film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb

video-game-art.png

Video Games Are Art and That's Okay

By Chris Revelle | Think Pieces | August 16, 2023 |

By Chris Revelle | Think Pieces | August 16, 2023 |


video-game-art.png

One of my earliest memories is when I was maybe 4 years old and sat in my dad’s lap while he played Wolfenstein, a classic first-person shooter series about fighting Nazis and their demons. Dad would let me hammer the space bar of the keyboard to shoot while he directed and moved the character around. It was just a video game, but it was also an early bonding moment I treasure. That I’ve loved video games as long as I’ve hated Nazis feels highly on-brand.

I love reading too, for its ability to transport and immerse me. The imagination I engage in as I read is one of life’s greatest pleasures and that drives my preference for so-called “genre fiction” like sci-fi or fantasy. Genre is effective marketing, but ineffective in describing the nature of a story. It’s frustrating that “genre fiction” has a connotation of being inherently inferior to “literary fiction.” I’ve always preferred stories that can construct new and compelling worlds with imaginative ideas and it boggles my mind how we could ever see an inherent deficiency in that. My pet theory is that we recreate the stratification we live in wherever we can, even unconsciously, because stratification communicates the relative value we use to make choices. Capitalism colors us all this way. This competition mindset is exhausting when you live within it, isn’t it? I suppose it’s not a shock that in a world where we use AI to automate art before labor, we also assign value judgments to the art we enjoy so that we may compete over that too, but it’s a bummer nonetheless. Just like the very first piece I ever wrote for this site, I’m asking that we interrogate why we stratify the art we enjoy and reconsider what we see as art.

Video games are art and that’s okay! Before I asked that we recognize the political viewpoints in media, but here we’ll be looking at storytelling. That’s all media ever is, really: a vehicle for a story, for a narrative. That’s true whether the form of media is an AP article off the wire or an epic poem; they’re all simply different methods of storytelling and while they all have strengths and weaknesses, there’s not an inherent worth to either of them that places them objectively over any other. That isn’t to say we don’t all have preferences when it comes to the types of media we like to engage with, but those preferences don’t reflect some objective value. They’re just different ways to tell or experience a story.

It’s natural in this light that a love of the immersive and transportive powers of a book would lead me to a love for video games. Reading about adventures in surprising and imaginative worlds inevitably led me to imagine myself within them. With video games, I can participate in a story and experience its world myself in ways that books, movies, and television can’t do. In the same way that books handle internal monologue easier than film or television, video games provide a fourth-wall-breaking experience unique to their medium. A story will not work equally well with each medium, so just as there are stories better told on the page, so too are there stories best told in a game.

The stories of video games are as diverse as you can imagine. Final Fantasy VII is about a world so choked by capitalism and exploitation that the lifeforce of the planet is dying and you’re a disaffected former soldier who’s taken a gig with an eco-terrorism group trying to fight back against corporate overlords. Dynasty Warriors is a long-running series of hack-n-slash games in which you play various mythologized historical figures of the classic Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms as driving 1980s rock music plays. Sable is a story about coming of age on a desert planet while exploring and meeting people to figure out who you are and what kind of role you want to play in life. Mutazione is about community, family, and healing trauma with magical musical plants. Chroma Squad is an affectionate Power Rangers parody and The Last Door uses pixelated retro-stylings to make imaginative cosmic horror. Papers, Please and Beholder both imagine life as a functionary of a police state. Crusader Kings is a series all about role-playing as a monarch during darker ages and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is about hearing the stories of Americans struggling through the Great Depression. Baldur’s Gate III is about being infected with a mind-worm that will transform you into a monster and about being able to be as loudly, proudly queer in a game like no other before it. Within video games, you’ll find the same wide breadth of possibility and imagination as in any other media and yet it’s so easily dismissed as lesser-than.

There’s a stigma attached to enjoying video games as a childish pursuit unworthy of real adults, but why? Are we so ingrained with ideas of constant productivity that we have to police how we take leisure too? Maybe it gives someone some small sense of power back, to look at someone else’s taste in fun and smirk at it. It can feel empowering to disempower others, especially in small ways like these. Sadly, we place art forms in a hierarchy as if it’s not enough to live within one in every other aspect of life. Video games can make you think, foster a connection or a community, expose you to new ideas, and challenge you; these are all things we celebrate in other art forms and yet we ignore them in games. There’s a real chance people read the headline and didn’t click and that’s a shame! The arbitrary gates we keep around which art forms are acceptable rob us of our right to just enjoy ourselves. Video games are art and not only is that okay, it’s awesome.