A new prize aims to move games from computer screen to cultural arena

Dismissed as the preserve of pimply nerds, computer games are often condemned as a short cut to obesity and singledom. Now a new award aims to celebrate them as an art form.

Its panel of judges is drawn from the arts and other fields, rather than the computer industry. Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, the composer Nitin Sawhney, comedian and writer Charlie Higson and MP Tom Watson all grappled joysticks to decide upon the winner.

Although the industry still has some way to go in convincing sceptics that computer games can be considered "art", some cultural commentators believe it is only a matter of time.

"I imagine most art forms had seemingly inconsequential origins," said Professor Ellis Cashmore, from Staffordshire University. "Gaming may not be accepted as bona fide yet. But nor was graffiti 40 years ago, and rock videos weren't regarded as film until Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' in 1983."

The inaugural winner, Minecraft, presented with the GameCity Prize this weekend, has not even been released officially, but has been played on the internet by more than 15 million people worldwide. It has made its Swedish creator, Markus "Notch" Persson, a hero of the gaming community – all the more surprising as it is his first official game and has so far been released only in a beta version.