I have been playing video games for nearly my whole life. I started playing video games when I was three. There was not one time, NOT ONE, where I was concerned with whether people consider video games art or not. You know what I was more concerned with? WHETHER THE GAME WAS FUN OR NOT! Honestly, I don’t get why people have to bitch and moan about how people like Roger Ebert said that video games will never be considered art (although I think he retracted this statement recently). Why should we care?
Anyone who grew up in the 80s and earlier know, video games were ugly. You basically had to use your imagination to get sucked into a game’s world. I remember one of my favorite games back in the day was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for the Intellivision. The game consisted of this; a stick figure, with a D sticking out of it that was his bow, running in a yellow maze that exposed more of itself as you moved along. You would run into random enemies, and look for items that can get you to the end of the world map where you fight the master dragon. The picture below explains it all. I still have no idea what that blue thing is. I think its a goblin? WHO CARES! THIS GAME RULED!
What made it so great was that you could actually hear most of the monsters before you exposed the next part of the map and they would jump out and scare you. It was great. Was this art? Hell no. The box had sweet art but the game itself was not art. I played this game because it was fun, not because it was pretty.
Ok ok, I know what you are saying, “Keith, games are a lot more advanced now and can take years to develop. They are far more stylized than before” Alright, point taken. Some games do have art in them and they are highly stylized. Perfect example being Shadow of Collosus. That game is so damn purdy and its all done on a PS2 no less. I used to run around just watching the horse animation. IT LOOKS REAL! I also am aware of the fact that there is a lot of art development involved in making modern games. I myself own the art book for Final Fantasy 9 (thanks to my friend Emily who used to work at FUNCOLAND back in the day and got it for me for free). What my beef is, is that people seem to want to make a game solely for the purpose of art. They totally throw the fun aspect of it to the wayside. Games are supposed to be first and foremost fun. If you are putting art before fun, you got your priorities mixed up.
Here is a perfect example of a guy who made a game for the totally wrong reasons. This game is called You Have To Burn The Rope. The game takes about a minute to play. All you do is burn a rope. People are shitting themselves over this incredible waste of time. There is nothing fun about this game. There is no skill involved. I guess the point is to build an ambiance or something while you play? Maybe the purpose of the game isn’t to enjoy the gameplay but to enjoy the experience? Fuck that. That isn’t what games are for. Perhaps I sound like I am pidgeon holing games by saying that they have a single purpose. Actually, no I am not. There are plenty of other indie games out there that are just as pretentious as this waste but they still have some gameplay value.
A good example being Today I Die. I really don’t want to like this game but I do. This game feels like it was written by a goth teen that just learned of poetry. Yet, I ended up playing the whole thing and enjoying myself while I did it. This guy really wanted to make an artsy game that had some content in it and I feel like he succeeded.
I think the king of indie art games though, has to be Canabalt. This game has style in its simplicity. The black and whites of this game make it pretty recognizable and visually stimulating. The simple style goes well with the simple gameplay. You are just a guy that is running and jumping. That’s it. The game is actually quite difficult for having one button controls. I have gotten super pissed at this game multiple times but I keep playing it trying to run just a few meters more. I feel like this game has the perfect balance of art and gameplay.
These artsy games are kind of like the clothes worn in a fashion show. Fashion show clothes are not going to be worn on the streets. They are meant to show a new concept in fashion. Designers then borrow that fashion to make the clothes we wear. Games don’t work like this. If the game isn’t fun, it makes the concept that you are trying to express seem boring. At the end of the day, games are meant to focus on fun gameplay. Art is at most secondary. As gamers, we shouldn’t be concerned with whether a game is art or not. I think that gameplay begets art. Shadows of Colossus’s gameplay, for example, inspires its style in a way. Sure it could have been a cell shaded, cartoony game. But the seriousness of the story, mixed with the gameplay helped the style evolve. People don’t design video games around an art style, its the other way around.