Borderlands is one of many mainstream games I've played that used this vocabulary to create an experience that I treasure. You may disagree with my choice of example, but the fact remains that despite the constraints of the system, despite deadlines and managers and silly fears of alienating target audiences through originality, great games have been made. The kind of attitudes that dismiss these games for being "mainstream" or "not real art" are just as destructive as the attitudes that dismiss indie games as being pretentious or inherently inferior. All we accomplish with this kind of thinking is to limit our ability to create and our capacity to enjoy games.
So what should we do? What does it mean, in the end, to take games seriously as a form of art?
My answer is that it means that we have to allow for a plurality of experiences. This is not the same as lowering our standards. We should always demand that our art be good - no, we should demand that it be excellent. We should demand that game designers put a great deal of thought and passion and enthusiasm and vision into their work. We should demand they consider all options in designing a game, from the most common stat system to the most outlandish narrative mechanic. We should demand that they remember that narrative and gameplay are not mutually exclusive. We should demand that designers learn from what has come before and dream of what is to follow.
There is room for so many different experiences, if only we allow them enough space. There is room for the engrossing act of exploring Pandora in Borderlands, with its alien landscapes wrecked by corporations and its hints of a long and fascinating history; and there is room for the engrossing act of exploring the life of a young girl and her imagination, as well as her impact on the world and other people, in Photopia.
And if we understand that both of these experiences are art, are in fact manifestations of the very same medium, then we can begin to understand the massive potential of games and the amazing range of artistic experiences that are possible. And then we can finally stop sneering at games for being mainstream or indie, narrative-heavy or gameplay-driven, and get back to the exhilarating delight of our interactive art form.
Jonas Kyratzes is a wild-haired, raving socialist of the Trotskyist variety. When he's not hanging around with the spectre of Karl Marx, he makes strange games and writes various incomprehensible things. He also has a website, but it smells of mushrooms.