Posted on October 6, 2007,

Editorial: Halo 3 Isn't Art, and Other Useless Facts

halo3-4-lg.jpgDid someone actually need to say it? Or, in this case, write it?

Did a New York Times op/ed writer actually just declare Halo 3 a piece of escapist entertainment, as if it were supposed to edify and enlighten us?

Please, save the space for something worthwhile to write about. The only credit I’ll give Daniel Radosh, the writer of the column in question, is bringing up the idea that video games may have to engage the participant in a new, unique way other than by shoving in bits of interactivity between what otherwise would be a normal movie.

If games are to become more than mere entertainment, they will need to use the fundamentals of gameplay — giving players challenges to work through and choices to make — in entirely new ways. The formula followed by virtually all games is a steady progression toward victory: you accomplish tasks until you win.

It’s a novel suggestion, in the least. The idea that you might be able to come close to creating something as you are playing, shaping an experience using the game with no defined ending is intriguing. For the most part, it might be on par with the concept of a “choose your own adventure” book, but the point made goes along with the idea that we’re still waiting for a landmark game to change the perception of gaming as art.

Games are large enough and have enough detail to suggest that something else could come from video game design other than just multiple endings. There are games which peek beneath the surface, where the decisions you make will affect certain characters in the game permanently. But usually all it means in the end is getting a better or worse piece of armor or weapon which will make the ending easier or more difficult, depending on what you do.controller-art.jpg

Wouldn’t it be nice if those decisions players made in the game resulted in them questioning their humanity, or their political, cultural and spiritual beliefs? Maybe that could be the difference between what some might consider mediocre, and what some might consider great art.

In suggesting that Halo 3 isn’t a step-forward for gaming, Radosh isn’t alone. In fact, the original Halo was considered in the very same way. Here’s a bit from a paper written by Aaron Smutts arguing for video games as art on a number of theoretical bases in Contemporary Aesthetics:

Without masterpieces, arguing that video games can be art seems premature. “Max Payne” and “Halo” are two of the best games ever produced, but they are not great art.

The recent New York Times columnist ended his piece with an idea along the same lines, although he references film as a developing art form:

As cinema matured, films developed the power to transform as well as to entertain. Video games are poised to enter a similar golden age.

So, we’re waiting. Was Bioshock what we were waiting for? Not quite, but one could argue that it does the best job of bringing together more elements of what could make an artistic masterpiece than anything before it. It definitely has a lot more to read into than, say Halo 3.

But that goes without saying. Or, at least, it should have.

via The New York Times

via Contemporary Aesthetics

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33 Comments on Editorial: Halo 3 Isn't Art, and Other Useless Facts


On October 6, 2007 at 2:19 pm

listing max payne as one of the greatest games ever made instantly discredits this guy, even if he has a few valid points.


On October 6, 2007 at 2:23 pm

im sorry but i personally think that you just had nothing better to do than write this article because halo 3 is a work of art and no one who actually games for the story lines and not just the multiplayer would realize that this is a work of art


On October 6, 2007 at 2:52 pm

If books are to become more than mere entertainment, they will need to use the fundamentals of story writing — giving readers challenges to work through and choices to make — in entirely new ways. The formula followed by virtually all books is a steady progression toward victory: you read chapters until you win.


On October 6, 2007 at 3:21 pm

“im sorry but i personally think that you just had nothing better to do than write this article because halo 3 is a work of art and no one who actually games for the story lines and not just the multiplayer would realize that this is a work of art”

Halo’s story is cliche and unoriginal. The dialogue is awful, the storytelling (if we can even call it that) is haphazard and juvenile, and it does just about everything wrong in its single player campaign. None of it makes sense, none of it is interesting, and it’s barely above the level of FPSs made a decade ago.

The only, ONLY reason it sells so well and gets great reviews is the multiplayer.

There’s only a handful of games that could even be argued to be art: Wind Waker, the original NiGHTS, and Bioshock among them. I don’t think any of them reach that level, but they’re three of the closest to break the barrier. A generic sci-fi shooter about a superhman and an invasion of Earth with a totally linear storyline and repetitive gameplay? Keep dreaming, pal.


On October 6, 2007 at 3:30 pm

I’d like to announce that in my previous post, I was just poking fun at the author.


On October 6, 2007 at 4:12 pm

The issue doesn’t seem to be seeing games as art, but as ‘great art’. I think the author here at least gets that games can be art. The levels of greatness of art will always be a discussable subject, due to an ‘eye of the beholder’ clause to all art. If I fart in public and laugh, it’s not art, but if I do it on a stage, it becomes art, whether or not other people think it is ‘great art’ can certainly be debated until the cows come home.


On October 6, 2007 at 4:17 pm

This is totally ridiculous. First of all, Halo 3 is average at best. Just because something sells and gets lot of attention doesn’t mean it’s good. Just look at MTV awars. Lots of flies on a piece of cow dung doesn’t mean it’s tasty.

