Emotions and Video Games (Video Games as Art)

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02 May 2013, 6:44 pm

It's a question most of us have probably encountered at some point. Are video games art or merely entertainment?

I've always argued, as a gamer, that naturally video games are a form of art, with all it's trappings. Art reveals something about us. Art moves us. Art stays with us long after we've finishing viewing, reading, or playing it. Art is topical, art is timeless. I've argued that video games satisfy all of these criteria.

However, I'm gonna play Devil's Advocate here. Games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution argue complex and important debates. I'll argue that it, along with a few other games, qualify as art. But what about most games? How do they compare? Fallout, for example. It's a terrific game, fun, and it features a good storyline. But the games themselves are little more than sandboxes full of pop culture reference. Same with Grand Theft Auto. You go to see the Madonna on the Rocks to be moved, to admire the craftsmanship that went into the painting, the emotion. Fallout contains little genuine emotion. In fact, playing through Fallout III, the only scene that really evoked any real emotion for me was the beginning, as a child, looking up to your father. Grand Theft Auto SA and IV featured strong storylines, but were frequently undercut by Jar-Jar-esque characters like Roman. Not to mention the fact that most don't buy these games for their deep storylines, but mostly for an interesting diversion. It made it difficult to take it seriously. What do these game reveal about us? Other than an enjoyment of adrenaline filled gun fights and driving fast?

I think the weak point of games is the graphics. Watch just about any actor on television. They don't just say lines with various emotions. Their eyes and their body language are what makes it feel genuine. Video game graphics can never convey that level of realism. They call it the uncanny valley. Can a video game truly be considered art without conveying genuine emotion?

There's also the fact that no matter how many people get shot, it's inherently less visceral than in a film. The fact that you know these people that you're shooting are essentially big blobs of ones and zeroes with no emotions, no pain, and no families that feel pain. The emotional effect of killing one's first man has been portrayed in literature and on film a million times. When has this ever been shown in any depth in a video game? even the few times that I have seen it, it's been some guy following you going "Oh %$^&, oh %$^&" and he's more scared than torn apart by his actions. Then there's the gore. I haven't seen a game attempt to portray genuine gore. The way they do it is nothing less than goofy. I shoot a raider in the head in Fallout, and his entire head detaches and flies a ridiculous distance. It breaks immersion. I almost prefer to play without gore if possible these days.

The best game that I've played recently for this is probably Metro 2033. By being heavily scripted, fairly easy, and generally cinematic, on top of fantastic graphics, it conveys a bit more emotional impact, and you come to care about your character a bit more. Even the action scenes, for example, the mission Defense, feel urgent and important to the world of the game and your character. Mass Effect is another great one. These are linear games. For so many games, however, this suffers as fans demand more freedom. Linear has come to be associated with "bad". Of course, it is very difficult to tell a coherent storyline with a great deal of choice.

Which is what you may have noticed. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Metro, and Mass Effect are all fairly linear games, and benefit greatly from that design. I think I would define these as art. But too many games go the Michael Bay/Sitcom route.

What games do you think have the most genuine emotional impact? What games tell stories that are original & lasting? What games do you consider art?


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02 May 2013, 7:08 pm

1. Emotional impact. I liked Homefront. It's all about Americans getting together to kick some foreign joker's butt. It's a rally cry for people to stand strong, unite and fight. Pretty emotional stuff.
2. Original & lasting stories. Prey is one of the most original I'd ever seen. You go from Joe Average Native Son to Alien fighter in the blink of an eye. It featured great graphics and upside down walking to boot.
3. Artistic games. Prey is very good. Doom III and Quake IV I liked. Portal is unique in its presentation. Metro 2033 is gritty but I consider it very good especially since Artyom's watch tells real time!

Yellow-bellied Woodpecker
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02 May 2013, 8:08 pm

I think all video games are art. They're like little art collectives. Story-telling is an art, with all its different themes and undertones.. then there is the illustration, which can range from generic to abstract to life-like. Animation. Music. All art. All together, still art. Just as films and comics are works of art. Video games are just a different medium for creation. Art can be entertaining. Art can be cerebral. Art can invoke emotions. In my opinion the best games do all of the above.

But I don't think there's a threshold that needs to be crossed for a game to be considered art. Just like not every painting is the Sistine Chapel... some are more like a stick figure you drew in pre-school. (*cough* call of duty *cough* jk?)

