Video Games as an Art Form (an essay)

January 19, 2010

Abstract

“Before the invention of writing, there was only storytelling and oral ballads. The written stories were a new art form spawned by a new technology (writing). Perhaps the oral balladeers scoffed at the time. But from our perspective in a literate culture, there is skill, technique, and yes, an art, to piling word on word to make a novel or a poem. Likewise, from a perspective slowly emerging, there is not only skill and technique but also an art to piling bit on bit to make a video game.”1

Despite video games being around for the last four decades people are still hesitant to accept them as anything more than entertainment.
I plan to explore the possibility of the medium being something more, as well as exploring its artistic merits.

Introduction

In the beginning there were two lines fighting an endless war between each other, a single pixel crossing back and forth between them.
This was Pong, the game that truly thrust video games into the light of the world.
Since then games have evolved at an alarming rate, from simple lines and dots to complex polygons. Developers now have choice in what they create, some will be reminiscent towards the minimalist style of the Pong era, and others will try to create a faithful interpretation of the world around us. What a video game creator can now do is astounding considering the limitations they had just under four decades ago.

The public’s acceptance of video games is a curious one; despite more and more of the world’s population having played one, especially since the release of the Nintendo Wii, there is still the view that it is nothing but a child’s toy. This perception means that people remain unaware of how games have become more than going from A to B or performing a certain action. Despite knowledge of how it may look visually, they are unaware of the progression of the narrative, acting, direction and a lot more which has seen the video game medium progress at a faster rate than its counterpart, film.

Film, like video games, also suffered from a widespread public view that it was little more than entertainment. They were sceptical of “claims about cinema for many of the same reasons contemporary critics dismiss games – they were suspicious of cinema’s commercial motivations and technological origins.”2
This stance has now changed and people accept it as something more than pieces made for commercial reasons.

Games, unlike film, require the consumer to commit a physical input and mental output to progress through it. They need skill and talent to see everything that is at offer. Does gaming’s need for physical and mental output mean that games are just a toy or can they be something more?

Can video games be a form of ‘Art’?

Chapter One – What is an Art Form?

As ‘Art’ is a difficult word to pin down; defining it is a complex task. The Encyclopaedia Britannica calls it:

“A visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination.”3

However, that interpretation would mean that anything aural cannot be classed as art. Music lovers and critics would argue this point and they would be right to.

The Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges aural art by describing it as:

“Branches of creative activity concerned with the production of imaginative designs, sounds or ideas. E.g. painting, music, writing.”4

With this interpretation of the word you could certainly class works of moving images as art, maybe even video games.
“One criterion held that the more realistic the work – the closer it resembled what the eye saw – the better.”5 This has been challenged by trends such as cubism, surrealism and many more which portrayed on the ‘canvas’ something that was far removed from what was actually seen by the human eye.
There are then the critics that believe that art is about the artist showing us a world through their vision. Listing what critics do believe and don’t believe is a futile task. Whereas one will strongly oppose the acceptance of modernism, another will embrace it with open arms. These clashes in opinion have been there for lifetimes and will be there for many more.
Research shows that not even the public seems to be able to agree. From a survey conducted with 110 people of mixed ages, responses on the perception of art varied from “The appeal to the emotions of the “receiver” through any of their senses,” to “something pleasing on the eye.”

In the past two centuries the world has seen technological advancements that people could not have predicted. Film managed to grab the public’s attention from the conception of it, although at first it was little more than a novelty.
The length of the pieces did not help it shake this status quickly as most of them lasted a minute or less and were nothing more than a passing amusement, a crudely shot skit. As time progressed the films became longer, a sense of narrative began to be told which, although basic, was progressing. Within twenty years of its invention it was possible to portray a more thoughtful narrative than the skits that appeared in early cinema. However there were still several problems with the medium. None of the problems were as important, however, as the lack of sound. It wasn‘t until the late 1920’s that films began to have this feature and as soon as they did another dimension was added to them. This problem also occurred in video games. There was no true sound for several years, just simple beeps.

During this time in film the emergence of art cinema began to develop and was put into the view of a mainstream audience beautifully by DW Griffith’s Intolerance.
Critics will argue what is and isn’t art cinema. Whereas some will say it is an independent film others will say it is any film that holds artistic merit, which will yet again be whatever the critic considers art. This highlights the important point about art: nobody can agree.

What people generally agree on is that in the past century of artists it is Andy Warhol that is one of the most memorable. His views and opinions have been often quoted yet it is what he thought about art that is truly interesting. Although it was hard to know when he was being serious and when he wasn’t (his numerous versions of the line about people’s “fifteen minutes of fame,” for example) his quotations about art and artists are still something worth looking into.
An interview excerpt from him when the pop art trend was still fairly new saw him commenting on how it is nothing more than apparently “liking things”6.

It can be argued that the best critic for a piece of art is the artist themselves. Warhol stated that “An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he, for some reason, thinks it would be a good idea to give them.”7 This could not be truer, anybody can call themselves an artist and there comes a point where anyone can class something as art. The art world has gotten to the stage that a childish doodle from a three year old could be called art.

Some strongly believe that art is something created to provoke an emotion or thought. Much like every other opinion on art this opinion is obviously opposed. Clive Barker, the writer, whose work has spanned numerous mediums including video games, film and literature, shares the view that art is something to provoke a feeling. He stated:

“We can debate what art is, we can debate it forever. But if the experience moves you, some way or another, even if it just moves your bowels, I think it’s worthy of some serious study.”8

These words were fuelled as a response to American film critic Roger Ebert and his comments on video games. He later responded to what Barker said.

“Barker is right that we can debate art forever. I mentioned that a Campbell’s soup could be art. I was imprecise. Actually, it is Andy Warhol’s painting of the label that is art. Would Warhol have considered Clive Barker’s video game “Undying” as art? Certainly. He would have kept it in its shrink-wrapped box, placed it inside a Plexiglas display case, mounted it on a pedestal, and labelled it “Video Game.”9

From Ebert’s statement it is obvious what one of his opinions on art is. He seems to consider art as something physical that we do not interact with, something that is there that we witness and nothing else.

Chapter Two – Video Games as Art

“It is hard to say what ranks lower on the artistic food chain than video games. Comic books? TV sit-coms? X-rated films? These rat like vermin at the bottom scurry to avoid the thunderous footfalls of the towering behemoths of the art world. Everyone knows that:

– Violinists, conductors and composers are real artists.
– Novelists, poets and playwrights are real artists.
– Painters, photographers, and filmmakers are real artists.

But video-game designers? Is that even art?”10

Ebert’s comments in the last chapter are an excerpt that is far more than a casual conversation about art; it is a debate about video games as an art form. The comment above helps highlight the fact he is not the only one to think like this, and that unfortunately the medium is viewed by many as a form of entertainment and nothing else.
Still, since video games have become dominant in the market, some did notice its artistic merits:

“Besides coinciding with trends in art and a growing public interest in computer technology, the video game fit in popular culture as well, finding a place in the arcade next to pinball machines, and at home on the television. The video game, then, was perhaps the most commercially successful combination of art and technology to emerge in the early 1970s.”11

The fact that it was the most successful may not warrant its consideration as an art form, yet because video games began and coincided with one of the most popular art trends at the time is something that has to be admired.
Many comparisons may be drawn upon the likes of Pong and other games from the era with the works of various minimalist artists, such as Jo Baer. The vast nothing that can be seen on the screen in the game with only a handful of markings matches what is seen with numerous works of minimalist art.
Although it could be argued that Pong only had its appearance due to technological limitations it cannot be ignored that they matched the trend, whether through choice or not.

