Monday, July 4, 2011

Much Ado About Video Games

What if Tolkien and Lewis were video game programmers?

A few years ago I played the game Bioshock. It was scary. Really scary. But more importantly, its story kept arching back to Ayn Rand philosophy, particularly that which is uplifted in Atlas Shrugged. The game built itself upon philosophy run amok in narrative. Find any top video game list, and you'll see Bioshock show up somewhere.

Roger Ebert has taken much flack for asserting and reasserting the statement, "Video games can never be art." Gamers singularly rage against such proclamations as a hate crime. I at once admit that if I were myself a gamer, a hobby that tends to absorb whole lives rather than just mere leisure hours, I would of course fight avidly for the belief that video games are the NEW ART. For the gamer who gives his life to the console, it seems quite self-evident that he would not want to stop at merely stating that video games are art, but rather, that they are THE ART of our generation. From a historian's perspective, this might actually be quite a feasible outlook, as I think it is quite clear that at least American cinema itself (assuming that movies were THE ART of the past generation) peaked in the seventies and hasn't been able to come back to that stratosphere since.

The argument pro or con on the artfront of video gaming is contingent on how we define the word art. And that is a brutal word to come to terms with. The philosophy of aesthetics lends its whole genius of thought at tackling the question, and only ever seems to ask me whether a Gauguin painting is art if its locked inside a museum rigged with atomic bombs set to explode as soon as someone enters the building.

My understanding of Mr. Ebert's position is that video games cannot be art because they are won. There are goals that are accomplished or failed. Notice the emphasis on the game aspect rather than the video. Ebert's point rings true in that no one really thinks of baseball or football themselves as art. You can find stories within the games that are artful, but not so much the game itself. We do not compare sports on their level of artitude. Chess is not superior to basketball because it is more artsy.

Definitions of art bore me (here's my stab at one: that which propels the viewer/observer/participant to catharsis either by experience or reaction that can be retained and utilized as valuable apart from the artwork itself --- yes, I know, a very user/reader based definition), but the video game conversion is intriguing.

Video games have a very unique position amongst the arts/games, because more than any other medium, they are constantly in evolutionary flux. The limits of what games can be are incessantly growing, as computational power continues to exponentially expand. Ol' Mario ain't what he used to be.

This review for the game Heavy Rain intrigued me, in that it apparently withholds a litany of endings (and forces you to brush your character's teeth, jiminychrismas!).

Again, as a relative outsider to the gaming world, I want to ask: "What truth can we acquire from a correct understanding of this medium? Where can it take us? Can it help me understand God?" Maybe that's the definition of art I should adhere to: That which brings us to consider God and His attributes.

P.S. I was brought up taught that games like Dungeons and Dragons was evil. If I remember correctly, the idea arose because the game made people 'act' as wizards and, due to its fully enveloping world, led people towards the dark arts. Why don't we hear folks clamoring the drums about modern video games? Does that mean it's okay for me to play D&D now?

P.P.S That Bioshock photo trips out. It is frighteningly similar to one of the first recurring nightmares I had as a child (the other one being a world in which the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles turned evil and attacked me).


  1. IM making a video game website may i use some of your content??

    1. Certainly! None of the pictures are my intellectual property -- just my words.

      And of course, any links to my blog would be appreciated!