“If a hundred artists create art for five years, how could the result not be art?” said Tycho Brahe in the popular webcomic “Penny Arcade.”
If you look up the word “art” in a modern dictionary, you will find about 15 different definitions. What it amounts to, though, is this: Art is something deliberately created to affect the viewer emotionally. Roman statues and pillars lend seriousness to a location, horror stories scare and comedy entertains. In this sense, video games are art; they affect the player in a way comparable to books or movies, if not more.
There are certain games famous for creating this emotional connection with the player. Whenever the words “video games as art” are uttered, these games are presented as examples. “Shadow of the Colossus” is one of these storied games, for good reason. It is intently focused on making the player feel wonder toward the game’s world and terror at the sheer size of the colossi they are fighting. It is a game where riding to the next objective does not feel like a waste of time, but rather an integral part of the experience. The player cannot help but feel a connection to the character, alone in a large and unforgiving landscape, hunting creatures that are as much a part of the earth as they are living flesh. This is where the emotional connection forms, when the player starts to care about the characters or is affected by in-game events similarly to the character. In “Shadow of the Colossus,” players controls a young man, Wander, on his quest, and in doing so become the character himself.
This is the heart of the emotional connection possible with video games. The players aren’t simply watching the story; they are playing it. They are unfolding events with their actions. Something that happens to the character they control isn’t just happening to a character in the story, it’s happening to the player as well. If done right, this creates a connection between the game and the player. If the character is riding across the minimalistic landscape of “Shadow of the Colossus,” the player feels small; if they’re scurrying through the haunted corridors of “Amnesia: The Dark Descent,” they feel frightened; and if they’re watching a character they’ve come to care about die, they feel horrified and sad.
Admittedly, some games can be played without feeling a thing, just as some paintings can be viewed without evoking emotion. Either way, the experience feels somewhat lacking without the emotion behind it, and truly good artistic works are the ones that make that connection.
Video games are art. They affect us emotionally as a visual, auditory and almost living medium. They arguably have an easier time making that emotional connection through their interactive nature than traditional forms of media. A painting lets you appreciate the beauty of the form and the skill of the artist. The game lets you step into the painting.
For more in the “Video Games as Art” series, visit http://reportermag.com.
The opinions expressed in the Views section are solely those of the author.