• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

RPG Evolution: Are RPGs Art?

What makes a game art and would tabletop RPGs qualify?

A recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art’s (MOMA) latest installation, Never Alone: Video Games and Other Interactive Design, asks the question: what makes a game art and would tabletop RPGs qualify?

Installation view of Never Alone: Video Games and Other Interactive Design, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 10, 2022 – July 16, 2023. © 2022 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Emile Askey

A Night at the Museum​

MOMA’s latest installation pivots on the fundamental premise that video games are worthy of being in a museum. It asks the question: what makes a video game art? MOMA’s just as interested in art as it is in design, and video games are an intersection between the two:
The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design—a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity. Our criteria, therefore, emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects—from the elegance of the code to the design of the player’s behavior—that pertain to interaction design.
We already know that Dungeons & Dragonshas a home in the Strong’s National Museum of Play. The Strong makes the connection between D&D and the video game iterations that came later:
But most importantly, Dungeons & Dragons’ mechanics lent themselves to computer applictions. The computer speedily reproduced the role of the Dungeon Master, defining and arelating a game’s particular world. And character traits and encounter outcomes, determined by the dice, meshed perfectly with computational random number generation. Eventually, increased graphics capabilities allowed computers to illustrate the imaginary worlds rather than simply describe them. Coupled with the rise of the Internet, players’ characters could now interact in these graphic settings with countless other characters all over the world. These Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG’s), such as World of Warcraft and many others with diverse thematic settings, are extremely popular today. Without Dungeons & Dragons, these games would not have evolved as they did.
Unlike the Strong, MOMA explained their methodology for determining if a game was worthy to be in its installation: Behavior, Aesthetics, Space, and Time.


The MOMA defines behavior as:
The scenarios, rules, stimuli, incentives, and narratives envisioned by the designers come alive in the behaviors they encourage and elicit from the players, whether individual or social.
D&D has long focused on three pillars: Exploration, Combat, and Logistics. Logistics and Exploration have been deemphasized over time, only to be later revived as part of the OSR movement. All three encourage player interaction, creativity, and imagination. Players must work together to navigate a fictional world, solve problems, and defeat enemies. The behavior of players in D&D is key to the success of the game, as it requires collaboration and cooperation to create a compelling narrative.


MOMA recognizes that visual intention is important, but must also be considered in light of the technology available. In the case of D&D, printing and computer design factored into the game’s visual influences. Also, Doctor Strange.

It’s worth noting that dice has become a huge part of D&D’s aesthetic. An entire industry has popped up to service gamers and their love of dice, which are both collectible and utilitarian.


D&D is typically played in a shared physical space, such as a tabletop or living room. This shared space is important for fostering social interaction and communication between players. It’s also where dice are rolled, maps are laid, and miniatures are placed.

It’s also an imaginary space. D&D’s roots are in tabletop wargames, but “theater of the mind” play is an important part of the shared mental space between the game master and the players.


D&D is a game that unfolds over an extended period, with each gaming session lasting several hours or more. The game's narrative arc is built up over time, as players make choices and face consequences that impact the story. Campaigns can last years, with games ranging up to eight hours a session.

So Is It Art?​

Not only is D&D and the tabletop role-playing industry it inspired art, it spawned many of the art influences on display in MOMA’s video game installation, from Dwarf Fortress to Minecraft. RPGs are as much an aesthetic as it is a lifestyle, a game as much as it is a play, an unexplored shared mental plane as much as it is miniatures on a board. To outsiders it may just appear as some dice and books. To gamers, it truly is a work of art.

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Dire Bare

I agree with Laws that the extent to which RPGs are art is in the play - the spontaneous creation and performance - rather than the authorship of rules, settings etc.
I do agree that the play of RPGs is an art form . . . but so is the creation of RPG books and supplements that support play. We could argue over whether rules design is art . . . I would argue it is . . . but definitely the creation of worlds, story frames (modules), and seeds (character options, monsters, items, etc) is art.

Art designed for a purpose, to facilitate collaborative storytelling at the table, but art none-the-less.

log in or register to remove this ad

This question was settled decades ago.

Games aren't art, they are a medium.

Bland article.
And cinema isn't art, it's a medium. But individual films can definitely be art.

What about individual games? RPGs themselves are a group. But I'd say individual RPGs are both art and a medium with decisions made by the designer. And individual games are also art.

Dire Bare

I guess it can be called a performing art but I get bored watching liveplays. I used to watch them to view other game masters but I quickly learned that wasn't the point.

I mostly game master and I feel like I am definitely playing a game and not doing a performance. I think there is art in the game ofcourse that inspires me, but the game itself seems no more art than a good session with tactics.
Art can be boring.

RPGs are games, but they are also art. They can be, and are, both.


This question was settled decades ago.
lol. No. The confidence is impressive, though.

RPGs are 100% art, in several different ways.

When we sit down at a table and play as our characters, building a story and an aesthetic, that is obviously art. If you don't consider that art, then you don't consider, say, improv theatre art.

I will argue that the games are also art in themselves. Typical rules books are aesthetically presented works of imagination. I have spent untold hours reading texts such as the Monster Manual, lost in considering the descriptions, illustrations, and implications. The rules in themselves have an aesthetic. Some are cluttered and technical, others elegant and sparse.

Art is, by its nature, subjective, but most would agree that it is a creative expression that has an aesthetic, intended to provoke thoughts and feeling. RPGs are creative expressions, they have an aesthetic, and they are intended to provoke thoughts and feelings. Ergo art, as it is conventionally defined.

Edit: I am talking about specific games, of course. As a genre, RPG is a genre of art (or medium, if you prefer). But honestly, this topic is like asking whether novels, songs, films, etc. are art.

Edit 2: I suppose there could be RPGs that are not art in themselves, if for example, they just consist of a completely didactic set of instructions, like a user manual. I suppose in that case they would only become art when played. I have never seen such an RPG, but I can imagine it.

Edit 3: Because this is the internet, I now brace for an onslaught of pedants eager to argue that technically books themselves are not art, it is the words and illustrations within that are the art, and so on. If that is you, then feel free to score all the imaginary internet points you wish and consider yourself the winner.
Last edited:


What are the consequences if an RPG gets officially labeled "art"? Or officially "not art"?

I don't want it to sound like I'm dismissing the premise of the thread. Exhibit curators have to look at artistic factors like the ones discussed as part of deciding what to include or exclude, but they also have to consider other factors, like physical space, budgets, museum collections, aesthetics, patron and donor opinions, etc. In the same way, an art supply store might have to decide whether or not to stock RPG supplies for sale. An arts publication might have to decide whether or not to cover RPG news. A local government might have to decide whether an RPG company is eligible for money from a limited pool of public arts funds.

If it's art, what then?

Related Articles

Remove ads

Remove ads