Every gamer has memories of the few games that stick out, those that caused you to feel or experience something that truly moved you. For me, they served as potent evidence that video games could serve not merely as cheap entertainment, or as a way to pass the time in the often-uneventful days of youth, but as a genuine art form. There will always be those who roll their eyes in casual derision at the thought of games as "art." Digital Lit recently posted an article highlighting Ebert's latest snipe in his ongoing jihad against video games, but i'll largely skip over that for now, since the article gives a very succinct rebuttal. More after the jump!
It may be a vaguely sympathetic argument -- one might even be tempted to at least believe that they have noble intentions -- that video games have unduly encroached into the world of film, television and literature; but the tired, old-hat tendency to shrug off gaming as nothing more than a childish pursuit simply reeks of "Get off my lawn!" New mediums of creativity will always have their naysayers. The rise of movies no doubt elicited wailings from the older generations about the death of plays and literature; the creation of television certainly must have come up against those who decried it as nothing more than quick, cheap, easy-to-swallow perversions of film. But defying the scoffs of the dinosaurs of yesteryear, those modes of expression have provided us with a rich and wonderful history, as well as stories that have captured our hearts and imaginations. Surely there have been some truly atrocious and Philistine games (*cough* Postal 2 *cough*), but they no more reflect gaming as a whole than the latest cookie-cutter action flick reflects cinema. Contrary to the notion that video games elevate the cretinous, thus dumbing-down our sense of the elements so crucial to art, i find that games have only helped me to develop an appreciation for such things. As video games have evolved from the bloops and blips that spawned them, so has their sophistication. Over the years I've learned to recognize the grace of the aesthetics, the arcs and twists of the story, the development of the characters, the feel of the music, and the subtle interplay of all these elements to create one coherent, artistic work.
But unlike a film, in which the screen serves as a voyeuristic experience of the story, the interactivity present in video games provides a framework in which certain stories can only be truly realized. This was most powerfully evident to me the first time i played Shadow of the Colossus. As the game wore on and i watched Wander's humanity slowly fading -- becoming more and more emaciated with each passing battle -- it dawned on me that i was not simply sitting there, helplessly watch his slow demise. He was killing himself, and i was helping him do it. My heart sunk, and the chill that ran through me was much different than anything a movie could produce. That's not to say that video games are necessarily better -- that they are superior to films in any respect -- but in the case of the aforementioned memory, the distinctive emotional impact was so dependent on the interaction with the protagonist as to diminish it on any other medium.
In the world of art, there's room for one more genre. It will never eclipse film (nor should it), but that doesn't relegate it to an inferior status. For every person that says that there will never be a video game as good as a film, there is another behind them crying that there will never be a film as good as a book. Rather than pigeonholing art by trying to fit it neatly into a little box, as stubborn grumps like Ebert insist on doing, i suggest that we look at the concept in a broader sense and acknowledge that art is, at its core, the end result of purposeful and expressive creativity.