I love Bioshock. It's honestly one of the best games I've played all year, and has received consistently stellar reviews. I don't just like it because it's fun to play, though it is. The game itself features brilliant art deco-inspired level design and fascinating analysis of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and the Objectivist movement. However, do these factors mean that Bioshock is a work of art? I don't mean the colloquial, anything-that's-really-great "work of art," I mean a genuine work of artistic merit. I say yes. Bioshock, along with many other games, is a work of art.
Video games are every bit as worthy of being called art as any other medium. Just like paintings, sculptures, plays, films, or symphonies, video games can both display breathtaking aesthetics and convey powerful messages. Video games can carry the twin payloads of beauty and purpose as any other artistic medium.
Of course, this isn't to say that all video games are art. Like all mediums, you're looking at a massively disproportionate ratio of garbage to gold. You're going to find far more cookie-cutter, boring, marketer-designed games in stores than you will genuinely artistic titles, but that's no different from film, music, or paintings. You might find a hundred Maddens for every Bioshock, but you'll also find at least a hundred Daddy Day Camps for every Godfather, a hundred Fallout Boys for every Warren Zevon, and a hundred sad clowns for every Mona Lisa. If you condemn video games for its preponderance of worthless, hyper-commercialized games, then you must condemn every other media on the face of the earth.
The natural interactivity of video games sets them apart from most other art forms, but it also serves as a boon unique to the medium. By making players active participants in the games, they can force a perspective nearly unheard of in the static media of paintings and film. Players aren't just along for the ride in artistic video games, their hands are on the steering wheel. That level of choice, and the limitations of those choices as directed by the developers, presents a powerful factor in a game's ability to function as art.
I won't leave you with empty rhetoric. I've compiled a list of 10 video games that show artistic value. Whether simple aesthetics or complex and layered commentary, these 10 games are works of art. They aren't all necessarily good games (as an action game, Alice was slightly above mediocre, and I wouldn't wish Takeshi's Challenge on anyone), but they can all be considered art, whether they're the video game parallels of Dali or Warhol. Please check out the list, presented as a handy slide show--and let me know if you agree or not by commenting below.