Is Everything Art?
Most people involved in computer games, in both the users and developers sides tend to agree that games are indeed art. I believe this is due to the fact that modern pop culture created the general notion that "everything is art". In fact, Arthur Danto, a philosopher of art and professor of philosophy at Columbia University, states that today  "you can't say something's art or not art anymore. That's all finished." In his book entitled "After the End of Art", Danto argues that "after Andy Warhol exhibited simulacra of shipping cartons for Brillo boxes in 1964, anything could be art. Warhol made it no longer possible to distinguish something that is art from something that is not". Superficially Arthur Danto seems to be supporting the claim that "everything is art", however he is only stating that "anything could be art" and that a formal definition of art is unattainable nowadays. This incompleteness in modern day formal art theory could very well be at the root of the generalized misconception that "everything is art".
The fact is that most of us are able to decide if something is a work of art or not. What we do not have is the ability to provide an objective definition. As Richard Wollheim - another philosopher of art - states in his Painting as an Art : "So, there are house-painters: there are Sunday painters: there are world-politicians who paint for distraction, and distraught business men who paint to relax. There are psychotic patients who enter art therapy, and madmen who set down their visions: there are little children of three, four, five, six, in art class, who produce work of explosive beauty: and then there are the innumerable painters who once, probably, were artists, but who now paint exclusively for money and the pleasure of others. None of them are artists, though they all fall short of being so to varying degrees, but they are all painters. And then there are painters who are artists. Where does the difference lie, and why? What does the one lot do which the other lot doesn't? When is painting an art, and why?"
I will argue that the former affirmations of Richard Wollheim still holds true if you replace painting with game development. Well, maybe there are no politicians developing games for distraction, but certainly there are psychotic patients making games. The main idea here is that the medium does not make the art. The artist does. If the computer game is the medium, the game developer may or may not be an artist.
So What is Art?
As you may have guessed while reading the former paragraphs, I am not going to give you a definition. At this point in history, that would be the same as asking me to give you the momentum and position of an electron at the same time. What I can give you is an insight into what I "feel" to be art. Obviously I did not develop this "feeling" out of nothing, but rather from the cultural context of nowadays western world (because and just because I live in the western world). What I "feel" to be art is perfectly expressed in the following citation from Edgar Allan Poe :
"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul. The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of Artist."
While you could easily argue that my feeling is totally flawed and useless in determining what art is, you will probably agree that the set of things that are art is distinct from the set of things that are not. If a painting may or not be art, so may a computer game.
Another generalized misconception is that of art and artisanship being the same thing. People tend to say that doing something is art just because it is artisanship. Artisanship is a process based on human intuition, experience and heuristics. Manually creating a vase out of a pile of clay is usually an act of artisanship. Developing computer games is still very much a process of artisanship mainly due to its lack of maturity as an engineering task and the absence of well defined formal rules. This however, as nothing to do with the result being a work of art or not.
So basically some computer games are art and some are not. In fact I believe that most games fall in this latter category. This is probably due to the fact that computer games are becoming a mainstream high profit business, very much like Hollywood productions. Naturally the investors are not interested in taking high chances, so they tend to favour projects that use tested formulas and highly recognizable pop culture icons. Also, what the large majority of players expect from a game is to be entertained. Nothing wrong with any of this, it is just not an environment that will foster the production of games as works of art, the same way that Hollywood tends not to produce films that are works of art and the mainstream music industry tends not to produce music that is a work of art.
Here in Europe, old machines like the ZX Spectrum influenced the infancy of generations of programmers like me. Similar examples can certainly be found on the other continents. Being one of the few redeeming aspects of the 80's, the Spectrum culture spawned thousands of exciting ideas and original game concepts which are now completely forgotten, in favour of yet another first person shooter or yet another real time strategy game. I am not saying this is a Bad Thing(TM), just that in the Spectrum era you could code a complete game in 2 weeks and publish it almost directly from your bedroom with no greater financial risks. Naturally the degrees of creative freedom were higher, and very simple work of art games indeed appeared.
The big irony in my opinion is that the more the game developer community uses the buzz words "games are art", the more they tend not to be.
 Danto, Arthur C. (1998). "After the end of Art". ISBN 0691002991.
 Wollheim, Richard (1990). "Painting as an Art". ISBN 0500 275815.
 Poe, Edgar Allan (1849), "Marginalia". Southern Literary Messenger (reprinted in Essays and Reviews, 1984).