Paper 2: The Great Gaming Schism

Posted by & filed under Game Culture Class, Paper2.

Grant Baumgartner

Game Culture

Paper 2

There are many varying viewpoints about whether video games are art.  They range from “games are already art” to “games will never be art.”  Most who say that games are or will be art view the “artification” of games as an all or nothing situation.  They envision a glorious fusion that is equally at home on a TV or in a museum.  However, games have already begun taking a different route.  There are many games that have branched off from mainstream games in an attempt to be art.  In the future, this will only increase.  In 10 years, games will have developed into two separate branches.  Mainstream games, similar to those we have today, and games presented as art.  These two branches of games will have their own communities of fans and developers, creating a rift in the current gaming community.

The first branch of video games in the future will be the mainstream games.  These games will be presented much like the games of today.  These games will be presented as games to be played.  There will be no debates and discussions over whether these games hack the idea of what a game is.  They will be fun and they will be engaging.  They will not, however, radically alter the current concept of a video game.  One thing they will radically alter is the quality of the graphics.  Graphics have already shown an incredible increase in realism in the past 10 years.  In fact, the graphics of many series have greatly improved in much less time.  A wonderful example is the Elder Scrolls series.  The fourth installment, Oblivion, was released in 2006 and it had decent graphics for its time.  Just five years later however, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is widely considered one of the most graphically impressive games of all time.  With the rate of improvement increasing every year, in 10 years games will be almost indistinguishable from reality, at least visually.  The stories of the games will obviously not be mirrors of reality.  There are not and will not be games where the story is completely plausible in real life.  Even games with realistic settings have some element of the fantastic. Despite the potential for nonsensical storylines, games will have clear, if sometimes simplistic, stories.  The player will have no problem in telling what a mainstream game is about. With their often simplistic stories and hyper realistic graphics, mainstream games will be very much a part of “The Spectacle.”  Many will be nothing but flashy graphics and visual effects.  As with most rules, there will be exceptions, but most will have almost no depth.  There will be no lessons to be learned, no moral questions to be answered.  They won’t make the player think.  In this, they are very similar to many of the games of today.  Very few modern games ask the player to do any sort of deep reflection.  Especially guilty of this shallowness are some of the more popular FPS and sports games.  Games like Call of Duty and Madden have stunning and realistic graphics, but few would argue that these games are art.  Many games of the future will follow a similar route, but others will take a rather different path.

This different path is that of the second branch of future games, the art games.  Unlike today’s games, they will not be strictly presented as games.  As the name suggests, they will be presented as art.  It can be argued that many of them will break what are considered the rules of a game.  Many will be described as more of an experience and will leave the player wondering if this is a game at all.  In addition to not focusing on being traditional games, these games will be much less focused on having hyper realistic graphics.  Some will have graphics of a similar quality to mainstream games, but they will often have very stylized visuals.  These stylized graphics will be considered a hallmark of this branch of games by some.  In fact, many current games that are commonly called art have extremely stylized, non-realistic graphics.  A prime example is the game Limbo.  The graphics in that game are extremely simple, using only a black and white color scheme and silhouettes.  It does have a story to it, but many art games will not.  The downplayed importance of story will be another common feature of this branch of games.  In keeping with being an experience rather than a game, having a clear and understandable story line will almost be an afterthought for many art games.  Some will be abstract to the point of incomprehensible.  The game will again leave the player wondering.   This is yet another feature that is already appearing in modern games.  One that stands out is the game Linger in Shadows.  This game takes the player through a short series of somewhat surreal scenes.  This game is an instance of a game that defies what normally defines a game.  It is even described as an experimental interactive art experience in the extremely large wall of text the developers needed to describe the game.  It is also a wonderful example of a “game” that makes incredibly little sense.  Many have praised games like this, but not everyone will agree.

These two very different branches of games will have a polarizing effect on the current gaming community and industry.  Players and critics alike will soon find that they prefer one branch of games over the other.  As the branches continue to deviate from one another, the fans of both will grow to dislike the other branch more and more.  Fans of mainstream games will refuse to play art games, criticizing their lack of a clear story and non-realistic graphics.  Fans of art games will be just as fiercely loyal to their own games, saying that mainstream games are devoid of any depth and are for less intelligent players.  This war between branches will in many ways mirror the console wars of today.  In addition to gamers being divided, game developers will also be split.  This is yet another aspect of this future that has already begun to appear.  Mainstream games are being developed by large studios, while precursors to art games are being developed by relatively small, unknown developers.  Very few developers have attempted to make a game from the other branch.  Developers who are backed by large publishers are not able to take as many creative risks, while smaller independent publishers do not have the funds to make a game with high quality graphics.  While this division of developers will remain, publishers that exclusively back studios that produce art games will exist.  This will allow art games to stand on more equal footing with mainstream games while further solidifying art games as a branch and keeping games separated from each other.

“Are games art?” has always been a controversial question. Those that believe that games can be art and the desire to elevate them to that status will be the driving force behind the coming polarization of games.  One day, some games will indeed be at home in a museum sitting next to great paintings and sculptures.  The cost, however, will be the division of gamers everywhere, our own great gaming schism.

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