“One obvious difference between Art and Games is that you can win a Game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive Game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a Game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.” – Roger Ebert Video Games can never be Art
Roger Ebert is correct. Games are not Art. Roger succinctly defines a Game as containing “rules, points, objectives and an outcome”. They are competitive matches and exist purely for sport. They are entertainment and at times may approach Art as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Walter Payton and other amazing athletes have demonstrated over the years. Some of their acts and the near perfection they achieve can be viewed as “Artistic”, they contain grace, power, evoke emotion, but they do not possess the carnal awe and wonderment Art does for taken out of the competitive context they lose their sense of perfection and feel void of emotion.
“A Game is a structured activity, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool. Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from Art, which is more concerned with the expression of ideas.” – Wikipedia
By Wikipedia’s definition, for a Video Game to approach Art it must be more concerned with the expression of ideas than a structured activity undertaken for enjoyment. This is the failing of Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and many Video Games comprised of a simple series of rules and score. But what of the Video Games that keep no score and have more ideas than rules?
ThatGamecompany’s Flower expresses the value of balance between society and nature. Throughout the experience, the player is not challenged to win, but to comprehend the relationship. The visual narrative that unfolds from city to rural is "an interactive poem exploring the tension between urban and nature". Flower is not a Game, but it is a Video Game.
Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2 contains the level “No Russian”, the player must take on the role of a Secret Agent embedded in a terrorist organization. Inside of a Russian airport the player witnesses and can participate in the terrorist act of mowing down defenseless civilians with automatic rifles. The level is trivial in difficulty; the player is not challenged to win, but to think about the moral ambiguity of the scene and possibly their actions. “No Russian” is not a Game, but it is a Video Game.
Quantic Dream’s “Heavy Rain” is an interactive cinematic experience, it is a movie, it is a Game, it is a challenge to the player’s morality. Skill with a controller can determine an outcome to one situation, a structured activity; morality the outcome of the next, an expression of ideas. It is this seamless integration of Game and Art that truly defines Video Games and presents us with one of the first titles that can truly be considered Art. Previously the connection between Game and Art in Video Games has been limited to the Art being trapped behind a series of Game challenges. Overcome the challenges, be rewarded with the cinematic Art. Heavy Rain allows the player to interpret and shape the Art based on their dexterity and moral principles. Each and every outcome is handcrafted Art, the player stitches together a plot tailored to their existence. Much like Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Heavy Rain uses meticulous craftsmanship to capture emotion and instills that in the player. And like every viewer of Seurat, every player leaves with a different understanding based on their own interpretation, judgment and being.
By Roger’s definition, Games are not Art and Video Games are not Games. Much like some films are not Art, some Video Games are just Games, but few through
“the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions” – Wikipedia
Challenge the player as human beings to question themselves, their values, the meaning of everything around them and to find beauty in the arrangement of audio and video assets. I have found that beauty, I have experienced Art in Video Games.