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This is a response to James Habermann's rant on games as art.
There has been numerous debates about whether or not video games could be considered to be art compared to the likes of film, literature, paintings, and comic books. The late Roger Ebert once said that video games can never be art because it as a structure: objectives, rules, points to complete, etc. However, he reiterated his point, saying that it wasn’t his place to judge such a medium without experiencing it first-hand.
For me, to put it bluntly, video games can and have the potential to be art.
Art is commonly defined as:
- the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
As paintings can express beautiful visuals, meaningful symbolism, and breathtaking landscapes, whereas movies can express through animated visuals and motion (similar to paintings and drawings), excellent acting and writing. However, these mediums lack the means video games have: interactivity, engagement, and being rewarded for your investment.
The vision behind many games, more often than not (especially adventure, sandbox, and roleplaying games like the Fallout series, the Elder Scrolls, Minecraft, the Walking Dead, the Mass Effect trilogy, etc.), is about letting you do whatever you want or tailoring the experience of the story to your liking. In video games, you can discover secrets that would help or deter your playthrough, with a classic example being the shortcut pipes in Super Mario Bros. Furthermore, in most cases, you can explore much of the game’s world, exploring abandoned ruins and doing sidequests, without worrying about the narrative going on without you.
Unlike a movie or a book (save for the choose-your-own adventure types), where you’re just a witness to the events unfolding, a video game allows you to be part of the action, rewarding you for your participation by providing you with more narrative, in-game rewards to enhance your gameplay, or both. A more engaging experience from video games will create more emotions. For example, in a horror game like Silent Hill, you would feel fear and uncertainty when you face against monsters with your supplies dwindling.
As a medium, it wouldn’t excel as a form of art without criticism from anyone. Anita Sarkessian of Feminist Frequency, while her arguments are flawed in a few ways, has made discussion regarding the treatment of sex and gender in video games.
As told earlier, video games are art in its own form. There is more to engage and invest in compared to a movie or novel, making us more compassionate about video games as a whole. In an essence, in video games, we create our own forms of art.
EDIT: It seems like I've been a bit unclear on a few things. Clarifying on these issues would support my perspective on video games as art.
What I mean about engagement and investment in video games is that, to make a video games art, they'll need to have exceptionally good gameplay, whether by being interactive, atmospheric, or being very rewarding. Lilyheartsliara has made a good statement on YouTube when talking about video games as art (referring to Dear Esther):
- Games can be art. But is cooking an art solely based on presentation? Is writing based solely on prose?
- In order for a game to be art, it has to excel at what a game does. And by definition, a game is a GAME. It is meant to be played. The game Dear Esther utterly fails at being an example of "art" because it completely fails at being a game. The interactivity that defines games is completely absent, save for simply ambling about, tripping dialogue triggers and looking at stuff.
However, sometimes a minimal plot would suffice, much like paintings. Games like Limbo, Journey, and the Binding of Isaac are notable examples of atmospheric games. They can pull off an artistic experience through improving gameplay and interactivity.
There are a number of ways to reward the player, such as unlocking additional gameplay/difficulty modes to enhance your gameplay, unlocking new characters, behind-the-scenes art and commentary, and even gaining real-life-equivalent currency to spend on DLCs, with Ubisoft's U-Play system. For creating our own art, not only do plenty of games allows us to try out numerous options, leading to different outcomes, but to use it for transformative works, such as machinima and Let's Play videos.
In short, video games can be art by excelling in its purpose: having fun and meaningful (non-gimmicky) gameplay. After all, the Walking Dead is an adventure series in the style of Monkey Island and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Would that genre be legitimate for art?
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