taken less seriously, and although I have noticed less ostracization at Andover, these stigmas still persist. With notions that animation fans are “nerdy” or “weebs,” these stigmas unduly divert attention and detract from artistry in these mediums, stifling artistic expression as a whole.

Anime is film. Anime conveys familiar messages in an unfamiliar way. Anime is commonly dismissed for one of two reasons: it’s considered immature or pure children’s entertainment. The animated and often cartoonish aesthetic of anime can be deceiving, though. Anime is a medium that has been able to tackle the most gritty and sensitive topics than any other I have come across. Shows, such as “Attack on Titan” or “Code Geass,” often comment on human nature or societal structures, such as racism and poverty, wrapped in a fanciful story. The break in reality provided by the animated quality and fictitious premise work as a stop gap when dealing with these topics and makes them more palatable and digestible. Animation is a medium where dystopias can come to life without seeming corny. When anime is adapted to live action, it loses its animated charm and ability to engage these topics in the same way. A quick search on Netflix and you will find that it is neither anime nor a traditional TV show, resulting in a film that is stuck in an awkward middle like watered down fruit juice. Fittingly, live action adaptations do not see the same attention that the original does.

Video games also often aren’t perceived as art. However, similar to films, video games tell a story. Film combines elements of plot, visuals, and music to connect with the viewer. Video games achieve this same effect, combining the same elements with the addition of input from the player. The sound tracks are just as beautiful or intense as they are in films. The story is engaging and the lore and worldbuilding can be just as extensive as any Marvel movie. When another layer of game design is added atop everything else, video games become an even more engaging storytelling device than film. Being able to interact with the world creates another layer of immersion that film simply lacks. A great deal of this artistic value is neglected in societal views of video games. It is difficult to view art in a vacuum. When we take a step back and look at the place of video games in society, we also see the culture surrounding it. There is frequent conversation about video game addiction and predatory business models in the video game industry in the media. Titles, like “Starwars Battlefront,” rife with microtransactions are often the target of the media. While these are conversations that should take place, they are like a haze that shrouds the art in video games, one that dismisses the artistic validity of video games. 

When entire categories of art are left unconsidered, gems of creativity and craft remain buried. It is a disservice to those who may enjoy it and to art itself. No matter how alt-culture something is, no one can dismiss it as not art. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is a cliched but pertinent phrase. We must approach all mediums of art with an open mind, not only avoiding judging them by their covers but also preconceptions.