Much has changed since the 1970’s however. Technology has advanced and games have become more than just a handful of lines scattered across a screen. Real life can now be replicated, if so desired, by the creators. The amount of artistic possibilities that are open to game designers rivals any other artist. It can be aural, visual, and even physical. In fact video games have progressed in a way that can match almost all trends in art now, from realism to abstract, minimalist to pop. They are trying to muscle their way into the acceptance of the art world as much as they can and have been trying for years. Many developers are asked about their games as an art form. Suda 51 is a game creator many enthusiasts believe creates work that pushes the medium. He stated that if a developer “set out to try and create art, that would be incredibly difficult. It’s up to people to decide if it’s art or not.”12

When something tries to be accepted as a form of art, as the former chapter stated, there will always be those against its acceptance. Video games are no exception, as Ebert argues.

“I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art.”13

Ebert has admitted his limited knowledge of the medium, his area of expertise being film. The perception he holds on video games is comparable to a carpenter making a chest of drawers. The drawers may look aesthetically pleasing but is there any true artistic merit? Most carpenters will accept their work holds no artistic merit, some however will not.

This is exactly the same in the world of video games. Hideo Kojima is a well respected game designer and his work is what many will hold up in retaliation to claims of games not being a form of art. Kojima however has a viewpoint that emulates that of Ebert’s.

“The thing is, art is something that radiates the artist, the person who creates that piece of art. If 100 people walk by and a single person is captivated by whatever that piece radiates, it’s art. But videogames aren’t trying to capture one person. A videogame should make sure that all 100 people that play that game should enjoy the service provided by that videogame. It’s something of a service. It’s not art. But I guess the way of providing service with that videogame is an artistic style, a form of art.”14

Does an artist truly only create work to radiate themselves? Analysing the work through the lifetime of some artists will show that a small percentage will begin issuing pieces that are almost a fan service. You could argue that some of the work from the pop art trend was little more than this, a nod to those that liked a certain form of work. Still, the most important issue to raise is “are all video games created to be liked by everyone that plays them?”
The answer is quite simply “no”. The creation of a first person shooter would be created without really caring if a fan of a role playing game found the game stimulating or not. It is rare that a game is created with the intent of making every single person that plays it like it, simply because most genres are limited to a certain fanbase, much like in film and literature.

Certain genres, such as sport games, will be made with the intention of appealing to fans of the sport, they will not try to branch out to people who like other genres because the fanbase of their sport should be enough to warrant sales. Sport games are a key genre that focuses on entertainment. Their artistic merit could be placed down to their visuals but they are very limited and it would be a stretch to class them as art, much like it would be to try and class the sport as art.
Still, the games do hold one vital aspect every video game contains, and that is escapism. Some video games are such intense forms of escapism now that you want to escape from them. Some even offer an escape within them. For example Grand Theft Auto IV allows the player to go play a game of pool if their life of crime is beginning to become too stressful. There is no real benefit to doing this task; it’s just a form of escapism within the game, from the game.

Despite many video games only caring about commercial success, entertainment, escapism and nothing else, much like in the film industry, there are certain ones that do hold many artistic conventions.

Some hold a portrayal of war comparable to that seen in films such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now. There are even pieces that are comparable to the deep and moving narratives seen in the best pieces of literature. Whether it is an epic story like Lord of the Rings or a deep personal story such as Catcher in the Rye, video games can create anything another medium can.
Yet it is more than this that helps back up the argument about the acceptance of the medium as a form of art.

“Most often, critics discuss games as a narrative art, as interactive cinema or participatory storytelling. But perhaps we should consider another starting point, viewing games as a spatial art with its roots in architecture, landscape, painting, sculpture, gardening or amusement park design.”15

The architecture of games is often an element overlooked upon the initial consumption. A player may be struck with awe by the vastness of a location but, from an average consumers perspective, it is rare they will notice how beautifully constructed their surroundings are. What is shown on screen may be a reconstruction of what is seen in real life, much like in The Getaway, which creates an almost perfect replica of London. However more often than not what we see is unique. We see structures that are a marvel for numerous reasons, not just because of how they look but because they are something that would not be possible to create in the real world. This then means that the structure itself could be considered a work of art, without even considering the argument of whether the game it is in is one.

The use of space in gaming is also very important and helps it tick another box for another type of art. Whereas in film you will see epic locations, in video games you get to truly observe the areas. You can sit there and watch the water splash off of the rocks at the bottom of a waterfall, the wind fluttering the leaves of a tree, or, at another extreme, a volcano erupting and buildings being destroyed by bombs.
With these wide open spaces however comes the biggest argument by critics against video games’ acceptance as art: a video game is painted not by the artist but the consumer. Even though the creator will make the world around the player exist and create every detail, even how the player moves when they do control it.
Many argue that the player has far too much choice and interaction, meaning if anybody is the artist then it is the player. For example, someone playing a game could decide to make the character spin on the spot for 3 hours. Still, this would all have been programmed into the game and it is comparable with the likes of installations, which let the viewer enter the art and sometimes even interact with it. Video games always have a set goal; an objective to achieve or a way to get from A to B. This has been programmed by the team behind the game and there is no way to change that. There may be alternate outcomes and alternate ways to get there but everything you witness is pre-programmed.

Games can have significant amounts of artistic input. Cut scenes create something that, depending on how it is done, allows the camera to be controlled like it would be in a film. In many games nowadays the direction of these is on par with some of the best films. Even if the game does not change to predetermined cameras and what you see is from the perspective of who you are playing (something that is often the case in first person games) direction occurs in what the character takes in and what happens in the scene. For example, if you have just discovered a mountain the game will take control as the artist and show you the mountain how it wants you to see it. On some occasions however, first person games give the player the option to wander around the area whilst a scene takes place. This makes you feel like you are part of the unfolding events even more. Still, the player is just given a fake level of control. They may get to do what they want but this is only for a limited time, it can be compared to viewing a painting.

If someone wanted to, they could view the Mona Lisa with one eye closed whilst standing sideways and squinting. It would mean the Mona Lisa would be viewed in a manner that was not intended or thought of by the artist. Yet at some point they would have to view the work normally, and that is when Da Vinci will have his painting viewed the way he wanted.

The narrative possible in a video game is also far greater than what is achievable in film. RPG’s are a perfect example of this. The main story arc normally lasts between 10-20 hours, but there are then countless side stories which, in a well made game, help create a more three dimensional world and also help create more three dimensional characters. The best examples will have you feeling like you are living in the world: you will have a sense of remorse when your actions see you destroy something you rather wouldn’t and a sense of joy when you make amends.

The aural possibilities of video games are also an area that should not be ignored. A game can score itself similar to a film, opera or theatre work, or it can try and create a completely natural world, void of any sound other than what you would hear in real life.
By the late 1990’s it had become the status quo to have voices in video games. A huge advancement on the previously mentioned beeps. As time has developed the quality of the voices have improved. What began as cheesy melodramatic speech reminiscent of the over the top acting in early film, as witnessed in the likes of Loom, has changed. Now video game voice acting is regarded as highly as acting in any other medium. Many prestigious actors have lent their vocal talent to pieces, such as Christopher Lee in Kingdom Hearts II and Patrick Stewart in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Even the lesser known actors give a performance that shows it is a medium that is being taken seriously.


Chapter Three – Significant Games in the Medium

The most important pieces of art in history from critics and respected publications will mostly include a list of paintings and sculptures. On the rare occasion they will contain a piece of architecture, on an even rarer occasion they would contain film.
On no occasion would they contain video games.

