Video game paradiso

There was a debate recently between film critic Roger Ebert and some of his dedicated readers about whether or not video games could ever be considered an art form. After thinking about it myself, I believe that the art comes from the crafting and storytelling of a particular game, much the same way novels, plays, and movies do. There is a difference, of course. Those other mediums have one narrative, one extended path, in which a spectator may experience them. Video games allow the spectator (who in turn becomes a player) to take a pause and explore their surroundings. A narrative is being interrupted but  not broken. In this sense, it would be like reading a book and stopping in mid-sentence to picture the look and feel of the described settings in their own head. It would be like watching a movie on DVD and stopping to zoom in on something or rewind and look at another section of the frame. New forms of media are allowing us to further delve into the narrative at hand, but it is not discarding of the narrative altogether.

All mediums borrow from one another. Video games often feel like movies, with their stressed need for visuals and visual storytelling. In video games, the players are an active participant, but only up to a point. The game has been programmed to work a certain way and no player, no matter how smart or crafty, can alter the ultimate path of the piece. In this sense, video game programmers are like screenwriters, giving the spectator the illusion of free will while guiding them along the whole time. For the most part, I am referring to first-person narrative games. Sports games and things of that ilk probably would not play out in the same way as movies (as you can either win or lose and still be granted a conclusion; if you lose/die in a first-person, the game stops), but they too have a cinematic quality, an illusion of reality, that often seeps through.

Roger Ebert’s video game article:


4 Responses to “Video game paradiso”

  1. jenshattuck Says:

    I’m not a game-player myself, but that’s because in many ways I find the experience of playing video games to be emotionally disposable. It’s fun or challenging while it lasts, but then I forget about it. Other narrative forms, like books or movies, can be disposable but they can also – if they’re really good – affect my mood for days and return to my mind again and again. Some would say this is because video games haven’t had enough time to evolve to be truly great. I think that’s possible but I’m not convinced yet.

  2. I’m not really a video game player; however, my former roommate was, and I’d sometimes use his console. Some of his video games, mainly the ones from Rock Star, mimic the cinematic language. When the storyline takes over and you have no control but to watch the few minutes of video play out, the shots are like short films. The “camera” copies the camera movement of film: tracking shots, close-ups, dolly shots etc. As I was informed, and I checked it out on friendly youtube, that people are taking these cinematic shorts from video games and creating short films out of these segments. They have a narrative, as much so as short animation films. I guess my question is, sort of what we discussed in class, is making a video game more cinematic the ultimate goal? Or should video games be pushing some other method/ outlet to develop their stories? The reason I ask this is because I believe we already have great advances in animation, shouldn’t video games be exploring something different?

  3. I’m also not an avid gamer, but from what I have played, I have definitely seen many cinematic qualities in video games. There are people that are hired because of their animation and film experience to create those cinematic breaks in the games themselves. It’s much like the internet, which has become a conglomeration of many different media forms. Video games need to appeal to many of the senses or they won’t be able to appeal in the same way to our over stimulated society.

  4. nicksporter1 Says:

    The debate about whether a video game could be considered art is interesting. I would suggest an augmentation to the discussion: In my own opinion a video (at least in current incarnations) absolutely can in no way compete with Film and ESPECIALLY books in terms of narrative or art. A video game can certainly be a well-crafted work, and can teach us things about mediation and the human condition, but I submit: these lessons come more from what humans understand about their own modern condition and the technologies that create it than from an artist’s creation. I have a hard time accepting this idea that ‘well, hyper text and shorter attention spans is just where human beings are headed in terms of existence, just like when we moved from an oral culture and memory to one of writing and precision. Hyper text DOES NOT, for me, substitute in any way for the existence of great. And video games (with graphics, bits, compression forming the majority of what becomes their artistic expression) DO NOT, for me, replace the great American novel.

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