I’m looking for either InfoWars or Kotaku to hire me.
Now that I’ve clickbaited you hard, I will try to demonstrate and organize my thoughts on the whole issue. Some among my (mostly imaginary) audience might remember that, in the article on The Stanley Parable, I defined a game as a challenge to be overcome. The way the challenge is constructed varies greatly and this is where I draw two categories. Some games focus on the challenge, and those that focus on the rest of the game.
Allow me to ellaborate. The first category is composed of games that will focus mainly on the gameplay, which is the way the player overcomes the challenge, and includes mostly action games. DOOM 1,2, and 4, and in fact most of the old-school FPS, online FPS and strategy games, MOBAs, et caetera… are all good examples of games in this category. This category can be further divided into two sub-categories: those where the challenge is provided by the game itself, and those where the game is just a playing-field where other players provide the challenge.
The latter is best designated under the umbrella turn “e-sport”. The artistic value of these games is often reduced to a minimum, as only the game design offers a blank slate for the creator of the game to be artistic. Often, the games (particularly online FPS) have a standardized, military/counter-terrorist realistic look and feel, and therefore offer pretty much no artistic value. Others, like Overwatch, build an aesthetic and a world, but they mostly do so without sacrificing the gameplay or, mostly, outside of it. The main focus of the game is still the playing field.
The games that create challenge by themselves are extremely diverse and include a whole spectrum of artistic flare. Some create a functional, often realistic, world and do not let the stylization win over the challenge: Call of Duty is a prime example. Others, like Darkest Dungeon for example, create an interesting art-style, but do not expand upon the world and narrative too much. Some, like Dark Souls, are gameplay-focused, but they still expand upon a world and a plot (Dark Souls even does it in an innovative way). Finally, some have a standardized gameplay that still leaves challenges to overcome, but they focus more on the plot and the world. The best example of these would be the Black Isles games such as Fallout 1 and 2 or Planescape : Torment.
There is also another category. Some games have next to no gameplay and still create a challenge to overcome. Those games are mostly walking simulators and David Cage or Telltale-style games. Their value as artforms is rarely questioned: however, they are often criticized as “non-games”, and sometimes with good reason.
Based on what I just said, I believe the whole debate should rather be rebranded as whether or not games are more than entertainment. In fact, it leads to the question of whether or not games should aspire to be more than what they are – and this question, among others, led to events that we are all familiar with.
The main problem with this question is that it does not account for the plurality of games. All of the categories that I laid out are fickle, they bleed into one another, and it’s often quite hard to define games based on them. In fact, it would be more useful to compare games based on themselves, not on categories (which means most of my article is for naught…)
On top of that… Games are what they are, and they will evolve only based on the creator’s wants. They are not a single entity, and they are not a single market either. Both e-sport and art games exist and are unlikely to go away, as they both have their niche.