There has always been a certain level of snobbery within the art community when new forms of art appear.
Although video games have had artistic qualities since their beginnings can any of them actually be classed as works of art?
From what has previously been discussed the simple answer you would expect would be “yes”, but which games and why?
Like film not every game can be classed as a work of art. Yet it seems that artistic games garner more press coverage than many art films could ever hope to. They are embraced by the gaming community, even if sales, much like the viewings of art films, are underwhelming.

What follows is a look at three games in a more in depth manner and reasoning as to why they can be accepted as art. All of these have picked up at least one game of the year award.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

As mentioned in the previous chapter, video games have portrayed war in a manner that rivals what has been seen in artistic war films such as Apocalypse Now. One of the best examples of this is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a game in which you witness warfare in a way that has been portrayed before, but never with such impressive artistic elements.

Narrative and Gameplay
The narrative of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is its strong point, from the very second the game begins you feel like you are actually being trained as part of the Special Forces. The way you have to go through a training camp to prove your worth accompanied with the progression of your character throughout, from rookie to hero, is realistic and paced well. What is more interesting is the use of multiple narrative points of view through the game. The opening credits put you in the point of view of the leader of an unnamed Middle Eastern country being led to your own execution. As you are driven through the city you witness the apparent jubilation on what you discover to be your own demise. This is a key plot element which is later seen from another perspective, being watched by the lead character Soap and his seniors on television.

There are numerous scenes that truly rival what is seen in films yet the one to study the most is what many would perceive as the most moving piece in the game. You are Sergeant Paul Jackson, a member of the US Marines and the control of him has been yours for multiple hours by this point. After a nuclear explosion brings down your helicopter you awaken inside the wreckage. Slowly you pull yourself out of the helicopter and collapse to the ground below. Looking around you see your fallen comrades lying motionless as you slowly try to etch yourself forward. The city is destroyed and aflame. Your eyes begin to see a bright light.
The death of Jackson is a shock and a truly moving piece of scripting and direction. It has an even bigger impact on the player because of their involvement with the character through the game thus far. It has provided a connection that would not have been possible in another medium.

Visuals and Audio
The visuals in the game are stunning; it is realism at its finest. It’s the subtle things though, much like a good piece of art, which truly makes the game beautiful. As stated previously, the direction in the scene which shows the death of Jackson is just as captivating as how it is written. The red hue of your surroundings, with litter and debris floating past you, accompanied by the sound of breaking radio transmissions and the characters grunts of pain creates a piece of art that makes you emote. You feel because you are seeing it from the perspective of the person yet it is more than that.
Even when taken out of the context of the main game, the scene is still an exquisite tale of someone’s last moments alive. It is just as moving as the representation could be in any other art form, if not more.

Ico

“It isn’t a video game — a conventional video game has things like a life meter or other icons on the screen. Ico doesn’t have these things.”16

Ico, by many, would be considered the first art game to gain recognition from a mass audience. There have been video games that could be considered art before but Ico is a game that people that work in the industry or follow the industry consider a masterpiece. Guillermo Del Toro, the famous film director, stated that “There are only two games I consider masterpieces: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.”17 To gain recognition from people that have an occupation in another medium shows the impact it has created.

Narrative and Gameplay
The story of Ico is fairly simplistic, almost something lifted from a fairy tale. It is the way that the story and gameplay combine though that truly makes the game remarkable. You are Ico, a young boy that has been outcast from his village because of the belief you are a bad omen. You explore the castle you are abandoned in and stumble across a young girl named Yorda.
It is this simple premise that is the basis for the game. For hours you spend your time with Yorda as your companion, holding hands as you navigate your way through the castle in the hope that you will escape. As your freedom seems within seconds of you, whilst crossing a bridge leading to land, a tremor occurs and the bridge begins to withdraw, with Ico on one side and Yorda on the other. Ico jumps but doesn’t make it to the side of the bridge Yorda is on and looks likely to fall to what can only be believed as his doom. Yet you are caught, by Yorda. The hours of gameplay that you have put in so far have seen you helping her to get up to hard of reach places or lifting her up after a jump across a gap. Through this one moment alone, without any true plot progression other than getting from one point to another, the entire mechanic of the game is turned on its head. This attempt at help highlights the bond the two have developed whilst you have been playing. Circumstances unfortunately see her drop you and you are alone for the first time in the game since you began.
You feel the loneliness the character must be feeling. Through hours of witnessing companionship you are suddenly alone; in no other medium would it be possible to have this feeling through the circumstances experienced. It is one of the most significant moments in video game history, despite a linear narrative the pacing and progression is on par with the finest pieces of literature and film.

“Ico looks lovely but it’s the emotional bond the player feels with their character’s female companion that is truly stimulating.”18

Visuals and Audio
The game looks beautiful. If someone chose to they could sit there and appreciate a still image of it as a piece of art. Your character seems like an ant in the looming architecture that surrounds you. Not only this, but you realise how void of life the area is.
The slap of your feet on the ground below you is the most dominant sound in the game, the other being the whistling of the wind. The use of musical scores is almost nonexistent, which is rare for a modern video game. It is the voices that are truly interesting. Although speech is minimal you do witness the characters speaking full sentences, however the language is a deformed version of Japanese and although basic pieces will be understood much of it isn’t.
The canvas is beautifully painted in every area it needs to be and it all helps build on a truly brilliant and unforgettable experience.

The visual look in the game has provided influence to several pieces that have occurred since its 2001 release. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess shows obvious nods to the graphical style and was released five years after Ico. Twilight Princess did not create the emotions that Ico exceeded in doing however, which is the same with the other games that have mimicked the visual style of it. The exception is the prequel to the game, Shadow of the Colossus. Although it is more like a traditional video game all the elements combine yet again to compliment each other in a way that makes the player emote.

Fallout 3

“Effective game design can yield spaces that encourage our exploration, provide resources for our struggles for dominance, evoke powerful emotions and encourage playfulness and sociability. This art owes much to previous traditions, including those of painting, architecture and urban design, but it also takes advantage of the unique properties of emerging digital media. Games have always been an art of contested spaces; video and digital games have now pushed that art to a new level of aesthetic accomplishment.”19

Fallout 3 is one of the best examples of an epic game and is also one of the games that match all the criteria listed above for “effective game design”. Although other RPGs have the implementation of side stories there are only a select few that have them in such a fashion as Fallout 3, a game that takes place in a post apocalyptic Washington D.C.

Narrative and Gameplay
You experience your first moments of life, being born. This occurs up until a complication which sees you wheeled out of the room. You are not aware what is occurring around you or where you are. Throughout the whole game you only know as much as the protagonist knows, every new piece of information learnt is a shock to the character and the player.
What is truly intriguing about the game is how the narrative unfolds. There is a main story arc, yet, much like in epic literature, there is a large collection of side stories. Their only true benefit is to help you understand your surroundings and the history of the destroyed land you live in. Each of these stories has a beginning and an end yet they do not hold a vast importance to the game overall, much like many side stories in literature.

The amount of emotion the player begins to feel for his world is highlighted by the opportunity to do almost anything. You can play the game helping the innocent and destroying the villains, you can be one of the villains that seek out the torture of the innocent. Most of your actions will be met with an alternative way to go about them. Much like Ico, the gameplay in Fallout 3 provides a deeper experience for the overall game than would be possible in another medium, because of the player being forced to make these choices.

