The general perception of video games in recent years has shifted from one of dismissal to one of acceptance, but even so many refuse to acknowledge them as an art form. Instead, games are often viewed as pure entertainment, with no legitimate artistic validity. However, especially in the past five years, more and more game developers have been focusing on the more artistic elements of their games. The quality of the textures and models used in creating the world and characters has improved drastically, as has much of the story writing and voice-acting. Some games have even become cerebral or emotional experiences more focused on making their players think or feel than on being an engaging interactive medium.
While the argument can certainly be made that games such as the “Call of Duty” series, or something like “Mortal Kombat” might not be the most artistically sound, they still involve enormous amounts of work creating an exciting visual and auditory experience, and those elements deserve recognition. However, these types of games most likely cannot be considered complete works of art because every element of them does not demonstrate a mastery of the craft. These games can absolutely be appreciate for their value, but should not fully qualify as art, as the writing and voice acting tends to be rather sub-par.
On the other side of the spectrum one will find games like “The Last of Us,” “Spec Ops: The Line,” and “The Stanley Parable.” Each of these games in some way ventured beyond traditional game design and became a true paradigm of game design. While none of these games is perfect, each made a truly resounding impact in some way, whether emotional, intellectual, or psychological.
“The Last of Us” confronted difficult emotional issues. The main character, Joel, must confront the loss of his loved ones. His daughter dies in the beginning of the game, and throughout the tale he deals with this trauma. The game has artistic relevance primarily because it confronts how parents deal with the loss of their children. While the gameplay and visual design were also fantastic, the fact that the designers were willing to confront such difficult issues warrants the game’s recognition into the cannon of truly artistic video games.
“Spec Ops: The Line” took a similar angle, dealing with serious emotional content and hiding it under a layer of action and violence. While “The Last of Us” dealt with familial loss, “Spec Ops” confronts civilian casualties during wartime, as well as PTSD and how it effects soldiers. The game takes common action game tropes like excessive violence and over-the-top cinematic action and uses them to show everything that is wrong with war. The characters must come to terms with the deaths of innocents, and the fact that they caused them, and that leads them to contemplating whether they are truly working for good or evil.
“The Stanley Parable” is a different kind of game. While the previous two games confronted serious emotional content, “The Stanley Parable” instead focuses on introspection and existential questions. The game follows a character, known as Stanley, attempting to understand what his purpose in life is after being freed from a boring job pushing buttons in a corporate office. The game allows Stanley to make decisions that determine what his path is, but all of them lead to him having to confront what the point of his life is, and if he truly has a choice in what happens to him, or if he is instead forced to follow a certain path no matter what.
All three of these games have various qualities that should qualify for them to be considered art. The first two confront serious emotional content that provokes thought, while “The Stanley Parable” deals with whether choice really matters. Prompting thought and introspection is one ofthe primary qualities of art, and many games absolutely do this. While not every single game can be considered a work of art, neither can ever painting, or novel, or movie, and as such games should not be partitioned off into a different category. As with every other artistic medium, games need to be considered based on all of their qualities, and not discounted purely because they appeal to the masses.