an academic outline of video games as art

On Tutorials

Conveying information player beyond simple story is a major issue since the complexity of systems has increased, teaching the player what needs to be done. In the past the issue of what a player needs to was limited four directions and a button or two but whether it was a mandate of the game designers or the platform holder controllers have evolved into what we know today, the fact is that now designers have a lot more to work with and as such have used to produce more and more complex games. The problem is that before this new found complexity it was simple to tell players nothing and expect them to figure things out on their own but that is virtually impossible with modern games. So it falls on the designer to explain what to do, how to do it, and when, many games tackle this by simply having on screen prompts and dialogue boxes that tell the player what to and explain concepts that the player will need to know, things like counters, dodges, and reloads that are key to players succeeding in the game. While these are easy solutions to giving players information there are other ways that few games do the idea of incorporating text information into the world. This is a very difficult thing to do, since doing it involves an extreme difficulty, it requires the designer to make sure that the player will see the information no matter how the player decided to interact, getting players to interact with the world the way the designer wants is one of the most difficult tasks that designers have and while it is easy to say that this gains little but if the goal of game design is to immerse the player then a designer can and should do everything they can, even if it causes them to do more work. In the case of DMC: Devil May Cry (2012) the designers were able to this by making the world literally speak to the player, while this is a luxury afforded the designers by fiction of the world, other designers can and should work to find a similar work around like hallucinations, graffiti, or something else. The communication with players is something that needs to be toned down and integrating that communication into the world is an easy and effective way to decrease aspect of game design.


Interaction as Narrative

As games progressed in technology they were eager to show of their new found abilities, in the mid nineties when games transitioned from 2d to 3d they used the form of cinema to “show off.” As a result the medium was slow to learn that the equivalent to the film adage of “show don’t tell” is “do don’t show,” in game design the goal is to create an immersive experience a major aspect of which is keeping the player in their role for as long as possible breaking continuity of control is the greatest enemy to immersion. Allowing for players to move around and interact with a cut scene solved the problem of the “info dump” and allowing for character (in the narrative sense) to happen with the player as a participant rather then a watcher. But because of the reality of videos game most of the stories they tell are action based and end in a large climax, a space crashes and the main character jumps from it only to land safely, or a sword fight in which characters are bouncing around a room in a way that the player could never do, while these things are cool and fun but they are no different than a big budget action movie you can see at the theater to separate themselves from this games learned that their strength was making the player feel like they had some kind of influence over what was happening even when they did not.

The first solution that designers came up with was to not remove cut scenes but at layers of button prompts and simple fail states so the player seems to have control even when they do not, think of a character in a cut scene throwing a punch and somewhere on screen is a picture of the X button on the controller indicating the player needs to hit X and if they fail to they the character on screens punch does not connect. It is a simple idea that does not require much in terms of what both what the designer and player expect and what they need to understand.

The other and much more difficult thing to do in removing cut scenes from the game and thus removing control from players is to use controls in new context. For years science fiction games have had guns in space being used as artillery, an idea shown in cut normally but in the game Gears of War the player was given a weapon that when fired showed a laser pointer and a circle getting smaller until a beam of little hit whatever the player had been pointing at, rather than the player watching this in a cut scene the player is active in the action letting him feel a sense of accomplishment.

In control of fate

The most apparent way games separate themselves from other mediums, outside of interaction and playing, is that games have in recent years have tried to blur the lines between control and cinematic. A number of games do this to varying degrees, top down games have been doing it for years as their Tech did not allow for the movement of cameras angels and environments were built only to be scene from one angel as well, so stories were told from the same point of view as the game was played from leaving the player with a sense of continuity of experience. As games have grown more complex in narrative reach and technology so too has the ability to seamlessly go from game to cut scene to game without the need of a hard cut to black.

In video games this technique is used to give the player a greater sense of connection to the avatar, to watch the scene as a participant and not as a voyeur.

In film not cutting from action is used to emphasize information, in this scene the audience knows there is a bomb that could go off at any moment but they are helpless as it travels through the street, in a game something like this would leave the player to feel impotent and powerless. Where games typically want the player to feel like they are in control of the fate of the character, of themselves.

Vestigial Traits

Within the scope of art, all mediums have their own characteristics; video games are not unique among them. They combine elements of film, music, and elements of live performance: along with their own traits to create unique experiences unlike any other.

            While able to convey information in a number of ways, the most prominent are those video games borrow from other mediums.

            Third person video – the most common way story is presented in games. Third person video is just the use of film and filmic techniques to tell the user information; it combines photography and editing to express whatever the maker wishes. While not only borrowing theory from film video games are worse (for now) because of a lack of talent and technology. While I am willing to admit that lower levels of technology can be used in artist and meaningful ways, with in the context of video games none have demonstrated a great proficiency of film theory. Video games simply are a child aping their parents, not understanding the Why only, only the What of the content.

            Static Score – The tradition use of music, a piece of arranged music with a set length that traditionally attempt to convey emotion to the listener. Early video games take this to an incredible extreme with gusto, taking short 3-5 seconds songs and looping them over and over again to create mood. Later video games would begin to take longer pieces of classical music or pop music many times in place of creating something new, instead using the cultural influence of the pieces assist in delivering the message the makers wish to make.

            Text – More common before the storage of data allowed for higher quality voice to be stored for a single game. Text was used to tell stories, speech and all forms of narration. Text in modern games is used as a way to detach from the narrative of the game or game world and express purely game play based information to player. Because text is the only medium that does not recreate the natural world, photos recreate vision; music uses sound which we all experience. Text is simply a set of symbols society agrees mean something, and so video games take advantage of this agreement to create another social agreement to speak to players, breaking the forth wall to explain systems within systems. An interesting element that the newest medium uses the medium that is closest to death to interact with its audience on a level that no medium has an expression of.

The birth of a medium

While games as art is a question that will be needlessly debated for years to come these articles will treat the question as answered. Games are art not because of aimless discussion of nature of art, but because any medium is capable of art and games are a medium. A young medium that is build upon all the mediums that came before to create the first truly interactive medium that demands more passive viewership or simply a page turn.

Like any young medium the first people to work with the medium are simply try to do what is familiar. Like early films using photography as the basis of early film , as a form of documentation, workers leaving a factory, or simply a static shot of a traffic on a bridge, early games emulated real world games like ping-pong and golf. As mediums develop they inevitably they begin to tell story, film looked to theater as its inspiration so to did videos games use another medium to tell stories in this case literature as the basis for telling stories, long blocks of text telling narratives separate from the gameplay. It was not till either medium was the resources to see what it could do free from the confines of other mediums.