December 2018
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In the Eye of the Beholder

I guess it’s only fitting that I kick off this site with an age-old debate, upon which I will attempt to put my own (hopefully) fresh spin on things.  Are video games art?

Of course they are.  There, end of the post – man, this blogging thing is EASY!

Flower

Flower – beautiful, but not a typical video game

OK, I suppose I’ll elaborate a little more.  On the surface one would say that games incorporate visual design, music and stories (albeit usually simplistic).  This is true, but this is just other already categorized forms of art being re-purposed.  I believe a lot of games-as-art supporters get hung up on this point, when it doesn’t help their cause in the long run.  Games use these aspects, yes, but they combine them together with interactivity to create something completely new and 100% unique: the video game.  It is this interactivity, and the very systems that are incorporated into the games that give them their elegance.  It could easily be said that one of the primary characteristics that every video game shares is rules.  When done right, a game’s rules mold the experience into something that transcends the 1’s and 0’s that are crunching away in the background.

However, it seems to me that whenever someone tries to defend games as art they do so by pointing out aspects of games that are NOT typical of the genre.  They don’t focus on the rules, the systems that govern the experiences.  Instead you see the same parade of games pulled out time and again – Shadow of the Colossus, Flower, Limbo, etc.  People talk about the experiences of these games, and they focus on the visuals, the atmosphere, the stories.  Then the detractors come along and point out how all of these things are done better in other mediums.  And they’re pretty much right.  See, the problem is that we’re having the wrong argument.  What games would I list for prime examples of games as art?  How about Bioshock?  How about Skyrim?  How about Super Stardust?  And then, should I try to prove my point by gushing over the visuals or music of these games?  No – those aspects are great, no doubt, but that’s missing the point.  Bioshock has a system of rules in place that rewards you differently for choosing to save or sacrifice the little sisters.  That set of rules plays a profound role in the game and helps firmly plant you in that world – and it’s something that is not recreated in any other art form.  Skyrim’s gargantuan set of rules forms an entire world creating a level of immersion that leads people to retell stories of their adventures to one another as if recounting actual real world events.  And Super Stardust has such a tight set of rules in place that it allows for split-second decision making that can lead to an almost zen state of mind.

Bioshock 2

Choosing her fate is central to Bioshock’s gameplay

My point is, we should be praising games that excel at being GAMES!  We should use the best of the industry to show how far gaming has come and why it’s downright silly NOT to think of them as art.  Instead, we try to focus on games that are not typical of the medium and use these as our primary examples.  It’s obvious to anyone that these are not typical video games, so the argument quickly falls apart on itself.  And it’s a stupid argument in the first place – don’t show me a game that’s more like a movie, or like a painting, or that has gorgeous music and tell me that’s why games are art.  Games don’t need to be more like movies or paintings, and saying that they do sounds to me like you’re saying that being “just a game” isn’t good enough.  It should be – making a truly great game should ideally be what all developers strive for.  And as gamers we should praise games not for doing what other forms of art already do, but for doing what only they can do.

Will this make everyone respect gaming as an art form?  Of course not.  But at least then we could say that WE respect it as an art form, and aren’t secretly wishing games were something they’re not.

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