Roger Ebert’s criticism of video games created a tsunami of responses in the online community. Understandably, many gamers were offended by his assertion that not only were video games not art, but they had no potential as such either. His piece on the matter was poorly constructive and didn’t reach a definition of art to begin with. In addition to that, most of exposure to video games amounted to those mentioned in the presentation he referenced. While the definition of art is complicated and of encyclopedic size, the main reason why gamers took issue with Ebert’s belief is that it implied that video games were meaningless. Contrary to Ebert’s opinion, video games are meaningful and if he played any of the following games, he’d realize just that.
Often touted as the first Postmodern video game due to its breaking of the fourth wall, recurrent self-reference, attention to the relationship between the player and the game, and as a parody of the RPG genre as a whole; Earthbound may be the closest thing to literary video game literature that we have. Take into account that while many video game remakes had its dialogue spoke, indicating that they intended it that way from the beginning and merely resorted to text due to technological constraints. Its developer, on the other hand, intended it to not only be read from the get go, but also out loud for that matter to more actively engage the player with the game. This should come as no surprise since Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Sirens of Titan, is cited as one of the inspirations for the game. Shigesato Itoi, is the man primarily responsible for the series and is something of a Postmodern figure himself. Due to his stint as a copywriter, several books on Japanese Postmodernism invoke him as a popular figure in this movement.
Metal Gear Solid 2
You can select any video game from this series and add it to this list. If Earthbound is the first Postmodern video game, then Metal Gear Solid 2 is its successor. Hideo Kojima drew from a wide range of Postmodern influences like Kobo Abe, Kurt Vonnegut, Phillip K. Dick, and Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy” as inspiration for this game. Like Earthbound, it broke the fourth wall various times to call to attention the similar relationship between the gamer and the game. Many critics took issue with “getting duped” during previews into believing that Solid Snake was the main character rather than Raiden. But that’s the point. Raiden is essentially an avatar for the player in what’s basically a rehash of the first game. Incidentally, it’s video game within a video game and commented on the medium the same way Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel did for the superhero genre. Popular Symbolism’s 132 paged overview of its analysis on the game only skims the surface of the game’s depth.
Silent Hill 2
Most horror games and horror movies for that matter are about as deep as the shallow end of the pool. Silent Hill 2 is the exception due to its psychological edge. James Sunderland returns to the haunted town of Silent Hill hoping to reunite with his dead wife. Along the way, he encounters a host of monsters that each represent different facets of his psyche. The game’s narrative is hidden with multiple gems after the revelation of his wife’s true “fate.” Ultimately the players actions determines James’s narrative and feelings directed towards his wife and decides which interpretation is true. Its a story so poetically sad and frightening that it would make Edgar Allen Poe shed a tear.
Final Fantasy X
Why X of all of the games in the franchise? Some readers are going to get preoccupied, (as always), that Final Fantasy VII didn’t make the list, but take this into consideration. Final Fantasy X is the first game in the series devoted to Asia, Square-Enix’s continent of origin. The blog, Popular Symbolism, notes the parallel between the game’s religion, Yevon, and Shintoism. Essentially the game comments on Japan’s own religious and national conservatism exclusive to both the region and the video game medium as a whole. And besides, can you imagine any better way of getting immersed in a world than exploring it for yourself like in a game?
Critics have often cited this game as another example in which video games can be executed as art. This is no surprise since the developers deliberately tried to do something new in order to combat the negative connotations associated with gaming as a medium.
Shadow of the Colossus
What’s notable about Shadow of the Colossus is its exploratory gameplay inherent in video games. As the player wonders through fields on his horse, there’s an almost zen-like feeling of introspective calm in his solitude. When the titular Colossi appear, it’s enough to make the likes of Hayao Miyazaki envious.
A critically well received game all around, the game’s creator said that it was meant as a metaphor for consumerism. As cryptic as this remark is, we can’t argue that Katamari is something beautiful and fun to behold, something which only a game could accomplish.
The sequel for Mother 2 (Earthbound), had a difficult time coming to completion due to its cancellation on the N64. Thankfully, it found its rebirth on the Game Boy Advance. Shigesato Itoi commented that it was more appropriate that way since the graphics were more “art like” in appearance with 2-dimensional sprites. Along with this, Itoi used the Agota Kristof’s Postmodern novel, The Notebook, as his primary source of inspiration. If this isn’t high art, then we don’t know what is.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
The Silent Hill franchise has seen better days, but did something different with its release to the Nintendo Wii. The player takes the role of Harry Mason as he explores the abandoned town. With the Wiimote, the exploratory function takes a new stage as players are able to imitate and execute his actions with the same grace as in the real world. At the same time, the players choices ultimately dictate the environment, something that neither movies, comics, or even literature can accomplish.
Most video game narratives rely on cut-scenes to tell a story, thus failing to differentiate themselves from film making. A great deal of Heavy Rain’s dialogue is done during gameplay with the possibility of the player executing the players thoughts on request. Most importantly, the player’s actions determine the ultimate fate of each character, creating a narrative that’s unique with every play through. It’s closest instance in which the player, reader, or viewer can effectively create a story. Let’s see films try that!