Arty Games

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Me? Okami.

Its looks like a watercolor painting in motion, and its really fun.

Otherwise I would say Shadow of the Colossus. Few games have made me feel sad about killing my enemies. I damn near cried every time I took down one of those magnificent beasts...

Flower, a beautiful game about a flowing breeze of wind. If the Scenic Vistas don't qualify this as a work of art, then the emotional depth and changes caused by the changes of the world around you and the relaxing musioc does.

Okami, Again one of those kind of weirdly ispired titles. You a dog that defeats enemies by painting on them. the story is lacking but it was easy for me to pick up and art style was awesome.

Mad Mad Maestro, Old favorite title of mine. it's a simple rhythm game that has lots of laughs to be had and a stories to tell (even if it doesn't tell them well).

Harvest Moon 64 or back to nature, easily (IMO) the best harvest moon games. the depth some of the characters exibit and the scenes done in such a excellent way show some of minimalist game design at it's best.

Elder scrolls III: Morrowind better than it's successor, can be played in 1st or 3nd person, deep and interesting main characters, excellent side quests and artfully mastered storyline that will take you from cities of magic and gods to the inside of a volcano adn the very depths of hell itself (sorta...*). The only problem is it's long.

Those are my five, i'm not the greatest fan of art though. i hardly consider some of the most famous modern art lumps of bullshit passed off as abstract art by talentless pricks. And most forms of entertainment i don't always consider art. but for what it's worth these are what i would suggest.

*note - there is a cave in Morrowind that goes really really deep down and is full of lava pits and daedra. In the ruins above it something says that the caves goes all the way down to oblivion i think.

lupis42:
What about "The Path"?

After all, it breaks Ebert's strongest criterion, in that it doesn't have anything resembling a "win". Not the best thing for a child, but the interface is staggeringly simple, so it's not so bad for an artistically inclined adult.

Also:
Why are we still debating whether or not games can be art? Games are clearly a sport. :-P

games are a medium, they can't be sport (a tennisracket isn't a sport). some games are art.
gaming is an action and can eb a sport
and i just mentioned the path, probably while you were typing it :)

First off, Art is essentially all the stuff that humans do when they arn't trying to not be killed, or directly propagate there genes. And even those 2 things have some gray areas. Personally, I prefer to use the subjective label of, "High Art", to apply to those things which a person resonates with on an emotional level. Games can certainly be this, and often are. Adding a subjective word like, "High" emphasizes that it is a personal list, not a label you can throw around, like Ebert does.

I think its important to differentiate between games which are high art, and games which CONTAIN high art. Muramasa, for example, is filed with beautiful art. But in the same way a climactic moment in a trashy teen-sploitation flick might contain "Ode To Joy", Muramasa's art doesn't reach quite so high when you start getting down to the constant string of slashing up Ninjas. I love Muramasa, and perhaps could argue that it does reach certain levels of High Art if I wanted to, but I think that most of the High Art argument stems from the packaging, not the gameplay core. Of course, when it comes to legitimate experience, the point is academic.

Personally, I think that if you want to convert someone to believing in Video Games as high art, you need to find those games where pure gameplay is what evokes an affective response. The Marriage. Passage. Graviton. September 12th. Lose/Lose. A critic can accuse most games of simply being other forms of high art with an interactive toy attached, something adult tacked on to a childish activity. These games, there is no denying that the plays the thing.

God I feel witty for that line.

Also, I must agree with, "The Void". It is one of the rare games with truly obvious artistic depth with beautiful trappings. Once you start pluming the depths of the metaphors involved in the interaction of game play mechanics, you start putting paintings to shame.

You forgot Myst. Silly you.

Also, why hasn't Furburt dived on this thread at the mention of the Longest Journey yet?

I don't think something needs to qualify as an art to be culturally superior to film.

Psyconauts, had some the most colourful and interesting characters. The milkman conspiracy invoking modern artists like Escher. Just down right brilliant.

Myst I through IV.

Or Max Payne.

I'd say GTA 4, while not arty in the traditional sense, (IE:you must wear a beret whilst discussing it's merits) was one of the most emotionally evocative games I've ever played. I'd also second Seamus's pick of Jade Empire, and I'd make an argument for STALKER: SOC. While it doesn't have any great characters or bright colors, it's got the hands down most pervasively creepy and desperate atmosphere of any game. Ever. Even more than Silent Hill 2 IMHO.

E

Before I get into my points, let me state right away that I do not agree with Ebert and I do fully believe that games are capable of being art.

