A year ago, on the last day of school, my former English teacher (a portly, miss-tempered man with a disgruntled attitude) had gone around asking each student what they was going to do for their holiday. Slowly but surely, I had soon realised what was about to happen: I would have my teacher’s voice ringing in my ears telling me why video games are a pathetic waste of time. Desperately I tried to think of some decent activity that wouldn’t have him jumping down my throat when I’d speak, as he listened to one of my classmate’s upcoming holiday to Cuba. Luckily, the guy next to me had brought up the subject himself, with him getting blistering shout that I had imagined. This meant I could bring up the same matter in my favor (or at least partially).
“What are you going to be doing in the holidays?” (Emphasis on the ‘you’).
My mind reached around for any possible hobby that would stand tough to the onslaught that he had punished on the previous victim.
I cleared my throat and blanked.
“Well, I’ll… Ummm… Probably play some video games or something…” I confessed, as I kicked myself for not thinking of an excuse quick enough.
This teacher (to which I shall not name), a fan of Shakespeare and the like, gave me a look of insanity, and proceeded with (what appeared to be) a well prepared lecture on why video games are ‘just pathetic’ – let’s just ignore the fact that he had a tattoo of the Rebel’s medallion from Star Wars on his arm. Seriously.
I’m sure one time in our lives, a certain, adamant individual have doubted the legitimacy of the thing we know and love: video games. Maybe it was your parents, who insisted you go outside more often. Or maybe it was getting in the way of your work schedule. In any case, these people who question video games, more often than not, do not believe in video games as an art form. Now for me, this is very passionate subject for me – one that I think should be given more thought and evaluation before disregarding them as ‘child’s play’. But games don’t get defined as ‘artistic’ with nice graphics, story, gameplay, aesthetics and many more elements can define these games as artistic pieces. Of course, games like Tekken or Saints Row aren’t exactly the best examples (usually used by the disbelievers in their argument), but that shouldn’t be the general consensus. One of the things people confuse the most is graphics & aesthetics – two subjects that can easily be mixed up. Graphics are an ever changing thing; at one point a certain game could release that has the best shaders, polygon count or the best water effects – but after awhile that game will just be the industry standard (a la Crysis). Aesthetics however are forever striking and distinctive; they are the games that stay with us for longer, leaving the biggest impression on us. Not necessarily using the highest graphics to date, but using what fits the context of the game or to provoke a certain emotion – a point picked up in a dev diary of Brink:
“Everyone’s done the photorealistic thing – we didn’t want to do something that’s been done thousand times before.”
Aaron Hoffman – Lead Environment Artist for Brink
Brink instead chose for a cartoon-ish style, a mixture of Team Fortress 2 and realism. It was one of the few games that injected color into the cliched palette of browns and greys (think Call of Duty). This created a near-futuristic vision of the future, including favela-like slums and clean, white facilities; urban battlefields that look stunning as the backdrop of an impending dystopian world.
Futuristic styles are something that have been quite uncommon in the least few years; with it a making a resurgence with titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2,Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Not only does this theme look kick-ass cool; but it also shows off new technology and ideas to press at shows like the recently occurred E3. E3 this year was mainly focused on existing ideas and IP’s – with very few new announcements released. One game that everyone will agree stole the show on it’s first day is Watch Dogs – a blend of Hitman, Deus Ex, Grand Theft Auto and some originality. The concept has been used quite a bit – kill your target and escape; but the fact that ‘everything is connected’, means that you can kill your target however you want. Sure, some people would argue that that has also been done before, but (from what can be gathered from the first trailer) the fact that it is a open world game makes all the difference.
Brink is also another fine example of great gameplay elements – the most universally acclaimed of which is its SMART system (a stripped down, one button free-running maneuver that is heavily based off Mirror’s Edge system); the simplicity of this system makes battle in Brink 120% more fluid and consuming. Brink is also one about throwing away the horrid, clichéd storylines and instead put in a logical realistic one: The Ark, an eco-friendly ‘8th wonder of the world’ has lost contact with the outside world – with civil war brewing. The was is between The Resistance; a group of refugees and homeless who are uprising against the apparently wealthy hoarding Security, who see The Resistance as dangerous terrorists out to attack the founders of The Ark – giving both sides of the battle an equal and positive motive, unlike most plotlines – which have a definitive good and bad.
“It’s not how the world is. No one thinks they’re wrong. No one says ‘Yep, I’m evil. I oppress – that’s pretty much all I do.’ “
Edward Stern – Lead Writer for Brink
In most works of fiction, Edward is right – there is a goal for any side that is usually for the greater good of either them or who they represent; but of course the age old formula can be used appropriately and still create an enticing story – Alan Wake being a prime example. Alan Wake, a successful published writer suffering from writer’s block, goes on vacation with his beloved wife (Alice) to Bright Falls, a mysterious town full of ghost stories and legends, with Alan inadvertently writing a horror story around himself. This sets up the entire game like a freshly printed Stephen King thriller straight off the shelves (Alan actually mentions King on more than one occasion in the game). Now, Alan Wake doesn’t have the best aesthetics, graphics or the most original gameplay mechanics (although the light based gameplay is a real treat) – but it has a dramatic twisting story with one of the most climatic endings out there in modern day entertainment. Of course, games are primarily made for fun and enjoyment – but that doesn’t mean to say that some can’t show some morales or show a subject from different perspective (like a first person perspective on life, for instance).
I think it’s art. I think most people who play them mostly think it’s art, if they think about it at all, so I think that’s kind of the end of the argument.
Tim Schafer – Founder of Double Fine Productions
Of course, everything I wrote should be taken with a pinch of salt. While I strongly believe in all games having a certain artistic side to them, the examples I have given are probably not the strongest or the most thought provoking, but they are my examples. These are my favorite pieces of art, the real reason to which I game. These are the games that are the reason that I do just that: gaming. These are the games that I can shove in my (ex) English teachers face and say “Have at thee coward!” knowing full well that my argument will be very strong indeed.