GameCity Loves Minecraft

Are smiley faces art?

If you were listening to BBC Radio 4 earlier this morning, you’d have heard the presenters of the Today programme poking that most ancient, tedious and meaningless of chestnuts – are games art? While it was grand indeed to hear Auntie’s invaluable but oft-haughty talk station taking games this seriously, everyone involved loses points for not saying “it just doesn’t matter, and why does no-one bother to have this argument about JLS records?” And for repeatedly using the term “computer games”. That said, GameCity judge Charlie Higson did attempt to educate listeners on the matter of gaming being impossibly broad and changeable rather than neatly fitting one category or description, so there was talk of worth in there.

The spur for the discussion was the weekend just gone’s GameCity festival in Nottingham, and its attempt to bring about a videogames equivalent of the Man Booker prize for literature.

First recipient of this videogames arts award (called simply the GameCity Prize) was Mojang’s Minecraft, fending off competition from Portal 2 and Ilomilo. So, well done Minecraft – a game getting the attention of Radio 4, and without involving any virtual prostitute-killing whatsoever, is no mean feat.

BBC News has quotes and explanations from all involved parties here, as well as the scandalous news that one of the judges daftly argued that Minecraft shouldn’t win because of its soundtrack. Splendid Minecraft composer C418 should be righteously offended by this ignorance.


  1. Serge says:

    Portal 2 is overrated. A tiny bit.

    • Tusque D'Ivoire says:

      I really love minecraft as much as anyone else, but then it too is a large bit overrated.

    • spedcor666 says:

      Maybe it’s you, underrating it. A tiny bit.

    • Dinger says:

      Portal 2 is a great game. It is full of great ideas, witty, and implemented according to an ambitious and coherent aesthetic plan. Tightly-integrated visual and musical art direction works seamlessly and unobtrusively together with the interface, the level designs and the narrative to produce a work of technical skill and artistic potential.
      It suffers, however, from being the sequel to a revolutionary game. And, while still a very funny game that doesn’t take itself seriously, Portal 2 communicates a global feeling of madness, loss and ruin. This depressing undertow colours the assessment that many have of the game.

      Minecraft is also the product of careful, iterative production and a unitary aesthetic. It further has the advantage of being revolutionary. Archon, Elite, Doom, Half-Life, Portal, Minecraft — these are games that push the aesthetic envelope, build companies and broaden the industry. Games like Deus Ex and Portal 2 are excellent in their own right, but didn’t (or won’t) spark any revolutions worth mentioning.

    • JackShandy says:

      Uh – did you mean Human Revolution there, Dinger?

    • asshibbitty says:

      Mechanically Minecraft was a marvel. Aesthetically it’s trite.

    • Carra says:

      I disagree. Portal 2 had me feeling good for days after playing it.

      If there’s one problem I have with it it’s that the puzzles could have been a bit more difficult.

    • Felixader says:

      @ asshibbitty: The amazing thing with Minecraft ist that it can look like you want it too. I recommend the latest Dokucraft.

  2. mistwolf says:

    Prostitute killing is coming in patch 2.1, the douche patch.

    • bear912 says:

      I have an inane wish for someone to develop a drug mod for Minecraft, where one can cultivate and sell cannabis and opiates, attempting to control a successful distribution system…

      Perhaps it could involve prostitutes and gang wars, too!

    • BAshment says:

      Always wanted more human trafficking in minecraft.

    • Dozer says:

      Simulated prostitutes were mentioned on the programme though. Someone was talking about how GTA4 has excellent storytelling as well as the ability to “get prostitutes into the back of your car and… (oh crap it’s 8:30am on national radio) rob them.”, as one of the interviewees said.

    • JackShandy says:

      Are prostitutes art?

      A compelling question, and one the sex industry must answer if it is to be taken seriously as a medium.

  3. TheBigBookOfTerror says:

    I saw the BBC article at the weekend and the criticsm of Minecraft’s score was bizarre. I guess the composer chap who didn’t like it may be more qualified than non-musical types but for many fans I would say that Minecraft’s music is one of it’s highlights.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      I don’t know what kind of composer he was, but speaking as a classical composer in training I can safely say that the minecraft music is excellent. Not as played on a stage maybe, but why would you do such a thing?

    • Malcolm says:

      It’s Nitin Sawhney – the music probably wasn’t dreary enough for his tastes.

  4. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    What is wrong with “computer games”? Not a native english speaker but it sounds completely reasonable to me.

    • Inigo says:

      It’s a very ’80s term.

    • spedcor666 says:

      I was going to say that I always use the term ‘computer games’. Now I’m just going to say, I feel very old.

    • Chris D says:

      I also feel old. It does sound dated, but more than videogame does? At least we still use computers these days, while the thing that made videos obsolete is also obsolete.

    • James G says:

      It might a criticism of placing a clear distinction between computer games and other games, but that wouldn’t make sense considering that the discussion is in the context of GameCity, which, as far as I’m aware, does solely concern itself with games of the computational variety.

      But the term computer games sounds dated? I still use it, and prefer it to videogames, which always sounds silly to my ear. Then again, the reason it sounds silly to my ear is I associate it with late 80s early 90s American import media, in which it almost invariably referred to Nintendo’s highly commercial output (mainly Mario). The fact the term has now come to dominate in the UK is probably an indication that it is dated, but as the two words have quite distinct feels in my head I’ll use computer games.

    • Merus says:

      It seems a very British term, where games came on computers and not via TV screens. I will not begrudge them that, especially since the audience for Radio 4 would hear ‘games’ and think ‘oh, backgammon?’ and be mightily confused.

