Dec
10
Games As Art


George RR Martin interview where he’s saying
he doesn’t consider games to be art yet. I thought we were at a point, where it was
pretty universally accepted that video games were an art form. And, by that, I don’t mean to say that elements
of art go into games, but that games themselves can be art. I think it’s important to clarify that,
because while I think there’s an art to good game design, at the end of the day, the
product might be something like Football. It’s a game, but I think most people would
accept that it’s not really art. Even though the logos themselves are works
of art, and you could argue about other elements to it. Similarly, we could take a game like Overwatch. The artists put in time creating the character
assets, each being a piece of art. The design itself was well thought through,
and constantly re-worked to make the game as fun as possible. The theme song is epic, incredible, and I
personally find it to be moving, which you could also say is a piece of art. However – the end product, even though it’s
made up of individual artistic components – is a competitive game similar to Football. Or… in the case of First Person Shooters,
a beefed up version of Tag. And yes – I do mean tag, the game you would
play with your friends as a kid… or now. I mean, that’s cool if you still play it. The point is, First Person Shooters have a
lot of similarities to this basic game mechanic, but then worked on to another level. Simalarly, while visually stunning, I wouldn’t
necessarily consider Cuphead to be art… as a game. The animations and drawings are stunning. And… yeah, I actually really enjoy the game
– but the gameplay itself and what the game overall expresses… is a little more up for
debate. Which… I’m not here to do with Cuphead. If you find the game itself to be art, that’s
fine. What I’m trying to make clear, is that I
can … somewhat understand why some people might not view games as an artform. Roger Ebert famously said he didn’t think
games were art a long time ago, and I was surprised to see George RR Martin stating
he didn’t think games were quite there yet. Which is why I want to talk about it. The goal of this video is going to be to show
various examples of games that I consider to be art… and also hopefully a video you
can use to show other people various games that are artistic expressions, so you can
just pop on a video and put this… debate that should have been over a long time ago
to bed. I imagine that most people watching this already
agree with me that games are in fact an art form. But there are some more things I want to talk
about before listing off some examples. What’s considered to be art is highly subjective. While there specific definitions:
“The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically
in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily
for their beauty or emotional power.” or
“The various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.” I think if you walk up to a random person
and ask them what they consider to be art… that answer is something that’s going to
change person by person. If you look at films, some films are considered
works of art, while others will be chalked up to entertainment for the masses… as opposed
to a piece of art. Something meant to entertain somebody… versus
an expression with a meaning behind it. Would you consider The Avengers to be a work
of art? What about The Nun? What about Scary Movie 3? What about Jack & Jill? Etc. Etc. And I’m not telling you what the answer
to that is. My only point is that everyone will have a
different answer and different line. Some will tell you all film is art, some will
think it depends on the intent, or other possible factors. So, I’m drawing up a list of games I personally
think could be inarguably considered works of art, and the reasons why. As a fair warning, there will be spoilers
for these games I discuss, as that’s important for explaining why for a fair deal of them. As such, I’ll have time stamps in the description,
so you can quickly skip past games you don’t want spoiled. This isn’t every game, just some I happen
to think are great examples, and I’d love to know examples that you have, which I haven’t
listed, once this video’s over. ——————————Braid———————————— Braid was released to Xbox Live in 2008…
and for me, it was a pivotal moment that showed me just what games were capable of in terms
of utilizing their mechanics in a meaningful artistic expression. And as Soulja Boy once famously raved: We’re with you Soulja Boy. So – as a basic premise, Braid is a puzzle
platform game where your character, Tim, travels through various levels collecting puzzle pieces
in order to put together a large puzzle on display in order to reach the final level
where he’s traveling to save the princess. Similar to a take on Mario – who needs to
travel to the final level of his platform game to save Princess Peach. There’s a catch, however… your character
can rewind time whenever you like. This means that any mistake you make… and
problem, you can solve by going back in time and fixing your mistake. At the beginning of each stage are musings
from Tim, expressing desire, frustration… and the want for forgiveness. Many gameplay mechanics introduced are interwoven