BioShock not art? To be able to say that something is or isn’t applicable for a certain label you need to have a precise definition of that label. Can you define art in a good and simple way that people can agree on? If you can’t then what’s art or not is purely opinionated and pretty pointless.

Would BioShock be better if it were art in the conservative eyes of culture snobs? Taking a photo of someone posing can be regarded as art BioShock isn’t. Which took the most effort, which had the greatest vision, which took the most talent? Screw art it’s just a word people throw around to make some things ‘better’ or more ‘classy’ than other things.


On October 6, 2007 at 4:29 pm

“Which took the most effort, which had the greatest vision, which took the most talent?”

Maybe Halo 3 wins on effort, but taking a picture requires more vision and requires more talent than that mediocre shooter took to produce.


On October 6, 2007 at 5:03 pm

Well, I do think that his idea of using video games potential as a definition for art as video games is ridiculous, because if you look at all the examples of ‘fine art’ does it involve user interaction to the degree inwhich he’s specifying?

Sure there’s quite a bit of interpretation on the end users part, but that’s all internalized in the person, not projected into the piece. Perhaps that person can project his own thoughts into the piece by being outspoken by it, but it’s not going to change the way others think about that particular piece.

I think even a linear game can be considered art (as opposed to the authors point of view), because it’s more about the feelings that are being expressed and the feelings one gets when observing or interacting with said piece.

Look at Music, Books, Paintings, Drawings, 3D design, and the list goes on and on, do any of those really require user interaction to be considered an art? They just require to be observed.


On October 6, 2007 at 5:59 pm

shawn I wasn’t referring to Halo 3 I don’t like Halo 3 and I wouldn’t call it art I never called any game art


On October 6, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Shawn & teo has one of the best explanations ever and I agree with you two.
:) :mrgreen:


On October 6, 2007 at 9:39 pm

the unfortunate thing is, whether its artsy, original, or not, Halo 3 is still arguably the most popular modern game to be released; and that makes it important to video games by itself. personally, i think anything that can make more people stop seeing video games as just a past-time for children and nerds is a good thing.

i think the term “art” gets tossed around too liberally these days for any form of media. there are few, if any, games recognized universally as “art” because no developers have really set out to make a game with the idea of creating art in mind. they set out to entertain, and they do a pretty good job of that. Spider-man, for example, was an entertaining movie, but I don’t think it’s going to be considered “art” any time soon. but i don’t see why that has to be a bad thing. i’ve seen plenty of films that couldn’t even entertain, so the fact that it managed to do that is commendable.

the article mentioned cinema “maturing” over time, but i don’t know if video games will ever hit that point. the “maturity” of cinema kind of peaked in the seventies when Jaws and Star Wars made studios realize they could make serious money off movies and started churning out more of the same. there are lots of exceptions to this, but movies these days can kind of be grouped into those that are “entertaining,” those that are “art” (i.e. thought-provoking), and those that kind of fit into both. video games never had an artsy phase; they’ve been about entertainment first from the beginning. and that’s okay. they entertain, and they do a great job of it.


On October 6, 2007 at 9:46 pm

The only games that will ever truly be art are the Monkey Island series.

End of discussion newbs.


On October 6, 2007 at 11:02 pm

Monkey Island Indeed! Those games were some of the greats. And as well, saying Max Payne is a masterpiece or anything to that context just discredits you, But, still there is a lot of evidence towards Halo 3 being a masterpiece. When people look at a game towards being a masterpiece they often only look into the graphics. But a gaming masterpiece involves much, much more than simply graphics. It takes dialog, gameplay, freedom, graphics, uniqueness, ease of play, interactivity, immersion, and even now online gameplay. There may be more things that come into the equation and it is an ever changing equation. But The Halo series in a total has brought all of these qualities together in a gaming achievement. It has that quality of in depthness that a game needs, the gamplay factor, its unique, some people will disagree with that saying its just a first-person shooter but it is unique, its easy to get into but not to easy that anyone can be good at it, obviously interactivity, it immerses you at such a level you may just feel important in the conflict, it has the dialog needed for such a massive game, and the graphics are obviously peek. It also has that high standard of online gameplay that people can remain immersed and play the game for so long.

If your looking for a gaming masterpiece you’ve found it. Halo 1,2, and 3 have brought that level of gaming that the creators can feel like accomplishers.


On October 6, 2007 at 11:18 pm

I wouldn’t worry too much about this article, it was about gaming and it was in the New York Times. Nuff said.


On October 7, 2007 at 12:23 am


“Art refers to a diverse range of human activities and artifacts, and may be used to cover all or any of the arts, including music, literature and other forms.”

Key phrase in that being “and other forms”.


On October 7, 2007 at 12:53 am

Lol, Deus Ex, Psychonauts, or the like
games that make you think or feel, those are artistic games.

games that are fun to play…. not so much artistic, but not bad either.


