Compared to its competitors, the video gaming industry is a juvenile upstart. From some pretty humble beginnings, this industry has grown into a media force with annual earnings that dwarf the record and movie industries combined. Yes, gaming has grown up, it has even earned its stripes with giant publishing corporations in the form of Activision/Vivendi and Electronic Arts. With all of the new found maturity and revenue, the video games industry is still finding it hard to gain respect. The argument as to whether video games are art still rages on and I would argue those that oppose the idea of games as art are just old dinosaurs that still know nothing about video games.
Looking back at games like Space Invaders, Pong and Asteroids, the rate at which graphics and games have evolved, and the presentation that has emerged as a result, is staggering. As far as consoles go, the PlayStation/Saturn era changed the medium forever. CD-ROM drives provided a high capacity storage medium that was cheap to manufacture and the systems were just exploring what was capable in generating 3D worlds. The jump to 3D environments allowed artists to expand upon what was possible to create new interactive realms to explore and provided a more dynamic canvas for their imaginations.
Genres began to evolve. Action heavy games, traditionally light on story, started to introduce pre-rendered cut scenes to try tell a more provocative tale, exploring character exposition. Often times the stories were rather weak but there are always exceptions to the rule. RPG’s also added cut scenes to better illustrate key plot scenes. Games like Final Fantasy VII and Parasite Eve used, at the time, stunning visuals interwoven into gameplay to create more drama and emotion at key moments.
While I do maintain the idea that not everything is art, I think that the moment something makes you feel and evokes real emotion and empathy, that it transcends into art. Films, music, poetry and painting are pretty much universally accepted as art mediums. While no art medium is better than another, video games offer a level of interactivity with the artist like no other. Art is foremost, an expression of the artist. Their pain, agony, suffering, exuberance and exaltation is presented to the viewer or listener and then interpereted. In video games, a collaboration of writers, animators, and directors develop a game to then be played.
The most successful and artistic games create a an emotional and empathetic bond with the player. Mass Effect 3 creates bonds between Shepard and her squadmates where a game like Journey can create ties to other players that are complete strangers on their personal quest. They are almost two sides of the same coin even. Mass Effect relies heavily on storytelling through dialogue and story scenes to help the player continue to drive the narrative further. Allowing the players to make choices that affect the universe simply adds to the immersion of the gameplay experience. Journey achieves a similar emotional response with a more minimalist approach. The gameplay and story simplified, and in its simplicity it is beautiful. The game starts out presenting a goal to the player, a mountain off in the distance horizon of a barren desert. Through exploration of the breath-taking landscape of Journey, a tale of legend and destiny is told to the player at each checkpoint.
While I’m likely preaching to the choir about gaming’s artistic value, what I’m trying to say is that some people can’t understand the concept of interactive art and media. People like Roger Ebert will never know the joy of experiences like the original Metal Gear Solid, Shadow of the Colossus, and Okami. What I’m saying is that we don’t need their approval or acknowledgement that our passion is art. We already know that. All we have to do is appreciate it. We are in the golden age of gaming. Here’s to seeing that continue.