within the narrative – as an example: The first area’s theme is “Time and Forgiveness”
where Tim muses that one should be rewarded for learning from their mistakes rather than
punished for making a mistake. The gameplay mechanic introduced is rewinding
time where the player can immediately be rewarded for making a mistake. Chapter 6’s theme, “Hesitance” has Tim
talking about wearing what’s likely a wedding ring, and how it makes others hesitant to
approach him – so sometimes he’ll tuck his ring away in his pocket… and other times
put it on display… slowing down all time around it within the gameplay itself. Throughout the game… certain gaming tropes
are presented and broken… with Jonathan Blow, the creator of the game, stating his
game was a statement about the status quo of the industry. In one moment a dinosaur congratulates you
for reaching a castle, but tells Tim “The princess is in another castle”, directly
mocking Mario. In another moment, you reach the castle and
completely blow off the dinosaur. But… what truly takes the game to the next
level… is both its ending and its secrets contained within which further deepen the
story it tells. The whole time throughout the game, you’ve
been helping Tim achieve his goal of reaching his princess. The chapter “Hesitence” brings a possible
disturbing revelation: “Perhaps in a perfect world, the ring would be a symbol of happiness. It’s a sign of ceaseless devotion: even
if he will never find the Princess, he will always be trying. He still will wear the ring.” If this is a wedding ring… is Tim married
and seeking another woman? If it’s not… why is Tim wearing such a
ring when he’s “searching for his princess” so to speak. And then… you reach … chapter 1? Interestingly. And it’s what you would expect… an evil
villain has captured a princess saying “I’ve got you!” The princess runs away screaming “Help!” Tim desperately chases after the Princess
as lava comes at you both from the side. The princess activates levers that helps Tim
across deathly chasms. Eventually he’s under her house in the basement. Eventually he’s outside of her window as
she makes it indoors. Eventually… time.. just stops. The princess is sleeping. Tim is standing out of her window watching
her. And then… you begin reversing time… the
main mechanic of the game. The princess sees you and starts running away
from you. She attempts to drop a chandelier on you. She tries to stop you from climbing a ladder
to reach her. All of the platforms you thought she had raised
in order to help you … are actually platforms she’s been trying to drop in order to stop
you from reaching her. She reaches a dead end with a vine and screams
for help. The Knight yells: “Come down here!” “She calls for help and jumps into his arms. He says: “I’ve got you as he climbs away.” You were the stalker all along. All of Tim’s musings were about a girl he
had been going after without her knowledge or permission. Everything you as a player had chosen to do…
had been under a misguided pretense. And while I can explain this to you… just
like a movie or a painting… part of the art is in experiencing it. When you come to the realization of what you’ve
done… who the character you’ve been controlling is… the meaning behind everything… it
feels truly shocking. Hidden within the game are insane secrets. There’s a cloud where if you wait for 2
hours of real game time, it will slowly… very slowly… work it’s way to the edge
of a screen allowing you to get a secret star. All of these secret stars are insanely difficult
to find and collect, with my bet being you’ll probably need a guide to do so. Collect all of these, and you’ll be able
to catch the princess. Something you never should have been able
to do. She suddenly explodes and you find a secret
new area. All of this comparing her to an atomic bomb,
and humanity striving for something it never should have had… another deeper layer to
the game and meaning behind everything you’ve done. This is my own interpretations, but Jonathan
Blow has stated there are more than one interpretation to the story. But playing it, and experiencing these things,
as the game toys with the mechanics of the game and openly mocks players for collecting
secrets as something they never should have done… it truly stands out as an artistic
statement and achievement. ———————-Nier: Automata——————————— Nier: Automata released in 2017, and takes
place in a futuristic world in where you play as androids created by humans who were invented
in order to fight off against alien made robots intent on wiping out all of humanity. While all this seems fairly standard, what’s
interesting is the way the game completely twists this… and in a way only video games
could do. You see, while the surface of the game is
this struggle between two warring robotic entities – on the surface fighting for long
forgotten masters… – the androids fighting for humans, and robots fighting for aliens
– the story takes a major existential turn. Many of the robots have lost the will to fight
with the pacifist robot, PASCAL, leading this movement. The robots themselves – who were programmed
specifically to do one thing… breaking their programming and starting to act more human. Meanwhile, the androids are reborn upon death
with whatever memories they upload prior to dying. However, if they gain a new memory before