However, there is a problem with a lot of the games that all of you mention. They may be beautiful or well-written or have amazingly evocative music. And all of those are truly works of art. However, their artistic merit is irrelevant of their inclusion in the game medium. As such, a great artistic story in a game does not make the game a work of art. The story would be just as good if it were a book, or a radio play, or a movie. Likewise, just because a film uses Beethoven's Ninth, does not make that film art. Planescape is a great game with some of the best characters I have seen in any recent medium. However, it could be (and has been) argued that Planescape would be just as good if it were a book.

In order to present the idea of a game as art, we need stories that could not function any other medium. We need to present games that provide something more thought-provoking than entertainment. And most importantly, we need to find (or create) games that rely on the unique qualities of a video game (as opposed to a film or book) in order to enhance the story or experience being shared by the artist.

There are only a couple of games that I could say, while not artistic masterpieces in and of themselves, do show off the artistic potential of video games. One is Deus Ex, because the game presents you with several different political philosophies, allows you to shape the narrative as you side with the various groups in a manner that does not really present any one of them as better or worse than the other, but instead allows you to choose the one that appeals to you the most and then plays out the ramifications of those choices. The second would be Fallout 3, for it's use of morality to alter the story by changing the way characters interact with you based on your Karma. And the third would be Tender Loving Care, for the way it alters the details of the plot based on responses the viewer gives to psychological questionnaires.

In short, the art of the video game is it's ability to create an environment where the player is free to shape the narrative as they will, but still manage to maintain the artistic integrity of the creator.

Sorry for the length. I've been thinking about this one for a while.

Psychonauts. It's a well-designed game with interesting and wildly creative environments, a clever story, and easily grasped mechanics.

I also like Lumines. The combined music + puzzle/arcade gameplay is enjoyable and it's visually appealing without losing its underlying simplicity.

I think most adventure games would serve as good examples, because they're the closest facsimile of a movie experience. Also, they tend to have less of an obvious WIN component as compared to FPS or RPG games.

I just finished Portal for the first time a few hours ago. I can happily agree that its writing and psychological effect are absolutely phenomenal.

Also - Okami, but I wouldn't start someone there. It's gorgeous and moving, but it gets bogged down in its storytelling...and telling and telling.

World of Goo is one of my all time favorites, of course. Haven't played the other games mentioned, although Jade Empire looks to be right up my alley.

godbrain:

In order to present the idea of a game as art, we need stories that could not function any other medium. We need to present games that provide something more thought-provoking than entertainment. And most importantly, we need to find (or create) games that rely on the unique qualities of a video game (as opposed to a film or book) in order to enhance the story or experience being shared by the artist.

There are only a couple of games that I could say, while not artistic masterpieces in and of themselves, do show off the artistic potential of video games. One is Deus Ex, because the game presents you with several different political philosophies, allows you to shape the narrative as you side with the various groups in a manner that does not really present any one of them as better or worse than the other, but instead allows you to choose the one that appeals to you the most and then plays out the ramifications of those choices. The second would be Fallout 3, for it's use of morality to alter the story by changing the way characters interact with you based on your Karma. And the third would be Tender Loving Care, for the way it alters the details of the plot based on responses the viewer gives to psychological questionnaires.

In short, the art of the video game is it's ability to create an environment where the player is free to shape the narrative as they will, but still manage to maintain the artistic integrity of the creator.

Oooh, forgot about Deus Ex. Good pick with that. And I wish my computer could handle Fallout 3.

Kind of disappointing 5. Ico, Shadow of Colossus and, especially Okami, are way better games for games as art argument

The more and more I think about it, the more and more I think this is a futile debate not because it's worth arguing games are art (it is) but because we're looking at the wrong things. I think games like (sigh) Heavy Rain and the like are more likely to convince people that they're capable of art not because they're good or art (I don't think they are) but because they're more familiar to established artistic forms.

So, I guess, Heavy Rain, maybe Mass Effect or Jade Empire or those types.

Most definitely not Ico, Shadow of the Colossus or Far Cry 2. Or even The Path, Passage or any of the other games that evoke their artistic sentiment through their gameplay.

I wouldn't want Ebert playing games. I don't understand why gaming has to be for everyone. Painting or poetry isn't for everyone, why should gaming be?

The mass-marketing of video games will become a problem for the hobby, I think, because it is art and measures success by much more esoteric standards than business.

I mean, we remember very little of all the commercial crap they put out there, either in games, visual arts or music. Sure there are markets for it, but I really don't think investors in the game business have realistic concepts of what kind of profits and assets really are there.

