When most people think of video games, usually what comes to mind are games like “Call of Duty” and “Halo,” very fun first-person shooters where you can just turn off your brain and play. While, in the past, puzzle games and shooters dominated the gaming landscape, today, with easily accessible game creation programs like “Unity” and “Gamemaker Studio,” many indie developers are making games that go against the norm. Already we have seen the emergence of many games whose purpose is to make you think in addition to entertain. Based on recent trends, it is obvious that
gaming is set up to be the next frontier for art and expression.
Many games have already started shifting their practices away from the stereotypical, realistic FPS. “The Borderlands” series took a risk by switching from their original plan of creating a realistic game, and decided to hand draw their 3-D models. “Cuphead” not only took care to copy the style of 1930s cartoons, but even the music for the game was recorded to sound like it was made in the early 20th century.
However, the use of video games as a medium for artistic expression does not just mean having good graphics and music. Many games today have already begun dealing with very important and sensitive issues.
For example, “That Dragon, Cancer” is a game that follows the feelings of a father as his toddler goes through chemotherapy. There are various scenes in which your character is stranded in a rowboat near a rocky coast or in a hospital that is full of the little boy’s favorite stuffed animals and drawings. The game translates the father’s emotions into a metaphorical, physical entity.
Another example can be found in “The Beginner’s Guide,” a collection of unfinished games a developer made through which the player can follow the creator’s mental state. Some of the games he made cannot be physically won, or are extremely punishing to the player, such as one part where the only way to progress is to guess correctly an 8-digit number. Then, in other unfinished games, you can see fake chat boxes where the developer talked to himself to create the illusion that he was playing with other people. The game deals heavily with the idea of loneliness and feelings of anxiety.
The advantage that video games have over mediums such as movies and paintings is the fact that, by requiring a person to physically play and move the character, an instant connection is made within the players’ minds. This amplifies and brings to life emotions that a book or song may fail to induce properly. The best example of this is a moment in “What Remains of Edith Finch.” At one point, your character is a worker at a fish factory who constantly daydreams, and, while your left hand is controlling a prince in a fantastical scene, your right hand is continuously, monotonously moving fish from one location to the next. The addition of the physical aspect, makes the boredom of the factory very real, and only makes the scene even more heartbreaking when the character decides to commit suicide.
In “Presentable Liberty,” the entire game takes place in a prison cell, and you can only get news of the outside world through letters that slide in through a door. Not only do you get emotionally attached to your pen pals, but the heart of the game is found in your situation. It forces upon you a feeling of helplessness and dread as your friends go through sickness and depression, and you are physically unable to help them, as you are stuck in a cell.
“The Stanley Parable,” though humorous, has a lot of hidden commentary on the idea of free will and determinism. It is exclusive in the fact that, while an omniscient voice narrates your gameplay, you have no obligation to follow the path he lays out for you. The most well known and prominent scene from the game is at a point in which the narrator says, “Stanley went through the door on the left,” and the game gives you the choice to go right.
The point of all these games is not solely to entertain the player. In fact, in games like “That Dragon, Cancer” and “The Beginner’s Guide,” the game is actively trying to make you feel depressed and hopeless, not to spite the player, but to give a real, respectful portrayal of the creators’ situations.
Video games are like books, movies and any other media; they have almost unlimited potential. With modern technology, video games have become a new form of expression. At the moment, those who have played an artsy video game like to say that a it was “more art than game,” but I want to beg the question, why can’t it be both?