Swanson: Why Video Games Will Be the Next Great Art Form

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By Gavin Swanson, Opinion Writer

To some of us it may be obvious, and to others it may seem ludicrous, but video games are rapidly climbing the ladder to become one of the next great art forms. As paintings, photographs, music and films have been appreciated and studied in the minds of intellectuals, and displayed and respected in the halls of galleries and museums, so too will video games be admired. All it takes is for developers to tap into the potential that video games hold, and for people to play video games and realize the driving artistic force found in game design.

For a lot of us, we have already experienced that game, or had that moment while playing. A lot of people who have played their fair share of games have had experiences where there’s a a difficult task that they eventually manage to overcome, and as a result they feel the adrenaline rush that comes with it. Some people have experienced moments or characters so emotional and touching, it might have even made players cry. And for some it is even as simple as the game designing a level in such a unique way that you can’t help but stop and think, “Wow, that’s clever.” All of these showcase the grand ability that video games hold as a form of art.

What makes video games different from other mediums like film and photography is the games’ abilities to envelop the player in the experience. You’re not just witnessing the moment, or listening to the story — you’re in it. It allows a sense of personal projection that film and music could only dream of achieving. In a movie you might cry for a dying character because he reminds you of the relationship you have with your brother. But in a video game, it’s no longer just a brief connection. You’re actually fond of the characters you’re responsible for. Sure, he may still remind you of your brother, but that’s just extra icing on the emotional cake of losing a character that you’ve gone to hell and back with.

By having the element of interaction, video games are the most powerful tool we have to convey emotion and connection. And that’s really the crux of what all art tries to achieve. Any piece of art is either trying to invoke an emotional connection or asks you to study and deconstruct it. If the piece of art hasn’t impacted you and doesn’t leave you thinking about it after you’ve experienced it, then it has failed. This is what makes video games stand above the rest in terms of emotion. You may feel happy that the band of adventurers you have been watching all season long on television has finally reached the end of its journey, but it’s not the same as living through that journey with the characters and slaying the dragon yourself.

The heightened emotional connection is not the only prospect that video games hold to their contemporaries. They also have the rarely tapped potential of being studied as a craft. Much like how some may study the flow and diction of literature, the composition and layering of music, or the production and techniques of film making, if one so chooses they can study the art of design in video games. It’s a truly fascinating topic that I’ve dedicated a large part of my education to as an EAE (Engineering Arts and Entertainment) emphasis Film major. It’s amazing that we have the power to construct an experience, and there are entire thought processes and techniques relating to how to design that experience. It’s solving the answers to conundrums and issues like making a level difficult but still fair, or how to create an interesting story without forcing the player to read dialogue or story all the time.

If one is interested in becoming more in tune with the design of games, they don’t have to necessarily get a college degree in it like I currently am. They can just do it in the comfort of their own home, like studying any other medium of art. If you want to understand any piece of art, simply ask questions when you’re experiencing it. When watching a scene in a movie, ask why the director framed the shot the way he did, or why he has the characters standing where they’re standing. When looking at a painting, ask why they used a specific method of painting, or why they painted a certain subject into the piece even though it doesn’t seem to fit. It’s the same when playing a video game. Why did they put that enemy there? Why does it play that song when you’re talking to this character? Why did the developers decide to add this quest to the main story? Questions like this allow you to gain a deeper understanding of any work of art, and it does just the same for any video game you play.

The notion that video games can be anything more than just mindless entertainment can be mind boggling for some. They just equate the video game experience to shooting, racing and other forms of senseless violence and testosterone. And that’s not to say that isn’t part of gaming, like how summer blockbuster action movies are a part of the cinema experience. But there’s a lot to be found if one takes the time to delve deeper into what lies behind the pixels and programming.

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