I am a proponent of video games as art. As a gamer fortunate enough to experience a golden age of gaming (marked by the birth of the NES, though I did miss out on the even humbler roots of gaming) it disheartens me seeing many artistic qualities of video games stripped to more directly appeal to consumers for reasons of profit. I understand the reasoning behind it – both the greed involved and the need for a publisher or developer to pay the bills, which means the employees can feed their families. That doesn’t stop my lamentation, however, and it is up to me and individuals like me to fight to retain the imagination that made games wonderful.
It occurred to me that a developer could infuse a game with all the artistic creativity in the world and the player may never see beyond the mechanics of the game into the art. (I realize that this particular case is a glitch and thus unintentional, but regardless this is what sparked the thought. I do address the fact that this is a glitch further down so read that at least before you comment)
Consider books, another medium requiring imagination. Without the reader suspending disbelief and diving into the world a book is nothing more than a large set of words arranged in grammatically proper groups. The author is responsible for ensuring tone, vocabulary, setting, plot, characters, and much more are appropriate for the effect he/she seeks but it’s all for naught if there is no kindling to set alight with creativity.
Here’s another example but about movies (I don’t know the source for it, so if anyone wants to enlighten me I’d be much appreciated. Personally I encountered it first on Reddit):
This is satirical and thus exaggerated some, but it holds enough truth to be valuable. I submit Exhibit A (a comparison done by metacritic) as evidence.
Now back to video games. “MrBtongue” on YouTube makes a compelling argument about Diablo 3 under this light, with this being his most poignant statement:
In my opinion, the game they set out to make is a regression from the rest of the series.
Watch the video for his arguments. Pay attention in particular to his description of Diablo I. This guy gets it.
How many people would notice the points he makes though? I fear that the average gamer would not pause to let their imagination wrap around the world of a game, instead focusing on the surface game mechanics and its direct response in the brain. (Note MrBtongue’s second and third points)
I said earlier, “This guy gets it.” Let me clarify. This guy is a minority who can enjoy subtleties in games. With skyrocketing popularity games must cater to more and more people to earn the profits needed to be considered a success. As a result they are tailored toward the average human to drawn in more people than a player who has an imagination to call upon.
It is on the developer to sow their games with the seeds or art, and it is the role of the player to water those seeds. The developer is the spark plug in the internal combustion engine of a players artistic perception, and the imagination of the gamer is the fuel that undergoes ignition.
For example, a developer cannot deliver a broken game and call it art. This glitch in Skyrim is one of many, but never was the game as a whole broken. Big Rigs, for example, is NOT art. For what it’s worth the referenced Skyrim experience was accidental so let’s look at something more intentional. *spoiler alert* In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is a poignant moment where the character you control dies.
Gamers loved it (for good reason). So what did the makers of Call of Duty do? They spammed scenes like this until it lost all meaning. A developer cannot repeat the same thing over and over and expect to evoke the same reaction. Rather they are tasked with the admittedly arduous task of taking the fundamental heartstrings of a player and knitting it together into a new experience.
On the other hand, when a developer delivers a gem of a game full of fun, personality, and awesome the player needs to be receptive of it. A great example of this category is Psychonauts, which was saved from obscurity by turning into a cult hit but not without taking damage. Really it should have been a blockbuster hit, but the mettle of the average person is not the kind to appreciate an intelligent game.
I tend to hold everybody to a high standard. If we are to proudly display the banner of “civilization” and embody the pinnacle of evolution (or creation, as you may believe) on the planet, we need to act the part. Perhaps this is a flaw, however, and my punishment is to be disappointed time and time again in my fellow man and woman.
It is my belief that video games are an art form. Keep in mind that like any art form there are pieces with immense substance and value while other pieces are not at all significant from an artistic point of view (they can still be great for consumers – perhaps better than the better art). Example of artful games include Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. An example of the second category would include Angry Birds. Note that I’m not saying Angry Birds is not a good game or that it has no art direction but that it is not at the same level of Prince of Persia. If you really want to pull out a steaming pile of shit you can look at something like Big Rigs.
Now, what makes video games different? They have narrative elements, audible elements, and visual elements. At the core they are books, paintings, music, movies, and every other form put together into one. The big difference however is in the involvement of the consumer. Even in linear games the involvement of the player is more actively participating. Especially with newer games tending toward having choices and multiple endings they player is no longer a passive recipient of an intention, idea, or a story but an equal partner in crafting an experience.
Of course, people that don’t generally appreciate the artistic and abstract won’t get anything out of a video game. These are the same people who don’t read or appreciate Picasso and Monet. They will always exist but it does not take away from video games at all.
If you haven’t figured out already I’m pretty excited about video games. I’m really happy to see the direction that quality games are heading and there are definitely issues to deal with (as evidenced by Mass Effect 3’s ending controversy) the future is promising.