What games do you think have the most genuine emotional impact?
For me, it tends to be RPGs, because there is usually a lot of emphasis placed on character development, and usually there is a conflict at hand greater than the scope of the protagonist's own world, which encompasses an entire universe.
Examples: Star Ocean, Final Fantasy.

What games tell stories that are original & lasting?
I've always loved the Metal Gear Series in particular for it's brand of story-telling. The themes of anti-nuke/weapons of mass destruction sentiment are already emotionally loaded in the collective human memory. Conflict between power nations is not just fiction. The focus on weapon development of that magnitude and the global-social implications and the way relationships are affected by paranoia, power struggles, and the willingness to risk one's life for what they believe is right, even if it might not make a difference in the long run. While none of it is really pleasant, it can be engrossing. Also just seemed like a much cooler version of the secret agent/spy 007 type. Big Boss. Solid Snake. The infamous Cold War era and beyond. It's just a great story in a geeky, psuedo-world-history-top-secret-giant mecha-vs-one-man-army-technology-race-action-movie-drama, kind of way. As far as lasting, I have grown up with that series. And it's still going strong (ish). Maybe I'm a fanboy. :wink:

What games do you consider art?
Some of the most memorable "games as art" experiences for me have been: Silent Hill, Journey, Okami, Anti-chamber, the Metal Gear series, Final fantasy games, Heavy Rain,Mirror's Edge, elder scrolls games, Ico/Shadow of The Collosus, Viewtiful Joe, Jet Set Radio, Katamari Damacy, Sword&Sworcery EP, Limbo.. etc.. A bunch of retro games, too: Castlevania, F-Zero, The Legend of Zelda series, Yoshi's Island... etc.

Making me laugh is as much of an art as making me cry, or making me angry or scared.

*Edit just to say I love Deus Ex and Doom was totally art :]

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02 May 2013, 9:46 pm

Games as Art -

I believe that all video games should be considered as Art, because they are something that is created from nothing. In the same way a piece of music or painting is created from nothing. Transferring someone's ideas and imagination through their chosen conduit. The creator uses them to express themselves and often attempt to get a message across to the person playing the game. Its more than just the simple entertainment, like watching a TV or movie.

Emotional Impact -

Of all the games I have played since I started gaming around 1980 (its a lot!) very few have had an emotional impact greater than a mere entertainment. Perhaps, this due to my aspergers that I don't process emotional things the same way as others. However, there have been a few occasions where I feel like I'm utterly connected to the cause and plight of that character. I care what happens to them, it has nothing to do with the story, gameplay, graphics, sound etc. Its a connection to the character.

Some people claim to burst into tears when they play a certain part of Final Fantasy 7, for example, but I didn't feel anything for any of those characters. I can list the few games that I remember as having that emotional impact on me and somehow I don't think that experience is ever forgotten, compared to the many other games I've played -

The Legend of Zelda - The Ocarina of Time
Silent Hill 2
Project Zero
Mirror's Edge

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03 May 2013, 12:55 am

There are a handful of games that mean a lot to me, and fewer still that have a story that I sympathize enough with for them to be what I'd call emotionally impacting. I can really only think of two games, Bastion and Halo. Both of them have a key ingredient that hits home with me, the idea of nothing ever being alright, ever again, but still having brief moments of bliss and hope and faith even when the destroyed remains of everything that was important to you lies before you, left undone.

*wipes of manly tears*

About that last question, every game is art, but just like music and almost any other type of art you can think of, it can be watered down, commercialized, intellectually insulting, etc, etc. You've got to find the jewels among the mud and dirt.


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03 May 2013, 12:15 pm

GTA: San Andreas was a satirical examination of modern America, particularly racism and a blase ignorance of foreign cultures. It also included incisive commentary on urban American culture; keep in mind that even after CJ had become a real-estate mogul, rap producer, and government agent, his brother Sweet could still see no higher calling than the defense of the block they grew up on. CJ literally offered to move all surviving members of his family into his Vinewood mansion, but Sweet refused, because Grove Street was all that mattered in his entire universe.

This attitude can be seen in the real world, in kids convinced that there's no way out of the 'hood and that the best they can hope for is to make or steal enough cash to buy a little extra bling. All the counter-examples in the world seem insufficient to convince them otherwise.