All these short-term money sieves of projects driven like IT-consulting firms aren't producing art, that I agree on, but neither are air-brush sweatshops in SE asia painting wolves and native-american women on cardboard. That doesn't disqualify air-brushing as an art-form.

So I'm just gonna come out and say it:

This guy Ebert is wrong, he's obviously making erroneous assumptions stemming from ignorance. As an expert in a humanities subject, especially one as reflective as film, he should understand that he simply isn't qualified to make that kind of statement. I mean really, it's like me saying "Film isn't Art" after seeing two episodes of Days of Our Lives.

It really IS hard to teach adults to play a first person game. It took a really long time before I could teach my dad to play a shooter

Suskie:
THANK YOU for not mentioning Shadow of the Colossus. Nothing against the game, but I'm just sick of hearing that one over and over. What does it say about our arguments in support of games as art when the same few titles keep cropping up? (Actually, I DON'T like SotC, but that's irrelevant.)

Why do I get that sense that you not liking SotC is basically at the heart of your snubbing it from this conversation?

I play SotC at least once every 2-3 months. Something about a broken young man utterly betraying his people and committing clear sins against nature, all to save a lost love he won't even see in the end, strikes a chord with me. That they told the story with such subtlety and restraint absolutely floors me.

Then again, I'm of the mind that 90% of today's major motion pictures would be fantastically improved by deleting outright the majority of the dialogue.

Has anyone played Sanitarium? The story, characters and setting are almost peerless, in my opinion. It goes about as deeply into one character as it is possible to go, focussing on the psychology of that one character. Ludicrously well thought out.

Not that it's not without fault: it's an adventure game, so the puzzles are sometimes fairly obscure; the pre-rendered settings you traverse sometimes cause a little confusion over where you're actually supposed to go; and the voice acting is pretty sub-standard.

I suppose it's maybe not the best 'art' game to use to convince someone games can be art, since the level design is fairly flawed and the immersion factor fails to deliver at times, but it's most definetly worth playing for anyone else who might be interested in this discussion.

godbrain:
Before I get into my points, let me state right away that I do not agree with Ebert and I do fully believe that games are capable of being art.

However, there is a problem with a lot of the games that all of you mention. They may be beautiful or well-written or have amazingly evocative music. And all of those are truly works of art. However, their artistic merit is irrelevant of their inclusion in the game medium. As such, a great artistic story in a game does not make the game a work of art. The story would be just as good if it were a book, or a radio play, or a movie. Likewise, just because a film uses Beethoven's Ninth, does not make that film art. Planescape is a great game with some of the best characters I have seen in any recent medium. However, it could be (and has been) argued that Planescape would be just as good if it were a book.

In order to present the idea of a game as art, we need stories that could not function any other medium. We need to present games that provide something more thought-provoking than entertainment. And most importantly, we need to find (or create) games that rely on the unique qualities of a video game (as opposed to a film or book) in order to enhance the story or experience being shared by the artist.

There are only a couple of games that I could say, while not artistic masterpieces in and of themselves, do show off the artistic potential of video games. One is Deus Ex, because the game presents you with several different political philosophies, allows you to shape the narrative as you side with the various groups in a manner that does not really present any one of them as better or worse than the other, but instead allows you to choose the one that appeals to you the most and then plays out the ramifications of those choices. The second would be Fallout 3, for it's use of morality to alter the story by changing the way characters interact with you based on your Karma. And the third would be Tender Loving Care, for the way it alters the details of the plot based on responses the viewer gives to psychological questionnaires.

In short, the art of the video game is it's ability to create an environment where the player is free to shape the narrative as they will, but still manage to maintain the artistic integrity of the creator.

Sorry for the length. I've been thinking about this one for a while.

I haven't heard this argument before, but it raises a very interesting point that I totally agree with.

Not much else to say, just thought you should know I appreciate your point of view.

Jade Empire is my favorite Bioware game and my 7th favorite game of all time.
That is all.

Portal, Silent Hill 2, Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, and Brainpipe.

Like World of Goo... whatever the hell Brainpipe is based on, it works.

hendersonl:
Grim Fandango: Please tell me a story centered around a society of animate Día de los Muertos dolls combined with film noir is somehow not art. I dare you.

L.

This. I thought that, if you want to initiate someone on games as art, you have to start with Adventure games (as you said, yourself). And Grim Fandango is one of the prettier ones, with great writing and whimsical characters, as well as a grand tale of Death, love, and corruption.

Incidentally, I agree with Ebert that games are not, in fact, art per se, but different from him, I think that neither are movies. They are generally entertainment. As they seep into our culture, they can become art. That stems, however, from a peculiar definition of art that I have.

