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Book critic plays BioShock, says it's not quite "art"

Kyle Orland

If you're anything like us, you're probably getting a little tired of the seemingly never-ending "games as art" debate. Well try and revive your interest for just one more moment -- the Washington Post took an interesting approach in expanding the debate this weekend with a short piece looking at the artistic merits of BioShock.

For the piece, Post technology and games writer Mike Musgrove took an Xbox 360 and a copy of BioShock over to the home of the Post's 58-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda, who played the game unassisted for a couple of weeks. As might be expected for a guy whose last game was Myst, Dirda had trouble getting past Neptune's Bounty. "I've got a first-aid kit, but I haven't figured out how to use it," Dirda said in a quote sure to draw guffaws from gamers who haven't won a Pulitzer Prize.

But what about BioShock as art? While Dirda said the game obviously has artistic value and was easy to get lost in, he wouldn't quite go so far as to call it "art." The key threshold for games to become an art form, Dirda said, is the ability to make the player feel depressed. Apparently Dirda has never seen his rightfully-earned loot ninjaed after a five-hour World of Warcraft raid. Depressing indeed.

But the final word on BioShock as art should probably go to head designer Ken Levine. "Is BioShock art? I don't know, and I guess I sort of don't care. All I care about is, does it work -- does it have an impact on an audience?" On that important score, we're going to have to answer with a resounding "Yes!"

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