By Red 23 Comments
*I must apologize in advance that most of this probably doesn't make sense at all and is just terrible rambling.
The question of whether or not games are art has always been on my mind. In my opinion, "art" is a synonym for "expression" and is any form of expression, more intent on voicing the artist's opinion. So therefore, when Michael Bay decides that he should make another movie because he's low on the moolas, and only for the sole reason to showcase a bunch of explosions and attractive women in skimpy outfits, and actually voice no real opinion on anything, it's not really art. However, if Soulja Boy were to one day think about how much he wants to beat up puppies, and he wrote a song about it, since it is his own opinion and voice on a subject I would consider it art, but even though what Soulja Boy is rapping about is technically art, since it's told through his crap-tastic rapping, it doesn't make you care and is therefore bad art.
Now that we have what I mean when I say "art" out of the way, I'll actually write about video games as an art-form. Now games, much like most other forms of media, are in most cases--and from most points of view--are art. When you look at it from the perspective of a game developer who worked on this game for two to three years of his life and poured his heart and soul into it, the game is art. But, when you look at it from a publisher or a marketer's perspective, it's just another way to make money. Games like Halo 3 and Gears of War are by-the-numbers stories that have you shooting things, which try to shove some message and feeling into it. It ends up not being good art, as instead of thinking about what the game is trying to tell you, you're instead thinking about "HEY MAN I JUST SHOT THAT GUY IN DA FACE!".
However, I'm not trying to say that all shooters are solely stuck to making you think more about what you are shooting than the message it gives you. I think that Call of Duty 4 is fine art. It's about how war really is hell. From characters you've known--and in some cases, played as--dieing or the brutality of the combat, some things really hit hard, make you care, and make you think. The fact that the main campaign doesn't really have any co-op also helps make this message hit harder. While don't get me wrong, I love co-op, but trying to get someone focus and think about consequences when their friend is yelling about how there's no Mountain Dew in the fridge is nigh-impossible, and comes across as just a waste of the player's time.
On the other hand, you have games like Shadow of the Colossus: a game that not only gives you a momentous feeling of accomplishment when defeating a colossi, but also managed to make you care about everything you were doing. You cared about your girlfriend. You cared about the world. You cared about Agro. You cared about those colossi that you killed and what you were doing just for one life. Shadow of the Colossus didn't just make you think "that's awesome": it made you savor the bittersweet feeling of the fact that what you were doing was indeed awesome, but also in many ways wrong.
Now that I'm done talking about these "mainstream art games" I'm assuming you're looking for my opinion on indie games. I think that 90% of indie games' messages just come across as forced and pointless. For the first few chapters of Flower,I freaking loved that game; it was a beautiful and relaxing experience. However, when the game started getting grey and wanted me to think about technology's slow destruction of the environment, I couldn't care less. The message felt forced. It's as if thatgamecompany thought that you can't have an independent game without some garbage message about the environment. Jason Rohrer's Passage also disappointed me. While yes, it did have some fine points and a message, the game's thoughts on death felt yet again forced. I think that when a game (or Hironobu Sakaguchi) says that playing this game will make you cry, or have some life-changing message, and then markets the game on such, is pretentious, and is simply begging for headlines. When a game only offers a promise of invoking emotion in you, it might as well be a short film or an actual film.
In order to make an actually good, artistic game, you need to incorporate some strength that games have. Be it the ability to choose and have consequences for those choices (which Passage did actually decently, and Mass Effect excelled in), the immersion and fact that you are the character you played as (Half-Life 2) or have some actual interaction. This actually brings me to Heavy Rain, a game that I am very much skeptical of. Mainly because true immersion only truly works when you are basically the character, so when Norman Jayden reaches down for a fix, it's him that's doing that--I don't want him to. You are just basically watching a movie, and deciding what will happen through an over-glorified choose-your-own adventure.