Hello everyone ! Here are some of my reflections on video games as an art form relating to the readings of last week. This was supposed to be a micro-essay but I found that I strayed away from the topics discussed a bit too much and it had no clear structure (plus I did not submit it on time). Anyway, here are some of my thoughts ! Cheers.
Video Games: A Synthesis of Art Forms?
By Jessica Turcotte
Not long ago, “video games” were not synonymous with “art”. Most critics dismissed video games as solely being a novelty, and while some games contained artistic elements, they were not seen as an art form. It has been a fairly recent debate, which has been put to rest, spawning a series of sub-questions regarding games as art:Which definition of “art” is appropriate in order to identify games as an art form? What do we need to study in games right now? Does storytelling in games have an affect on how credible it is in the artistic world? Since the medium is relatively new, it is difficult for some critics to free themselves from the thought that games remain a novelty. However, the notion of novel entertainment blossoming into an art form has been proven mainly through the study of film as an art. Video games have since been a mimesis of film, but do they have the potential to be considered as a higher form of art than their predecessor?
From the 1890s until the 1910s, films were barely seen as anything other than novel entertainment. However, the integration of stylistic elements deriving from German Expressionism, French Impressionism (among many others) as well as different techniques employed by lighting, editing and camera movement, challenged the idea that films were simply a bland entertainment. Compelling narratives flooded the film industry, developed from novels, plays and historical events, combining different styles stemming from various countries, pushed film to eventually be seen as an art form. Video games are no different: they started out as novelty, and, throughout the years, started pushing the boundaries of what a game could be. However, unlike its predecessors, it is not simply a passive way of viewing art. Video games are a culmination of many different art forms, ranging from literature to sculpting. As a gamer, one can actually have an effect on how the story is told; they can choose how much information they receive through the game. For instance, in Molleindustria’s Everyday the Same Dream, the player can choose to go about the story in many different ways. They can either continuously repeat the same scenario, or they can branch out and challenge the obvious route of the game. It is as if they had a say in how a film ends, or in which order they will edit the narrative structure and character actions in order for it to be a complete experience. This invites the player to become a creator, which few art forms can achieve.
One might think that video games lack potential in terms of storytelling, which would hinder their artistic growth. In Juul’s Games Telling Stories?, he argues that “games are not part of the narrative media ecology formed by movies, novels and theater”. He states that there is a heavy reliance on cut scenes in order to include character development and story elements, which diminishes their capability of storytelling. I would like to note that in some games there is no need for heavy character development because the player becomes said character. They project themselves onto the character within the game, in a sense they are the character. The character develops depending on the players choices. This creates a bond which may be stronger than any viewer/character connection while watching a film. Film relies heavily on expository dialogue and narration in order to convey character motivations and storytelling. How is that any more credible than cut scenes in video games? Despite the fact that a novel’s description of a character can easily be translated to film via narration, does not make it beneficial to the film. Film is meant to visually represent something, not spoon-feed the viewer information about a character or the story for that matter. Video games approach this differently by giving the player a choice on how their character will act facing certain situations, and this is how character development occurs within a game.
Video games synthesize sculpting, painting, music, literature and film, allowing not only the developers to create, but also the player. With computer generated imagery and narrative inspiration appearing with each passing day (current events, literature, film), the possibilities of artistic video games are limitless. The interactivity with the player, as well as their ability to create, add a deeper connection to the art; the player then has agency within the game, their actions matter. In my opinion, not one art form is superior to another, but video games do carry the potential to be as important in artistic history as painting, literature and film.