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Are Board Games Art?

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I came across a TED Talk the other day in which the presenter talked about how she believed board games were art. It got me thinking about what art is and whether or not board games should be considered art.

Art establishments have always and probably will always question what is and what isn’t art. I believe that board games are not simply a product but they are indeed art. In 2013 the Smithsonian had officially added two video games to its collection, Flower and Halo 2600. I am of the opinion that if video games can be considered art then it is only a matter of time before board games will be considered art.

What is Art?

Art means a lot of different things to a lot of people but looking at Oxfords Dictionary, they define art as:

The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

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To me, board games absolutely fit this definition. The problem is that almost anything can fit this definition as creating anything takes a certain level of skill and imagination. It’s because of this that art is subjective.

You can google “what is art” and you will find hundreds of articles about what art is to the person writing that article. There are so many different definitions of art because the concept of art itself is constantly changing.

Finding Meaning in Art & Board Games

Of course, some board games are meant for purely entertainment purposes and are not meant to be looked at for any deep meaning. But this is true with any form of art.

Some artists simply paint what they want to with no real agenda or message behind it other than creating something to be enjoyed for its aesthetic beauty.

For example, I love movies. Some movies are simply meant to entertain the audience like Transformers. Let’s face it, no one is looking at those movies and thinking, “What do these movies say about life”. But the visual effects artists still created art in these giant robots. But what about movies that don’t use visual effects? Movies are driven by narrative so they naturally have some sort of point of view or message. Either way, you look at movies, they’re art.

Movies, music, and paintings all have one thing in common and that is how we view them. How we engage with these forms of art is mostly passive which is the opposite of how we interact with board games. In this way board games are far more similar to video games.

Video games play like interactive movies these days. They can have just as much emotion and depth as any other form of art out there. I believe that the interactive nature of video games allows you to engage with them in a way that other art forms do not and that is what makes them art.

Video games are slowly being accepted as an art form and are even being placed in museums like the Smithsonian. This brings us back around to board games.

Why Board Games Are Art

Board games have you interact with not only the components of the game but with other people as well. The experiences that board games produce while playing are what make board games meaningful. Beyond just the artwork and aesthetic beauty of board games, it’s the tension of a dice roll, the heated arguments, and negotiations that take place. All of this is what makes board games art to me.

I mentioned that how we experience art and board games are different. Paintings are more passive as we don’t physically interact with the piece. Wherewith board games you are constantly physically interacting with the components. While this may be true, you are still interacting with the art. By looking and interpreting a piece of art you must interact with it on some level even if it’s subconsciously.

When you look at what makes a board game, you start to realize that they have far more in common with established art forms than you might think.

Board Game Artwork

Board games typically feature some sort of artwork in the game. Whether that may be in the form of cards with graphic images or even the pieces included in the game. Of course, not all board games feature artwork that is mind-blowing but there are a few such as Wingspan and Call to Adventure that features gorgeous artwork. The artwork in these games certainly qualifies as having the same visual qualities as established art.

Board Game Narrative

With the introduction of Legacy board games in 2011, board games are now able to tell a narrative in a way that hasn’t been seen before in board games. Much like in movies, legacy board games allow you to follow a story and characters that the designer carefully crafted. Board games are able to deliver a message and meaning to the players in a way that movies and paintings cannot.

You could argue that just because the components in a board game are forms of art doesn’t make the whole board game a work of art. For example, does having artwork on your walls make your whole house a work of art? Most would probably say no, but I would argue that the skill and work that the architect did to create the house could constitute it as art.

You can also view the players as the artist in board games. Players are able to shape and modify the narrative and add input into the designer’s game. To me, this makes the final product a work of art.

Board Games Will Become High Art

I believe that not only are board games art but that one day they will be considered to be high art. High art is what is considered to be art of the highest caliber or that takes a higher skill to create.

Art is always evolving and being redefined. Take a look at some of man kinds earliest works.

No offense to the original artist, but it isn’t exactly the Mona Lisa. The point that I am trying to make is that all forms of art start somewhere. If you can’t agree that board games are art today, then I hope that you can see the potential for board games to be considered art in the future.

Not All Board Games Are Art

I’m not saying just because a board game exists, that makes it art. The intent behind a board game is an important distinction. Some board games are simply meant to earn money for its creator. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it doesn’t make it art, it makes it a product.

For example, you can go to Walmart and pick out a vase in the shape of Darth Vader but it isn’t a piece of art. It’s a product that was designed to make money.

To me art is subjective and as long as something has meaning to you personally, then to me that is art. Do you think that board games should be considered art? What board games do you think have the most artistic value? Let me know in the comments below and as always, happy gaming!