A part of the definition of aesthetic experiences that Nardi borrows from Dewey is an experience with a temporal “temporal flow of actions that are valued in themselves, ending in a satisfying consummation.” Video games certainly qualify as an aesthetic experience by such a definition; one plays the video game for the enjoyment of playing, and there typically is a sense of completion at the end of the game. But then, all games qualify as an aesthetic experience by this definition, which seems implausible, since I don’t think we would want to call “Apples to Apples” an aesthetic experience.
The difference between games and other goal oriented activities seems to be that success in a video game is a possibility made by design. When you play a video game, you are not really connecting with your environment, in the same way a mechanic who constructs an engine is; that mechanic is interacting directly with the natural environment, and as such cannot be sure that the environment has guaranteed him a chance at success in his activity. The same cannot be said of games; the rules of solitaire make it so the game can be completed, and when you play a video game, any task a person takes up, is one which another person has made success a real possibility. You can beat a level of Mario, or complete a mission of WoW because a programmer’s work made it possible. A part of the reason that video games are marginalized in society, particularly in comparison to other art forms, is that they are at their heart, just games; activities with arbitrary rules and goals which are designed to make both failure and success a possibility, yet they, perhaps more than any other game in history, have the ability to take over a person’s life.
The key difference between games and video games that allows for video games to considered more akin to an aesthetic experiences, results from a difference in how the rules of those games are followed. It seems to plausible to think that aesthetic experience in its truest form is unmediated by self-imposed rules governing the person’s task. That is, real aesthetic interaction with the environment is not restricted by any rules enforced by the person; there are only the natural restrictions of the relevant world. The person thus does not have to hold anything back in his or her pursuit of the relevant goal, and so have a sense of freedom when interacting with the environment. Games thus cannot be considered real aesthetic experiences because the rules of a video game are not enforced by players but rather by an external force; the software, rather than a single person. (This was pointed out by Bogost.) This is to say, the appeal to video games, is that a person can do what is within their power to complete a task in a video game. They are not restricted by rules of custom, etiquette or morals, and thus can embody a lack of self restraint, that I think is associated with raw aesthetic experiences.