This is most definitely not an "are games art?" piece.
In fact, just take it as presumed that I think video games are art in a very general sense, and realize that whether you agree with me or not, I am operating comfortably from that assumption.
What I want to briefly consider is the evolution of art in games and the net good that brings as a whole.
Since I have no art history background, I am far from equipped to measure the relative qualities of art design in games, but as a consumer I can tell you that while games like The Path or Flower may be a little hoity-toity for my general tastes, I like that they make broad attempts to evolve the medium. I think independent and subversive effort to recast games into something beyond the standards we have become achingly familiar with is a valiant, if occasionally misdirected, effort.
As a result, I genuinely believe that the modern era of games, even the big budget blockbusters, more often operate from a position where a strong visual aesthetic, an artistic vision for a game, is core to production. And, in a visual medium such as this, that can only make games better.
The explicitly artistic indie games that have begun to see exposure within the industry, like Braid or even Love, are rarely up my alley from a gameplay perspective. Like many people I find a lot of what games like these do to be antithetical to my game playing preferences. I fear, however, that by making a statement like that I am giving the impression that I condemn the games as having some kind of negative impact.
The opposite is true. I don’t want to play them, but I like the influence they have on the industry as a whole.
It wasn’t so long ago that I felt like every game was painted in the achingly familiar palettes of earthen colors. The vision of every world seemed to be an endless set of brown hallways cluttered with a preposterous abundance of crates. I realize, of course, that part of the reason for this was technical limitations, but I think writing all advancements in art direction of the past decade away as tied to technology is grossly underestimating the evolution of the way the industry thinks about portraying worlds.
In the same way that I think something like Video Games Live highlights the genius of creativity in the soundtracks of gaming, the same spotlight should begin to fall on the wealth of talent in the visual arts throughout the medium.
I don’t want to belabor the point, it is after all a simple one, and I keep beginning to write paragraphs that wander needlessly into the familiar mire of fiery, self-annihilating debates about the nature of art. Tis a silly place.
My point is simply this. As you are enjoying whatever game you choose to play tonight, tomorrow and in the days to come, be that Starcraft II, Team Fortress II or Mario Galaxy II, take a moment to appreciate how far the visual design of games have come. Look not simply at the technical achievements, but see the artistry of the game as well.