It’s kind of surprising and depressing that people are still obsessing over the question of whether or not games are art — or rather, whether they’re ART. There was a big talk on the topic at GDC that I was lucky enough to miss, but one session that I did get to see gave me hope that it’s possible to have a more interesting discussion about all this mess.

John Sharp’s talk, “The Secret (Art) History of Games,” covered the depiction of games in art at various points in history — Renaissance Italy, Meiji Japan, 19th century France, 20th century America. In all the examples Sharp shows, the games people play say something about them and the culture they live in, whether it’s Go as a symbol of military culture, swinging as a covert means of flirtation, or cheap board games as a sign of industrialized distraction. He also goes into some of the ways playfulness and gaminess enter into modern and postmodern art — Duchamp’s abandonment of art for pro chess, the experiential, process-oriented Happenings of the 60s, the disruptive remixes and demakes of today.

Not so coincidentally, I managed to go to not one, but two gallery openings of game-related shows during GDC. One, at Nieto Fine Art Gallery, was a show of art by artists whose day jobs are in video games. The other, at Giant Robot, is the latest in an annual series of shows of art inspired by games. At the Nieto show, it was fascinating to see how game influences and sensibilities leak out even when artists work in other context and materials. At Giant Robot, it was just a delight to see artists’ love of their favorite games up for display.

Seeing games and gaming culture integrated into the more general culture of the arts makes me way more optimistic than a lot of defensive fretting and bloviating on the need for cultural legitimacy. If you want your favorite thing to be considered a legitimate art, turns out the trick is to stop talking about art and just make some.