Smooth Gaming: Video Games Are As Much Art As Film

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Smooth Gaming‘ is a new column to ValueWalk which will discuss various aspects of the video game industry. From AAA titles, business aspects, and independent developers who often go under-reported. ‘Smooth Gaming’ will take a multi-pronged look at the world of gaming. This week we look at why video games should be considered art.

What kind of heathen would argue video games are as artistic as films? Well, I’d have you know that all my friends are Heathens. Seriously, why can’t we consider a game like Final Fantasy VII a work of art, when films like Birdman can win an Academy Award for Best Picture? The comparison isn’t a knock against Birdman, yet it serves as an example of how well received and appreciated the narrative aspects and gameplay of Final Fantasy VII are.

To effectively dive into this topic, let’s first look into film.

A Flick You Say?

As part of his blog, famed film critic Roger Ebert answered a fan question in 2007 which began by asking, “what is a film?” Ebert reached out to Kristin Thompson, Ph.D., silent film expert and film historian at the University of Wisconsin to answer the question. The relevant part of her answer is below:

The questioner mentions “Roundhay Garden Scene.” Its maker, Robert Le Prince seems to have been the first person to make a film as we would define it: flexible film running through a camera and recording a strip of images in real time. His surviving films were all shot in October of 1888, which is earlier than anything else I know of. “Roundhay Garden Scene” is one of those films, although as far as I know it only survives as photographs, not on film. His view of Leeds bridge and traffic is the only Le Prince film I’ve seen projected. It apparently ran about three seconds originally; the surviving bit is maybe three seconds. I don’t think there’s any record of the order in which Le Prince made his little films. I’ve never heard of any claims that anyone else made a film earlier than that, so Le Prince gets the credit, even though he never built a projector that would show his films.

In 2013, Chris Shackleton dived into the artistic qualities of film. “Notable recent examples include Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Terrance Mallick’s To the Wonder; both were released through the mainstream and feature big names (Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ben Affleck et al) yet possess the impressionistic and contemplative qualities that more appropriately place them in the strata of art cinema.”

So if film and what is considered modern artistic cinema is fairly broad, what’s to say the same doesn’t apply to video games?

How Video Games Are Artistic?

According to IGI Global, “A video game is a computer game designed mainly for entertainment purposes. A video game console is the electronic machine designed to play the games and a video display such as a computer monitor or television is the primary feedback device. The main input device is a controller. A controller can be a keyboard, mouse, game pad, joystick, paddle, or any other device designed for gaming that can receive input.” In 2015, Nathan Deardorff gave an example of how a modern game is a form of art:

Here is a practical example of a game that should be considered post-modern art. While there are dozens of beautiful games[2] without scores or fighting that are extremely experience-centric, it is important to look at one that many would consider trash. The Binding of Isaac (BoI) is a game by Edmund McMillen, a semi-famous indie game maker who is featured in Indie Game: The Movie and is generally accepted in the industry as having achieved success within the market. In BoI,the player controls Isaac, a young boy who is trying to escape from his mother whom is convinced that God is telling her to kill him. You go deeper and deeper into his basement until you enter hell and other symbolic levels, including the mother’s womb. Throughout the game you are fighting enemies (which look like anything from spiders, flies, globs of slime, poop, demons, angels, worms, and vaginas, to the four horsemen of the apocalypse) by shooting tears out of your face at the creatures. There are over 400 items in the game, each randomly generated. It should be noted that when you die, you have to start at the very beginning, without any items at all. The items include everything from a dead cat, severed left hand, a polaroid photo, a mushroom from the Mario games, a pentagram, and a crown of thorns, to a harlequin baby. While this game sounds crude, offensive, and gross, it is a good example for art within gaming.

It’s difficult to argue that such a production is unworthy of being labeled as art; especially when so much goes into the narrative and symbolic references. There are numerous examples in gaming where the game displays artistic qualities, perhaps an upcoming Smooth Gaming series should highlight some of those games? We’ll see.

Why I Feel Gaming Is Art

Art elicits emotion, art makes you think, art makes you question preconceived notions, art moves you, art tackles difficult topics. Each of these aspects can be done in gaming in a similar fashion as a film. Therefore, there is no way society should diminish what a video game can be and the significance it can have on the public conscience.

So I ask the gamers out there, what games have moved you?

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