their death that ultimately changes who they are, and they aren’t able to upload this…
this new version of who they have become is lost. All of this leads to questions of what is
the purpose of their existence. Why are they gaining more thoughts? What is the point of living? Especially when it’s ironically discovered
that both the humans and aliens – their creators – have been long dead, and these androids
and robots have been continuing a war due to their programming for absolutely no reason. And, again, this sounds like a story a book
or a film could tackle… but here’s what makes it more unique in this context: There are several endings to Nier: Automata,
and finishing certain stories unlocks other stories. You’ll play through the exact same events
as different characters and gain completely new perspectives on the events unfolding based
on who you’re playing as. And it’s specifically in how you gain the
different perspectives and points of view in the game. How playing as one character will give you
one perspective of the world, and then playing as another completely twists that around. All of this as the game plays with typical
gaming conventions in order to hammer this story in. When you replay the game a 2nd time, you’ll
witness, from the perspective of another character, certain choices you made in the first game
play out. At the end of the game, you’ll face an incredibly
difficult final challenge which is near impossible to completing until you discover you can use
the aid of other players who have chosen to sacrifice their save data – the ultimate show
of beating a game – in order to help other players finish the game. A sacrifice you’re then allowed to make
as well. All of this still maintaining the theme of
what was the purpose of your life and the meaning, and how will you choose to use it. What is more impactful in this instance? Keeping that save data for your personal satisfaction? Or giving it up to legitimately aids others? ————————Shadow of the Colossus—————————- Mono has been sacrificed due to her believed
cursed destiny, and Wander – who’s connection to her we don’t know – sets off to the forbidden
land and speaks with the entity, Dormin, who according to legend can revive the dead. Dormin reveals it may be possible to revive
Mono… if the 16 idols in its temple are destroyed… by destroying the 16 colossi
roaming the forbidden land. However … Wander may also have to pay a
great price. The story of Shadow of the Colossus sounds
straight out of mythology, but what elevates it… is it’s presentation of the story. The Forbidden Land is vast and open, without
much happening between each colossus. But, on approaching a colossus, a true force
of nature greets you, and one that – just by sheer size compared to your character – seems
impossible to take on. This all leads to a huge swell of excitement
as you take on your first colossus, with the game’s music swelling to match your accomplishment
and sense of awe. Yet… on taking down the colossus… it’s
a somewhat sad ordeal. You realize maybe what you’re doing isn’t
right. Maybe there’s a good reason the idols are
sealed by these roaming giants. While some Colossi attack you immediately,
as per video game fashion, many peacefully roam until your character starts the battle. In many games, at least by this point in 2005,
when the game was released, Your violence is necessitated by self defense
as hordes of enemies rush at you. But, this brings an entirely different feel. Are you disrupting a peaceful being? Is it worth all of this to revive Mono? And you’re answered – as your body slowly
degrades away with each colossus you slay. And while in a lot of ways, this could sound
like any game, or something a movie or book could accomplish, it’s about the presentation,
as I mentioned before. Roaming the peaceful fields on your own, as
you control the character, gives you a chance to reflect on your actions. In between all of the 16 colossus you tackle,
you’re forced to once again search the lands for the next one, once again reflecting upon
what you’re doing. While a movie keeps going, and a book continues
as you read the words, your wandering of the world – and the harsh contrast presented by
your actions and interruptions of the peace that you’re creating – is something that
you’re doing entirely within the world and on your own time. While often-times entertainment mediums are
afraid to take their time, this one does, and that’s what makes it so impactful. ———————-Brothers: A Tale of
Two Sons—————————— Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released
in 2013 to various platforms… and in my opinion, hasn’t received the amount of recognition
it deserves. You play as two brothers whose father has
gotten ill, and their mother is dead. As their only surviving parent is ill, the
two decide to go on a quest to save their father by collecting water from the Tree of
Life. Everything takes place in what seems like
a traditional fantasy fairy tale setting, with your analog sticks controlling the two
brothers. One stick controls Naiee, the younger brother. Another stick controls Naia, the elder brother. This is integral to the gameplay, as the two
brothers work together to solve various puzzles. You play as they struggle together through
obstacles and challenges, and come to rely on each others skills – all controlled by
