Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Video Games as an Art Form, Part 4: What it All Means

Now that I've given my own summary of history of video games and how they've evolved as an art form, it's time to talk about what it all means. So far I've only talked about the advancement of video games and the potentials that have been unlocked, but I've never really taken a broader look at them and explained them in my own terms. That's what I intend to do with this post.

At last, breaking through to the point.

     You might have been wondering why I looked at video games chronologically, since I didn't really talk about technological advancement. The reason I did that is because I feel that those three periods of time - 1947 to the 1970's, the 1980's, and the 1990's to today - nicely sum up the different kinds of video games that are made. There are video games that are made to just be games, mere "electronic entertainment," like most video games before the 80's. Think Angry Birds and the like. Then, there are video games that are a unique art form, games that communicate narratives as only interactive media can - a potential first unlocked, if not always realized, in the 80's. And finally, there are video games that tell their stories through more traditional means like text, dialogue, and visuals. These are the three classifications I've come up with for video games, and while there are certainly plenty of other ways to classify them, I feel that this way works best as an example.

     See, this way of viewing video games explains a lot about them, because all three of these game types are still being made today. There are games like the aforementioned Angry Birds, or more serious, story-based ones like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and every so often there are even games like Fallout (the original, mind you), where the way you interact with the game creates an experience on a whole other level. To complicate matters, these game types are often and even usually combined. The BIT.trip series, for example, almost exclusively has entertainment and interactivity as its tools. Each game is built around a game mechanic (an entertainment method), or a number of mechanics, and then uses those mechanics in a way that communicates a narrative (exceedingly well, I might add - especially when you look at the series as a whole). Games like Fire Emblem for the GBA, on the other hand, have used mechanics and a very traditionally told kind of story to create one of the best TBS games to bless gamers in decades. It tells it's story through excellent use of cutscenes (which contain very little actual motion - they aren't cinematic cutscenes) and, by extension, dialogue, along with well placed narration and sound effects, all the while remaining fun at it's core. And finally, a good example of a games that uses mainly traditional storytelling in conjunction with interactivity is Gemini Rue. Now, the mechanics of the game itself are nothing to scoff at, but it's not really fun to just actuate the mechanics. The actual entertainment comes from advancing the story and experiencing the game, not from solving the puzzles. There are also certainly games that combine all three, like Deus Ex or perhaps even the previously mentioned Wing Commander IV (though I can't attest to this personally, as I have yet to play it). In truth, most games probably combine the three, at least to a certain extent (though obviously I feel most games focus on one, primarily).

Fallout is art, period.
     But let me step back for a minute and relate this to the idea of art. Video games offer an experience, which if brought to its full potential translates to transcendence. When a video game becomes something more than just a video game, when it becomes something special - a part of our realities, a part of what shapes us, whatever - . . .that's art. Films (Star Wars being an excellent example), anime, music, literature. . .they all have the potential to transcend; in this particular definition, that's what makes them art forms. Video games can also do this. They don't just entertain us; they can change us. Sometimes they use their unique interactive elements to do that. Sometimes they use traditional methods. But whatever route they take, they can still accomplish their goal. That's why they're an art form; what I'm trying to do is explain how, which I hope I've done to a degree.

     Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that all video games are "art." Far from it, I would even go so far as to say that the majority of video games are stupid, ill-conceived messes. Just like all the lousy movies that come out every year, just like all those poorly written dime novels, just like all the terrible music people feel the need to blast at outrageous volumes, and just like all the terrible anime shows that come out every season, there are plenty of terrible games. But that doesn't change their potential, and that's really what we're talking about. There are video games to entertain, yes, but also video games to involve and to communicate. They aren't all art, but they certainly can to be. And, more to the point, they can be art like literally nothing else can. A far cry from mere products made to make money off target demographics, wouldn't you say?

That's all for this post series. Whether you found it enlightening, interesting, silly, or whatever else, I hope you had a good time. Thank you for reading.


  1. I feel that the ability of medias to influence and interact with us consumers prove it's ability and worth as an art form. In that regard, video games can certainly reach such potential.

    In more literal meaning, I feel the "interactive" art in video games make them slightly superior then ordinary landscape painting. Video games allow the gamers themselves to enter the world created in the designer's eyes, just like how a painter showing everyone how he perceives the world in his canvas. The difference is that in game, you can actually explore the world in different directions and angles, able to check out the most tinniest of details.

    Anyway, interesting read^^

    1. A part of me very much agrees on the "superior" suggestion, but at the same time, a lot of me is very hesitant to suggest it. I don't want to suggest that *any* art form is better than another, since they are all very different.

      One thing is pace. In general, something like, say, a novel can communicate a story at a much more focused pace. While it stops you from exploring the world down to the tiniest detail, it also means that you can get to the "essence" of the narrative quicker. Which is not to suggest that novels are necessarily *better* than video games either; there are exceptions on either side of things, and they tell fundamentally different narratives in the first place. Regardless, I'm glad you feel the same way about video games as me (as you clearly do).

      It's good to know you enjoyed it!