Visuals and Audio
Visually the game is impressive just for the vast nature of it. Much like Ico again, it can be admired as a work of art just by watching with no physical input.
However it is the little things that really add to it that other mediums would struggle to represent. The architecture of the world is forever changing, the colours of the landscape, the grazing animals, the unique building design that, in some cases, modifies existing work. This list can continue all the way down to the radio stations updating themselves as the game progresses.

It is realism portrayed at its very best. Every piece of programming that went into this game helps provide a living breathing world that the player can appreciate and experience in an entertaining way, yet at the same time also admire. It is a work of spatial and architectural art. You are encouraged to explore the area and socialise with the people that surround you, through exploration you may discover a new side story, or just a building containing a place to rest. It is a level of escapism that begins to feel real, that makes you want to escape it because of how lifelike it looks and feels.

Conclusion

It has been highlighted that the classification of art is about opinion.
This is much like the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
It can be believed that the reason more people object to video games as an art form than they do film is that it is much harder to come into contact with the more artistic games. Gaming requires some form of skill and if you don’t have it, or the time to learn it, you will not witness all the aspects of what you are playing. Thus you will never see it as art, or at least not as it was intended.
The arrival of the Nintendo Wii has sparked a large interest in video games that are purely for entertainment or education. As these games rise in popularity it seems that others trying to push the medium as an art form are being ignored. With this happening companies have had to change the type of games they make or make them more appealing to a wider audience, thus losing some of their artistic qualities.

Video games certainly can be classed as having artistic merits and as time progresses they shall be accepted by a wider audience. With the people that played games when they were younger now growing up, soon they shall have children. These children will also play games most likely because of their parents past with them. Thus as families grow so too does the respect towards the medium, or at least the amount of people consuming it. In years to come it can only be hoped that people will be able to accept video games as art and talk about them in the same sentence as masterpieces such as: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Homer’s Odyssey, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Michelangelo’s David.
Some say that video games lack the type of characters people can refer to as an artist but this is not true. The medium has several prolific characters that are just as remembered within it as their work. Metal Gear Solid will be remembered as the epic series fronted by Hideo Kojima.
Goichi Suda (Suda 51) is a charismatic character that stands out more than the ambitious work he has created (Killer7 and No More Heroes). These are just two names from a huge list of people pushing the medium in a way that has gained them recognition as well as their work.

The question was poised “Can video games be classed as an art form?”
The answer is yes.

References

1 Wolf, M.J.P.; Perron, B. eds., 2003. The Videogame Theory Reader. New York: Routledge. p.viii
2 Raessens, J.; Goldstein, J. eds., 2005 Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p.177
3 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Art. [Online] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/630806/art [Accessed January 12 2009]
4 Thompson, D. ed. The Pocket Oxford Dictionary. Revised 8th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1996. p.40
5 Barnet, S. 1997. A Short Guide to Writing About Art. 5th ed. London: Longman. p.190
6 Conversations With Artists, 1981. [Radio] BBC Radio Three, 17 March 1981
7 Quote Database. Andy Warhol. [Online] http://www.quotedb.com/quotes/3484 [Accessed March 4 2009]
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10 Wolf, M.J.P.; Perron, B. eds., 2003. The Videogame Theory Reader. New York: Routledge. Page vii-viii
11 Wolf, M.J.P. ed., 2001. The Medium of the Video Game. Texas: University of Texas Press p.30
12 IGN. GDC 09: Ueda, Suda 51 and Fallout 3’s Lead Designer Speak [Online] (Posted March 25 2009) http://uk.ps3.ign.com/articles/966/966333p3.html [Accessed March 26 2009]
13 Roger Ebert Official Website. Why did the chicken cross the genders? [Online] (Posted November 27 2005) http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=answerman&date=20051127 [Accessed January 7 2009]
14 Kotaku. Kojima Says “Games Are Not Art”. [Online] (Posted January 14 2006) http://kotaku.com/gaming/kojima/kojima-says-games-are-not-art-150043.php [Accessed January 12 2009]
15 King, L. ed., 2002. Game On. Jenkins, H.; Squire, K. Chapter – The Art of Contested Spaces. London: Barbican. p.65.
16 Wired. Behind the Shadow: Fumito Ueda [Online] (Posted March 9 2006) http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/03/70286 [Accessed January 15 2009]
17 Edge. Hellboy Director Talks Gaming (Posted August 26 2008) http://www.edge-online.com/magazine/hellboy-director-talks-gaming [Accessed January 15 2009]
18 Scullion, C. Video Game Journalist. Survey About Video Games as Art. January 2009 (further details in Appendix 3)
19King, L. ed., 2002. Game On. Jenkins, H.; Squire, K. Chapter – The Art of Contested Spaces. London: Barbican. p.75.

Abstract

“Before the invention of writing, there was only storytelling and oral ballads. The written stories were a new art form spawned by a new technology (writing). Perhaps the oral balladeers scoffed at the time. But from our perspective in a literate culture, there is skill, technique, and yes, an art, to piling word on word to make a novel or a poem. Likewise, from a perspective slowly emerging, there is not only skill and technique but also an art to piling bit on bit to make a video game.”1

Despite video games being around for the last four decades people are still hesitant to accept them as anything more than entertainment.
I plan to explore the possibility of the medium being something more, as well as exploring its artistic merits.

Introduction

In the beginning there were two lines fighting an endless war between each other, a single pixel crossing back and forth between them.
This was Pong, the game that truly thrust video games into the light of the world.
Since then games have evolved at an alarming rate, from simple lines and dots to complex polygons. Developers now have choice in what they create, some will be reminiscent towards the minimalist style of the Pong era, and others will try to create a faithful interpretation of the world around us. What a video game creator can now do is astounding considering the limitations they had just under four decades ago.

The public’s acceptance of video games is a curious one; despite more and more of the world’s population having played one, especially since the release of the Nintendo Wii, there is still the view that it is nothing but a child’s toy. This perception means that people remain unaware of how games have become more than going from A to B or performing a certain action. Despite knowledge of how it may look visually, they are unaware of the progression of the narrative, acting, direction and a lot more which has seen the video game medium progress at a faster rate than its counterpart, film.

Film, like video games, also suffered from a widespread public view that it was little more than entertainment. They were sceptical of “claims about cinema for many of the same reasons contemporary critics dismiss games – they were suspicious of cinema’s commercial motivations and technological origins.”2
This stance has now changed and people accept it as something more than pieces made for commercial reasons.

Games, unlike film, require the consumer to commit a physical input and mental output to progress through it. They need skill and talent to see everything that is at offer. Does gaming’s need for physical and mental output mean that games are just a toy or can they be something more?

Can video games be a form of ‘Art’?

Chapter One – What is an Art Form?

As ‘Art’ is a difficult word to pin down; defining it is a complex task. The Encyclopaedia Britannica calls it:

“A visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination.”3

However, that interpretation would mean that anything aural cannot be classed as art. Music lovers and critics would argue this point and they would be right to.

The Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges aural art by describing it as:

“Branches of creative activity concerned with the production of imaginative designs, sounds or ideas. E.g. painting, music, writing.”4

With this interpretation of the word you could certainly class works of moving images as art, maybe even video games.
“One criterion held that the more realistic the work – the closer it resembled what the eye saw – the better.”5 This has been challenged by trends such as cubism, surrealism and many more which portrayed on the ‘canvas’ something that was far removed from what was actually seen by the human eye.
There are then the critics that believe that art is about the artist showing us a world through their vision. Listing what critics do believe and don’t believe is a futile task. Whereas one will strongly oppose the acceptance of modernism, another will embrace it with open arms. These clashes in opinion have been there for lifetimes and will be there for many more.
Research shows that not even the public seems to be able to agree. From a survey conducted with 110 people of mixed ages, responses on the perception of art varied from “The appeal to the emotions of the “receiver” through any of their senses,” to “something pleasing on the eye.”

