Have we settled that video games are art yet? Of course we have! The National Endowment for the Arts now recognizes games as a medium worthy of their funding, the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibition is a go, and Roger Ebert has retreated to his skull fortress on Film Critic Mountain. Case closed! Game, set, and—wait, Shigeru Miyamoto said what now?
Here’s what happened: The British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded Miyamoto a fellowship, and after accepting it, the creator of Mario and Zelda and Kirby and Pokémon and Pikmin remarked to the Associated Press that he “never said video games [are] an art.” In that post-show interview, he said that he was humbled to receive a fellowship that Alfred Hitchcock had once received, and according to the Associated Press, he then “batted away suggestions that his work was in the same category as a classic film.”
Now, that last quote belongs to the AP, not to Miyamoto himself. And it’s worth mentioning that none of this art talk was part of Miyamoto’s actual acceptance speech, which was more about his creative process and his history with Nintendo. “I’m receiving the award together with everyone who has worked with me in the past 30 years,” he said, “and I’d like to thank each one of those people for their hard work.”
And really, his comments to the AP might say more about the man than the medium. Overwhelming humility is Miyamoto-san’s calling card: “I cannot create games alone… I am rather embarrassed to receive such an award as a personal award,” he said during his acceptance speech. That kind of modesty seems to be a respectful, unpretentious man’s counter-weight to his own considerable status, not a comment on the aesthetic value of games as such. After all, in that same speech, Miyamoto says that Donkey Kong was “one of the first games created by artists and game designers” rather than “engineers.”
So sure, Miyamoto never said that video games are an art. But he did say that we should celebrate the role that games play “both in entertainment and in culture.” And he did refer to his colleges at Nintendo as “artists.” Besides which, he did devote 30 years of his life to game design, which he calls his dream job. So are games art? It’s tempting to put Miyamoto down for a no on that question, but it’s more like his answer is that he’s too busy making games (and also, too damn humble) to care.