Dragon's Crown may be art, but does that mean we have to love it?

Posted by Jason Venter (August 09, 2013)

Last night, I passed several very enjoyable hours playing Dragon's Crown with my friend. We've together spent enough time with the game by now that I can look at the portraits of massive warriors with their giant chests that take up half of my television screen and it just makes me shrug. The same is true of her sorceress, with her breasts that look like two over-inflated balloons ready to carry her to Oz on the back of a stiff breeze.

For the last few years, a lot of people have been talking about video games, and they've been asking if video games qualify as art. It's one of those questions that doesn't require much thought, I don't think. An "artist" can drop a pile of poop on a piece of construction paper and call it art, so at this point I have to think that anything a person creates or finds on the sidewalk qualifies as art. If fecal matter is art, then why shouldn't the work of paid artists be afforded that same label?

A funny thing happens when people critique games, though. Suddenly, there are the good games that are definitely art--stuff like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus and maybe Okami or even Virtua Fighter--and then there are the games we don't like. Those efforts that fall in the second category, people conclude, are not art. Because very clearly, only good things can be considered art, right?

That brings me back to Dragon's Crown, with its absurdly proportioned heroes. As my friend's sorceress character trots ahead of my nimble elven archer, hand on her hat, boobs pointed forward and passing through a state's worth of real estate before the rest of her body follows, I think to myself "this is art."

Maybe it's just not good art.

Personally, I don't find much of the artwork in Dragon's Crown particularly titillating. I have more affection for the lush backgrounds than I do the action in the foreground. We all have our kinks, I guess, and mine don't include footballs with nipples. I enjoy the game not because of the bust sizes on display, but for so many, many other reasons that I'll write all about if I ever get around to reviewing it myself.

So, it's worth remembering that art can be good and it can be bad, and our opinions on which is which are allowed to differ. A lot of how we respond to our entertainment comes down to personal preference and experiences, I figure. You and I might look at paint splashed across a canvas and I might see a mess. You might see a treatise on anxiety. And we can walk out of that museum and I can say "Meh" and you can say "Genius" and hopefully we won't come to blows over our difference of opinion.

With games, though, it seems that people want to apply different rules when the time comes to critique. Perhaps it's because of the economic considerations. We worry that there won't be more art of the sort we like if other people don't share our appreciation. So when an accomplished game critic looks at Dragon's Crown and says "This doesn't work for me," we go into our attack pose.

"It's art!" we scream, as if somehow that means the game is beyond reproach.

And we're right, up to a point. Dragon's Crown is art, with the painted backgrounds and the absurd body proportions... In all of that, I can easily see the art and I would hope you can too. I see that art, though, and I think back to those squiggles on a canvas or that pile of turds on some construction paper and it occurs to me that not all art deserves a rave review. We should all be allowed to say "I don't like it" if the art in question--which is intended to evoke an emotion--is successful but doesn't suit our own tastes.

That's not me sneakily saying that Dragon's Crown is crap or a mess, mind you. I quite like the game, actually, and even the controversial art style is just fine with me (it reminds me vaguely of the 15th-century paintings of Botticelli). Please, though, no matter what you personally think of the art style, can you agree with me that there's no reason games should be considered art and beyond reproach? Because the last time I checked, that's not how art actually works...

Jason Venter is a freelance blogger who spends most of his time writing about games and technology. In his free time, he likes to watch movies and old TV shows and enjoys writing about them too.

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