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Indie Dev Gives Borderlands the Artistic Thumbs Up

| 1 Apr 2011 16:00
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It doesn't have to be an either/or decision when it comes to fun and art in videogames.

Shadow of the Colossus, BioShock, Flower: These are the kinds of games that people tend to bring up when the "are games art?" question comes up. But what about a game like Borderlands? Surely, its focus on guns and loot disqualify it from ever being anything more than a plaything, right? Well, not necessarily; In Issue 299 of The Escapist, indie developer Jonas Kyratzes argues that there are many different forms of art, and the fact that a game is fun doesn't prevent it from being art as well.

Now, I know this is going to sound radical, and I know some people don't want to hear this ... but the mainstream games industry has produced some truly, truly great games.

There is a certain mindset, for example, that sneers at a game like Borderlands. It's all gameplay, that mindset says, nothing more than hollow entertainment. Running around some desert planet shooting bandits and alien monsters cannot possibly be art. Where is the depth? Where is the meaning?

Well, the depth and the meaning are right there, if one chooses to look ... Borderlands is actually chock-full of story, which it chooses to tell via the tools of world-building, as opposed to cut scenes and dialog. Pandora is a planet whose history is dominated by corporations, a planet stripped of its resources and then left to rot. The unpleasant legacies of that history are everywhere: in giant trash heaps that dot the desert plains, in bandits who were prisoners forced to work on Pandora and then left behind, in half-abandoned settlements struggling to survive on this dry rock.

The more ancient history of the planet is all around you, too. Traces of a fallen, non-human civilization rise out of the sand; gigantic bones chillingly demonstrate that the ecosystem once supported considerably larger life forms; visual hints combine to show you that some of the areas you're exploring were once deep under water.

Kyratzes makes the case that there is a difference between "artistic" and "art," and for all its silliness and fun, there was an awful lot going on with Borderlands. You can read more about it in his article, "The Bolshevik in the Borderlands."

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