Sunday, February 14, 2010

Artsy smartsy, gamey wamey

I saw a discussion online about video games, if they can be art, if story is important, and such like that. Well actually I have been hearing discussions like that for a while in various places, so I thought I would share my views on the subject, even if no one is here to share to.

First of all, yes, video games can be art. ANYTHING can be art. I think wikipedia says it best: "Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions." Or, in other words, art is about invoking an experience or idea though different mediums. It is an act of reflection of experience or ideas. Thus video games can be as much art as anything else.

The problem that occurs is, most modern video games are a blend of classic game elements, and non-game fictional elements, which often have very little impact on each other. It gets so bad sometimes that the game and the story can effectively been seen as two totally different things. You can effectively often skip all a games story bits, and then look at ONLY the games story bits, or visa versa without either one seeming excessively out of contest. In other words, you might as well make a game with the gameplay and a movie or use other medium of storytelling with the story, without either one being really all that different. Thus some people refer to the "game" as only the game parts and discard the story as a tacked on element (It should be noted, even in a pure gameplay perspective, games STILL can be art -- People can and have used gameplay elements as a point in themselves).

This is not necessarily the case however. There are cases where a game and it's story are very closely related. You can for instance use the form of a game as a storytelling medium. In this case most of the time a storyteller will use a game to invoke sympathy and understanding in a character's plight. It is one thing to hear a character's hardships but another entirely to be forced, if only in a limited way, to actually go though them. This is often why video games were used for storytelling in the first place. Another reason to do this is to open a stories progression to multiple conclusions. Athough useualy seen as a way to give the players a feeling of control, it also serves a function for the story it's self. It makes the conclusions more meaningful because, for once, you can understand the alternatives, and appreciate the choice. It is no surprise that most multiple ending scenarios have a "good" ending and several "bad" ending. And when that's not the case it gives the teller a way explore multiple avenues. The thing is, while the player has the illusion of choice, and can explore themselves and others around them based on that choice, the choice it's self is often the whole point. Now you could say games that do this aren't really games. But they still involve game play, so in my mind, they count as games.

You can also do it in reverse, and have a game that uses storytelling as it's medium. This is what a real role-playing game is all about like in D&D and other tabletop games. Doing it in a VIDEO game can be tricky. However it's not entirely impossible. In this case you are given tools and story elements to build a story with, and often making the story as rich and deep as possible is the whole point.

So my point is, yes, games can be art, and story can be important. It's not always true, but it can be.

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