In listening to Angry Joe's Top 10 Gaming Controversies of 2013, he mentions at number 3 the storied saga of Anita Sarkeesian. He says that the mere mention of her name in any segment of the gaming community will flood your comments section or inbox with vitriol directed at Ms. Sarkessian. After a lengthy recap of the wave of hate and support she garnered in the past year. He goes on to say in her defense that he wants to see female characters more fleshed out and built better to see more "mature" games. This, in turn, led me to remember a quote from Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw of escapistmagaine.com's Zero Punctuation:
"Art is only as good as the culture that surrounds it."
-Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw,
Zero Punctuation Episode: Webcomics
In remembering the vile hatred spewed at Ms. Sarkessian as well as other incidents in the industry this year, I thought no. Games are not art. "Games are art" is a phrase spewed by self-important man-children into justifying them being grown men that still buy comic books and action figures. A phrase that makes them feel like they are "big boys" now and that video games matured with them as they grew up.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Looking at the issue of gamers turning on each other over something like Ms. Sarkeesian's feminist thing that she does, the "true" gamers calling out the "bro" gamers via the internet and to top it all off, the vile industry practices that are anti-consumer and destroying fanbases and their customer base at the same time, games are about the farthest thing from art.
Video games are a lot of things for a lot of people. A dedicated passion. A job. An industry. A way to make money. A way to unwind. A scapegoat. A babysitter. But art, they are not.
And then I played The Stanley Parable.
This game proved to me that games can be art. The game is simple enough. You take the role of Stanley, Employee #427, who just does his job. Day-in and day-out, he sits at his desk pushing buttons on his keyboard just as his boss instructs him to. But when one day he goes into work and everyone is gone, Stanley must go and find out what happened to his co-workers.
A game built originally from Valve's Source engine, the game isn't all that impressive graphically. Then again, almost none of the best games of all time (bar none. I'm not talking the yearly Call of Duty swill that sells because of bro gamers) aren't exactly photo-realistic affairs.
But the messages. Yes, messages. Plural. As you wander the halls of Stanley's workplace toward one of the game's many endings, you are greeted with witty banter or sometimes scorn from the Narrator. The omnipresent voice that follows Stanley around. He can be a friend or foe depending on your path and deliver a number of different aesops when you reach the end of whatever line you have chosen.
If you fancy yourself a gamer and haven't played it yet, you owe it to yourself to get it. This game ranks up with The Walking Dead as one of my favorite adventure games, nay, favorite games of all time.
It used to be that I thought of art in the traditional sense. Drawing, painting and the like. Stuff created from the mind that was then painted or drawn to life. Then as I thought more on this article, I realized that there are a great many number of games that I considered to be art under that very definition.
There are games that master the art of storytelling. Making you care about a character enough to keep going. To download that next chapter. To play that next game. You are so captivated by the tale of these characters that you don't want to leave their world.
The games can even be a combination of the two. All of the games linked are recent examples, but even sitting here now I can think of many games from years past that were art and still are timeless today.
Since the game industry publishers care less and less about their product and customers and more and more about pleasing their shareholders, art in gaming is becoming harder and harder to find. It is there, but you have to go out on a major limb to find it.
I've said many times before, gaming, and subsequently being a geek, is not an all boys club. It's not a sword to fall on so noone can claim your title unless they prove themselves.
Video games that are made for gamers are a passion. They are everything that we live, breathe and eat. It is a passion we will stick with if the industry crashes, because we will know where to pick up the good titles. We know who to trust and who not to.
This isn't to say that all games are artistic endeavors. I would hardly call Candy Crush Saga or Farmville artistic masterpieces. A friend of mine, however, put it very well.
Games are art like movies are art. If I sit down with a 6-pack of cold ones to watch the new Die Hard, I'm hardly appreciating the art of film making.
- Thym the Philosopher
We know that games can be art. I'm sure we all like a little finger-painting every once in a while, but we go to the most hole-in-the-wall museums to appreciate the true works of art in this day and age.