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Bioshock Infinite - Beautiful, But Is It Art?

Marcus Estrada

For years now it seems that the debate over whether games are art has never quite died down. Many have situated themselves on both sides of the argument and formulated reasons why they do or do not qualify games as art.


When it comes right down to it, the argument is not integral to keeping video games relevant in the future, but may aid in making them a more respected medium. If you had to ask me, I“d say all video games qualify as art, although many certainly were never vying for the distinction in the first place.


Now, though, we seem to be more than happy to christen titles as beaming examples of undeniable art. But first, let's think about what developers of the 70s, 80s, and even 90s may have felt about their work.




It“s doubtful those designing characters with highly restrictive constraints on Atari 2600 were envisioning their work as artful. The duck/dragon featured in the game Adventure has since gained stature as an iconic design but it“s not likely to find itself in rigid art museums anytime soon.


Of course, even those times are changing as The Smithsonian ran their Art of Video Games exhibit. It“s a sign that at least some of the work of game artists is finally getting some recognition outside the immediate fandom.


Before Bioshock Infinite was even out, we could tell that Irrational Games was pushing for a very distinct art style. Of course, the Bioshock series initially launched with very attractive, though sometimes disturbing, design. This time around they appeared to be pushing the limits even further to create a fantastical world within the clouds full of Americana and a bright color palette. The game seemed shocking in comparison to most other games of this generation which have often not pushed any boundaries when it comes to design.


Playing the beginning hours of Bioshock Infinite is a one of a kind gaming experience. Before it descends into the requisite shooting moments, you are able to take in Columbia as a city that appears to be living.


Through a passageway with yonic imagery, Booker is reborn through his baptism and enters a strange new world. Everything is bright, white, and shining.


As you explore, the world quickly opens itself up to show the mechanical, moving city. And since the day is a day of celebration, you get to see sights of a barbershop quartet, parade floats and balloons, and a carnival complete with games.


Staring up at the Father Comstock state in the middle of town square, the bright blue sky frames it perfectly and sends a powerful message about this man.




It“s pretty hard to deny that all of these sights are worthy of recognition. They most certainly showcase the developer“s artistic capabilities as well as skill in regards to mise en scene.


Mise en scene encompasses art direction, cinematography, and design to create a more powerful unifying theme for the work. In the case of Bioshock Infinite, the world is definitely presented to further other aspects of itself. You cannot separate Infinite from Columbia as the design is integral to everything else.


Although I agree that Bioshock Infnite should be classified as art, it is odd to me that this is the game which many are crowding around to bring back a resurgence in the games as art argument. Those who have never studied art of any medium are still not impervious to art, which is probably why they feel artistically awakened by looking upon this specific game.


But shouldn“t those heralds of the games as art movement be raising many games into their ranks? Why does it only seem certain games are likely to be defended as art?


Art is not just an interpretation of beauty.


Paintings, statues, music, books, movies, and more are not always attractive to look upon. Nor do they all have stylish interpretations of the world, or easily discernible meanings.


The world of art is vast and ranges from aesthetic beauty to abject horror and beyond. And yet, it seems that we are usually apt to cling to visually beautiful games such as Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, and now Bioshock Infinite as proof of games“ art merit. They are certainly artistic, but that is not the one and only hallmark of art.




This is probably easy to recognize, but still seems ignored. We who believe games qualify as art against other mediums should discuss a great variety of games, not just those who have an irrefutable visual beauty.


Ugly games can be just as much art as anything else, especially if their underlying theme is in any way important. Old games or new games can be art even if they are lacking in pretty colors or heady narratives.


Art can be applied with the definition of mimesis (representation, or mimicry of something), but that is not the only way art is expressed. In regards to Bisohock Infinite, we are shown a broken world with a beautiful veneer. So too, should we be excited about games with attractive visuals with underlying worthwhile or important themes.


Often, technical skill is assumed necessary for the value of art, but not always. By that affect, we can include games that are lacking in high polygon counts or “good” visual design to be included. Some of the strongest messages can be gleaned through those who are not schooled artisans.


Of course, artists who have refined their skills can also use them to create an artistic whole very worthy of merit. Bioshock Infinite seems to fall more on this side of the scale, but should not blind us to all the other games out there.


Art can be problematic, grimy, and uncomfortable.


It can be small or large, multifaceted, explored in a variety of ways, and appraised very differently by multiple people.


At its best, art reveals things about ourselves, emotions, and society.


Art, both the expression of and intake of it, are necessary for humans. That“s why we have always drawn as well as tell stories. It is inherent in human nature to express oneself and have that expression experienced by others.


So art certainly classifies Bioshock Infinite, but we must not forget games without the multi million dollar budgets and highly skilled designers as well. Any game has the capacity to be art - you just have to be willing to expand your perspectives on art.

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