Video Games vs. Other Entertainment Mediums- Part 2


Note: This blog is a continuation of Video Games vs. Other Entertainment Mediums- Part 1.

The Real Effect of the Debate

Obviously, for some, clear reasoning over whether games are art wasn’t ever going to happen, because while there have been people contributing to the “are games art?” debate with intellectual and thought-provoking points, there have also been many who wanted games to be accepted as an art form so that they could feel more grown-up and validated in enjoying their favoured pastime, and try and feel as though their medium was more part of the mainstream. Personally, I think even if you’re looking for wide-spread validation of your love of video games, working out whether they are or can be art might help you feel more secure in your own opinion, but it’s never going to change the opinion of the masses.

 Recognition as art doesn't mean the mainstream would like it any more.
 Recognition as art doesn't mean the mainstream would like it any more.

If hypothetically, a consensus on this debate was reached in favour of video games being art, it might bump up their social standing among some circles, but most people wouldn’t even be aware of the debate or care if video games were art. The majority of people out there aren’t seeking out art specifically to entertain themselves; they’re just after whatever they enjoy. Most people don’t care that much if the television they watch or the music they listen to is art, they just consume whatever gives them personally, the most pleasure. In fact, in some cases something being labelled as art can make it seem less accessible to people than it otherwise would have been, and the last thing video games need is more barriers between them and the general public.

This kind of debate is never going to lead to some overnight revolution in the place of video games in peoples’ daily lives. Of course that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the games as art debate entirely. When taken on in the right way for the right reasons it’s a legitimately interesting topic and one that’s very relevant to the video game entertainment medium. I see a lot of people bashing the games as art debates and while I can understand people being tired of endless repetitive discussions on it that don’t really go anywhere, there’s no need to put down people who are genuinely engaged in the topic. If you don’t want to discuss it just leave the “games as art” forum threads alone and move on.

Bad Examples and Bad Arguments Against Games

Unfortunately, on the other side of the argument from “Games are absolutely art and should be treated as such so my opinion can be validated” is the view that anyone treating games with the slightest modicum of seriousness, or saying that they can measure up to other entertainment mediums is being ridiculous. There are a lot of people who say that because games haven’t tackled complex social, political or personal issues in the way that other entertainment mediums have, that they just can’t be taken seriously. Personally I think the question of how well video games can speak to us about major human issues and how well they’re doing so right now is an even more important and interesting question than whether they are art, but the way the argument over this is often handled carries its own set of problems.

 If we are to anaylse a medium we have to look at all works within it.
 If we are to anaylse a medium we have to look at all works within it.

I think some fail to acknowledge that while there are many works in movies, books, music, etc. that deal with deep introspection, analysis or delivering a message, there are countless examples of works in these mediums that are largely for or entirely for the simple purpose of entertaining people. Just as those over-zealously championing video games as a perfect medium hold up Bioshock and Heavy Rain as if they were the norm in video games, so many seem to ignore the enormous body of television shows, movies , books, etc. which come out every year with no greater purpose than to provide a pleasurable short-term experience.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with any entertainment that does this, we just have to acknowledge its existence. Not every video game may be hammering home a highly intellectual, thought-provoking story but they’re certainly not alone in that regard. Whatever games are doing with story now also doesn’t reflect their potential ability for how well they may do in the future. To repeat the old games discussion trope, this is a medium still in its infancy.

Where Games Really Fall Short

Many seem to make the point that because video games cannot deliver on narrative as strongly as other mediums such as movies or books, that they are therefore inferior. I think this argument begins to challenge a very real issue, but I think the people making this argument often don’t understand why narrative is important for games specifically. Narrative should not and does not exist for its own sake, narrative is simply a means to an end and that end is evoking emotion in the person consuming the entertainment. Works like paintings and music often have little to no narrative, but this isn’t a problem because they find other ways to evoke emotion in people. Similarly, when video games can evoke emotion through means other than narrative, they should receive just as much praise and respect as any other medium doing the same, but as I see it video games have two major problems in this regard.

 One of the reasons narrative is important is that it helps provide games with a wider emotional spectrum.
 One of the reasons narrative is important is that it helps provide games with a wider emotional spectrum.

Gameplay is of course, is the crux of the medium, it’s the core of a game, and everything else is built around it, and gameplay is very good at evoking certain emotions such as fun, competitiveness, triumph, satisfaction, productivity, etc. but gameplay alone can’t evoke the kind of emotional range the elements from movies, books, music etc. do, and so games need narrative among other things to attain this emotional range. Games are also often reliant on narrative to justify the mix of gameplay and thematic content the player is presented with and as mentioned earlier, if games are to get across meaningful messages and explore serious issues in an intelligent manner they’re probably going to be much better equipped to do so with a strong narrative backing them up.

The fact that some games exist with little to no narrative is not a problem, these works can be appreciated for what they are, just like music or pictures can. The fact that very few games in the medium as a whole are able to use narrative effectively is a problem, because it means the medium as a whole lacks emotional range and the ability to deliver deeper human experiences. What may be an even bigger problem though is that not only does the medium carry inherent properties that make it difficult to craft a high-quality narrative around its other components, but the industry also lacks motivation to move forward in terms of narrative with their main target demographic for story-based games being 18-35 males who are fairly contented with lacking action-movie style storylines. Raising the bar for narrative in video games may not sound like that big a deal, but it’s an issue that deals with uncharted territory and the only way around it would be to take risks which could not only end poorly for the people financing games but also for the people developing games.

Using the Right Measuring Stick

 When comparing games to other mediums we can't just focus on story.
 When comparing games to other mediums we can't just focus on story.

To make one last slight defence in favour of video games; despite the big problem they have with narrative in general, I occasionally see people comparing individual games to other story-based mediums and proclaiming that the individual game is inferior to the other medium in terms of quality because its narrative isn’t as good. This is not fair; movies, books and television rely on narrative to deliver a positive experience to a much greater extent than games do. While general statements about the shortcomings of games in regards to narrative are entirely valid, a video game thrives on gameplay, we know this, and just because a video game cannot measure up narratively, if it still holds up in terms of gameplay and sometimes other elements such as graphics, audio, etc. then there’s it can still be a work of some considerable quality.

 In fact in some cases it seems like people feel they have to appreciate video games in a solely tongue in-cheek way because of their relative shortfalls and their frequently over-the-top narrative and thematic content. I think this is perfectly sensible to some degree, but when it comes to gameplay, music, environments, and things games can pull off well, even in comparison to other mediums, there’s nothing wrong with standing up and saying “I like this video game on a serious level”.

Duder, It’s Over

Overall, when we compare video games with other entertainment mediums I think we need a wider, more thorough, and more realistic analysis of both sides involved. As hard as it may be to face up to some of the shortfalls or the lack of popularity of video games, trying to hide them and pretend they’re not there, or pretend that video games are more successful than they are only makes you look bad and says that you don’t like video games, you like some idealised alternate version of video games that you’ve created in your head. Arguing unrealistically in favour of video games won’t make them any more popular and if the medium is to come into its own it won’t do so overnight.

On the other side of the argument though, we should not scrutinise games as if they were other forms of entertainment and it’s okay to give love and respect to video games. As always, thank you for reading.