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03 May 2013, 3:47 pm

Fallout 1, 2, and New Vegas are great works of social satire that provoke some interesting thoughts if you're paying attention ... New Vegas does this especially well. They also illustrate the concept of Fallout, as in unintended consequences very well.

FO3 is ...a nice game. :P

The only game that ever moved me to tears (and I cried like a baby) was TellTale's Walking Dead. Yeah, it's kind of sappy and manipulative, but it worked on me!

I dunno if that's art, but it was good.

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04 May 2013, 1:07 am

I consider all games art in one way or another, but then I also think there can be art in more than just a few arbitrary categories, nor does it necessarily have to be anything overly serious or dramatic. Still, I suppose I do have some favorites. The Portal games are pretty good for being more on the subtle side. The No More Heroes games are great, and Killer7 is a more serious version of them. Okami and Nier had great stories, and the former had an awesome art style. Skyward Sword, The Wind Waker, and Majora's Mask are all Zelda games that stood out to me. Kirby and Mario games(particularly Galaxy) are quite imaginative. Earth Defense Force 2017 might be a stretch, but it comes off as a hilariously bad budget movie on SyFy made into a video game, and that just makes it awesome.

Of course there are some that don't seem to have as much. Call of Duty games are as bland as they come - Black Ops sees to have been the only really distinct one, to me. Saints Row 3 felt like it lost some of the charm its predecessors had. I don't much like the vanilla fantasy in the Elder Scrolls games. Still, it seems like effort was still put into a lot of them.

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04 May 2013, 5:04 pm

All video games are art. If you think they're good art or not is the question. There are many approaches to art, too.
Like developer Tale of Tales that almost eschew gameplay in favor of pure concept:

Bientôt l'été

The Path

There's relaxing games like



and Osmosis.

Talking pure aesthetics - and because I'm in love with plattformers - there's

Trine 2

and Creavures.

And cerebral games like the classic Myst-series :)

And many many many many many more.

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05 May 2013, 6:52 am

Whenever anyone asks me if I think Video Games are art, I swiftly point them towards Mother 3, the story, characters and music are just absolutely beautiful

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05 May 2013, 4:37 pm

I think that video games do have tremendous potential as a form of art, but unfortunately they aren't really being used or developed as such. I think that with the level of interaction you have in them, it allows you to become much more connected to the characters and the story then a more passive medium such as a movie. The main problem I see is that, for one, games are still treated as somewhat childish. Even though they've gained more widespread popularity in recent years, gamers are still thought of as immature, and much of the genre in a way caters to that immaturity. You can see it in the games themselves...almost all of the big ones are filled with gratuitous violence, sex, "epic graphics", and profanity with little thought to things like story, character development, or plot.

And for two, the other big issue I see is essentially the same issue I see in the music industry today. The big game companies have latched on to a strategy that works and sells lots of games, and they've been sticking with it. Very few people are willing to take a risk nowadays, they just churn out a couple "Call of Duty" expansions and watch the cash flow in like water. It's pretty much resulted in all of the new, major games being either shooters with little to no story, or sports games that are all essentially carbon copies of each other.

The two games that come to mind as the most emotional are "To The Moon" and "Shadow of the Colossus". To the moon was kind of surprising because it has terrible graphics, not the most exciting gameplay, and essentially a single, independent designer working on it. But the story and emotional content in it is top notch with respect to the rest of the gaming world. Shadow of the Colossus, on the other hand, is less about the story and more about the atmosphere. You basically have the hero who is willing to confront impossible odds to save someone he loves, and it's really rather touching and bittersweet. Some of the Zelda games are decent as well, but they still leave a lot to be desired.

A few of the old point-and-click adventure games are pretty good too, but a lot of them still buy in to cheap humor and such that detracts from the seriousness of some of the issues. In Syberia, there is one particular subplot in the game that was really emotionally charged. Spoiler alert, but it was about a washed-up opera singer who was close to dying, and you had to help her regain her sense of self-worth and achieve her dream of performing again on stage. It was really well-done...the whole game was but that part really struck out to me.

Sorry this post got a little longer than I was hoping, but it's a topic I really feel strongly about lol! I just feel like games have such a huge, untapped potential as an art form, but so few people are willing to take the risk to use them as such.


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30 Dec 2014, 10:38 pm

I also think all games are art, but then again art is an age old debate of definition.

I dislike it when people don't consider a game art if it isn't weird and artsy like Slave of God or A Mother's Inferno.

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