Are Videogames Art? (Part Five)

Part Five – Art for All.

‘Heavy Rain’ is easily one of the highest profile games of the last decade to take an experimental approach to game design. The rare hybrid of a cutting edge, visionary director in David Cage, cross-bred with a big money first party development team (Quantic Dream); Heavy Rain divided opinions upon its arrival in February 2010.

Many were reluctant to call Heavy Rain a ‘game’. The player was asked only to move their character around, touch objects to inspect them, and then follow pre-determined on-screen prompts during these interactions. A thug throws a clubbing right-hook your way and an arrow flashes from right to left across the screen. You do the same on the analogue stick? You duck the punch. Don’t manage it in time? You get smacked straight in the jaw. It becomes interesting, though, by the way the game branches off in a new direction because of your actions. The character you’re controlling can actually die, and not be involved any further in the entire rest of the game. Your actions actually matter.

The obvious highlights of Heavy Rain are the absolutely gorgeous graphics and the unusually mature, relationship-driven narrative. But the less obvious achievement, I would argue, is how easy Heavy Rain makes itself for the un-initiated to enjoy.

Approachability is definitely a problem with videogames, and a huge reason people have trouble accepting them as a legitimate canvas for entertainment and art. Mobile games and Facebook-style social games often don’t fall into this trap, but console and PC games can be hugely hard for ‘n00bs’ to get into.

TV doesn’t have this problem. Drawn art doesn’t have this problem. There surely isn’t a person alive who doesn’t ‘understand’ how to watch a television programme. You can’t fail to observe a painting. Yet videogames still too often make themselves unavailable for the masses to enjoy. Heavy Rain has gamers and non-gamers, men and women, adults and children alike all within its reach. It was a huge stepping stone for actually allowing most people to play a mature videogame.

Okami may well be a visual masterpiece, but you no doubt need to understand how to use 16 different buttons and two analogue sticks to appreciate it. Dear Esther has a totally different, yet equally impressive way of telling a tale, but you have to have a grip on the complex nature of PC gaming to even play it. With Heavy Rain, you have you, the game, your Playstation, and a learner-friendly control scheme that allows almost anyone to enjoy the experience. The merits of Heavy Rain in the ‘Videogames vs. Art’ debate have been sung before, but to me its defining achievement is how easily it lets everyone in on the conversation.

At the end of the day, it’s all about that conversation. I’ve just noted a few ways in which videogames can be seen as art, and the games herein are just art in my opinion. And that’s the beauty of it. What is and isn’t art is in the eye of the beholder. What I see as a profound and thought-provoking comment of current affairs, you could see as cliché and pretentious. What to me is an imaginative and unusual world could to you be ugly and abstract. And in no other medium is personal taste more important in distinguishing good from bad, art from entertainment, than in videogames.

Games are not just a new form of art. They are the greatest form of art. A form of art from which you can take everything its creator intended, and then add your own very personal story to.

What is your take on the videogames as art debate? And what did you think of this more lengthy, episodic approach to blogging? Let me know and thanks for reading!

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