you with each joystick. They survive incredible odds and challenges
on their travels, up until Naia gets stabbed and mortally wounded. As the younger brother travels to finally
get the water to save their father… you return to find Naia dead… Like the younger brother, you truly feel this
loss. And yes, the story presents it well and in
a suitably depressing manner But it’s also thanks to the gameplay and
controls. You’ve come to rely on the elder brother
to solve many puzzles. Without him, you, and the younger brother,
both feel lost. As the player, you can no longer use the analog
stick that would control the older brother, so you feel that as a player, even you’ve
lost the ability to do something. However, as the younger brother struggles
to return home, he grows stronger for it. And with it, he begins doing things he needed
his older bother for, which all takes place on his analog stick you’d been using, making
you – as a player – feel him growing stronger with his abilities expanding. It’s a fairly short game – but it’s integration
of the gameplay and controls interwoven with the story to represent loss and growth are
something that no other medium could do, and are used to present a story and feeling in
a way only a video game could do. —————————Metal Gear Solid
2——————————————— Imagine you were a big fan of Rocky when you
saw it. Then, trailers come out for Rocky 2… it
looks like it’ll be even better than the first and you’re super excited about it. All of the trailers showcase Rocky boxing,
and the posters reinforce this. Then … you show up to the theater and it
begins with an exciting match only for Rocky to die. Suddenly, you start following a new character,
completely different and never shown before or advertised. This is exactly what Metal Gear Solid 2 did. It played off of the hype of the first game,
with players excited for the sequel to the highly successful Metal Gear Solid from the
Playstation 1. Not only that, but Metal Gear Solid was for
the first playstation, and Metal Gear Solid 2 was on the Playstation 2… meaning far
superior graphics and possibly gameplay. Everything shown about the game, including
the box and screen shots, indicated this is exactly what Metal Gear Solid 2 would be,
and the first mission of the game had players playing as MGS 1’s Solid Snake in what felt
like the perfectly advanced sequel… only for him to die. Hideo Kojima, director of the series, decided
to play with players expectations of what a modern game would be with a postmodern artistic
expression. Players would then be subjected to, essentially
replaying Metal Gear Solid 1 in many ways, but now as Raiden – and even with many of
Metal Gear Solid 1’s flaws included. You eventually meet Solid Snake of the first
game, who directly tells you he’s turning on cheat codes from the first game in order
for you to win the mission you play together. Eventually, the game strips you of complete
control over Raiden, as he gains self-awareness that he’s in a simulation. The game completely toys with its players
expectations to make a statement about how people perceive and spread information, and
what is real or isn’t real. Hideo Kojima specifically sought out to utilize
the game medium in a way other mediums couldn’t in order to express these sentiments. If you want to hear more about the art of
Metal Gear Solid 2, I highly recommend watching Super Bunny Hop’s Critical Close-Up on the
game. —————————-Journey————————————- When you first boot up Journey, there’s
a mountain with a light in the distance. You’re not sure why… but from a sweeping
desert with what seem to be many gravestones littered throughout, you had towards that
symbol of light. Along the way, you find murals wordlessly
depicting the world’s story. A civilization torn apart by war, and the
remaining mechanisms still set out to destroy you as your character travels. But in this case, it’s not about the story. Throughout your Journey, you’ll come across
other robed figures like you. At first, it’s unclear if these are controlled
by a computer or another human being via the internet. What is clear, is while you’d been journeying
solo up until this point, you now have another figure journey’ing alongside you. The music changes slightly, adding more instrumentation
while this person accompanies you. And – you can choose to lag behind or try
to ditch them. But, a strange thing happens At least in my case, as this will be different
for everyone who plays – which is part of the art of this… You’ll start to feel a kinship with the
person traveling alongside you. Encounter a threat, and you’ll be rooting
for them to make it through alongside you, and genuinely feel remorseful if something
takes them out. There’s no spoken communication – yet, you’ve
developed a bond with your fellow traveler on the same worn path. And – you’ll probably find that they too
seem to react similarly. Waiting for you if you’re lagging behind
to catch-up, as you wait for them if they struggle. And once the game ends… you learn who you
were traveling with – another human player somewhere out there as you see the gamer tags
of everyone who journeyed with you. I think drawing out this kind of emotional
response and kinship in someone you don’t even know, yet are traveling to the same destination
