VIDEO GAMES AS AN ART
THE HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF VIDEO GAMES AS AN ART FORM IS LONG AND INTERESTING BUT STILL ROLLS AHEAD
April 19, 2021
Video games have long been used as an art form since the dawn of Donkey Kong and Street Fighter, telling stories of Italian plumbers saving princesses and warriors fighting in an epic tournament to claim superiority. Over the years these games and their stories have gotten far more complex as stories have shifted from a side scrolling hero’s journey to an expansive world where your actions change the world around you and ultimately what happens at the end of it all.
Nowadays players don’t just expect fun gameplay and take what story they can get, they demand a story and go searching when there isn’t one. Take games like CS:GO and Valorant for example. CS:GO is gameplay focused at heart but those devoted to it have spent countless hours looking over every detail of every map and every pixel on every model. Their labor isn’t without fruit either as each map, although often buried, has a story. If you take the time to turn around at the start of a round on T-side Nuke you’ll see a van crashed through the gate which made the opening for you and your teammates to get in. If you look around Cache you’ll find the story of two sides fighting to secure or destroy an old Soviet weapons cache. The same can be found on Valorant with maps like Icebox, Haven, and Split. This tends to be the trend with online FPS games, especially the battle royale type.
There’s also games on the other side of the spectrum where the story is dominant while the gameplay is barely existent such as visual novels and dating sims which are often comprised of mostly text and a few button prompts accompanied by background pictures. These games opt to write a story and tell it with gameplay elements rather than the traditional making a game with a story. Take for example Doki Doki Literature Club. Released in 2017, DDLC is a psychological horror game disguised as a cute dating simulator set in a school’s writing club. As the main character you attempt to fall in love with the girl of your choosing but the days go on and a few deaths later the game has a much sinister tone with the leading girl Monika becoming “self-aware” and ultimately deleting the game files from your computer.
Between the two extremes there is another genre, RPGs. Role Play Games focus on both gameplay and story as evenly as they can. These games range from World of Warcraft, Skyrim, Fallout, Diablo, Persona, Final Fantasy, Dark Souls, and many many more. In these games you take up the role of a character created by you or given to you by the developers and set off into a world to make it your own. Games like World of Warcraft and Diablo put you in the shoes of a rags to armor blessed by God himself warrior who saves the world from a great calamity with gameplay centered around dungeon crawling and level grinding until you are finally powerful enough to take on the next evil in your way. Skyrim and Fallout put you in the shoes of a fresh adventurer ready to take on the world and decide the future for everyone around you inside an expansive world with unique characters and abilities and weapons from gun and bows to sledge hammers and axes depending on whatever time period you’re in. Persona and Final Fantasy put you in the shoes of a party of powerful fighters on a grand quest with turn based combat where managing your abilities and items could mean life and death in the moment or down the line. Dark Souls puts you in the shoes of a faceless warrior on a pilgrimage through a hellish kingdom befallen by a curse with gameplay to match the scene as players must time their attacks, dodges, healing and even saving in scathingly difficult battles where one mistake could mean death and repeating the walk again.
There’s of course other types of games like Portal 1 and 2, a puzzle-platformer telling the story of Chell and the Aperture Science company as she delves into the depths of a long abandoned and falling apart facility and forced to complete tests with a handheld portal device by the will of a advanced AI robot named Glados. There’s also the many games by the now defunct developer Telltale Games which made story driven adventures through heavily scripted paths with most gameplay being dialogue/action choices and quick time prompts, like a movie that you have a say in. There’s of course games with no actual story at all either, or at least not one of their own, such as Crusader Kings, Civilization, and Hearts of Iron which all are based on real world history, nations, and battles but the player holds the opportunity to change the course of the world entirely as the real one is only a baseline. That’s not to say there’s nothing, just the story is your own to make as you lead your nation and fight your battles and in the end is entirely up to you.
The point is, over the years games have gotten all the more complex and have become an art form of their own as a new way to express stories and ideas. In recent years, though, this has come to a climax with games like Death Stranding, Metal Gear and other games made by Hideo Kojima, a Japanese developer who has for years dedicated his career to mastering game development in the pursuit of artistic expression and deeper meaning. His games have garnered both praise and criticism as some call him crazy and others brilliant. Whatever you think, it’s plain to see that Kojima is a talented creator and a master of his work trying to take the industry as far as it can go. Video games are not entertainment unlike movies and books but include even more as it is both an art in its own right and takes the utilities of other arts into its wheelhouse and uses all of them.