Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Thoughts on If Video Games Are Works of Art

Welcome again to “Devlarian’s Assorted Stuff”. Today’s topic will be on the very controversial issue on whether video games are a form of art or not, and some of the surrounding arguments. Remember folks, considering how controversial (and flame-bait worthy) this topic is, take into mind that your mileage may way. Your thoughts on this issue will vary in some way or another. This is why it is (highly) not recommended to start a discussion on this in many sites or forums. But without further to do, let us delve in and explore this interesting topic.

Looking at the humble beginnings of video gaming, video games were intended to be for entertainment for kids – nothing more. As seen by this early (first) era of gaming, most games were made for arcades and arcade-like systems. Of course, the market shifted to Japan after the Great Video Game Crash of 1983 with the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System or the NES for short. Even then, most if not all games, were intended for entertainment and for kids – though the stories improved in this time period. As the years went by, technology improved leading to better systems (such as the SNES) with better graphics, sounds, and gameplay, as well as other things such as story and mechanics. All in all, it was considered by many veterans to be one of the best time-frames in gaming thanks to all the amazing (at that time) advancements. However, it is key to note that as mentioned before, stories began to improve and became (for the most part) more complex, and had more moral and philosophical meaning. For example, instead of the simple save the princess plot, it was more like save the world from the evil empire with many people having their own agendas – slightly simplified though. The game developers were dipping into deeper parts of telling a story and providing an impact to life like a book or movie.

Of course, even at that period, most people considered it to be for entertainment and children – not a work of art. It wasn’t a bad thing at all considering that most plots were still simplistic and only a few – could have been considered a work of art. Thus, there were not enough examples to convince the populace into moving onto deeper concepts. As the time went by however, companies began to trudge into more complex storylines with connections to real world events. Many people applauded these changes yet, some critics and activists defied this stating that it would “ruin society” or something similar. This was the start of the age of T-rating games, exploration into deeper concepts, and the beginning of video game controversies and the general stupidity of activists and critics.

Here, developers wanted to push forward into deeper more moral ideas like in movies and books but they further they went, it seemed that more issues came up from the stupidity of the populace. Take Mass Effect 2 from the fairly recent day. Many (misguided) people (including FOX News) decried it as a “porn simulator” and cautioned people to keep their kids away from it. The same thing happened with Grand Theft Auto IV, where critics decried it as a “murder simulator” (though there were slightly right, but the game wasn’t about random murdering or the simulation of the act). In fact, the content was much subtler and was more or less (for the case of Mass Effect 2) implied never shown on screen. But of course, critics and activists still decried and complained about it. This has happened to several games over the years and many companies have been afflicted from these people’s misguided crusades. Even some states over the years wanted to pass laws several regulating gaming and pushing back M-rated games.

The main issue with this is that people cannot decide whether video games are a form of art or not. Consider books and movies, and how they can show touchy and controversial issues without the same level of complaining that ensues when video games show it. In fact, this problem also stems from the fact that video games are still perceived by many to be for the children and that a lot of video game enthusiasts back down from defending. Heck, the issue has gotten so heated that even the Supreme Court has opened a case to see whether video games are protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech). Many fans, critics, and activists on both sides fight on whether video games are art citing many examples and counter-examples with no avail on either side. Some people cannot wrap their heads around the idea that video games have matured to the point that not all are for kids – some are, but others are for more mature-minded people.

Because of this huge debate, if a game were to cover a controversial topic (e.g., war, genocide, fear, torture, etc.), it would face a huge deal of controversy unlike books or movies. Books and movies have already covered many hard-to-read topics, so why not video games. As many have said before me, we need to stand up for our medium and push forward and “mature” our medium. If books and movies have done it beforehand, so shall our medium. For this to happen, we need to defend our works when faced with controversy, try making more meaningful stories, and provide enough evidence that video games are in fact, a form of art. The Supreme Court’s decision will have a major impact on gaming, and will either improve or destroy the genre. But no matter what it will come to, we gamers should rally together and stand up for our genre and educate the masses. If we push forward, our medium will never be the same again – just like entering adolescence or adulthood. As they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – anything could be a work of art but will vary depending on the viewer.

Thanks for staying with me folks! I would like to give many thanks to Daniel Floyd, for inspiring me (and other fellow gamers) to speak up for our medium. Keep on rolling Mr. Floyd and as for everyone else, have a wonderful day! Remember, comments, suggestions, and corrections are always appreciated. This is Delvarian for “Delvarian’s Assorted Stuff” signing off for now!

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