Interviews The_Interactive_Canvas_Cover

Published on February 7th, 2014 | by Ithika


The Interactive Canvas : Gaming Artists Interview with the author

Are Games art?  It’s a hotly debated question, but then, new forms of media have always been derided by the populace.  Books? Fie! They will make the mind soft and forgetful! Movies?  A scandal to corrupt the hearts and minds of young men and women everywhere, you mark my words.  Discussion and debate of new forms of entertainment is an integral part of societal acceptance of them, and games should be no different.  Up until now, though, discussion of games as anything more than entertainment has been rather thin on the ground.

Interactive Canvas Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone – one of many strikingly beautiful recent Indie titles.

While some have scoffed at the question of “are games art? If not, can they be,” others – including yours truly – believe that they are.  Australian author Matt Sainsbury has taken this question and concept to the next level, pulling together a hardcover book that delves into the very fabric of gaming and the art that lies therein.

The Interactive Canvas

Compulsion Game’s ‘Contrast’ invites the gamer to think outside the box.

The Interactive Canvas : Gaming Artists was originally being funded over at Kickstarter (still a good source of further reading on the project), but has since been picked up by US publisher No Starch Press.  This means that the book will be bigger than originally planned, at 320 pages, although the release date will be pushed back to around December 2014.  No Starch Press specialises in coffee table books of a high quality, so when The Interactive Canvas: Gaming Artists does arrive, it will be a very special thing indeed.

I was so interested in this project – being an architect and pretty invested in the culture of art myself – that I approached Matt Sainsbury for a written interview.

Ithika: As someone with a background in art and design – I’m an architect, myself – I have often been frustrated by the “holier than thou” attitude that some academics take towards gaming – from the art of its design, to the art inherent in the medium itself.  I couldn’t help but wonder if interactions like this may have influenced your approach to creating your book?”

Matt Sainsbury:  That was certainly an element in the book, though even when I was at university a decade ago there was a movement among (generally younger) academics in the media arts to accept games as art.

The real issue for me has been the fact that when I walk into a university book shop… or look for serious books on games in normal book shops, for that matter, it’s almost impossible to find quality resources that talk about games in anything but the most superficial of levels. So simple are many of the conversations around games that many people mistake the phrase “games as art” to mean “good-looking games” – with no thought to the cultural or social meaning that actually defines something as a work of art.

So that’s where the book comes from. If it helps convince an academic or two to reassess their position on games, then so much the better.

Ithika:  Taking this idea from conversation among friends to a structured body of research must have involved a great deal of work – what was your greatest hurdle?

Matt Sainsbury:  A lack of other resources to draw on, as I alluded to in my previous answer. With a minimum of academic writing about games as works of art, what options were left to me to have content to bounce ideas off for my own book? To do “on-the-ground” research; which is why this book is going to be so heavy on the interviews. As with the film industry of the 30s and 40s the best way to start getting games legitimised is to start talking to the great minds of gaming on a deeper level in order to understand their creativity.

Ithika:  On your Kickstarter campaign page, you mention that your book will cover not only the literal, graphic art of games, but soundtracks and other elements as well.  Do you think that any facet of gaming is more accepted than the others by the non-gaming community?

Matt Sainsbury:  Most people are happy to accept that games look good now, and now that the world’s finest symphonies are performing game music in concerts, there’s also a growing realisation of the complexity of some of the better game soundtracks out there.

Where games have struggled is in convincing people that they can offer complex narratives, and that interactivity itself is an opportunity for artistic expression.

Ithika:  To me, video games are a fascinating medium because they are so new – all other forms of creative entertainment are ancient, (For argument’s sake, I’m including Film and Television under the umbrella of “acting”

or “theatre,” which are probably as old as culture) which I feel is a large part of why we run into such inertia when trying to discuss games on the same level as other forms of storytelling.  What element of video gaming do you think is the most interesting when you compare it to other forms of art?

Matt Sainsbury:  I’d have to disagree there to an extent. Games are an extension of the concept of “play” – which is as ancient as the most ancient of cave paintings. It’s also why games struggle in some circles; not so much because it’s “new” but because it has traditionally belonged to a different kind of entertainment.

That’s what is fascinating about games – it’s the meeting point between traditional arts and traditional forms of play.

Ithika:  Do you think that any games are excluded from being considered “art?” If so, why?

Matt Sainsbury:  I’d certainly agree that not every game is a work of art. Just as not every book is literature and just as the typical summer blockbuster film is anything more than a fun couple of hours of entertainment. Sports games and the like are much closer to play (or actual sport) than something artistic.

But it’s important that when games are art, they’re treated as such and the expectation isn’t simply that they’re a bit of passive fun.

Big thanks go to Matt for taking the time to respond to our questions.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of The Interactive Canvas: Gaming Artists when it is available, check Matt’s website, Digitally Downloaded for updates.

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About the Author


Ithika is full of enthusiasm about, frankly, a lot of things. She started gaming at the tender age of 6 on a secondhand Atari Lynx, and it was pretty much all over from there. A Nintendo girl at heart but a Playstation girl in reality, Ithika has a strong preference for adventure and swashbuckling over just about anything else. Amazingly, she managed to stay focused for long enough to finish two degrees, and now she's (almost) an architect. Don't mess with her - she keeps a Charizard in her pocket.

2 Responses to The Interactive Canvas : Gaming Artists Interview with the author

  1. Loki says:

    If I recall correctly, when the Mana Bar in Brisbane applied for space to open within the Judith Wright Art Centre the owners had to ‘prove’ that videogames were, in fact, an art form.

    Personally, I can’t see how people can look at games such as The Chineseroom’s ‘Dear Esther’ and NOT consider it art.

    • Ithika Ithika says:

      I feel like it’s mostly just stigma/academic stuffyness. SOMEHOW this irritating notion that games are “for children” is persisting even though there have been games aimed at adults just as much as children since the 80s, at least.

      It’s frustrating, but I think that society will come around eventually, just like it did with film and photography, for example… The waiting is pretty annoying, though!

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