On October 7, 2007 at 1:11 am

Halo 3 is not in any way a masterpiece. The game’s graphics are subpar compared to other 360 titles (like Gears of War), the story is derivative to the EXTREME (read any no-name sci fi book, then review Halo’s story), and it’s saving grace, the multiplayer, is out done by countless other PC (and some console) games, and with far less annoying 10 year olds getting a kick out of cussing out people who can’t physically touch them.
However, to say that there aren’t any games that could be considered “art” is ludicrous, especially considering the fact that the guy saying it likely has a cat who he feeds food coloring, just so the cat can cough up dyed hairballs, which he will then proceed to glue to his living room wall and call it “art”. To be absolutely honest, compared to the crap that we call “modern art”, Bungie as a whole ranks up there with Michael Angelo. In the end it just all depends on the person’s perspective, and my own theory of “art” would be to excel in one or more categories, or revolutionize the genre the work is in. The original Halo somewhat revolutionized things for console FSPs, but not for the PC, therefore in my opinion it does not qualify as “art”.
But what do I know, I think that Monty Python and the Holy Grail was infinitely greater than the trash that was Napoleon Dynamite.


On October 7, 2007 at 5:16 am

Halo 3 is to FPS what the color red is to dog.


On October 7, 2007 at 9:24 am

I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Okami… That game literally is art. =P


On October 7, 2007 at 9:47 am

Thank you Lupo, I was waiting for someone to mention that. I just couldn’t remember the danged name. :oops:


On October 7, 2007 at 5:05 pm

If you call Halo a kind of art, what are you suppose to call MGS?


On October 7, 2007 at 6:04 pm

As far as saying games aren’t art: Deus ex, Baldurs gate, bioshock, no one lives forever.
No one is allowed to define art unless they are in the target audience for the art in question. You wouldn’t ask a crackhead if mozart was art.


On October 7, 2007 at 7:15 pm

Great sucsess & entertainment is not art.
Art is usually ugly & provokes people.
Real artists become famous 300 years after they are dead.
Almost anything can be “art” in any direction, but CANNOT be defined.Th


On October 7, 2007 at 8:06 pm

who cares what NY TIMES thinks…


On October 7, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Art is an expressed opinion of the beholder. ANYTHING can be considered art to the right person. Video games are art to certain people, and paintings are also. It’s a circumstantial idea that shouldn’t be dertermined by anyone.

da soc

On October 7, 2007 at 9:52 pm

I think that Big Rigs racing is the most artistic game ever created, but that’s just me. D:


On October 8, 2007 at 12:06 am

Max Payne had norse mythology, film noir, and one of the best stories ever written in a video game. It’s part of a handful of games to come close to art, and one of the best games ever made.

Anyone who fails to understand this, particularly because it lacks generic Sci-Fi FPS cliches like aliens from (insert random text) that need to be killed by a hulky manly man in an armor suit (ripped off from Metroid) is a mainstream fool.

P.S. No, for the love of god, the Matrix films did NOT inspire Max Payne in any way. You just need to learn about John Woo.

bad guy

On October 8, 2007 at 3:00 am

ææææææææææææææææææææææææææ,hhhh.heeeeeeeeeeelpppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp!!!!!!!!!!!!!just kidding


On October 8, 2007 at 4:03 am

Planescape: Torment not even mentioned?

Load of bull.


On October 8, 2007 at 8:58 am

Not many of us here have been arguing over Halo 3… more like discussing the guys opinion on how video games aren’t art.

But I agree with Dr. Inzane, art has to evoke emotion, just because it doesn’t invoke your emotions doesn’t mean it isn’t art.


On October 8, 2007 at 9:45 am

game as art has already become real enough to have different schools of thought emerging. Googlesearch for fun times:

Scratchware Manifesto = burn down the game industry

Realtime Art Manifesto = does ‘good game’ imply ‘will it make me want to hurt myself?’

Game Rules As Art = Humble proves video games can be as inaccessible, wanky and nonsense as any other contemporary art form


On October 11, 2007 at 6:56 pm

Halo 3 is not art. It’s just the same as any FPS, with a story, crappy multiplayer (See Starsiege: Tribes and Tribes 2 [even Tribes: Vengeance, which took a fair dive in multiplayer). Tribes 2 and Starsiege: Tribes had more game-modes than Halo, before Halo. You could even put in mods. Halo’s gun system is very unrealistic. “Oh, I’ll just go to the battlefield with (INSERTGUN1NAMEHERE)and maybe a (INSERTGUN2NAMEHERE), and then I’ll pick up ammo and whatnot in the field!” In Tribes, the gameplay was more realistic. “I’d better suit up in one of three suit models, choose one of five packs, take a gun, and blow some loser’s brains out.” It’s not that Halo is terrible, it’s just below average, rips off everything, has no unique weapons (seriously, everything is fairly sci-fi cliche), and calls it quits. A game years older than it had 4 square kilometer and up fairly realistic maps, with frantic fast paced gameplay, and Halo’s lucky to get a 500 square meter map with a realistic feel, and then the gameplay feels slow. The vehicles are nothing special. Tribes 2 had 6 passenger seat bombers with additional pilot and weapons-operator seats. Halo? Three seater jeeps.