What is your response when asked to give examples of an art? Most subjects that pop up in most people’s minds probably include literature, music, sculpturing, and architecture. Some might even mention film as an art form. These traditional examples of art have been developing for decades and centuries. But there is one topic that most people will not mention, one that is relatively young in its existence: videogames.
When conventionally studied, we would never expect electronic games as a form of art. Yet upon further inspection, we cannot deny that modern electronic games contain many elements of what we would traditionally consider an art form. In fact, today’s top rated videogames incorporates traditional forms of art, such as music, literary plots, and graphical art.
In 2008, independent game developer Jonathan Blow released a game titled Braid, which had a major impact in the game industry. With nostalgic similarity to the classic side-scrolling game, Super Mario Bros, Braid brought the player through each beautifully rendered stage of gameplay by asking him to think outside the box to collect puzzle pieces. Braid does not have a start menu or a list of controls, like most games, but guides the player through the game so that the player intuitively knows how to play it. One of the main elements of gameplay is that Braid gives the player the ability to manipulate the game world’s concept of time. For example, upon death, the player can press a button that rewinds the game to a previous point in time when the player was still alive. This feature is explored and expanded thoroughly throughout the entire game, with game stages that apply different principles of how time can be manipulated: in one stage, the player might find that rewind applies only to certain objects in the game, while other objects can never revert back to a previous state!
Braid became the figurehead of games that challenged many established concepts of game design, by breaking limits of innovation in how a game can be made, not just as entertainment, but as art. However, gameplay is not the only element that shows how good games require ingenious work. It is reasonable to say that a great game has a great plot, with intricate plot devices and twists. The main story in Braid is follows the protagonist’s attempt to rescue a princess. However, clues in the game eventually lead to a different interpretation of the story, including references to the development of the atomic bomb. In fact, it leads us to believe that the rescue of the princess is a metaphorical representation of the creation of the atomic bomb.
Though not essential to a functional game, sound and music also play major parts in shaping the feel of the game. Each good game often has a fantastic soundtrack behind it, with music pieces that reflect the landscape or emotions in the game world. Braid’s soundtrack, for example, contains a series of original compositions by modern musicians that set a peaceful mood. The game even synchronizes the music with the flow of time by playing each sound backwards as the player is rewinding, showing how games can break the bounds of how music can be used.
Any visual videogame is conceptually created from sketches and artwork. Drawing, painting, and different styles of art are clear components in creating a contemporary game. Bestselling games not only have to have detailed drawings of objects in the game world, but also have to set these into motion. The variety of beautiful wallpapers published relating to every game shows the extent to which traditional as well as modern styles of art are important to designing great games.
When put in context, the first electronic games, like Pong, began only in the 1970s. In such a short time, they have grown to massive scales, with millions of people constantly interacting around the world. Video games will continue to grow until it becomes a large component in our daily lives. I have little doubt that they will eventually surpass all other forms of entertainment and art.
I wrote this article in 2010 and my point has been proven year after year with games like Bioshock Infinite, Nier Automata, and God of War.