is something only a game like this can really test. Who are you really? How do you react to these other robed figures? Are you inclined to work together, or do you
journey solo? These are interesting self reflections, and
one that this Journey truly brings out. ——————————BioShock—————————- BioShock is another game that toys with the
general perception of a game narrative and how it relates to gameplay. Your character, Jack, is inside of a plane
that crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. You’re the only survivor, and find a lighthouse
which has a bathysphere in it that takes you into a hidden world unknown to the outside… Rapture. This underwater city, created by Andrew Ryan,
was supposed to be a Utopia for the upper class elite to live in an area outside of
government control and morality. However, you discover it’s become a run
down dystopia with insane creatures running around and the humans locked away. A character comes onto your radio named Atlas,
who claims to want to help you out and kindly asks for your help in return. Video game conventions ensue with Atlas acting
as the man assigning you objectives, and you playing through the game following course
and listening to everything he has to say. And this is where the game breaks ground in
its storytelling. While the world itself is incredibly interesting
to explore, with the background to what happened here delivered through audio logs you’ll
find that explain what happened in various locations – the gameplay is interesting with
the new invention of ADAM allowing humans to gain super-human abilities, including yourself
as you inject this into your DNA… it’s how BioShock toys with video game conventions. You eventually reach Andrew Ryan who asks
you to kindly kill him, shouting: “A man chooses. A slave obeys.” And, the game takes you out of control. You’re no longer playing as you witness
Jack murdering Andrew Ryan. And… then it becomes apparent. “Would You Kindly” acts a trigger word
for Jack. Every time you’d done something for Atlas,
he’d proceeded it with “Would You Kindly”. Unknowingly, you had played right into the
game, and Atlas’ hand. It felt like what you were doing was because
it was the game – but that’s exactly it. All along you only had one choice, you had
to do what the game told you, and just like Jack himself you had no other choice. You too had been controlled the entire time. ————————-Doki Doki Literature
Club————————- There are several games that have done what
Doki Doki Literature Club has done… but this game struck a chord with many, and became
a more prominent example. While games are an interactive medium, usually
involving you playing the game… Doki Doki Literature Club does something entirely
different with themes of existentialism. After installing the game, you’re greeted
by a typical genre in the gaming medium… the Visual Novel… and in this case – a dating
visual novel. You’re presented with a number of possible
bachelorettes, and try to win the love of the one who you like the most. Each of them possess a stereotypical 2-Dimensional
personality, such as “the nerdy one” or “the peppy one”. But, that’s before things get dark… It turns out your friend who invited you to
the literature club, Sayori, is depressed, and at one point in the game she hangs herself…
ending the game. You then the start the game over, your previous
save file is deleted, and the world now exists as a one without her. The game starts breaking and glitching as
you continue to play it, and at times, the only way to progress the story of the game
is to manually find and delete files from your computer. It completely breaks the 4th wall, with 1
character in particular self aware that she’s a video game character. In doing these things, Doki Doki Literature
Club mocks the types of games it, at first glance, appears to be – poking at the various
tropes within the dating visual novel genre. —————————Dark Souls—————————- While Dark Souls is usually praised for its
gameplay and the lore of the game, I think the integration of the story into the narrative
is just as important, as is how the gameplay relates to the overall themes of the game. Dark Souls sees a world where Gods have usurped
the land from Everlasting Dragons. However, after their great war, their time
is coming to an end and that which gave them power, the First Flame, is fading away and
dying. Humans cursed with the “Dark Mark” and
turning into Undead have been plaguing the lands, and overall everything is in a state
of decay with little to no hope. The Witch of Izalith, one of the major Gods
of the time, attempts to create a 2nd First Flame to revitalize their reign, but instead
curses her land and people, turning them all into demons and giving birth to a new race
of demons. Gwyn, another of the major Gods, in a last
ditch effort to restore his family’s reign burns himself alive at the First Flame using
himself as kindling to stoke the fires. But, the flame is once again fading, and that’s
when you come in. Rumors circulate of “The Chosen Undead”,
an Undead who will go on a pilgrimage to the land of the Gods and save the world. The game first received notoriety due to its
difficulty and challenge, and all of this is present within the themes of the game. Characters in the game will lament how difficult