    • Berzee says:

      Harumph, Computer Games is what they’re called.

      If anything, “PC Gaming” sounds more dated — it calls to mind such phrases as “IBM PC Compatible” … man, I can’t wait to get home and surf the web on my PC! You know, my Personal Computer, as opposed to other types such as the large time-share device at university.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I use it sometimes too and like the phrase, but it was definitely being used in a fuddy-duddy rather than specific sense on R4.

    • Berzee says:

      Ahh, ok, that makes sense. It is like how with some people you can just sense the fact that when they say “The Internet” they’re actually capitalizing the letters in their head.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      @Berzee: that, however, is the proper way to say it, or so Vint Cerf says. The capital is used to refer to the global network, whereas “internet” would be used for smaller generic networks.

    • Berzee says:

      I had to google that man, and now I say this:
      Well OBVIOUSLY if he is one of the “fathers of the Internet” he’s going to want it capitalized.
      Same reason George Washington wanted “United States of America” to be capitalized.

    • sinister agent says:

      I say “computer games” almost exclusively, and here is Stuart Campbell explaining why far more colourfully than I could: link to .


  5. bitbot says:

    “Sanctum is a penis of a game”

  6. apocraphyn says:

    Interesting; I was reading about this debate over the weekend, due to Tim Cain’s statement in a recent interview that “Ebert is wrong – games are art”.

    link to

    One could argue that what can be considered “art” is subjective to the perceptions of the viewer, orrrr that most people (including Ebert) can’t really define it properly since they haven’t extensively studied the history of art.

    (Cain’s interview also persuaded me to make some “chicken karaage” for dinner the other day. T’was bloody nice!)

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      The word “art” lacks a proper definition to begin with. Also, I wouldn’t say that games neccesarily _are_ art, though they all contain the potential to become it, depending on the goals and aims of the developer. But really, these discussions are at the same time utterly fascinating and completely meaningless. I’ve dredged the question “what is art” (and the related “what is music”) with various people and been forced to confront it in numerous excercises in school, and have – at least for the moment – come to the conclusion that I don’t much care whether something is art or not, only whether it is a valuable experience to me or not.

    • Carra says:

      I’m a big fan of Ebert but here I disagree. You cannot state something like that without having played any games.

      But it’s a young medium. Give it another ten or twenty years and we’ll see. Comic books weren’t considered art fifty years ago either.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I think it’s simple.. if anyone thinks it’s art, it’s art.

      I don’t think a factory-made urinal is art… but the “Art” establishment seems to think it is.

      So, if they think it’s art and I don’t, but it’s still apparently IS art… then I figure it works the other way around too. If someone thinks Passage is art, even if someone else doesn’t… well, why not give it the label anyway.

      Passage and piss-pots together.

  7. Rawrian says:

    So.. did anybody check Nitin Sawhney’s (the judge who was opposed to Minecraft soundtrack) music?

    • Dinger says:

      No, but Trioptimum checked his Twitter feed

      @tanepiper What I actually said was the zombie noises were “reminiscent of someone having sex with an otter”.. No I haven’t, before you ask.

      That does sound like a fair criticism. C418 is being unjustly persecuted by the heartless British Media Machine.

  8. Re2deemer says:

    A link to the BBC radio discussion for anyone interested – link to

  9. Lyndon says:

    I quite like the term Computer Games precisely because it makes a distinction between computer games and non-computer games. They are different mediums after all.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:


      But the line between computer games and non-computer games can be very blurry. Some games are even designed as such: B.U.T.T.O.N. and Johann Sebastian Joust use a computer, but really wouldn’t have to.

    • thegooseking says:

      That’s why we call them “computer games” rather than just ‘games’, but how about “computer games” vs. “video games”.

      I like that the “computer games” term doesn’t elevate the visual channel over the auditory, textual or even tactile channels (although games that are chiefly auditory or tactile are rare).

    • Josh W says:

      Now I want to make a game where you have to fling an xbox controllers into your room, turn off the lights, and play with mouse and keyboard, but suddenly having events in the game where you have to fumble around and find it before you die. Probably after you’ve been playing just long enough to forget which direction you threw it!

    • Hoaxfish says:

      “Video games” has been somewhat damaged by those weird “DVD games” (the ones that seem to function a bit like a electronic party version of Fighting Fantasy books), and that there is really very little relation with actual video (any more than they’re “cinema games” or “film games”)

      Though I do kinda like the word “Vidya” that seems to have spawned from a site.

  10. Pointless Puppies says:

    I don’t really care if video games are considered “art” myself, but I have this longing feeling that if they were considered as “art”, perhaps more developers and producers would enter the industry taking it more seriously from the beginning, with the goal of putting out games that are actually thought provoking and innovative rather than the drab gunk of generic manshoots we get currently.

    Or maybe I’m just crayzay.

  11. C418 says:

    After thinking about this and listening to his music, I decided that I don’t care about his drowsiness.

    Ah wait, now I know the whole story. Sheesh BBC. Way to not make my day.

  12. marissa-minecraft adventure says:

    Are gamers art? Well, some are I guess it’s purely subjective. Not all games are art by no means, I wouldn’t say Minecraft is Art. I mean a lot of minecraft adventure maps can get pretty dame creative and awesome, but true game art can be seen with the work of Marek Okon a polish artist responsible for The Last of Us. Crysis 2. Star Wars: Old Republic. Uncharted 3. His work has to be referred to as art…..