What’s so artistic about games? First I’d like to state my personal opinion that games are the most complete form of art so far (maybe because it’s the youngest). They have almost every forms described in the “different forms of art” post. They have motion pictures techniques, music, graphical arts, sounds, writing, sculpture and architecture. Obviously, one could argue that this lack of focus is its main weakness. But true masterpieces as Shadow of the Colossus, Journey or Ico shine in almost every of those aspects and deliver amazingly powerful emotions.
But if there wasn’t any additional layer above those described previously, we wouldn’t be able to qualify games as an art form in itself. Good news, I have many things to write about it.
The real deal in games is the interactivity. The player is no longer a consumer but he now is an actor. He plays (in every meanings of the term) the work of art. This has many consequences on the player’s experience:
- Fun: Gameplay is made of all the different ways of interacting with the game (you can get a longer definition in Wikipedia). This is what creates fun when playing games. I highly recommend the reading of Raph Koster’s “Theory of fun”, which explores the way games create fun in the player’s mind.
- A sense of responsibility: Many games play with the fact that the player has some choices to make, that have consequences for the rest of the game. Games such as The Witcher, Heavy Rain, Mass Effect, Fallout, Deus Ex or Grand Theft Auto. The player can then feel bad about the choices he made earlier, or rather proud and happy about what his in-game choices have brought about.
- Creation: Unlike any other art form, consuming game asks the player to take part of the creation process. This can go from very few action from the player (like in Dragon’s Lair, Heavy Rain), which makes the player more like a spectator, to strong creative actions from the player (like in Minecraft). I shall speak of these different types of interactions in a future post. Some games can thus be considered more like toys than games. Should we be more radical, we could tell that full creation power to the player would make the game a toy, and no creation power would make it a movie, or something close to it. Happily enough, most of games are in-between, giving players a feeling of creating their own experience, but with a certain control from the actual game creator, and that’s exactly this complicated alchemy that makes a game a true work of art.
Some people say that a game that has (almost) no fun aspect is not a game, and I think it is indeed the main characteristic of a game (otherwise we could simply call it interactive media). And other people will say that fun is not a noble enough emotion to qualify games as art. Personally, I think this is not even to be debated, so I won’t argue about it.
Next, I’ll talk about specific games with respect to everything I have tried to define in the first posts of my blog. See you then!