their life is, and if things get too bad, will give up and turn Hollow. Similarly, you will go through vast struggles
dying repeatedly, and for many, feel on the brink of giving up on the game and essentially
going hollow yourself. As you progress through the game, you’ll
be told by multiple characters that your task is to inherit the first flame as Lord Gwyn
had done before, and essentially become the new King of the land. Your task is to kill the other major Lords
who have come before, take their Souls, and throw them in the First Flame in order to
once again rekindle the First Flame and become a hero. And – when you finally finish the game and
defeat a hollow’d out Gwyn to revitalize the First Flame… lighting the bonfire – something
you’ve done several times before in the game – instead burns you alive. A massive fire starts, and you unwittingly
sacrifice yourself to rekindle the fire of the world. And while I find that all thematically interesting…
here’s where the game pulls off something I don’t think is possible in any other medium,
and part of why I love the art of telling this story so much. Throughout the game you can openly explore
whatever you like, and regularly find items with descriptions of what the world used to
be like. If you pay attention to this, you’ll be
able to discover an incredibly important thing… something the game never overtly tells you
and you have to discover on your own… the characters of the world and the legend itself…
are all a lie. You have been deceived and lied to throughout
the entire game as to what you’re doing and what the purpose is. By playing the game normally and following
the cues of the characters, as you do in many games, you’re unwittingly manipulated by
them into doing their bidding and perpetuating their cycle. However, you can discover the truth of the
story by exploring, and make up your mind about what you want to do at the end of the
game. You’ll discover one of the characters, Gwynevere,
who had pushed you on your quest had long ago left Lordran and the land you occupy. If you try to, you can attack her and discover
she’s an illusion. Anor Londo, the grand land of the Gods and
lit by sunlight is also an illusion, with the sun already fading. And you can decide if you will martyr yourself
for a race of Gods who have long feared and undermined humans, or if you’ll turn away
and start a new age of Dark, and with it bring about the unknown and potentially end civilizations
in a new era. To me, what’s so interesting about the narrative
is that you never have to learn the full story, the game allows you to be manipulated. And while a book, film, or play may deceive
you, the reveal will always happen in the same way for everyone using those mediums. With Dark Souls, you can play right into being
deceived without ever knowing and never being the wiser. You can discover after playing, as I did,
that you had been deceived the whole time. Or, you can figure it out for yourself, and
find different aspects to the narrative based on how you explore and choose to play the
game. ————————LISA The Painful RPG————————- The apocalypse is now. And not due to an atomic bomb, but rather
an event called “The Flash” which has wiped out all women. This means the end of the human race, as they
can no longer procreate. So – how do the still living men exist? What do they do? How do they react? LISA acts as a tongue and cheek response to
that, showing roaming gangs, male prostitution, drug dependency to the in-game drug “Joy”,
and many going crazy or depressed due to this. In this world, your character, Brad Armstrong,
finds a female child he names “Buddy”. Despite being told he should give her to the
warlord, Rando, Brad refuses choosing to raise her in secret on his own, partially due to
parental abuse he was raised under. However one day… she disappears. What follows is you controlling Brad on his
quest to find her. In standard Role-Playing-Game fashion, Brad
will meet allies who become party members joining him on his quest. However, at certain points throughout the
game, the player must choose to let a character die… or have Brad permanently lose a limb,
making him drastically less powerful in a fight, and more Joy-dependent. Unlike any other medium where you witness
someone make a difficult choice like this, your characters actions are not only ones
that you choose, but ones that you, as a player, feel the consequences of – as it truly alters
the gameplay. Additionally, Brad is hooked on the drug “Joy”,
and using it has both positive consequences as well as negative consequences. With party member’s able to permanently
die, it can be extremely tempting to use the drug in dire situations, despite what it might
do to Brad in the long run. There’s many revelations to the game which… I’d prefer not to spoil, as it unfortunately
didn’t receive the attention it deserved, and I hope others pick it up. But – overall, the game uses its mechanics
to speak on drug addiction and showcase difficult decisions and moral dilemmas in interesting
and unique ways. —- This is, of course, just a sampling of games
that I wanted to talk about as they’re close to me. But, there are far more well worth discussion. So, in the comments, I’d love to hear what
games have effected you and what games you feel elevated
the medium. And I’ll see you guys next time. Peace.