Because we're specifically talking about introducing non-gamers to "artlike" games, I have to go with Myst (or one of its sequels or clones, but why not start with the beginning of the story?) Its pretty. It tells a story. And most importantly for the uninitiated, its forgivingly easy to learn to play.

For someone who liked a little more action (and why is it that any game with action or violence in it seems to be immediately dismissed when people start talking about games-as-art?) I'd be tempted by System Shock 2. It has a variety of playstyles, so it should be slightly more forgiving to the novice than a straight shoot-em-up. It tells an interesting story. And if those damn headless screeching monkeys don't make you jump out of your seat with skin a-crawling, then you're dead. And made of stone. There is at least as much art to it as a well-made horror film - take that as an argument for or against as you see fit to define art today.

"I always feel the need to stress how hard it is for an adult to learn to navigate a first-person world if they've never done it before."

Really? Why adults in particular?

godbrain:
Before I get into my points, let me state right away that I do not agree with Ebert and I do fully believe that games are capable of being art.

However, there is a problem with a lot of the games that all of you mention. They may be beautiful or well-written or have amazingly evocative music. And all of those are truly works of art. However, their artistic merit is irrelevant of their inclusion in the game medium. As such, a great artistic story in a game does not make the game a work of art. The story would be just as good if it were a book, or a radio play, or a movie. Likewise, just because a film uses Beethoven's Ninth, does not make that film art. Planescape is a great game with some of the best characters I have seen in any recent medium. However, it could be (and has been) argued that Planescape would be just as good if it were a book.

In order to present the idea of a game as art, we need stories that could not function any other medium. We need to present games that provide something more thought-provoking than entertainment. And most importantly, we need to find (or create) games that rely on the unique qualities of a video game (as opposed to a film or book) in order to enhance the story or experience being shared by the artist.

There are only a couple of games that I could say, while not artistic masterpieces in and of themselves, do show off the artistic potential of video games. One is Deus Ex, because the game presents you with several different political philosophies, allows you to shape the narrative as you side with the various groups in a manner that does not really present any one of them as better or worse than the other, but instead allows you to choose the one that appeals to you the most and then plays out the ramifications of those choices. The second would be Fallout 3, for it's use of morality to alter the story by changing the way characters interact with you based on your Karma. And the third would be Tender Loving Care, for the way it alters the details of the plot based on responses the viewer gives to psychological questionnaires.

In short, the art of the video game is it's ability to create an environment where the player is free to shape the narrative as they will, but still manage to maintain the artistic integrity of the creator.

Sorry for the length. I've been thinking about this one for a while.

Nice first post godbrain. I pretty much agree with you, and for that reason I'd add Heavy Rain to your list. I played through it last weekend, and even with all its bugs I was fairly moved. The game presents you with not just a lot of quick-timey action (that can be turned down for beginners I think) but also a lot of actual choices with some moral depth. I found myself pausing the game more than once to contemplate important decisions, and the nice thing is that no matter what you choose the story continues and it's difficult to go back to change things (unlike a standard choose your own adventure story). So the short of it is that I think Heavy Rain would fit your view of an artistic game.

Full Pipe
image
It is an indy title by Ivan Maximov, who is famous for leading a new wave of Russian animated films. The game plays like an interactive version of one of his surrealist shorts: the charmingly depressed characters, the minimalist backdrops, the lack of speech. The concept, story and gameplay are as simplified as possible.

Okami looks, sounds and innovates the part to fit as an artsy game, but the controls are quite hard to master for someone not used to modern-day-gazillion-button-controllers.

I'd probably sucker someone in with Prince of Persia. While its stages are a lot alike qua visuals, it's actually very nice on the eye. Level design and camera angles combined show you all the possibilities and where to go upon entering a new area.
Enemies and areas they control are visually dark and smudged, giving one the natural feeling that there's a stain that needs to be wiped off the land. After cleansing, everything turns pretty, green and colorful. Inviting you to go discover the secrets of the world.

While playing the game, it feels very natural, sliding, climbing, jumping, falling. It's directed enough to keep you going, but free enough to make you feel like you're in complete control of all that happens.
And of course, the game is extremely forgiving, fall down and you'll be pulled back up ad infinitum, trial and error gameplay with no form of punishment, just encouragement to try again.

Personally, I think PoP was an enjoyable timekiller, but I don't care much for it. Nor do I believe games can be considered 'art' just by themselves.
Games are interactive; decisions made by the player, and whatever input is received affects the way a game plays and is displayed.
The God of War example in the article can be applied here. Where one player can make GoW feel like a game of running around smashing things and buttonmashing through fights, another can turn it into a perfectly orchestrated masterpiece of massacre.
You can beat the game by spamming one attack over and over again, but you could also chain together endless combos, combining the flashiest moves in perfect harmony and feel like you're actually playing the game rather than exploiting it.

