When people think about art, what usually comes to mind are things like painting and sculpting.
These things are called art because of the way they are supposed to make the viewer feel. Each painting is made to evoke a particular emotion in the audience or make them understand something that the creator wants to explain.
Using that concept of art, we can clearly say that video games are an art form. They have the power to emotionally engage people in a way that is unique to the medium.
The classic example that defenders of video games as art use is a game called “Shadow of the Colossus.”
Released in 2005, SOTC tasks players with hunting down and killing 16 giant colossi to save a girl named Mono. There are no other missions, enemies or stories other than hunting these creatures down. In the game world, the colossi have some great power that is needed to save the girl and the only way to access this power is to kill them.
Yet at the same time, the game suggests to its players that these colossi play an important role in the world and that harming them would have a negative impact on the general welfare. Still, it is necessary to save the life of this girl, raising important questions about individual gain versus the overall social good.
The player and the main character begin to roam the world and butcher the creatures without hesitation or warning. These creatures, by the way, are minding their own business and attending to their own problems when the player begins to kill them.
This design choice emphasizes the brutality of each kill. Each colossus taken down is one less required to save Mono, but it is also one more senseless murder. The issue here is that the player is killing seemingly innocent creatures for personal gain, a selfish act.
What’s more interesting is that the game never has to sell the player on killing the colossi, the player just does. There is no hesitation about the killing on the part of the players.
Why is the act of killing innocent creatures not elaborated on? What does this say about the nature of helping others? Does it always require violence? These issues are raised in the game, but never fully addressed.
Rather, players are left to ponder it. It is the nature of the game, the way it is designed and the way the plot is constructed, that can allow the player to become invested and think about these things in a way they might not do otherwise.
SOTC is an example of a game that is very heavy and intense. It isn’t meant to be taken lightly. But there are games that do have senseless killing that can be taken lightly or seen as a joke. Like all art forms, not all video games are as heavy and meaningful as SOTC.
This is fine. I wouldn’t want to live in a world that takes itself too seriously. Sometimes players need the mindless escapism granted by video games or movies.
This doesn’t diminish their value as an art form, nor does it take away from the sophistication and impact of more serious games.
SOTC fits our definition of art perfectly. The game developers force the player to question their objectives and engage emotionally in the story, discovering more about themselves as they play the game.
This idea of self-discovery is not unique to only SOTC. “Journey,” released in 2012, is perhaps the best example of a game that makes players look inward for answers about the game.
“Journey” allows players to control a robed figure through its adventure across a vast desert with the goal of reaching a mountain in the far distance.
The closest thing to a plot comes in a series of abstract cut scenes and hidden murals featuring other robed figures seemingly interacting with each other. The ways these figures interact and the story that the game features is left largely up to the player.
This allows players to project themselves and their own identities onto the game. There is left ambigiuous for that reason.
The natural counterargument to this game being considered art is the distinct lack of any plot or story.
Instead, games are mostly player driven.
Of course, not all video games lack plots. Indeed, the power of video games to combine player participation with compelling stories enhances video games as an art form.
This is perhaps the greatest strength of “Journey.”
In order to play the game, the player must engage with the story and interpret the meaning for themselves. This makes the game a unique experience for every person that plays.
The fact is that video games have the capacity to affect people in profound emotional and personal ways, a key factor of human expression and art.
They should be treated with the same respect afforded to paintings and movies.
Hebert, a junior journalism major from Greensboro, is an opinion writer.