Monday, September 20, 2010

Ico, Shadow of the Colossus - Games as Art

Mister Roger Ebert - acclaimed media critic - is a man whose opinion is respected.  He's well educated and generally considers the implications of his statements in broad fashion before he makes them.  He stated at one point that Video Games will never be considered art; he later partly recanted with the following statement:

Having once made the statement above [Video games can never be art,] I have declined all opportunities to enlarge upon it or defend it. That seemed to be a fool's errand, especially given the volume of messages I receive urging me to play this game or that and recant the error of my ways. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say "never," because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form. 

 Ebert is no fool.  He understands a basic distinction between entertainment and what many artists consider 'ART' - Art is a form of self expression, an extension of ones' self.  Art is a tale craftily woven and presented in a guided form.  Entertainment is many of these things presented in a more.... chaotic fashion, if you will.

The form of art that video games presents is more that latter, but I submit that in their own way they ARE an art form.  My primary examples are Ico - a visually stunning, light-action game where you as a young boy must guide a mysterious girl out of a seemingly abandoned castle while protecting her from the shadows that dwell within - and Shadow of the Colossus, a game where a young man enters a forbidden land and makes a deal with the ruler apparent of the land to restore his love's life to her.  A game that is not only about conquering the demons without, but also the demons within.

In many ways playing these games and going from objective to objective leaves little time to appreciate the subtle beauty of these two games.  They are stunningly beautiful, especially for the PS2 days.  Their beauty, their visual aesthetic, is not what I wish to focus on at the moment.  Consider the short descriptions I presented above.  While the logic of Mr. Ebert's argument is sound, and while I agree - at least in part - that nearly all of the games that come to market today are not Art in the traditional definition... those descriptions are no less than you might hear a good friend describing vaguely their favorite stories from an author.

Games are little more than collaborative, interactive stories.  Mister Ebert is a film critic, and throwing these interactive segments that give the player a voice on how the story plays must make him a bit uncomfortable and if it does it REALLY should not.  The overall story of most games - provided they are presented in a linear fashion - does not change.  This is less true for games like Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, whose narratives change depending on players' choices.

Games are a form of art that we all experience together.  Some are short stories, some are epic space operas.  Some, like Ico and SotC, are quick at times and deceptively slow at others.  I don't expect Mr. Ebert will change his mind, but I would hope he sees the obvious [to me] example of games as another form of storytelling.

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