That may be a vague example to some, but I'll believe that my point is pretty clear. Games aren't art, and no matter how hard anyone tries, they'll never be.
Canvas and paint aren't art, it's what the painter does with them that makes it art.

Woodsey:
"I always feel the need to stress how hard it is for an adult to learn to navigate a first-person world if they've never done it before."

Really? Why adults in particular?

Come on, kids always have a better time adapting to new technology. Adults tend to lag behind. Teenagers always end up having to set up their parents DVD players, or fixing the email/facebook page up etc. The whole appeal of the Wii is its simplicity, making it easy to pick up by adults. Having a grand total of two buttons simplifies things a great deal. Hence why Point and click adventure games are also easier for people to get into.

Naturally every game has a beginning and an end, and getting to the end can often be considered 'winning' the game. But if you break down a game to its core elements, that which it distinguishes it from other forms of entertainment, you are left with two things: Content and action. Content is everything there is in a game, and action is everything you do in a game. Both of these are limited: The only actions you can do in the game are the ones it allows you to, and there is not more content in the game than the developers put in it. When you compare this to movies, for example, the only way in which they differ is that they lack influence. 'Movies' being used in the broadest sense of the word, because you can compare Star Wars to Mass Effect in that they are rich in content, but you can also compare Tetris to a stop-motion video made with post-it notes on youtube, which are low in content. Both are entertainment. Then if you take another dimension out of the movie, namely, time, you are left with a picture. And you can only fit a finite amount of content in a picture. Then you can create a game with the picture by adding an action, which gives you, say, a game of spot the differences!

So there you have the main genres in which art is made, deconstructed. What I'm trying to say is that adding a dimension to a form of entertainment has nothing to do with whether or not it gets to be art. A game like Zeno Clash - my all-time favorite, obviously - is brimming with imagination and wonder, so this game qualifies as art in my book. It's not about being able to win or finish something, it's about getting engaged with it. The longer, the more, the better.

No Ico or Shador of the Colossus?

It's true though, lots of the lore and history from games do swing right over many people's heads since they're distracted by the violence and shiny things.

What makes a videogame "arty?" Is it a gameplay concept? A visual style? A hidden metaphor of our greater collective society? The menu? Can it quite simply be "all of the above?"

The question, as always, boils down to the eternal question, what IS art?

No matter the laundry list of answers that can be applied to the question, the biggest component of the puzzle is the very EXPERIENCE it provides. There is no art that can truly provide a non-experience. It simply does not exist. Even the very act of attempting to embrace the concept of a non-experience and make it the focus of the work becomes in itself an experience.

Video games are something born of inspiration, are birthed from imagination and conceptualization, are developed and executed into a medium, and their entire drive is to provide an experience. Just like pratically all 'art' ever. You do not need to "win" a game to enjoy the simple act of experiencing it, and to be affected by that experience.

I am a little disappointed with the lack of Flower on this list. Its poetry in video game form and its simple enough that anyone can play it, no matter their experience with video games. On the other hand, I would not hand Portal or Jade Empire to a non-gamer, even though I consider both great examples of art.

I think Psychonauts is a good candidate.

Well, in terms of art engaging thought and emotions, i would have to say Fallout tree i remember pausing the game to think about the moral implications of my choices several times and getting so immersed in it that i actually got a bit depressed while i played it and got to thinking of the hopless and destructive nature of human behaviour. Since i hadn't done that for a long time while reading a book or after watching a movie, I have to say that in my book that was the turning point when i really felt a video-game as a powerful medium to convey emotions. And the really cool thing was that it wasn't the content of the story or dialogues per se that made me feel that way, i had seen all that before in coutles works of fiction but the way in witch they were presented to, me really making interactivity feel like an active element in delivering the drama instead of just some gimmick to give you something to do betwwen cuscenes that really shines hope upon the video games potential to become art. I think someone like Egbert would really enjoy Fallout even if he would have major dificulties with the unconfortable and buggy gameplay at least he would be hooked in by Ron Pearlman's Liam Neeson's voices at the beegining.

On a side note, i wonder if Martin Sheen or Liam Neeson or Patrick Stuart see the work they've done in video game voice acting as wothy of their trade or just a way to make a quick buck. And if any of them or other big screen actors that have crossed over to voice-acting for games view games as a proper artform.

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