For me, it happened when I was about twelve years old. I was playing the very first Sonic the Hedgehog video game for the Sega Genesis and my mouth fell open the moment the game started. From the pastel colors of the candy coated backgrounds, to the slick idle animation of Sonic tapping his foot impatiently if you took too long to move, I knew video games were art from that moment forth. While some may be wondering who thinks otherwise, well, the truth is, many people undermine the medium of videogames as art. The main mouthpiece for that movement originally being movie critic Roger Ebert, and he was just one of many. Though he may have reneged his comments before his untimely passing, he helped birth a debate. Can videogames be considered art? Rather than laugh at the absurdity of people asking whether art can be art, I thought I would end this raging debate with proof, as opposed to words. Ten videogames that are so breathtaking, they not only confirm videogames can be art, but dare to stand up and declare, videogames ARE the new art.
10) Jet Set Radio
Before the Legend of Zelda adapted the cell-shaded visual aesthetic for The Wind Waker that so many would go on to borrow, this game used cell-shading first, and set the tone. The comic styke of the game makes it seem more like you are playing a living comic book or an afternoon cartoon rather than actually playing a videogame.
Add to that a pumping techno soundtrack that swells to match the visuals and a cool, “urban” look to everything, Jet Grind Radio set the bar for “games as art” early, and set it high.
Proof this game is art is, 16 years after it has come out, it keeps getting remakes and HD reboots.
If you've never played it, look for it now, it’s still well worth experiencing.
9) The Unfinished Swan
The Unfinished Swan is the game that inspired the list, frankly. I loved gaming for a long time but had found myself distracted by adulting and stepped away from my consoles for a bit. The concept of Unfinished Swan drew my attention back and melted my face once I started playing it. No action. Just a plain white world you hurl paintballs at to help you see where you are going.
It may sound simple and it is, but the execution and way the lovely (and somewhat sad) story tells itself is unlike anything any gamers has experienced before.
Speaking of a simple game mechanic that you will get swept up in….
This game is pure zen (which you will see is a running theme to a lot of these games) and it is unique and shows you the world in a way you have never seen it. In this case, you are the petal of a flower that is being blown in the wind, and all you do is take the journey, too. While I am sure flying around as a flower petal may not appeal to gun-heavy gamers, the lush landscapes and serene flow of the whole game just put you at a place of peace inside, the same way staring at art or watching the waves of the ocean break against the shore do.
I feel bad for those who skipped over this piece of polygonal art because they thought it sounded “slow”. What a great injustice you have done yourself by making assumptions.
Though this game harkens back to the PS2, you would never know that if you picked it up today and played it. Okami features an art style HEAVILY influenced by classic Eastern art. Think Japanese calligraphy meets watercolor and you have a basic idea. To top it all off, you play as a wolf. I know that shouldn’t factor in, but it does. If you know Japanese, you know that is what Okami translates to. Well played, but I digress.
Okami takes the “games as art” thing one step further by making Japanese Calligraphy a crucial part of the gameplay. So not only is it art, it teaches you art as well.
The game should have placed higher on list on ambition alone, but so few knew about it and appreciated it.
Maybe this list will help change that.
6. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatraon
On name alone, this game was born doomed. Add to it the stunning imagery (it still looks better then some PS4 games and it was PS3) and the lofty, ambitious story based on actual biblical lore, and you have a true artist’s vision, realized.
A game based around angels who battle (and slowly lose clothes across the course of the battle, whu?) the game was lofty and ambitious, but some of the very elements that made the game a moving piece of artwork were the same elements that scared some people away. But its art styles jump from art nouveau to steampunk to stained glass, and few games run the stylistic gauntlets that El Shaddai does.
Trust me, see it for yourself in motion and you will be awed.
Just a genuine shame no one experienced it besides myself (and about six other people).
