I’ve found a couple papers now talking about the inseparability (or rather the ease of affinity) between the two. One is a presentation given by Ursula Le Guin called “The Stone Ax and the Muskoxen”, the other is a recent post on Select Parks entitled “Entertainment vs. Art” by Curtis Johnson (Incidentally, Loren Eiseley wrote another great essay, this time on science and art, called “The Illusion of the Two Cultures”). Definitions of art, entertainment, and games are inexact at best and generally vague. We have a good idea of what they are, but when you get down to it, you can’t quite place a solid definition on any of the terms. Which is a problem because they are essential to designing and talking about games as well as…well, practically everything else related to culture.
First off, it’s quite shallow and foolish to say that all art is entertainment or that no art is also entertainment. Even Roger Ebert would be hard-pressed to say that Buster Keaton’s The General is not entertainment as well as art (and thus his statements about how games are somehow not art are derived from arguments regarding participant completion of the work rather than ‘mere’ entertainment). I would also be loath to follow any statement that would suggest the likes of Schindler’s List and Idi i smotri may be defined so simply as ‘entertainment’. Art can be lighthearted, or it can be deadly serious and cathartic, void of ‘fun’, something the Greeks knew hundreds of years ago. I’ve been using the term ‘compelling’, an umbrella that can consist of ‘fun’ as well as other reasons for engaging in a task (quite literally, ‘fun’ in this instance really is a four-letter word). Either art and entertainment may be one and the same in a given instance – but by no means not ALL instances – or humans are all inherently as barbaric as the Romans who found gladiatorial sport to be entertainment.
In this regard, Ursula Le Guin, though discussing science fiction and not games (though SF and fantasy are significant genres of games, oddly composing at least 50% of the entire medium at this point), more firmly states that art and entertainment are not inseparable (would people find the art of Homer or Leonardo Da Vinci so interesting today if they weren’t so darn entertaining?). Further, her main point is that we not think of SF simply as ‘entertainment’ but that SF authors should go about creating their work as art, with masterpiece in mind rather than mindless drivel. The same holds true for videogames as well.
So the perceived barrier between art and entertainment is something that some would say is a result of our Puritan culture, as Le Guin suggests, a system that mistrusts any kind of pleasure. This is the same popular belief that suggests games are frivolous and barren of meaning. And then there is Johann Huizinga who suggests that play is inherent to human culture and is the key inspiration of creativity in the world. If so, play can be deadly serious, and if not all art must be entertainment and not all entertainment is art, then why should we expect games to be any different? We are limited only by our underlying cultural beliefs that find frivolity and suspect in concepts like ‘entertainment,’ ‘play,’ and ‘fun’ and thus do not seek to look toward new horizons.