In the past two centuries the world has seen technological advancements that people could not have predicted. Film managed to grab the public’s attention from the conception of it, although at first it was little more than a novelty.
The length of the pieces did not help it shake this status quickly as most of them lasted a minute or less and were nothing more than a passing amusement, a crudely shot skit. As time progressed the films became longer, a sense of narrative began to be told which, although basic, was progressing. Within twenty years of its invention it was possible to portray a more thoughtful narrative than the skits that appeared in early cinema. However there were still several problems with the medium. None of the problems were as important, however, as the lack of sound. It wasn‘t until the late 1920’s that films began to have this feature and as soon as they did another dimension was added to them. This problem also occurred in video games. There was no true sound for several years, just simple beeps.

During this time in film the emergence of art cinema began to develop and was put into the view of a mainstream audience beautifully by DW Griffith’s Intolerance.
Critics will argue what is and isn’t art cinema. Whereas some will say it is an independent film others will say it is any film that holds artistic merit, which will yet again be whatever the critic considers art. This highlights the important point about art: nobody can agree.

What people generally agree on is that in the past century of artists it is Andy Warhol that is one of the most memorable. His views and opinions have been often quoted yet it is what he thought about art that is truly interesting. Although it was hard to know when he was being serious and when he wasn’t (his numerous versions of the line about people’s “fifteen minutes of fame,” for example) his quotations about art and artists are still something worth looking into.
An interview excerpt from him when the pop art trend was still fairly new saw him commenting on how it is nothing more than apparently “liking things”6.

It can be argued that the best critic for a piece of art is the artist themselves. Warhol stated that “An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he, for some reason, thinks it would be a good idea to give them.”7 This could not be truer, anybody can call themselves an artist and there comes a point where anyone can class something as art. The art world has gotten to the stage that a childish doodle from a three year old could be called art.

Some strongly believe that art is something created to provoke an emotion or thought. Much like every other opinion on art this opinion is obviously opposed. Clive Barker, the writer, whose work has spanned numerous mediums including video games, film and literature, shares the view that art is something to provoke a feeling. He stated:

“We can debate what art is, we can debate it forever. But if the experience moves you, some way or another, even if it just moves your bowels, I think it’s worthy of some serious study.”8

These words were fuelled as a response to American film critic Roger Ebert and his comments on video games. He later responded to what Barker said.

“Barker is right that we can debate art forever. I mentioned that a Campbell’s soup could be art. I was imprecise. Actually, it is Andy Warhol’s painting of the label that is art. Would Warhol have considered Clive Barker’s video game “Undying” as art? Certainly. He would have kept it in its shrink-wrapped box, placed it inside a Plexiglas display case, mounted it on a pedestal, and labelled it “Video Game.”9

From Ebert’s statement it is obvious what one of his opinions on art is. He seems to consider art as something physical that we do not interact with, something that is there that we witness and nothing else.

Chapter Two – Video Games as Art

“It is hard to say what ranks lower on the artistic food chain than video games. Comic books? TV sit-coms? X-rated films? These rat like vermin at the bottom scurry to avoid the thunderous footfalls of the towering behemoths of the art world. Everyone knows that:

– Violinists, conductors and composers are real artists.
– Novelists, poets and playwrights are real artists.
– Painters, photographers, and filmmakers are real artists.

But video-game designers? Is that even art?”10

Ebert’s comments in the last chapter are an excerpt that is far more than a casual conversation about art; it is a debate about video games as an art form. The comment above helps highlight the fact he is not the only one to think like this, and that unfortunately the medium is viewed by many as a form of entertainment and nothing else.
Still, since video games have become dominant in the market, some did notice its artistic merits:

“Besides coinciding with trends in art and a growing public interest in computer technology, the video game fit in popular culture as well, finding a place in the arcade next to pinball machines, and at home on the television. The video game, then, was perhaps the most commercially successful combination of art and technology to emerge in the early 1970s.”11

The fact that it was the most successful may not warrant its consideration as an art form, yet because video games began and coincided with one of the most popular art trends at the time is something that has to be admired.
Many comparisons may be drawn upon the likes of Pong and other games from the era with the works of various minimalist artists, such as Jo Baer. The vast nothing that can be seen on the screen in the game with only a handful of markings matches what is seen with numerous works of minimalist art.
Although it could be argued that Pong only had its appearance due to technological limitations it cannot be ignored that they matched the trend, whether through choice or not.

Much has changed since the 1970’s however. Technology has advanced and games have become more than just a handful of lines scattered across a screen. Real life can now be replicated, if so desired, by the creators. The amount of artistic possibilities that are open to game designers rivals any other artist. It can be aural, visual, and even physical. In fact video games have progressed in a way that can match almost all trends in art now, from realism to abstract, minimalist to pop. They are trying to muscle their way into the acceptance of the art world as much as they can and have been trying for years. Many developers are asked about their games as an art form. Suda 51 is a game creator many enthusiasts believe creates work that pushes the medium. He stated that if a developer “set out to try and create art, that would be incredibly difficult. It’s up to people to decide if it’s art or not.”12

When something tries to be accepted as a form of art, as the former chapter stated, there will always be those against its acceptance. Video games are no exception, as Ebert argues.

“I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art.”13

Ebert has admitted his limited knowledge of the medium, his area of expertise being film. The perception he holds on video games is comparable to a carpenter making a chest of drawers. The drawers may look aesthetically pleasing but is there any true artistic merit? Most carpenters will accept their work holds no artistic merit, some however will not.

This is exactly the same in the world of video games. Hideo Kojima is a well respected game designer and his work is what many will hold up in retaliation to claims of games not being a form of art. Kojima however has a viewpoint that emulates that of Ebert’s.

“The thing is, art is something that radiates the artist, the person who creates that piece of art. If 100 people walk by and a single person is captivated by whatever that piece radiates, it’s art. But videogames aren’t trying to capture one person. A videogame should make sure that all 100 people that play that game should enjoy the service provided by that videogame. It’s something of a service. It’s not art. But I guess the way of providing service with that videogame is an artistic style, a form of art.”14

Does an artist truly only create work to radiate themselves? Analysing the work through the lifetime of some artists will show that a small percentage will begin issuing pieces that are almost a fan service. You could argue that some of the work from the pop art trend was little more than this, a nod to those that liked a certain form of work. Still, the most important issue to raise is “are all video games created to be liked by everyone that plays them?”
The answer is quite simply “no”. The creation of a first person shooter would be created without really caring if a fan of a role playing game found the game stimulating or not. It is rare that a game is created with the intent of making every single person that plays it like it, simply because most genres are limited to a certain fanbase, much like in film and literature.

Certain genres, such as sport games, will be made with the intention of appealing to fans of the sport, they will not try to branch out to people who like other genres because the fanbase of their sport should be enough to warrant sales. Sport games are a key genre that focuses on entertainment. Their artistic merit could be placed down to their visuals but they are very limited and it would be a stretch to class them as art, much like it would be to try and class the sport as art.
Still, the games do hold one vital aspect every video game contains, and that is escapism. Some video games are such intense forms of escapism now that you want to escape from them. Some even offer an escape within them. For example Grand Theft Auto IV allows the player to go play a game of pool if their life of crime is beginning to become too stressful. There is no real benefit to doing this task; it’s just a form of escapism within the game, from the game.