Remember, art can be dark and unpleasant and terrifying. Think the work of Giger or Francis Bacon if you need examples. Not all art has to be friendly. As a matter of fact, some art needs to be dark and atmospheric, so there can be extremes. Limbo, though darker (literally and figuratively) than most games on this list, Limbo is a living, breathing, monochromatic world that wants nothing more than to see the child you are playing as die in as many cruel ways as possible.
But what hits you before that is the fact that you are playing art. From the creatures hiding in the shadows to the surreal glow of the main character’s eyes, Limbo is not only art, but art that evokes emotion, art that evokes fear, art that intrigues and causes one to go even deeper down the rabbit hole. And at the end of the day, is there any better art than that? Art that evokes?
No, there isn’t.
4) Katamari Damacy
Before anyone says anything, just because something is absurdist doesn’t mean it cannot also be art. Yes, Katamari Damacy is out there and insane, but that does not undermine its wicked creativity and ambition.
Katamari Damacy is a game about the king of the cosmos (the most wonderfully flamboyant figure in all of gaming) and how he needs new stars for the sky, so he sends you down to make massive stars rolled up by you, consisting of everything from tiny ants to cars and busses, all rolled up and thrown into the sky. Yes, it sounds insane because it is, and it looks and plays just as insane as it sounds. But therein lay the hook. There is nothing on earth quite like this game, and that alone acts as a testimony to it being art, weird or not.
The sheer creativity and madness it took to make this game screams artistic genius, even if that does border a bit in the insane here. Insanity and art go well together, just ask Jackson Pollock.
3) Anything by Team Ico (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus)
I feel like the list could have been the two games this company has put out (so far) and nothing else and my point of games as art would be made, perfectly and without counter argument. The other 9 on the list are just to reinforce what is established here.
First, Ico looked like art, had a story that tore your heart out of your chest, and the game still looks and plays phenomenally (even though it is a PS2 game).
Then you have Shadow of the Colossus. One of the most breathtaking game experiences of all time. But EVERYTHING about both of these games is art.
From the soundtrack that swells with your emotions, to the barren landscapes and towering beasts, everything Team Ico makes ends up resonating deeply with people, therefore PROVING itself to be art.
And their next game, The Last Guardian (seen above), looks to take their “art” even further. Get the crying tissues ready for that game, mark my words. Again, art evokes emotion, so crying at sad video games affirms this my point.
What can I even say about Journey that has not already been said? The game is like meditating while listening to the ocean whilst also floating through space at true peace with yourself. Lofty, I know. But that IS Journey. Journey is THE go-to game when people want to win a “can videogames be art” argument or debate. While some people with ADHD might want to talk trash and call it a ‘running simulator’, the beauty of Journey is just that. The Journey. Nothing is told for you, your hand is not held (well, it kinda is, but only people who have played it know what I mean), but once the game sinks its claws into you, you will find yourself wishing this was one Journey that NEVER came to an end.
Also, let it be know, play it online with a stranger who you cannot talk to or interact with in any way outside of the game and tell me, AFTER THAT, it’s not art.
I say that because no one can. The two player experience forms a spiritual bond most art is not even capable of. Take the Journey, thank me later.
Numero UNO) Bioshock (Series)
I know there are more artistic games that could have placed higher, but NOTHING quite trumps the feeling of when you first enter Rapture and gaze upon its faded art-deco glory and walk it’s rusted and leaking (ye still achingly beautiful) hallways. There are points in that game that are so immersive and fully realized that you swear you can smell the mold as the place crumbles around you. But, that’s not even it.
How about the exact opposite feeling of hope and mirth you got when first entering the floating city of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite? Whereas Rapture felt condemned and suffocating, Columbia filled us with an entirely different feeling. The polar opposite, to be exact. From the infinite skylines to the world fair vibe and insanely amazing soundtrack, Bioshock Infinite is, without question, art. It is just art that we are lucky enough to interact with and help form into its final vision.
And that, dear friends, is why the debate whether video games can be art is over. No, there is no debate and no “can they?”. They are.
It’s as simple as that.
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