When I say “art”, what immediately comes to mind? Paintings, books, sculpture, movies, music. All are valid answers. They all are creative mediums, lovingly crafted by aspiring creators and appreciated for their imaginative content. They’re works of genius and emotion, and can have extensive story and background to them. Now, with this definition in mind, are video games considered “art?”
It sounds farfetched, and a bit childish, doesn’t it? It’s no doubt: a majority of people would condemn video games as “simply entertainment” without a further thought. But this is only scratching the surface; a bandaid answer if you will. Video games share a common definition with “traditional” art, despite this stigma. Games combine the arts into an amalgamation that can be so breathtaking, pairing vivid visuals with carefully orchestrated soundtracks, introducing novel-like plot lines and twists, and implementing a level of interactivity no other art form can replicate. Video games take control, allowing you to participate rather than observe. But the real beauty of gaming lies within its sheer ambiguity. Video games are malleable, and can be as hard-coded and straightforward as an NBA sports title, to as action packed and adrenaline pumping as a first person shooter, or as aesthetically pleasing and abstract comparable to a Jackson Pollock painting. It is the only medium in which creator and consumer are equally empowered: developers are free to decide what goes in, while the player decides what they personally want to observe and experiment with. Each experience is truly personal.
Now, I’ve always been a gamer at heart. Ever since my parents got me that ever-so-special Gameboy Advance with Pokemon Emerald on my 6th birthday, I’ve been hooked. Since then, I’ve gone through many milestones throughout my gaming history, from Xboxes to most recently the PC that I built myself in 2016. I’ve encountered many a title that engrossed me within its lore. Wolfenstein encapsulated me into its precarious world, depicting a not-so-unfeasible alternate timeline regarding post-WWII life in the shadow of German victory. Mirror’s Edge fascinated me with its futuristic dystopia in which the player is the outlaw. But one particular title ran away with my heart and further reinforced my beliefs in gaming’s artistic value. In fact, it’s the first game ever to make me cry. Dubbed “To the Moon,” it’s a simple 8-bit title, seemingly unworthy of attention let alone praise. But it went beyond all expectations, and tugged profusely on my heartstrings. It’s a tale of two doctors traversing through a terminally ill patient’s recollections to weave artificial memories in order to fulfill one final wish: reaching the moon. Stepping into the life of Johnny, doctors Neil and Rosalene traverse through time, reliving Johnny’s tumultuous adulthood and tragic childhood, reconstructing his life from the very beginning. A tale of regret, love, normality, urgency, and loss. It’s a surreal experience, as you take on the role of both observer and player. I remember savoring every moment of it, immersing myself in the 3 hour experience, with tears on my face. Tears that I never thought were possible. Beautiful soundtracks and weave with stunning visuals and well-directed dialogue to create an incredible experience that other art forms could only hope to replicate. A digital work, truly deserving of the elusive title “art.”
Art is not confined to traditional means. As we evolve, so must the confinements that define what “is,” and what “isn’t.” My undying love and belief in gaming as works of art has moved me to challenge boundaries, test the shackles of the conservative past. Let’s reconsider the limitations of old and search for the definitions of today.