Despite many video games only caring about commercial success, entertainment, escapism and nothing else, much like in the film industry, there are certain ones that do hold many artistic conventions.

Some hold a portrayal of war comparable to that seen in films such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now. There are even pieces that are comparable to the deep and moving narratives seen in the best pieces of literature. Whether it is an epic story like Lord of the Rings or a deep personal story such as Catcher in the Rye, video games can create anything another medium can.
Yet it is more than this that helps back up the argument about the acceptance of the medium as a form of art.

“Most often, critics discuss games as a narrative art, as interactive cinema or participatory storytelling. But perhaps we should consider another starting point, viewing games as a spatial art with its roots in architecture, landscape, painting, sculpture, gardening or amusement park design.”15

The architecture of games is often an element overlooked upon the initial consumption. A player may be struck with awe by the vastness of a location but, from an average consumers perspective, it is rare they will notice how beautifully constructed their surroundings are. What is shown on screen may be a reconstruction of what is seen in real life, much like in The Getaway, which creates an almost perfect replica of London. However more often than not what we see is unique. We see structures that are a marvel for numerous reasons, not just because of how they look but because they are something that would not be possible to create in the real world. This then means that the structure itself could be considered a work of art, without even considering the argument of whether the game it is in is one.

The use of space in gaming is also very important and helps it tick another box for another type of art. Whereas in film you will see epic locations, in video games you get to truly observe the areas. You can sit there and watch the water splash off of the rocks at the bottom of a waterfall, the wind fluttering the leaves of a tree, or, at another extreme, a volcano erupting and buildings being destroyed by bombs.
With these wide open spaces however comes the biggest argument by critics against video games’ acceptance as art: a video game is painted not by the artist but the consumer. Even though the creator will make the world around the player exist and create every detail, even how the player moves when they do control it.
Many argue that the player has far too much choice and interaction, meaning if anybody is the artist then it is the player. For example, someone playing a game could decide to make the character spin on the spot for 3 hours. Still, this would all have been programmed into the game and it is comparable with the likes of installations, which let the viewer enter the art and sometimes even interact with it. Video games always have a set goal; an objective to achieve or a way to get from A to B. This has been programmed by the team behind the game and there is no way to change that. There may be alternate outcomes and alternate ways to get there but everything you witness is pre-programmed.

Games can have significant amounts of artistic input. Cut scenes create something that, depending on how it is done, allows the camera to be controlled like it would be in a film. In many games nowadays the direction of these is on par with some of the best films. Even if the game does not change to predetermined cameras and what you see is from the perspective of who you are playing (something that is often the case in first person games) direction occurs in what the character takes in and what happens in the scene. For example, if you have just discovered a mountain the game will take control as the artist and show you the mountain how it wants you to see it. On some occasions however, first person games give the player the option to wander around the area whilst a scene takes place. This makes you feel like you are part of the unfolding events even more. Still, the player is just given a fake level of control. They may get to do what they want but this is only for a limited time, it can be compared to viewing a painting.

If someone wanted to, they could view the Mona Lisa with one eye closed whilst standing sideways and squinting. It would mean the Mona Lisa would be viewed in a manner that was not intended or thought of by the artist. Yet at some point they would have to view the work normally, and that is when Da Vinci will have his painting viewed the way he wanted.

The narrative possible in a video game is also far greater than what is achievable in film. RPG’s are a perfect example of this. The main story arc normally lasts between 10-20 hours, but there are then countless side stories which, in a well made game, help create a more three dimensional world and also help create more three dimensional characters. The best examples will have you feeling like you are living in the world: you will have a sense of remorse when your actions see you destroy something you rather wouldn’t and a sense of joy when you make amends.

The aural possibilities of video games are also an area that should not be ignored. A game can score itself similar to a film, opera or theatre work, or it can try and create a completely natural world, void of any sound other than what you would hear in real life.
By the late 1990’s it had become the status quo to have voices in video games. A huge advancement on the previously mentioned beeps. As time has developed the quality of the voices have improved. What began as cheesy melodramatic speech reminiscent of the over the top acting in early film, as witnessed in the likes of Loom, has changed. Now video game voice acting is regarded as highly as acting in any other medium. Many prestigious actors have lent their vocal talent to pieces, such as Christopher Lee in Kingdom Hearts II and Patrick Stewart in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Even the lesser known actors give a performance that shows it is a medium that is being taken seriously.


Chapter Three – Significant Games in the Medium

The most important pieces of art in history from critics and respected publications will mostly include a list of paintings and sculptures. On the rare occasion they will contain a piece of architecture, on an even rarer occasion they would contain film.
On no occasion would they contain video games.

There has always been a certain level of snobbery within the art community when new forms of art appear.
Although video games have had artistic qualities since their beginnings can any of them actually be classed as works of art?
From what has previously been discussed the simple answer you would expect would be “yes”, but which games and why?
Like film not every game can be classed as a work of art. Yet it seems that artistic games garner more press coverage than many art films could ever hope to. They are embraced by the gaming community, even if sales, much like the viewings of art films, are underwhelming.

What follows is a look at three games in a more in depth manner and reasoning as to why they can be accepted as art. All of these have picked up at least one game of the year award.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

As mentioned in the previous chapter, video games have portrayed war in a manner that rivals what has been seen in artistic war films such as Apocalypse Now. One of the best examples of this is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a game in which you witness warfare in a way that has been portrayed before, but never with such impressive artistic elements.

Narrative and Gameplay
The narrative of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is its strong point, from the very second the game begins you feel like you are actually being trained as part of the Special Forces. The way you have to go through a training camp to prove your worth accompanied with the progression of your character throughout, from rookie to hero, is realistic and paced well. What is more interesting is the use of multiple narrative points of view through the game. The opening credits put you in the point of view of the leader of an unnamed Middle Eastern country being led to your own execution. As you are driven through the city you witness the apparent jubilation on what you discover to be your own demise. This is a key plot element which is later seen from another perspective, being watched by the lead character Soap and his seniors on television.

There are numerous scenes that truly rival what is seen in films yet the one to study the most is what many would perceive as the most moving piece in the game. You are Sergeant Paul Jackson, a member of the US Marines and the control of him has been yours for multiple hours by this point. After a nuclear explosion brings down your helicopter you awaken inside the wreckage. Slowly you pull yourself out of the helicopter and collapse to the ground below. Looking around you see your fallen comrades lying motionless as you slowly try to etch yourself forward. The city is destroyed and aflame. Your eyes begin to see a bright light.
The death of Jackson is a shock and a truly moving piece of scripting and direction. It has an even bigger impact on the player because of their involvement with the character through the game thus far. It has provided a connection that would not have been possible in another medium.

Visuals and Audio
The visuals in the game are stunning; it is realism at its finest. It’s the subtle things though, much like a good piece of art, which truly makes the game beautiful. As stated previously, the direction in the scene which shows the death of Jackson is just as captivating as how it is written. The red hue of your surroundings, with litter and debris floating past you, accompanied by the sound of breaking radio transmissions and the characters grunts of pain creates a piece of art that makes you emote. You feel because you are seeing it from the perspective of the person yet it is more than that.
Even when taken out of the context of the main game, the scene is still an exquisite tale of someone’s last moments alive. It is just as moving as the representation could be in any other art form, if not more.

Ico

“It isn’t a video game — a conventional video game has things like a life meter or other icons on the screen. Ico doesn’t have these things.”16

Ico, by many, would be considered the first art game to gain recognition from a mass audience. There have been video games that could be considered art before but Ico is a game that people that work in the industry or follow the industry consider a masterpiece. Guillermo Del Toro, the famous film director, stated that “There are only two games I consider masterpieces: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.”17 To gain recognition from people that have an occupation in another medium shows the impact it has created.

