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Top Ten Games That Are Arguments That Games Can Be Art
Posted on Monday, November 30 2009 @ 17:46:17 Eastern

There has been much talk 'round these here blogs as of late about whether or not games can be considered art. I think they can. A while ago I e-mailed Roger Ebert about this very subject. He has written quite a few times about how he doesn't see how games can be art. I could argue many of the specific points he makes however the one  thing that has always bothered me is the fact that Ebert is not someone who actually plays games. From what I can tell he really only plays games when his children or grandchildren get him to. It's not something he's put an effort into. Not all games are art and I'm willing to bet that this is true of the games that he played. People write to him all the time giving him specific examples of games as art but he never actually bothers to play those games and that's a problem. That's like saying film can't be art after only watching a bunch of action movies. It's just not an informed opinion and he should really stop talking about the topic if he's not willing to give it a serious chance.
But that brings up the question: which games actually are art? I will admit that most games aren't art and they're not trying to be art. Uncharted 2 is an amazing game but art? Hardly. So on the off chance Ebert stumbles across this, here are 10 games I think that show that games can be art.
Before I start, I'm only really going to be use console releases because there are just so many odd indie games on the PC that it's just easier to do without them.
10) Electroplankton
At first glance, this appears to be the very definition of an art game. It has nice and simplistic yet pretty and artsy graphics and the game has no actual goal. It's just there to mess around with and try to weave a beautiful experience. So, why is it so low on the list? Because it's barely a game at all. Sure, it's on a game console, but it's more interactive art than anything else. Really, out of anything on this list, this probably could be in a museum but that doesn't really help it rank high on this list. It really is just lacking most of the things that define what a game is in the first place. It's interactive but that's about it. Still, it is proof that even behemoths of the game industry like Nintendo see there is merit in bringing art to their platforms and for this it deserves a spot on this list.
9) Pixeljunk Eden
Pixeljunk Eden has the opposite problem as Electroplankton. In a way, how much of a game it is gets in the way of it's artistic merit. Pixeljunk Eden is beautiful. It has nice, simplistic, abstract visuals and really it inspires a feeling of peace and awe when things are going well. So what's the problem? Holy ****, is this game hard. Just when you're getting into the flow of the mesmerizing music and trippy visuals you get knocked all the way down a huge level by an aggressive enemy or a mistimed jump. Like most of Pixeljunk's games, Eden is just old-school hard and it really takes away from the whole "eden" thing. It's hard to just sit back and enjoy it when doing so will result in certain death.
8) Okami
I will admit Okami is here almost purely for it's visuals (and because it's one of my favorite games >_>). This game was stunning when it first came out and really, even tough it's a generation behind us, it is still stunning today. Playing and interacting with what is essentially a living Japanese watercolor painting is an experience all gamers owe to themselves. It's just a constant treat for the eyes. Gameplaywise it doesn't do much that would convert a nongamer to the whole "games are art" thing, but maybe  the whole "canvas" gameplay might nudge em in that direction. Still, on a completely aesthetic level this game could hang in a museum
7) Half Life 2
Half Life 2 is here because it tells it's story in a way that depends on the medium. The story could nto be told as well or as effectively if it weren't being told through video games. Half Life 2 tries it's hardest to make you feel like you ARE Gordan Freeman and the story is unfolding through your eyes and through your actions. Many games do this but Half Life 2 is here because it does it best. While Gordan Freeman may be completely silent he still has a definite character and you still get the feeling it's his story, not yours. It makes you feel like you're someone else like no other medium can, by limiting everything you see to the world through his eyes. At first it might not hit you but by the end you've been told a story in a way that no other medium could deliver in quite the same way.
6) flOw
flOw is like Electroplankton, in that it almost seems to be a dictionary definition of games as art. It has an ethereal soundtrack and (once again) simplistic yet beautiful visuals. Watching your amoeba grow larger and more elaborate is truly a site to behold. Unfortunately, just like Electroplankton, it kind of lacks gameplay. Now mind you it has much more gameplay than Electroplankton but the whole thing is vague and weird and there to be figured out. It's still more of, let's say, a screensaver than a game. I still loves it though
5) Portal
The tagline in the original Portal promo was "Now your thinking with Portal" and that' pretty accurate to what makes this game so special. Portal literally makes you think in ways that your brain is not accustomed to thinking. It makes you have to rethink ideas of space and gravity to solve it's puzzles. There are a few other games that make you think in new ways (Crush, Clank puzzles in Crack in Time), but Portal is the best example of this. Your brain has to adjust to it's logic. Anything that forces your mind to open has to be art in some way? Right?
4) Rez
For the first 4 levels of Rez, it probably wouldn't belong on this list. Sure it's pretty and has  (once again) a simplistic yet beautiful art style, but still, for a while it just seems like a stylish rail-shooter with awesome music. However, Then you get to the last level and you are taken to the story of creation so you can try to fully understand the thing that you are trying to destroy. Then when you get to the end, the computer program is just a scared girl lashing out, who really just wants to be set free. The whole thing is simply stunning and attempting to do so much more than most games would ever bother. Every time I play it it sends tingles down my spine. It's just so oddly poignant and beautiful. It adds a real weight to the game. Sometime's I feel I'm the only one that feels this way but in Rez, I see art. 
3) Braid
Braid combines "making you think in ways you aren't accustomed" to gameplay with an extremely artsy presentation and story. The time manipulation gameplay twists your brain and some of the solutions are really elegant and beautiful. The art style has the look of a living watercolor and serves as both a tribute and a riff on Mario. The music is elegant and beautiful and really becomes part of the game as it distorts to your actions. The story is the subject of much debate. No one can argue that the twist at the end is great but the vague and confusing writing has lead to speculation that makes some think the game is actually about the atom bomb (p'shaw).  As vague and unsatisfying as the story is, in the end it has inspired a lot of discussion and interpretation in a way that only a real piece of art can manage.
2) Shadow of the Colossus
SotC starts out like any game. Sure it's beautiful and epic but nothing that would make it art at first. However, as you play it you a sense of tragedy lies in the air. This is shown in many ways (As you progress your characters appearance deteriorates, the music is more tragic than it is heroic, some of the creatures you kill don't even fight back). The sadness is never stated out loud but it's there. The game make you feel bad for going forth and doing what you would do in any game. The story is understated but it's always there and really more than any game I've ever played it makes you feel guilty for killing things. This is all brought together in a jaw dropping ending. This is a game of great beauty and really it wouldn't even distinctly possible to tell it's story in any other medium. 
1) flOwer
Like Elektroplankton (man I've typed that word alot) and flOw, flOwer is almost a dictionary definition of games as art. It's beautiful to look at with it's almost zen like fields of grass, it has an understated story about the beauty of nature and really it seems to be more about creating a mood in the player than anything else. However, unlike those other two games, this game has good gameplay too. Sure, it might be too simplistic for some but swooping through the flowers and making them bloom really fills the player with a sense of peace.  Really the whole game seem to be trying to surround the player in beauty, letting them take the game in and just relax. There are goals to achieve and a story to play through but you don't have to even do them if you don't want to. You can experience it's beauty however you want. Really the game even gives you a trophy for just sitting back and watching it. If I were to pick a single game that I would want to show someone that was skeptical that games could be art, this would be it. It's truly beautiful in a way that is unique to video games.
So that's my list. Feel free to leave comments, disagreements or argue further about the merits of games as art or just about the games I posted.
The letter I wrote to Ebert can be found here:
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071008/LETTERS/71008004
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