Narrative and Gameplay
The story of Ico is fairly simplistic, almost something lifted from a fairy tale. It is the way that the story and gameplay combine though that truly makes the game remarkable. You are Ico, a young boy that has been outcast from his village because of the belief you are a bad omen. You explore the castle you are abandoned in and stumble across a young girl named Yorda.
It is this simple premise that is the basis for the game. For hours you spend your time with Yorda as your companion, holding hands as you navigate your way through the castle in the hope that you will escape. As your freedom seems within seconds of you, whilst crossing a bridge leading to land, a tremor occurs and the bridge begins to withdraw, with Ico on one side and Yorda on the other. Ico jumps but doesn’t make it to the side of the bridge Yorda is on and looks likely to fall to what can only be believed as his doom. Yet you are caught, by Yorda. The hours of gameplay that you have put in so far have seen you helping her to get up to hard of reach places or lifting her up after a jump across a gap. Through this one moment alone, without any true plot progression other than getting from one point to another, the entire mechanic of the game is turned on its head. This attempt at help highlights the bond the two have developed whilst you have been playing. Circumstances unfortunately see her drop you and you are alone for the first time in the game since you began.
You feel the loneliness the character must be feeling. Through hours of witnessing companionship you are suddenly alone; in no other medium would it be possible to have this feeling through the circumstances experienced. It is one of the most significant moments in video game history, despite a linear narrative the pacing and progression is on par with the finest pieces of literature and film.

“Ico looks lovely but it’s the emotional bond the player feels with their character’s female companion that is truly stimulating.”18

Visuals and Audio
The game looks beautiful. If someone chose to they could sit there and appreciate a still image of it as a piece of art. Your character seems like an ant in the looming architecture that surrounds you. Not only this, but you realise how void of life the area is.
The slap of your feet on the ground below you is the most dominant sound in the game, the other being the whistling of the wind. The use of musical scores is almost nonexistent, which is rare for a modern video game. It is the voices that are truly interesting. Although speech is minimal you do witness the characters speaking full sentences, however the language is a deformed version of Japanese and although basic pieces will be understood much of it isn’t.
The canvas is beautifully painted in every area it needs to be and it all helps build on a truly brilliant and unforgettable experience.

The visual look in the game has provided influence to several pieces that have occurred since its 2001 release. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess shows obvious nods to the graphical style and was released five years after Ico. Twilight Princess did not create the emotions that Ico exceeded in doing however, which is the same with the other games that have mimicked the visual style of it. The exception is the prequel to the game, Shadow of the Colossus. Although it is more like a traditional video game all the elements combine yet again to compliment each other in a way that makes the player emote.

Fallout 3

“Effective game design can yield spaces that encourage our exploration, provide resources for our struggles for dominance, evoke powerful emotions and encourage playfulness and sociability. This art owes much to previous traditions, including those of painting, architecture and urban design, but it also takes advantage of the unique properties of emerging digital media. Games have always been an art of contested spaces; video and digital games have now pushed that art to a new level of aesthetic accomplishment.”19

Fallout 3 is one of the best examples of an epic game and is also one of the games that match all the criteria listed above for “effective game design”. Although other RPGs have the implementation of side stories there are only a select few that have them in such a fashion as Fallout 3, a game that takes place in a post apocalyptic Washington D.C.

Narrative and Gameplay
You experience your first moments of life, being born. This occurs up until a complication which sees you wheeled out of the room. You are not aware what is occurring around you or where you are. Throughout the whole game you only know as much as the protagonist knows, every new piece of information learnt is a shock to the character and the player.
What is truly intriguing about the game is how the narrative unfolds. There is a main story arc, yet, much like in epic literature, there is a large collection of side stories. Their only true benefit is to help you understand your surroundings and the history of the destroyed land you live in. Each of these stories has a beginning and an end yet they do not hold a vast importance to the game overall, much like many side stories in literature.

The amount of emotion the player begins to feel for his world is highlighted by the opportunity to do almost anything. You can play the game helping the innocent and destroying the villains, you can be one of the villains that seek out the torture of the innocent. Most of your actions will be met with an alternative way to go about them. Much like Ico, the gameplay in Fallout 3 provides a deeper experience for the overall game than would be possible in another medium, because of the player being forced to make these choices.

Visuals and Audio
Visually the game is impressive just for the vast nature of it. Much like Ico again, it can be admired as a work of art just by watching with no physical input.
However it is the little things that really add to it that other mediums would struggle to represent. The architecture of the world is forever changing, the colours of the landscape, the grazing animals, the unique building design that, in some cases, modifies existing work. This list can continue all the way down to the radio stations updating themselves as the game progresses.

It is realism portrayed at its very best. Every piece of programming that went into this game helps provide a living breathing world that the player can appreciate and experience in an entertaining way, yet at the same time also admire. It is a work of spatial and architectural art. You are encouraged to explore the area and socialise with the people that surround you, through exploration you may discover a new side story, or just a building containing a place to rest. It is a level of escapism that begins to feel real, that makes you want to escape it because of how lifelike it looks and feels.

Conclusion

It has been highlighted that the classification of art is about opinion.
This is much like the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
It can be believed that the reason more people object to video games as an art form than they do film is that it is much harder to come into contact with the more artistic games. Gaming requires some form of skill and if you don’t have it, or the time to learn it, you will not witness all the aspects of what you are playing. Thus you will never see it as art, or at least not as it was intended.
The arrival of the Nintendo Wii has sparked a large interest in video games that are purely for entertainment or education. As these games rise in popularity it seems that others trying to push the medium as an art form are being ignored. With this happening companies have had to change the type of games they make or make them more appealing to a wider audience, thus losing some of their artistic qualities.

Video games certainly can be classed as having artistic merits and as time progresses they shall be accepted by a wider audience. With the people that played games when they were younger now growing up, soon they shall have children. These children will also play games most likely because of their parents past with them. Thus as families grow so too does the respect towards the medium, or at least the amount of people consuming it. In years to come it can only be hoped that people will be able to accept video games as art and talk about them in the same sentence as masterpieces such as: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Homer’s Odyssey, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Michelangelo’s David.
Some say that video games lack the type of characters people can refer to as an artist but this is not true. The medium has several prolific characters that are just as remembered within it as their work. Metal Gear Solid will be remembered as the epic series fronted by Hideo Kojima.
Goichi Suda (Suda 51) is a charismatic character that stands out more than the ambitious work he has created (Killer7 and No More Heroes). These are just two names from a huge list of people pushing the medium in a way that has gained them recognition as well as their work.

The question was poised “Can video games be classed as an art form?”
The answer is yes.

References

1 Wolf, M.J.P.; Perron, B. eds., 2003. The Videogame Theory Reader. New York: Routledge. p.viii
2 Raessens, J.; Goldstein, J. eds., 2005 Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p.177
3 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Art. [Online] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/630806/art [Accessed January 12 2009]
4 Thompson, D. ed. The Pocket Oxford Dictionary. Revised 8th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1996. p.40
5 Barnet, S. 1997. A Short Guide to Writing About Art. 5th ed. London: Longman. p.190
6 Conversations With Artists, 1981. [Radio] BBC Radio Three, 17 March 1981
7 Quote Database. Andy Warhol. [Online] http://www.quotedb.com/quotes/3484 [Accessed March 4 2009]
8 Gamasutra. Clive Barker Talks Games As Art, Jericho [Online] (Posted June 27 2007) http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=14478 [Accessed January 8 2009]
9 Roger Ebert Official Website. Games vs. Art: Ebert vs. Barker. [Online] (Posted July 21 2007) http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070721/COMMENTARY/70721001 [Accessed January 7 2009]
10 Wolf, M.J.P.; Perron, B. eds., 2003. The Videogame Theory Reader. New York: Routledge. Page vii-viii
11 Wolf, M.J.P. ed., 2001. The Medium of the Video Game. Texas: University of Texas Press p.30
12 IGN. GDC 09: Ueda, Suda 51 and Fallout 3’s Lead Designer Speak [Online] (Posted March 25 2009) http://uk.ps3.ign.com/articles/966/966333p3.html [Accessed March 26 2009]
13 Roger Ebert Official Website. Why did the chicken cross the genders? [Online] (Posted November 27 2005) http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=answerman&date=20051127 [Accessed January 7 2009]
14 Kotaku. Kojima Says “Games Are Not Art”. [Online] (Posted January 14 2006) http://kotaku.com/gaming/kojima/kojima-says-games-are-not-art-150043.php [Accessed January 12 2009]
15 King, L. ed., 2002. Game On. Jenkins, H.; Squire, K. Chapter – The Art of Contested Spaces. London: Barbican. p.65.
16 Wired. Behind the Shadow: Fumito Ueda [Online] (Posted March 9 2006) http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/03/70286 [Accessed January 15 2009]
17 Edge. Hellboy Director Talks Gaming (Posted August 26 2008) http://www.edge-online.com/magazine/hellboy-director-talks-gaming [Accessed January 15 2009]
18 Scullion, C. Video Game Journalist. Survey About Video Games as Art. January 2009 (further details in Appendix 3)
19King, L. ed., 2002. Game On. Jenkins, H.; Squire, K. Chapter – The Art of Contested Spaces. London: Barbican. p.75.

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My first 5 minutes with Star Trek Online… and beyond

January 17, 2010

Riveting stuff.

Spellbound by the graphics I am.

Anyway, onto a few moments with the game. I made someone affectionately nicknamed Jimmy with the name James Tyrone Kempton of the U.S.S. Ashburton.

I just made the most useless looking guy I could think of.

As with every MMORPG the writing is genuinely top notch and doesn’t bore me to death at all.


Gaming news in Brief 14/1/2010

January 15, 2010

It’s brief, it’s gaming news, it’s gaming news in brief:

New Super Mario Bros for the Wii outsold the combined sales of Modern Warfare 2 in America during December. This information is from the statistics of the North American market research company the NPD Group.

Mario shifted 2.82m copies whereas Modern Warfare only managed 2.75m. An impressive victory for the stout plumber and friends that will no doubt leave the Nintendo executives very happy.

Google Android Market, the main competitor to the iStore in the mobile world, has ran into rebellion from game developers because of a bizarre rule. If a customer purchases an app from the market that is worth less than £7 on their credit card and then questions the charge on their bill… Google will refund them the money.

However this is not the cause of the rebellion, the rebellion comes from Google also charging the developer a £5 fee if the card holder queries the purchase.
This has led to Russian mobile game company HeroCraft offering the games directly from their WAP site and bypassing the market, an option other developers may choose to follow.

– The U.K had it’s release date confirmed for the Dsi XL as March 5th 2010. Some cheered, I let out a slight sigh at the constant tinkering of Nintendo handhelds that seem to always get money out of the consumer.

– I Am Alive, the highly promising yet very allusive survival game from Ubisoft has been the first major casualty of the year, being pushed back in 2011.

– Gran Turismo 5 has been delayed even more.. “it better be amazing” thinks every Playstation owner.

I am working on something for the site at the moment and have had a few problems with it. Once I get into the swing of things I will be able to start pumping out the news far more regularly and may very well begin a “report as it happens” style, but that shall only occur once I’ve tried other avenues.


The gaming day in review 1/1/2010

January 12, 2010

With CES last week it is to be expected that Monday would be a slow news day. It did not disappoint, which is rather unfortunate really.

Trawling through numerous websites to try and uncover something tantalising I did the best job I could to bring you some interesting titbits of gaming news.

– The weekend offered numerous points of interest, especially with the apparent leak of concept art for the new ‘Need for Speed’ game being developed by Criterion (the developers of Burnout).
However it was quickly tweeted down by the company’s twitter account which declared the information to be 100% fake. So the question must be asked “why would you take the time to fake concept art for a franchise that has been dying for years?” One of life’s mystery’s I suppose.

Nintendo will be happy to see DSiWare crawled over the line into triple digits with the amount of games and apps released for it in North America. To celebrate consumers were treated with ‘Touch Solitaire’, ‘Jazzy Billiards’ and ‘Word Searcher’. It’s nice to see it hit 100 but I’m sure those are three games that nobody will be in a hurry to download… although it would be nice to own a game with the word ‘jazzy’ in the title.

– ‘Armoured Core 5′ was announced… that’s all the news I have for this, no platform has been announced but the game is being planned to touch down in Japan later this year.

2K Boston of ‘Bioshock’ and “being bought out by Take-Two” fame has changed its name back to Irrational Games, the moniker it had before their acquisition. Nothing else shall be affected by this move, so there is no reason for the general consumer to care. Still, it’s nice for founder Ken Levine to be able to honour the legacy of a company that have been at the helm of some brilliant projects.

– ‘Muramasa’, the extremely beautiful Wii game from the makers of ‘Odin Sphere’ and ‘GrimGrimoire’ is performing as expected in Europe according to publishers Rising Star. Hopefully the sales shall continue along the positive route, although it did worry me when I was working in a Gamestation in Leeds over Christmas that we didn’t seem to get one copy in, which makes it even more impressive that the game is on course to reach its sales target.

‘Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers’ for the Wii has been popping up in bargain bins over in Japan of late. Here in Europe we’ve still got just under month to wait before we can play the title so it’s quick plummet to the depths of bargain bins is slightly concerning and potentially damaging to how it will sell over here.
It looks to be an interesting take on the Final Fantasy series, but it is a take that has not been favourable with the die hard crowd it seems. It touches down here on the 5th February.

That is the news summary for the day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings.
‘Army of Two: The 40th Day’ and ‘Dark Void’ are this weeks big releases on Friday. The former is looking particularly fun although ‘Dark Void’ seems to be one huge disappointment judging from the demo and the build I played at Euro Gamer.


Snippets from the Charles Cecil Eurogamer Expo 2009 Developer Session

October 28, 2009

It was a nice feeling, finding out that a video game convention was to be held in my new home town, and the feeling became joy as the list of games and develop sessions were announced.
Arriving at the expo slightly late, due to numerous reasons, I was worried that the fairly epic queue would prevent me from seeing the one session that truly interested me.

If you were to draw up a list of people to admire in the games industry Charles Cecil deserves a spot very high in the rankings. The man is a genius that has been behind some of the most memorable games ever created (Broken Sword, Beneath a Steel Sky)
Luckily, despite getting into the expo 5 minutes after his talk should have started, I was able to get in and listen to his words.

Not only that, but I captured it on a small digital camera, shaking all over the place, for the internet community to see.
I am sorry about the quality of the recording, but the words said make it a worthwhile watch, or listen.


Obscure 2 demo playthrough

June 24, 2007

Here is me showing off the Obscure 2 demo from beginning to end.


Obscure 2 demo clip

June 23, 2007

A treat for those awaiting the release of the game. Contains major spoilers.